At last. At sodding last, I finally got my sweaty little fingers around the handheld marvel that is the Playstation Vita.
After a nearly half-an-hour wait, I finally reached the front of the queue whereupon myself and the five others that had been let through were given a card. Each of the six cards that you could be given represented a different game that you could demo on the machine. It turned out that my card indicated I would be spending some quality time with Wipeout 2048. Full of purile smuggery, I quietly scoffed at the chap next to me who had a 'Little Deviants' card, taking a slightly sly and rather cuntish inner-sneer at what I supposed was his lack of fortune.
How ironic then, that out of all of the six games that I could demo that Wipeout perhaps showed off the machine's varied functionality in the least, yet the relatively unknown 'Little Deviants', makes some of the best use of the machine outside of Little Big Planet.
More on that in a bit though.
After being guided down to what would become an uncomfortable stool for the next seven minutes or so; forcing me to lean over the PS Vita like an 87 year old with DVT, the ever-eager and ever-smiling Sony rep began talking me through the features of Sony's new handheld in manner befitting someone who had never held a pad in their lifetime.
Nevertheless, whilst informative to those who would be unfamiliar with Sony's latest piece of shiny tech, her words washed over me; gradually fading, as my brain was concerned with more important matters - registering the feel and weight of the machine that was clasped tightly in my spindly digits.
Being sans battery, the machine felt lighter than it otherwise would have. Indeed, the lightness of the machine combined with the precarious attachment to the demo unit holder caused a nasty little thought to pop into my head.
It felt a little bit... Cheap. Yet even with this thought, I could not deny the attractive aesthetics of the thing that like many others, I decided would be a day one purchase when it was first announced.
After adopting a sitting posture that although making me look a tad crippled, would see me through the next seven minutes in relative comfort regardless, I began to play. After navigating the menus to start a race, the rep informed me of the different ways that I could play the game.
First up, was the traditional controller method; utilising the left thumb-stick to steer my futuristic floater around the twisty-turny, barreling sci-fi tracks, whilst the face buttons controlled weapons and the shoulder buttons controlled air-brakes. To little surprise, the game felt just like the PS3's Wipeout Fury; all miniature-like in the palms of my hand, with the series hallmark handling and retina-tearing sense of speed fully intact. Indeed, the illusion of total parity would be complete had it not been for the occasional framerate drops and sporadic blocky texture work on sparks and explosions.
No sooner do I mention this to the rep; that the game looked 'a bit raw', than she informs me that the game is still in development with a few months of hard graft yet to go. I'll let them off, but even so I do hope that they lock the framerate to the sixty frames-per-second mark, so that comparisons to it's PS3 older brother are both favourable and indicative of the home experience (from a visual standpoint at least), making the not inconsiderable jump to the handheld.
After tearing through the race and coming in at almighty eighth place, out of eight racers, the rep piped up and said 'Why don't you try the motion controls for the next race?'.
And I was having so much fun too.
Like a six-year old child forced to down his 'greens', I grimaced as I reluctantly held the machine in my hands; knowing that like the countless motion-controlled racing games that I played before it on iOS, it would handle like a complete festering turd; destroying any consideration for using that control scheme in the future.
I would like to tell you that I was pleasantly surprised.
As expected, the motion control system *did* feel like any one of the various motion-controlled mobile phone racing games currently available. Steering was achieved through the tilting of the machine, power-ups were used by touching the screen and breaking could be done by depressing a finger on the back touchpad. It just felt completely awful; the epitome of the terrifyingly imprecise level of control for which motion-controlled racers are rightly reviled for.
Nonetheless, it did give me my first experience of the rear touchpad, which in itself is a good thing in my humble opinion. Crucially though, the rear touchpad is certainly something you need to remember is actually *there*.
Traditionally, with the majority of handheld consoles in times gone past, your middle fingers have a had a pretty lazy time of it - resting idly against the back of the hardware whilst the index fingers and thumbs do all the work. Now though, the advent of a control input located on the back of the machine, has meant that those lazy digits need to be educated to be actively engaging this new method of playing games.
As you must have gathered by now, Wipeout is certainly not the best title for showing off this new control method. Indeed by all accounts, Wipeout hardly shows off the skillful amalgamation of different control methods that the Vita is capable of at all. There is no use of the machine's extensive AR capabilities, no real use of the touch-screen and certainly, no innovative use of the rear touchpad.
In being very conservative in this regard, yet still being a largely faithful recreation of a PS3-quality Wipeout experience for the handheld, my seven minutes of play-time with the Vita yielded disappointingly little in the way of surprise or appreciation of everything the machine is capable of.
After my time with the machine was over, I stood up and glanced over at the joyful expression of the chap who just finished playing Little Deviants. He seemed to be enthused by the myriad of ways in which that game showcased the impressive feature set of the Vita - his fingers darting about the touch screen and rear touch pad, as he pressed face buttons and titled the console with obvious, annoying glee.
Whilst I wasn't sad to leave the uncomfortable seating arrangements that made me feel like I needed a new spine, I nonetheless felt a strong pang of regret that I didn't try and swap my card with his; in the pursuit of something that utilised the extensive feature set of the Vita a whole lot better.
Don't get me wrong; i'll still be grabbing one when it gets released, but other than early play bragging rights, I came away with a lot less interesting stuff to report than I had hoped.
Little Deviants. The bastard.