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A question of relevance: PlayStation Vita’s the answer

Wednesday, 11th January 2012 10:20 GMT By Johnny Cullen

With only six weeks to western launch, PS Vita must now prove a dedicated, high-end games handheld can succeed in a world of multi-faceted iFunction. Johnny Cullen gives impressions of a Japanese unit and games.

PlayStation Vita

Announced and unveiled at PlayStation Business Meeting in January 2011 as NGP (Next Generation Portable).

Features an OLED touch-screen and rear touch panel, two cameras – one forwards, one backwards – and SIXAXIS support.

Western launch scheduled for February 22, 2012. Here’s the European and US launch line-ups.

Vodafone in Europe and Australia, AT&T in the US and NTT Docomo in Japan all signed up as preferred 3G partners.

Q&A – PlayStation Vita.

Six weeks isn’t tomorrow, but it feels like only yesterday that we first saw NGP on stage in Tokyo; in fact, it was nearly a year ago. Now, Sony hopes the renamed PlayStation Vita will set the world on fire, presenting itself as the Swiss Army knife of handheld gaming.

We’ve debated the relevance of a specialist handheld gaming device since iPad and iPhone rolled onto the scene, and if Vita itself has a chance against 3DS.

While the argument surrounding the very existence of Vita’s place in the market continues, some are already expressing doubts about the console’s ability to stand up against Nintendo’s machine, following sluggish sales so far in Japan.

It’s too early to call it yet. From what I’ve seen of it, PlayStation Vita deserves to succeed.

Once you open its packaging and take it out, you’ll find Vita is light, something I hadn’t noticed when I tried it during gamescom last year. It’s also very sleek, which is why I’m so apprehensive about putting my sticky fingers all over its gorgeous 960×544 five-inch OLED touch-screen.

Light as it may be, it’s big. It’s thicker than my PSP-3000, thicker than my PSP-1000, and just about the same dimensions as my 3DS, give or take.

The giant, immediate plus is the inclusion of a second analog stick. The lack of it was one of PSP’s big sticking points, and it’s something Nintendo is aiming to rectify on 3DS with its slider pad, meaning it’s probable any 3DS redesigns will add a second stick.

The dual control is a godsend, especially for games like Uncharted. As for the rear touchpad, it doesn’t show its use until we get into some of the games, like Golden Abyss, so we’ll leave that for later.

You say hello, I say hello

Turning Vita on for the first time brings up the PlayStation and make.believe Sony logos, after which you peel back on the touch screen to start setting up the system. Required are language, timezone, date and time, and your PSN details, but you can set up a trial account if you wish.

After that’s done, you’ll get a mandatory introduction video that shows you the basics. From there, you’re greeted with the new home menu, radically different from the XrossMediaBar (XMB) on PlayStation 3 or PSP. Instead, Vita comes equipped with LiveArea, a more social-focused set-up.

LiveArea, Vita’s home page.

Instead of focusing on categories for certain kinds of media, LiveArea starts with apps such as Party, Friends, Group Messaging and Trophies.

When you’re greeted on LiveArea for the first time, you’re directed towards Welcome Park, an app which shows off and encourages you to adjust to some of the main functions of the console, such as the touch-screen, camera, SIXAXIS and more, through the use of mini-games.

For example, when on the SIXAXIS tutorial, you’ll get a game called Skate Axis. This involves skating while using the motion controls to avoid balls, as well as tilting to jump.

For the microphone, there’s Sound Loop, where you record sounds and your voice then play it back as some sort of disjointed music, or whatever you want to call it.

Welcome Park is a nice introduction to the world of features that come pack in with Vita, and should make the settling in process easy.

The Social Network

One of the strongest areas in Sony’s presentations of Vita this past year has been social connectivity. It focused on it at its press conferences at gamescom, Tokyo Game Show and, to a lesser extent, at a developer session with Sony WorldWide Studios European boss Michael Denny at Eurogamer Expo.

