E3 has come and gone, but in its wake, those of us on the nerdy camp have been provided a most welcome array of information, not the least of which centered around Sony's new handheld, the officially-named Playstation Vita. As a Playstation fan by association, this naturally piqued my interest. Here, submitted for your approval, are the reasons:
Lovely, lovely visuals
There's a good deal to be said in favor of Nintendo's 3D-capable handheld gadget. It's a departure from the norm, offering developers the chance to tinker with a whole new plane while, appealing to people who are quite enthusiastic about the resurgence of 3D. I, however, am not one of those people - at least not terribly so. I give Nintendo a lot of credit for taking a risk, and pushing into largely uncharted territory, but the eye strain and disorientation I've experienced during my limited time with the 3DS has given me quite a bit of reluctance when it comes to actually purchasing one. Strictly speaking for myself, I find the graphics upgrade of the Vita to be much more appealing than 3D gaming, however interesting it might be. Granted, one could always turn off the 3D effect, but then I'm left in the rather annoying position of spending money on a feature for which I have no use. The Vita's visuals are nothing if not stunning, offering, like the PSP before it, a visual experience that, while not on par with the current-gen home console (I doubt anyone honestly expected that), is a most impressive technical feat. Perhaps I'll even be able to use the system outside one day, unlike my beloved but wholly inadequate PSP, with that fancy OLED screen.
With Uncharted, LittleBigPlanet, and ModNation Racers (among others) coming to the Vita, I feel in my chest the faint fluttering of what the kids these days are calling "hope." LittleBigPlanet in particular appeals to me. Offering an astonishing level of creativity from the "Play, Create, Share" model, I think it will do a great deal to keep players entertained during waits between quality releases. Add to that the promise of BioShock, and Kojima's announcement that future home console titles will have Vita counterparts, and I've graduated from muted excitement to "actual excitement." I wouldn't much care about the Vita's camera, if not for Augmented Reality - the wonderful, whimsical "Oh god, spiders are crawling out of the ceiling" third-eye opener that I have yet to experience. I doubt that AR will provide anything beyond fun, distracting mini-games, but that's fine with me. I can't see having any interest in a full-fledged AR title, but I could easily fork over a few dollars for a bit of frivolous fun. It would be a bit like a PSP Mini except that I would find it appealing. PS3-Vita connectivity is interesting, especially for a game like Ruin that allows gamers to play on both system, and I'll be interested to see how this plays out with the inevitable successor to the PS3.
Read more after the jump!
A second analog stick
Anyone who has owned a PSP will tell you the horror - the true, soul-devouring horror - of "The Claw." For those that have never owned a PSP, games such as Monster Hunter and God Eater Burst have one dastardly, common foe: the camera. Typically this would be controlled by the right analog stick; however, the PSP's lack thereof necessitates that camera movements are mapped to the D-Pad. Annoyingly, but inevitably, you will need to operate the D-Pad and analog stick simultaneously (say, for example, if you're being chased by a beast the size of a city bus), resulting in a grade-a conundrum. "The Claw," is the technique used to overcome this, challenging the user to operate both the camera and character with the same hand, and the result is rather, shall we say, awkward. With the Vita, we see this issue wished out into the cornfield where it belongs, offering proper, console-style controls. It's comfortable, it's sensible, and most important of all, it doesn't cause arthritis.
No more UMD
When I first purchased my PSP and sat down for a rousing handheld romp, I was met with the rather disconcerting sound of metal scraping again plastic. Knowing relatively little about the system, and being a person of average intelligence, I sensed there must be something wrong with my new purchase. Yes, it was clearly trying access the disc, but surely it wouldn't make such an ungodly hiss while doing so. One trip back to Gamestop, PSP in tow, I was met with the unwelcome words "Yeah, they all do that. Sorry." Thus began my hate/more hate relationship with the UMD. Yes, it offers a good amount of storage, but I still find it vaguely astonishing that a storage medium with such an obvious, inherent flaw managed to make its way to market. Thankfully Sony has decided to go with memory cards this time which, aside from being wonderfully silent, have the promise of offering larger and larger storage as time goes on. I for one am looking ever so forward to the day when headphones are not a necessity, for fear of having the experience broken by the distinctive "something terrible is happening in my innards" wail of the PSP.
