This is it boys and girls, the new Playstation handheld device is hitting the market! With Sony having hopefully learned from their previous endeavor there is honestly no reason that this venture shouldn't be a huge success. We're looking at stronger hardware, a better release day lineup and a console that fully embraces online network so we should have a winner right? Well join us as we take an in-depth look at the new PS Vita.
First impressions are immensely important so it's quite satisfying that the first impression of the PS Vita is so absolutely positive. Even something as innocuous as the heft of the system feels just right. But there are a few flaws that begin to reveal themselves once you start playing it. But for the most part the PS Vita is a surprisingly solid improvement over its predecessor.
The first thing to address is the touch screen which is how most of your interactions with the Vita will go. Menu navigation, program selection, inputting names and just about everything else are done via the touch screen. Luckily this is probably the most reliable aspect of the Vita as the touch screen is incredibly responsive - with some touch screens I seem to have response issues with "pinch" motions but that was never an issue here. The same can't be said for the damnable back touch pad. While the idea of having a touch pad on the back of the console for secondary controls in games sounds like it might be a good idea the reality is... yeah, not so much. The first game to make solid use of this is Little Deviants and it's an abominable curse that renders that game nigh unplayable in some of the mini-games. Since you can't see your fingers then you knowing where you are at all times is just uncomfortable and it never feels very responsive even when you put a lot of time into learning how to use the touchscreen.
Another huge issue for some is that the d-pad, analog sticks and four face buttons are all too small. They're not so small that they're impossible to hit but you might find yourself double pressing buttons or slipping off the analog nubs. This is notably an issue when you're playing some more action oriented PSP games. One way of offsetting this is that the developers allow you to remap either the d-pad, left analog stick or face buttons to the right analog stick. This allows you to turn a game like Syphon Filter into a more fluid experience by taking your turning controls and putting them on the right analog stick. This helps a lot but you may still end up having some issues with games like Uncharted that require lots of different buttons to be pressed in rapid succession.
One of the big problems here is that the hardware costs so much to purchase that this investment may or may not be worth it at this moment. This is something that the individual gamers are going to have to judge but it is a pretty hard sell at the moment based solely upon how effective the controls are. But honestly as long as developers stay the heck away from that back touch pad or at least make its use optional then the console is surprisingly good.
The console is fairly well designed but the buttons all feel kind of like an afterthought. A bit of shifting around may have helped mitigate this problem although it is possible they were worried about changing the appearance of the device too much from its previous incarnation. Either way it's nice to say that this is the only real problem with the system although for those with hands bigger than the norm it might show itself to be a rather huge issue.
Final Verdict: 8/10
One of the best things that can be said right off the bat about the PS Vita is that they removed that abominable XMB crossbar that the PS3 and PSP used. Instead of that we now have an interface that is fairly similar to what you get on a smart phone as each installed game or app is represented by a bubble. These can be moved around via a long press, allowing you to customize various screens however you like. For example we currently have one screen with all installed games, one with downloaded games, one with social apps and one for the preinstalled stuff that we don't really plan on using so we can get it out of the way.
To help you with learning how to use the rather powerful hardware at your fingertips one of the preinstalled programs is Welcome Park. This program is basically a preinstalled mini-game collection of sorts that is teaches you to use the various parts of the control interface which can be somewhat cumbersome to get used to (as mentioned above). There are even Trophies to earn while playing this which helps to motivate you towards completing the various tasks before you.
Once you're done with that there is a bunch of other stuff installed on the device but none of it is really all that relevant. The Near app lets you see what gamers in the real world around you are playing which, in theory, lets you potentially find gamers in your area. This was nice once as I was able to find a gamer to play Dungeon Hunter: Alliance with in the nearby area which allowed for a nice, more or less lag free experience. But other than that it doesn't really have much purpose. Remote Play is basically useless as ever and a Group Messaging program is only useful if you've got a group of friends who can't be bothered to use laptops or smart phones to exchange messages.
There is however plenty of possibilities for them to make the PS Vita more of a mobile social networking device. The nature of the interface and ability to modify the screens paired up with the aggressive nature of integrating Facebook and Twitter into... well most everything, means that this device makes for a great mobile device. Since you can even access AT&T's network with this device the internet can, theoretically, remain close at your fingertips without needing that smart phone. For me, who lacks a data plan, this is something that looks incredibly appealing but it remains to be seen if Sony will capitalize on it.
Final Verdict: 8/10
As our Senior Editor Andrew Sztein mentioned in his recently published article the PSP appears to have a heck of a lineup for its release with even more promising titles to be released soon. However there are numerous problems with many of these titles that seemingly come from either attempting to appeal to more players, something Lumines Electronic Symphony suffers from, or from control issues with the console itself.
Many of these games are still worth the purchase on day one but be very careful with just picking something up. The only absolutely solid purchases are Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Wipeout 2048 and either Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom or the new BlazBlue game. Even these games are a bit tricky to play thanks to the small buttons and the sometimes unresponsive d-pad meaning you have a pretty steep learning curve. Out of those three games Wipeout and Uncharted are the two that any Vita player must have .
One thing for those that are interested in buying the Vita to replace their PSP, not all games are actually backwards compatible. Many PSX classics, the lack of UMD import and incompatibility with some downloaded PSP titles means that you still need your PSP for many games. In addition they seem to have no real interest in rushing to fix the compatibility with the old PS One titles. So this glaring omission really hurts the PSP's overall appeal.
Final Verdict: 6 / 10
Over the PS Vita is a fairly solid purchase if you can afford the money investment required of you. The games may be a bit thin at first glance, but there are some hidden gem in the mix. So if you're willing to take that plunge you will likely find numerous games to really enjoy yourself. Keep your eyes peeled for game reviews from us in the coming weeks to see which games are worth your hard earned money.