Facebook and FourSquare have been promised, but Twitter is a launch app. LiveTweet is not available out from the box, so if you have a unit as the moment you’ll need to download from the Hong Kong or Japanese PlayStation Store. Obviously, it’s free.

It’s your bog-standard Twitter app. You tweet, you post pictures using the system’s cameras, add hashtags, select friends to mention, browse profiles and search. Anything you’d find in a standard app or programs like Tweetdeck is included.

A Vita tweet. A vweet, if you will.

Another key aspect to Vita’s social side is Near, an application that lets you find other people nearby who have a Vita and see what games they’re playing, among other things. As no one else is likely to have a Vita where I live until February 22, I’m unable to properly use it. Near’s promise sounds good, though: being able to find other Vita owners in the area, seeing what they’re playing and being able to leave gifts and challenges; think of this as Vita’s StreetPass, but more sophisticated.

Group Messaging allows you to add friends into a group and send them a message. Simple. Next is Party; you can add a list of friends, the same as Group Messaging, but this time hang out with them in one whole group, text chat to one another or even speak to each other through voice chat. I haven’t been able to try this out properly as yet, though.

You’ll also have your Friends list in a separate app, where you can see what they’re currently playing on either Vita or PS3. An added plus is you’ll be able to compare Trophies against one another.

Even without Facebook and Foursquare, and without having the chance to properly test Near or Party, it’s clear Vita’s social capacities are strong, more so than Nintendo’s light efforts with 3DS.

Social connectivity is vital in a world where so many people habitually use Facebook and Twitter, and Vita is well-equipped to deal with the internet landscape of today.

Remote possibilities

If anyone paid attention to Shuhei Yoshida’s Tokyo Game Show keynote last September, Remote Play on Vita – besides offering control access to your PS3′s media content, as did PSP – has big potential, possibly even as far as playing PS3 games.

Yoshida showed Killzone 3 streamed to the handheld using Remote Play, as well as a co-op session of LittleBigPlanet 2 on PS3, where one player used a Vita as the controller. Eurogamer rumoured last year the feature would be patched into a future Firmware update.

But for now, you just have the vanilla Remote Play familiar to PSP owners. You’re still able to play PS1 games and PS3 media through your handheld, but unable to watched locked content on your PS3, such as TV shows and movies.

This time round, however, Vita has a dedicated Content Manager app that allows you to swap media content from PS3 to Vita, and likewise between PC and Vita. I tried swapping several episodes of Arrested Development, The Social Network and Tron Legacy between PS3 and Vita using Content Manager. In the end, it took about 15 minutes to finish once the swap began.

Yoshida showing Killzone 3 with Remote Play
at TGS.

For other multimedia possibilities, music and video is music and video. Shock. I watched a few episodes of Arrested Development and The Social Network and the image quality is top notch, a lot better than PSP. I haven’t tried it outside yet (mostly because it hasn’t actually been sunny even once since I got it – it’s been howling winds, rain and dark), so I can’t comment on how the screen stands up to glare, but it’s great indoors.

That, however, can’t be said for the camera. While I’ve yet to see its use in games, the quality definitely not the greatest, as you can see in some of the photos I’ve taken with it below. Don’t expect decent quality photography.

For its browser, Sony seems to have done a better job here than it did with PSP, although it’s brain-meltingly slow. Flash doesn’t work on it either, so don’t expect YouTube support for at least a while yet.

Uncharted territory

But for all of the multimedia features, with all of its social functionality and all of its amazing hardware specs, at its core PlayStation Vita is a gaming handheld. Everything else comes secondary to the games. And the games I’ve played so far have been brilliant. When I got it, I picked up Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, Everybody’s Golf 6 and, of course, Uncharted: Golden Abyss.

I also tried out the Gravity Rush demo. I did a piece on that, which you can find here. Spoiler: it’s awesome.

For importers, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 will come in a mix of Japanese and English, with menus in Japanese and voicework mostly in English. There’s nothing that’s going to shock players of the original MvC3 or those who picked up the console version of UMvC3 besides the new characters.