The idea of having a rear touch pad seemed fairly ridiculous at first - I recall thinking something along the lines that Sony was blindly throwing features at the Vita, however useless they may be - but upon further reflection and seeing some videos of its utility, it seems like a promising idea. When it comes to touch screen controls, mine is a loathing that knows no equal - one that will be studied by scholars for generations to come. Integrating touch into Vita titles is an interesting prospect, but for hardcore games that thrive on immersion, nothing breaks the experience quite like the sudden appearance of my skinny, wraith-like fingers obstructing my view of that pretty, pretty screen. This is where I believe the rear touch pad will shine. Little Deviants may be rather silly, and the touch control option shown in Uncharted doesn't exactly strike my fancy, but I see the function having some decent promise. Particularly in games such as LittleBigPlanet and ModNation Racers, where level design will no doubt become much more efficient with touch controls, having a clear, consistent view of the screen will go a long way.
Prior to the Vita's official unveiling, rumors had been floating around the web that Sony was aiming to bring the pricing of their new next-gen handheld in line with the 3DS. As I subscribe to the notion that the internet is a turgid cesspit from which all lies emanate, a series of expletives - foul words that I dare not speak for the sake of my grandmother (God rest her soul) - escaped my lips, to illustrate my disbelief. I was more than surprised, pleasantly so, when I learned that the Vita as in fact to be priced at $249.99 for wifi, and $299.99 for 3G. On the one hand it's quite a gamble; should the Vita fail to meet or exceed Sony's expectations, the company will no doubt be left with a whopper of a bill - consoles naturally take a number of years before manufacturing cost come down to a comfortable level. On the other hand, it puts Sony in a favorable position, tempting consumers with a comically powerful handheld for a relatively modest price - at least, one that is firmly in line with the competition. The DS vs. PSP, criticisms about the latter aside, found Sony in a difficult position, as cost-conscious consumers tended to gravitate toward a less advanced, but much cheaper product.
While the prospect of backwards compatibility for digitally-downloaded PSP titles is a bittersweet one - if the Go's North American release is any indication, I doubt that Sony will offer a UMD to digital transfer for PSP games - one fact makes the feature especially attractive: Automatic upscaling and texture smoothing. For those that can't stand the whole "Remade for HD/please give us your money again" trend, you have to give some credit to Sony for essentially giving all of your downloaded games a free upgrade. It doesn't help those of us that have a stockpile of UMDs, but it's more than I was expecting, and I do find it more than amusing that, despite the flak I've given the PSP Go (and by extension its download-only restriction) over the months, owners of the system will end up having the last laugh.
Yes, games like offering some fun, but as a PSP owner, online multiplayer amounted to little more than a sick joke. Don't get me wrong, ad-hoc matches of Dissidia were nothing if not a hootenanny of the first order (all of "zero" times I could find a gaming partner) but in the end is seemed like multiplayer simply wasn't a priority for the PSP. If I sound bitter, it's partly because I am - well, I suppose that is the crux of it - but also because infrastructure mode, the PSP's online muliplayer component, was a great feature that should have been better utilized. Siphon Filter and Portable Ops's online multiplayer kept those games in my handheld for quite a while, and at the end of the day, I found myself rather perplexed that more wasn't made of internet play. I can only hope that Sony's introduction of 3G is a sign that the Vita will introduce some proper multiplayer support; in order to give it real appeal, and thus justify the $50 price hike - never mind the monthly cost of 3G coverage.
All things considered, the Vita looks wonderful on paper and in previews - but then again, systems always do. I'm not sold yet - with the bitter memories of waiting months on end for decent PSP titles still fresh in my mind, i'm rather cautious - but it does have the potential to be a wonderful system, particularly is Sony is able to provde a steady stream of quality titles. Somewhat jaded, but still hopeful, i'm quite curious to see if Sony's sophmore handheld can in any way live up to the hype they have created. Good luck, and godspeed.