Since its official announcement in January 2011, gamers everywhere have been salivating at each tidbit of news Sony have unveiled about the Playstation Vita. Originally codenamed the NGP (Next Generation Portable), the handheld boasted specs that were unheard of from a portable gaming device. Now that we have the Vita in our hands, does it live up to the lofty expectations that Sony have set for it, or is it just another piece of tech in an already crowded market. Read on to find out.
There’s no doubting the Playstation Vita is a sexy piece of hardware. Sporting a similar look to the original PSP, the Vita won’t look out of place amongst any of your other gadgets. One of the first things you’ll notice is how light the device is. Despite cramming in a plethora of input options and other features, the system is not exceptionally heavy, making sure that longer gaming sessions won’t put a strain on your arms and hands. Its rounded edges allow the unit to be held comfortably, and grooves in the back give you purchase, and make sure you’re not accidentally hitting off the rear touchpad. The buttons are all where you would expect them to be, and everything is within reach without too much dexterity of the fingers necessary. In saying that, the buttons don’t offer as much resistance as a traditional PS3 pad, and the dual analog sticks will take some getting used to for seasoned gamers.
The Vita boasts the best display of any handheld gaming device. The 5 inch OLED screen is crystal clear, and has a depth of colour and clarity benefiting the raw power available to it. It doubles as a touchscreen, which is used for the majority of navigation around the device’s user interface, as well as for some game inputs. It’s responsive, though as with any touchscreen device , smudges and fingerprints can pose somewhat of an issue, but it is easy to clean and seems somewhat resistant to damage. The visuals of the system are on par with home consoles, which is very impressive from a mobile device; if you squint, you’d almost think you’re playing your PS3.
If you want to show off how good your Playstation Vita looks, you can do worse than Wipeout 2048
The Playstation Vita has the capability to cater for any game type imaginable. First and foremost for “hardcore” gamers, the system features the traditional button configuration you will be used to from the Playstation 3. Key to this is the inclusion of dual analogue sticks, a component sorely missing from the PSP and PSPGo, and only catered for on the rival 3DS by way of a clunky attachment. The standard X, O, square and triangle setup that has become synonymous with the Playstation brand will be the primary control method for most games released on the system. That’s not to say that will be the only way, and some of the more niche titles have already used the other inputs in various ways. As mentioned previously, and as anyone with a smartphone can attest to, the front touchscreen is now a viable input for gaming, and the Vita’s OLED screen performs this task admirably. The Vita also features a rear touchpad and front and back cameras, as well as gyroscopic mechanisms to detect tilt and movement. All of these seem functional, although the camera is of a very low quality, with most modern phones outperforming it easily.However, until more software begins to utilise the different control schemes, it is difficult to judge how useful they will be in the long run. From my time with the system, I’m excited by the potential the Vita has to cater for a vast array of games that were, until now, realistically only possible on home systems.
The entire interface of the Playstation Vita is touchscreen based. Again, anybody who owns an iPhone or other smart device will instantly be comfortable with the application based menus on offer. Apps can be divided into up onto numerous screens, so those of us (myself included) who like to keep things organised can have one screen for our retail games, one for downloadable titles et cetera. Upon launching an application, you’re taken to that application’s “LiveScreen”. This acts as a central hub for that particular app; it provides links to the user manual, shows any updates the title has received, as well as your most recent actions on that title among other things. Most functionality is walled up inside applications, but the Playstation Vita features multitasking which allows users to instantly switch between applications. Switching is as easy as pressing the PS button (which instantly takes you back to that application’s LiveScreen), peeling away the dog eared corner, and touching the application you want to launch. It’s really that simple. It helps that the Vita is a powerhouse, as there is virtually no slowdown when you do this. The time between closing your game and launching another is minimal, which is perfect for when you’re on the go. Another great feature of the system is the ability to take screenshots at any point, simply by hitting the PS and Start buttons simultaneously. It’s a small bullet point, but allows you to capture anything on the system and show it off you your friends (all the images from this review were taken using the Vita’s screenshot utility).
The interface will be familar to anybody with a smartphone
The Vita comes preloaded with numerous apps and utilities, some of which deserve mention here. Firstly, there is an in built content manager, allowing you to transfer data and perform system backups between your Vita and PS3, or your Vita and PC (once you’ve installed the necessary software). There is also “Near”, which is the Vita’s answer to the Nintendo 3DS’s “StreetPass” system, showing you any Vita activity nearby, and caters for the sharing of in game items. Also available are the standard fare for any portable system, applications to handle your twitter and facebook (although currently inactive due to technical issues), as well as other social networking sites.
It’s all well and good releasing a killer system, but unless you have the software to back it up, it won’t mean much as no one will want to buy a new handheld if there’s nothing to play on it. Thankfully, Sony have produced one of the most stellar launch line-ups in recent memory. There’s definitely something to cater for everyone, whether you’re a massive Uncharted fan looking forward to playing Drake’s next adventure, you much prefer racing around at insanely fast speeds in Wipeout 2048, or prefer bite-sized gaming with any number of the downloadable games available from the PSN.
The Playstation Vita isn’t perfect. The decision to use proprietary memory cards, and the cost of said memory cards, while understandable given the rampant piracy evident on the Vita’s predecessor, is definitely a barrier for entry given their high cost compared to standard memory cards, and considering that one is required for almost all of the titles on offer as there is no on board memory available. The 4-5 hour battery life is another negative, although considering how much technology it is powering, it’s surprising it even lasts that. Finally, the battery is built in to the system, meaning a faulty battery cannot be easily replaced. That being said, the Playstation Vita is a tremendous piece of kit which represents, in my opinion, a leap forward in on-the-go gaming. Its ease of use and multitude of control options provide it with the ability to offer a home console like experience wherever you may be, and its strong line up of games means you are spoiled for choice when it comes to what games to play. All in all, this system is a must own for both casual and hardcore gamers alike.
Keep an eye here over the coming days as I’ll review some of the Playstation Vita’s launch line up, starting with Studio Liverpool’s Wipeout 2048.