I’m no expert on fighting games, but I’ve liked what I’ve played of UMvC3 so far, and it adjusts well to a handheld. That sign alone might be good news for Street Fighter x Tekken’s release on the system sometime this year.

I liked Everybody’s Golf: World Tour when I had it on PS3, so getting back into Everybody’s Golf 6, even if it was all Japanese, was easy enough. From what I’ve tried out so far, it feels like an Everybody’s Golf game. That’s no bad thing, but there’s not much else to say besides that.

I gushed about how much potential Uncharted: Golden Abyss had as the killer app for PlayStation Vita back at gamescom, having spent 15-20 minutes with it at the Sony presser and some free time with it at Sony’s off-site appointments. Naughty Dog’s trust in putting the Uncharted series into the hands of Sony Bend has been well placed. I’m still to finish it, but only for lack of time; at this stage, I’m loving it.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss. This’ll be Vita’s first
killer app.

Many of the positives are things I touched upon in Germany last year, including clever use of touchscreen controls. For example, an early puzzle requires you to make charcoal rubbings of four parts of a puzzle, then reassemble the whole picture.

Uncharted is also one of the first games that uses the rear touchpad, and it uses it well. You can go up down a rope by sliding down continuously, and so on. You can also use it to zoom in when taking pictures, and can frame shots using the SIXAXIS as well as the traditional second stick.

There’ll be something more detailed on Uncharted near the western launch, but besides a few concerns – the big one being touch-screen and how it may make climbing a bit like an auto-pilot – it’s safe to see Golden Abyss as Vita’s first system seller.

Note: if you’re importing Uncharted before launch, you can play it in English as well as Japanese.

Summing up

In total, PlayStation Vita is everything you could ask for in a gaming handheld with the exception of it making toast.

A brilliantly-designed piece of kit; a bristling array of hardware like the touch-screen, SIXAXIS, second stick and rear touch-pad; a potentially great social connectivity suite; and an excellent line-up of games at launch.

Some stuff isn’t so great. The default browser isn’t what you’d expect from a modern connected device, but there’s potential for that to change. It might be easy to question Vita’s relevance as a dedicated console in the days of multi-function iDevices, but ask yourself this: can an iPhone play Uncharted?

There’s your answer.

Latest

21 Comments

  1. neo2012

    Hopefully the Vita does succeed. It’s priced fairly, sports a wealth of great features, and has incredible visuals.

    I will definitely be there on day one to pick up mine.

    Uncharted: Golden Abyss is calling! :)

    #1 3 years ago
  2. DarkElfa

    I’m afraid it may just be 2 years too late. I’d really love to buy one, but I’m too afraid of being left with something that’s DOA.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. The_Red

    Glad to hear such positive impressions :) Hopefully it does indeed succeed because Vita could be what I always wanted from a gaming handheld and never got it. It address many problems with both PSP and DS so at least in theory, it is the ultimate gaming handheld for all tastes.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. BraveArse

    I absolutely love mine. It’s exactly what a new piece of gaming hardware should be, in that it makes you feel like you’re in the future. Can’t put it down.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. Dannybuoy

    ^ I’m really enjoying mine too. It makes gaming on my iPhone 4 feel pretty oldschool. Touchscreen + dual sticks is the way forward. Uncharted GA is excellent, really enjoying it. Bit of a shame it has to take you back to the beginning in terms of introducing gameplay elements but it has to do so to bring new players up to speed. But it’s still fun to play. The first time I’ve played a ‘mobile’ game on my commute that makes me want my journey to be longer!

    I don’t think Vita will be DOA, once it picks up some momentum I think it’ll do very well indeed. Once you have hald one and played with one for a bit you’ll all see the light. ‘Vita, la revolution!’© (Sony you can pay me to use that tag line if you like)

    #5 3 years ago
  6. BraveArse

    @5 ^You tried the Virtua Tennis demo at all? It’s gobsmackingly gorgeous.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. DrDamn

    Nice write-up Johnny. Will be trading up my 3DS for one come UK release.

