For those of us who were lucky enough to secure a next generation console, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S are living up to much of what Sony and Microsoft promised. Despite this, neither console was the highest-selling piece of hardware during the 2020 holiday season in which they launched, both usurped by the Nintendo Switch.
There’s an undying demand for Nintendo’s hit hybrid console and now, as we enter a new generation, we’re left wondering what comes next. A Switch Pro has been rumoured since the Switch originally launched and will hopefully add widely requested features such as Bluetooth support, customisable home menus, and an OLED screen – all features sported by the much older PlayStation Vita.
It’s hard to not to think of an alternate timeline in which Sony’s handheld had triumphed, perhaps leading to a hybrid console successor years before the Nintendo Switch even came to market. Looking back, we can now appreciate the Vita as a diamond in the rough – a superb platform let down by a series of fumbles while also having launched in the midst of a mobile gaming boom. Celebrating its ninth anniversary, we take a look at why the PlayStation Vita was ultimately a failure, also discussing why it’s still surprisingly relevant today.
“Vita” means life, and my PlayStation Vita has more life than even Sony wanted it to have. At the time of its launch, it was supposed to be the follow-up to one of the best handheld devices of all time, the PSP. It delivered on that promise and then some across the board. Everything about the console was a gigantic leap for portable gaming. Even years later titles like Killzone Mercenary, Freedom Wars, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and Gravity Rush all still stand out as stellar experiences. Years before the Nintendo Switch, the PlayStation Vita was delivering the next iteration of what portable gaming could mean, and a decade later it is still a complete package as a handheld device with a curated library of high quality titles.
The PlayStation Vita simply didn’t enjoy the success it deserved, but that wasn’t the fault of the console at all. The fault instead lies in how it was supported or, more accurately, how it wasn’t. Price and first party support were the major setbacks that kept us from a future where I could be sat here not needing to write this article, playing the latest Vita-exclusive Uncharted on my PS Vita 2. Not only was the console itself more expensive than its main competitor the Nintendo 3DS, Sony also decided to shoot the Vita in the thumbsticks by using expensive, low capacity proprietary memory cards. Even now, 64GB cards are almost impossible to find outside of Japan for less than £100.
As for the console itself, there wasn’t a significant price drop even after Sony announced they would no longer developer first titles for the handheld. Although the Vita would go on to extend its library of quality titles, the lack of support from Sony and their familiar PlayStation franchises only accelerated the handheld’s decline.
From a hardware perspective the Vita has certainly aged though there are certain aspects Sony nailed, still allowing it to shine even today. The OLED displays of the launch 1000 model are still gorgeous to behold, effortlessly outstripping every other handheld console at the time in terms of overall visual quality.
Then we have the Vita’s software library, of course. The list of first party exclusive games may be disappointingly small but there are some truly great handheld experiences that can still be enjoyed without feeling outdated almost a decade down the line. In addition to aforementioned hits such as Killzone: Mercenary and Gravity Rush we can also add LittleBigPlanet, WipEout 2048, Soul Sacrifice, Sound Shapes, and Tearway to the PlayStation Vita’s main line-up.
The Vita also grew into an ideal platform on which to discover or replay a glut of classic PlayStation titles. The Jak & Daxter Collection, Sly Collection, God of War Collection (both volumes), and Ratchet & Clank Collection collectively bundled hours of PS2 action platforming perfection. That’s without mentioning the spread of digital PS One Classics available including Silent Hill, Tomb Raider, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Resident Evil, and much of the Final Fantasy series.
Third party support was there, too – a personal highlight of being a PlayStation Vita owner was having handheld access to those earlier Metal Gear Solid games, from Solid Snake’s original PS1 outing and HD remasters of MGS2 and MGS3, to compatible versions of Portable Ops and Peace Walker. However, many will remember Sony’s handheld as a go-to portable for indie games. Titles like Guacamelee!, Fez, Stealth Inc, Spelunky, Olli Olli, Velocity 2X, Darkest Dungeon, and Hotline Miami are just a few of the fantastic indies released throughout the years.
But wait, there’s more. To round out the Vita’s often overlooked gaming catalogue, we have a bevy of Japanese imports that, when combined with everything else available, made the console almost impossible to put down at times. Persona 4 Golden gets a well-deserved shout out next to Trails of Cold Steel, Tales of Hearts, Ys: Memories of Celceta, Odin Sphere, Zero Escape, and the incredible DanganRonpa series.
The PlayStation Vita may not have been the incredible success that the Nintendo Switch is, but it is still staggering to see how in 2021 the Vita can hold its own on the handheld front. While the Nintendo Switch ultimately took the next step the Vita never could by evolving into a fully hybrid console, the PlayStation Vita still deserves far more than derision it tends to get from the wider gaming community. Innovation stands on the shoulders of those who came before, so while this anniversary feels bittersweet I will always love the Vita for what it is and what it would ultimately go on to inspire.