The PlayStation Vita didn’t change the world.
It might boast the fanciest screen or the most powerful technology, but Sony’s stoic adherence to what made the PSP so successful has ironically resulted in a successor that continues to struggle to gain much traction. Alongside its big brother, the PS3, the perception could easily be that the PS Vita languishes with too little attention and too many hand-me-downs, and next to the 3DS it’s widely considered – at least in some territories – a bit of a joke.
The PlayStation Vita was (and is) probably too expensive. The machine itself costs too much, the memory cards are too pricey and the games are frequently ridiculously set at a level that often corresponds to forty iPhone games. Forty. Even if you’re somehow allergic to games that require nothing more than a touch screen, that kind of mathematics just doesn’t make a great deal of sense.[drop]Of course, this was Sony’s attempt to truly replicate a console experience on the go. For both good and bad, there’s been some convincing work in that regard – the Vita’s got enough grunt to make passable ports a reality and there’s apparently enough of an incentive for Sony’s first party developers to come up with side-stories and new entries (like Golden Abyss and 2048) that play exactly like a main living room console game would.
And for all the loading times in WipEout and the frustratingly sub native resolution of Uncharted, the Vita has managed to tick off a few checkboxes in offering up the ability for users to take PlayStation 3-esque games on the go. In some cases it has even let you start a PS3 game at home and then – via cloud saves – continue your game at work, on the train, on the toilet. Such titles are few and far between, but the technology is sound.
And there have been some true gems since the console’s Japanese launch, twelve months ago today. We’ve mentioned two, but there’s LittleBigPlanet Vita – probably the best LBP since the first one; a decent port of Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3; Rayman Origins still looks outstanding on that OLED screen; the portable pleasures of MotorStorm RC, and the sterling work BluePoint did with Battle Royale, to name a few.
But there have been some stinkers, too. The much derided Call of Duty followed the poorly received Resistance: Burning Skies, pointing to an uncertain future for first person shooters; a couple of truly substandard 3DS ports in the form of the LEGO games and the launch F1 title and the nonsense that surrounded ModNation Racers’ lack of an online mode. All consoles have their weak points, and the Vita is no exception.
But it’s in the sales of the unit itself that the most shocks have been found, with one week in November offering just 4,000 Vita sales in Japan, the portable being outsold by the outdated PSP by a factor of three. There’s apathy in the East, with mere flickers of hope emerging on the release of a big game or, recently, the introduction of a couple of new colours. You’d think the Vita would have an easy ride in Japan, but that’s not the case at all.
Indeed, Sony now lists the Vita mixed in with the PSP when reporting sales figures, the PS3 in with the PS2. This makes it almost impossible to figure out where the trends are going worldwide, the only real information coming through with press releases when a milestone has been hit. In August the official figure was 2.2 million, a figure the 3DS XL (an updated, released this year revision of the 3DS) has already hit and passed – the 3DS itself is sitting at roughly ten times that of the Vita.
With floundering numbers, then, it’s encouraging to see that Sony are still pushing the handheld hard. In the absence of a true price cut, bundles were recently introduced and although this year’s E3 showing was an embarrassing silence for the Vita, SCEE’s Gamescom press conference showed a renewed focus and faith in the machine, with several big name titles on show, including a unique entry in the Assassin’s Creed series and a return to the Killzone canon with a new first person shooter from Guerrilla, along with Tearaway, Media Molecule’s latest project.
But can a smattering of top tier games really make that much of a difference? Hopes for Black Ops: Declassified to do the same are now the stuff of legend, numerous message boards playing host to claims that once Call of Duty lands everyone will want a Vita – how that’ll pan out this Christmas remains to be seen, but the game failed to make much of an impact in the charts, and the Vita version of Battle Royale crashed even harder.
The real gem has been PlayStation Mobile, and it’s taken Sony a little while to realise. Now the official channels are making a big deal of certain key PSM titles, people will hopefully start to take notice and the much more digestible financial outlays should hopefully go some way to illustrate that not every game on the machine costs the sort of figures we’ve already discussed. With several big publishers and a brave set of indies behind Mobile, hopefully big things will come.[drop2]In a hardware sense Sony have done little wrong – that screen is lovely (at least, when games run at the proper resolution), the analog sticks are fine once you get to know them and the availability of tilt control and the rear touch panel mean that developers at least have plenty of options. It’s a capable piece of kit, too, and we’re still only really in the first generation of titles – next year’s big games will no doubt really start to flex its muscles, at least in the right hands.
A price cut needs to happen, though, and bigger (and cheaper) memory cards need to a) land in Europe and b) be part of the initial package. Publishers need to stop trying to charge crazy ticket prices, and more need to get on board to expand a library that whilst impressive at launch has dwindled slightly over the following months. There’s still confidence in the Vita at Sony, but they need to get the public on their side and buying into it before its too late.
It’s been a year of ups and downs for Sony’s latest device, and it’s only now starting to come through on early promises (like the PS3 cross controller functionality – more on that soon). Sales in Japan are dire, but as the system is advertised more and more here in Europe at least there’s brand awareness coming through. And whilst it’s still next to impossible to get anything but the main four or five titles in the supermarkets, Sony’s commitment to ensuring the Store is well stacked bodes well for the next generation of TV-based consoles.
Let’s hope the next year is kinder.