    RE: Browser being brain-meltingly slow. I’m finding vg247 brain-meltingly slow on a number of handheld devices recently (iPad, WP7). Not sure what exactly the problem (likely the adverts).

    #7 3 years ago
  8. ManuOtaku

    I Will be picking one, as soon as a price drop is announce, just like my two 3ds, of course i did buy one 3ds at launch, but then when a price drop hits, you get the feeling that you could wait a little bit more in order to get it, yes i do own 3 3DS, one for me , for my wife and the kids, also because this year the Wii U will launch i will be pretty tight on my shopping schedule, that alongside with the great list of games coming, hope the vita does well as the 3ds too, cheers for the dedicated handled devices.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. viralshag

    I would like to try it but I’m such a crap handheld gamer I know there’s no point. I barely even buy apps/games on smart-phones to play so I can’t really justify buying one of these.

    #9 3 years ago
  10. OlderGamer

    I own and use a PSP3000. I bought one for Phantasy Star Portable (1 and 2). And then it sits there. One of my biggest problems with handhelds, other then 5inch< screens, is the reliance on game franchises already on a console.

    In this piece, Johnny tried three games that he no doubt already owns(or could) for PS3. For some people that won't be an issue. For me its a deal breaker. I can't understand for the life of me why I would wanna have a smaller, often dumbied down, version for a small screen.

    Same type of thing with the apps, everything it does could be done better on something else.

    So we are left with the "on the go" aspect of handhelds. I know many do, but I never find myself out of the house with enough time in need of wasting to justify the purchase of a handheld. A few stolen min is the most I ever find myself with, certianly not enough to warrent something like Uncharted. Easier, more sensible to wipe out a phone for something smaller and quicker. Or even to just wait for a couple of mins. We aren't talking hours. I drive, don't take public transport. I don't sit in the back seat while mom and dad take me somewhere, or whatever. The ocasional DRs apt or something, but again thats once in awhile and not something I can't manage sans gaming.

    For me it comes down to what games can I play, at home, on a handheld that I can't get on a console.

    PSP had Phantasy Star Portable. And Monster Hunter(what I wouldn't give for a Monster Hunter w/full online for PS3/xb360)(I played the one for Wii). And like those couple of games, it ticks me off that they weren't put out for a console. JP is handheld crazy, and their love of them has greatly hurt their impact on consoles(esp in the west), but thats another rant altogether ;)

    Long story short, is that you ask the question of relevance of a dedicated core gaming hanheld game system, Johnny, but your asking it to a core gaming audiance. Go poll average/random people on the street if you want a better picture. I think if gamers take off the rose tinited glasses here, they will see that Vita could well have a tough go at it.

    I could be wrong, won't be the first nor the last time. But unless it gets a couple of price drops and some non console games, I will pass.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. viralshag

    @10, The “on-the-go” paragraph pretty much sums up why I don’t really do portable gaming… perfectly.

    If I had time to burn and the choice in front of me was console/PC vs handheld, the handheld is never going to win.

    #11 3 years ago
  12. BraveArse

    I think you’re getting it back to front. For some people, me included, the Vita is the only way to get more than a handful of minutes of /quality/ gaming time. In my house the big screen, which the ps3 and 360 sit under, is constantly a point of negotiation. And most often I lose those negotiations. Like many gamers with a family, the gamer ends up sitting there watching a telly programme they would never actively choose to switch on.

    Enter the vita, where I can get exactly what I want. Console games in my hands on the sofa without any conflict over the big screen, perfect. And what’s that? Cross game chat too? Fuck me, I may as well sell my 360 which I never get to use. And I can guarantee I’m not the only one in that situation. Having games I can get on the other consoles, but in the palm of my hand is precisely where it’s appeal lies. Add to that the potential for location based features and for me it’s pretty irresistible.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. Patrick Garratt

    I have to say, I got a promo unit yesterday from Sony and first impressions are very good. There’s a bunch of stuff pre-installed on it, like the Great Escape demo and Uncharted, and I don’t know what other portable format they could work on. The Gravity Rush demo’s fantastic. The combination of sticks, touch-screen and accelerometers really does make it feel unique. It’s completely different to playing games on a phone.

