I received my PlayStation Vita on February 24th, two days after launch. Allowing for some dull work days in between, I have therefore had just over 7 straight days of usage from my wonderful new handheld, so I finally feel in a position to tell you all about it and hopefully to try and persuade some of you that are sitting on the fence. It IS a lot of money, I understand that. If you haven’t already guessed from this intro though, I heartily recommend you get hold of one by any means necessary. Yes that’s right, I’m in love.
If you can recall back to mid January (sheesh, that’s nearly two months ago!) you may remember that I played the Vita ahead of launch at a preview event in Manchester. My main thoughts at the time were that the machine was technically very impressive but also that as a portable system it still had some unanswered questions. Well, now that I own the Vita almost all of those early concerns have been washed away. Actually playing the games and using the in-built software has made me a believer and the Vita offers so much more potential than the PSP ever did. At the moment it isn’t perfect however, for reasons we will come on to later.
When you first unbox the Vita, two things come immediately to mind. The first is just how massive the whole thing is, particularly when you’re used to playing games on an iPhone or 3DS. Secondly, it is remarkably light, but not uncomfortably so. Then comes one of the downsides to the otherwise wonderful first impressions – setting the damn thing up. I’m fairly techno savvy and have owned most new consoles and handhelds within the last 15 years or so. Never have I had so many issues setting something up. From Wi-Fi connection problems to downloading updates and signing into PSN, nothing seemed easy. In addition the arduous task of topping up funds with Vodafone (I own the 3G version of the Vita) made the first few hours a not particularly happy experience. Maybe you will be luckier, but for me the setting up of the system went totally against the user friendly nature of something like the 3DS.
Fast forward 24 hours though and a much happier story developed. Wi-Fi connected, 3G topped up, PSN account linked, games, demos and PSP titles installed on a memory card and everything was working as it should. Finally I could start to check out the games and the other software included with the Vita. I am planning to review the games I got with my Vita (Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom, Lumines: Electronic Symphony and Wipeout 2048) very soon, but rest assured in the meantime each and every one is worth purchasing. In addition to these titles I downloaded Super Stardust Delta and Motorstorm RC, and although I haven’t had much chance to check out the latter yet, Stardust is very well suited to the Vita.
Whatever you decide to play on it, the screen looks wonderful, and graphics really do resemble PS3 games, perhaps closer to 2006 than 2012, but still very impressive. The high clarity of the OLED technology even makes the colors in some games like Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom pop out so much they actually impress more than the home versions.
Built in software includes Welcome Park, a kind of tutorial to the Vita’s functions that serves as a mini game collection (and includes trophies!) and Near, which I still haven’t quite figured out yet. Near seems at first glance to be a kind of advanced Street Pass, allowing you to see whoever is playing a Vita near you and share in-game items with them. It does seem needlessly complicated at this time though, but holds plenty of promise for the future. Other apps include support for your friends list, trophies and group chat. All perfectly serviceable but rather fragmented. One issue is that friends playing PS3 can’t see you online if you are on your Vita, perhaps because the Wi-Fi connection only signs you in to PSN when necessary, rather than being a constant connection like PS3, something else which feels a little over clunky at this point. One thing which doesn’t though is the super responsive touch screen, which works exactly as it should.
Other things you can do on your Vita without buying a game include browsing the PSN store which is a very slick and familiar process and miles ahead of what Nintendo is doing on 3DS. If and when full PSP and PSOne downloads are supported the store will truly be a force to be reckoned with. As it stands, prices for full price games are VERY slightly below retail in most cases although some games like FIFA are a full £15 more than online, a crazy situation. For some games buying online makes more sense though. I got Lumines for a couple of pounds cheaper than in any shop, and it only takes up about 700mb on a memory card. It’s also one of those games which is always better to have at your finger tips, rather than running the risk of forgetting the game cartridge!
PSP games look decent enough on the Vita screen, those that are currently downloadable anyway. About half of my previous digital PSP collection is currently available, but as classics like Everybody’s Golf and Wipeout Pure aren’t amongst them I’m not too unhappy. The extra resolution makes everything look a little more jaggy, but the spruced up color makes up for it and you can add a ‘smoothing’ effect if you like. You also have the option of using the right analogue stick to control games, which works like a dream in Resistance: Retribution as it becomes a true twin stick shooter.
Speaking of twin analogue sticks, that along with console quality graphics is the true revolution of the Vita. I normally get bored with handhelds quite quickly, and although I have only owned the Vita for just over a week, I can’t see myself ever leaving it to gather dust as long as great games are released for it. It truly is a console quality experience in a way that literally no other handheld has ever been before. I did enjoy playing games on my 3DS but it never felt the same as playing something like Arkham City or Uncharted did on my home console. With Vita it does, just on a smaller screen. That means it really is ideal for playing whilst the Mrs watches the TV, or in bed instead of reading a book (take that Shakespeare!)
As I said before though, things aren’t perfect. Holding the Vita is still ever so slightly uncomfortable if you attempt to avoid the touch pad on the back. It isn’t quite as portable as the 3DS and you really do need a small case for it, taking it away from iPhone/Android territory of quick 5 minute blasts, and into more considered play where you have to decide to take it with you, and more likely for gaming sessions of between 15 minutes to an hour. As I already stated before, some of the menu selection and overly segregated apps niggle, as does the fact that everything that should work from the PSN store doesn’t. At least with those last two points though, firmware updates could make a big difference.
All in all though, the Vita really is something different in portable gaming and heads and shoulders above its competition. Sales seem to be relatively good in the west so far which bodes well for the constant stream of quality titles the console needs to succeed. Before I owned a Vita I wondered if the world really wanted a high quality portable gaming machine, or whether the 3DS or iPhone would be sufficient for them when they weren’t playing at home. Color me converted, I really hope the Vita does represent the future.
Stay tuned for my reviews over the next few weeks, and some detailed looks at other aspects of the Vita like AR gaming and whether it’s worth paying the extra for a 3G unit.