21st Century Walkman: Vita turns PSP’s dream to reality

By Patrick Garratt
22 February 2012 09:09 GMT

Vita has the power to disrupt video games wholesale, and marks the realisation of Ken Kutaragi’s vision for the PlayStation handheld. With the console launching in the west today, Patrick Garratt is weak at the knees.

Vita is the machine 3DS should have been, the only portable console Sony could have released without being irrelevant, and is clearly one of the most inspired pieces of hardware conceptualization since Wii.

It’s easy to forget how heavily Sony’s E3 2004 PSP reveal stunned the games world. PSP could never work. It used a proprietary disc format no one cared about and was stupid enough to go toe-to-toe with Nintendo and DS. Urban legend even has it that Ken Kutaragi drew up the draft plans for UMD in the back of a cab on the way to the presentation.

The truth is that PSP, 55.4 million units later, was merely the first stage in the realisation of a vision: Kutaragi said it was “the 21st Century Walkman.”

It wasn’t. PlayStation Vita is.

With Vita’s launch today we are seeing Sony make good on its promise eight years ago to deliver a revolutionary handheld device to video games. Vita is not “mobile gaming”. It’s mobile console gaming in a machine modern enough to fit into even the most connected of lives. Vita is the machine 3DS should have been, the only portable console Sony could have released without being irrelevant, and clearly one of the most inspired pieces of games hardware conceptualization since Wii.

I don’t know a single person that’s used one for a real period of time that doesn’t like it. The concept is nigh on perfect. PlayStation Vita is a high-end portable games console for the internet generation. I can sit and play games on a screen large enough to leave my eyes unstrained while flicking in and out of Facebook and Twitter in seconds. The games are, staggeringly, comparable to current generation consoles, and thanks to the pastiche of twin thumbsticks and touch interfaces an entirely new experience arises. You can touch everything, move everything. For gamers, Vita is essential.

The UI, again, takes the best from other mobile formats and cocktails it with PlayStation heritage to create something potent. As with iOS and Android, you have apps on homescreens, all of which are moveable, and the backgrounds to which are all alterable. Open apps can be reached by flicking off to the right. Play Wipeout and leave your Twitter app and browser open; finish a race, drop out to check Twitter, open a link, drop back into the game. It’s seamless, and Vita’s power means it never blinks at keeping multiple pieces of software running.

The variety of interfaces means you’ll switch from sticks to screen to tilt, and after a while it all feels natural. You hands start to dance. The opening games have obviously been designed to show off Vita’s features to best advantage, but the effect of playing something like Uncharted – in terms of technicality, at least – is a revelation. Vita has provided something new. Given our current position with creativity in console video games, that is something to be applauded.

The question of relevance has gone from my mind. Vita is relevant, and it will succeed. There is no other portable format in existence that can run Call of Duty or BioShock without you knowing by default that it’s a cut-down cash-in. Uncharted: Golden Abyss, FIFA and Wipeout couldn’t be any further from “mobile” on Vita. They are new, serious versions in major franchises, as worthy of excitement as anything you’ll find on PS3 or 360. After using a Vita for the past weeks, the prospect of playing a new BioShock game on it has me giddy.

PlayStation Vita is Ken’s 21st Century Walkman. It is a format like no other. It has the potential to disrupt core gaming wholesale, just as Walkman changed the concept of music consumption. What started Kutaragi’s vision for PSP becomes reality in America and Europe today. Be part of it.

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