    Whether or not it’ll succeed in that it’ll sell 50 trillion units and be king of the world is another thing, obviously, but it’s certainly interesting for core games. There’s nothing else like it. Not that I’ve seen, anyway.

    #13 3 years ago
  14. viralshag

    @12, Oh yeah I would never deny the reasons for having one and your situation doesn’t come to mind because honestly, I have never been in a similar one. (Hopefully it be like that forever haha)

    If it’s really as good as current gen, I can understand why this would be a much better option for gamers. The idea of having to negotiate TV time between Eastenders and Uncharted 3 sends a chill down my spine.

    #14 3 years ago
  15. OlderGamer

    Same as viral said, Brave.

    I am spoilt I guess. In my home I own 4 xb360s(one for my “man cave”/game room, one in the living room, and one in each of my teens bedrooms), I own one PS3(living room), and one Wii(living room). I have TV in three different spots.

    All of that means that regaurdless of the situation, I can play something somewhere. Or my wife can watch Netflix/cable at the sametime.

    If for some reason, I couldn’t get to a TV, then yes I would own a fairly large collection of handheld games. That and/or use my PC as my primary game choice. So, in your situation, I can fully understand your love for a handheld.

    But, I would be comfortable in saying that most adults don’t have such conflict in finding a place to play some games. I would highly recomend a second TV, even if a smaller sized one to play your consoles on.

    #15 3 years ago
  16. ManuOtaku

    Well i use handled gaming when i need to go to some place with my wife, so she can do the things she needs to do (errants,shopping and the likes) and i have to wait in the car or something, and also when shutdowns occur in the city, which they do occur pretty often, so we need handled devices to pass the time, of course fully charged 8D, if it wanst for that well i didnt see the neeed neither and i understand the points made by some of you.

    Having said that, iam on the other side of the fence regarding getting on the handleds devices the consoles games experience, i prefer games that i cannot find them in the consoles ,like for example valkyria chronicles 2, gravity rush or the upcoming luigis mansion 2 / kid icurus, something that is unique to the handled console too, something that i cannot experience in the home consoles, like kirbys canvas curse, loco roco, patapon, etc.

    p.s oh and i forgot for long travels, although this dont occur to much

    #16 3 years ago
  17. DrDamn

    @10
    I can’t for life of me see why *you* would want one either. For other people I can see plenty of reasons though. Quite a big post which could be summed up as “Not for me” ;). Everything doesn’t have to be for everyone.

    Brave mentioned a few good reasons which apply to me. Competition for the TV is a big one for me. The proposed interaction between Vita and PS3 is a big plus too. Play on Vita, save to cloud, continue on PS3 when TV is available/I am home.

    Combination of touch screen, touch panel + traditional controls also chuck up some interesting possibilities. Stuff you can’t do on anything else.

    #17 3 years ago
  18. HeavyD-Love

    Good read. Looks like you need a higher speed memory card for your camera Johnny. Most of your pics are blurry.

    #18 3 years ago
  19. Johnny Cullen

    Nah, it’s me. I think it has to do with how I was taking photos at the time (for some reason, the battery cover wouldn’t close meaning the battery would slip out and I had to find a way to hold it in while taking the photos).

    #19 3 years ago
  20. ManuOtaku

    #19 the baker never gets the fault for a bad tasty bread, the fault goes to the flour, so it is not your fault is the camera´s man ;)

    #20 3 years ago
  21. Dimaco

    Hell, I like what I read here… I’d love to get one, but as others already said, I don’t really have a reason to get a handheld… I never need to spend much time waiting anywhere, and when I am home I just have my PS3 there waiting…

    #21 3 years ago

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