Release Date: 2/22/2012
MSRP: $249.99 (Wi-fi model), $299.99 (3G model)
It’s hard to believe that it has been 8 long years since the PSP came out, but it’s true. Those long years gave us some of the best portable games ever made and the first true attempt at a portable console experience. Unfortunately, the system was doomed from the start with proprietary disc media, no second analog nub, and a slew of other things, but the system was a powerhouse at the time and had a lot of potentials. The Vita is Sony’s second calling and it fixed all the issues of the PSP plus some, and one of those is noticeable as soon as you pull the shiny new device out of the box.
A second analog stick. An honest-to-God stick and not a nub or pad. These things feel like they moved straight from the DualShock controller and just shrunk a little. They feel great, even in-game, and I couldn’t believe that the second stick was there it was like a wish came true from God himself! This opens up the Vita to a whole slew of games that couldn’t be done on the PSP just because of this one little piece of hardware. While playing Uncharted: Golden Abyss I actually forgot the second stick was there a few times because I’m so used to the single nub on the PSP. It may take some PSP vets some getting used to before truly adapting to it. The next big thing that Sony fixed was no disc media! Thank you very much! Those UMDs were irritating and sucked up precious battery life as well as limiting the memory size. Now we get nice little carts, like the DS, or you can download the game digitally via the PlayStation Store.
Sony made one fatal flaw with the Vita and that is the proprietary memory cards. What in God’s name was Sony thinking? Everyone thought the memory stick pro-duos for bad for the PSP, but at least those were regular memory sticks. These tiny little things only work on the Vita and cost a fortune. A 32GB will run you $100 which is a complete rip-off, but guess what? You don’t have a choice! Thanks a lot, jerks!
The next big thing Sony did was add a touchscreen. Copied the DS you say? Not exactly, it’s more like it copied smartphones, but flip this guy over and you have a touchpad on the back which is Sony’s little way of saying, “Hey we’re trying to be original too”. It’s an odd thing to have and not many games use it yet, but it adds a whole new dimension to touchscreen gaming, and it’s just as responsive as the touchscreen so it doesn’t feel like a dead limb. However, it’s up to game developers to use this odd mechanic but only time will tell.
The screen is one of the best things about the device because it’s OLED (Organic Light Emitting Display) so you’re looking at some of the best display technology out. Now you don’t have to worry about dead pixels! Yeah…remember that launch fiasco Sony? The screen is 5″ which is the biggest portable gaming screen ever made and even tops the PSP’s 4.3″ screen. This allows for lots of detail in your face and tons of room for touching things on the screen.
Once you get over how gorgeous the screen is (I can’t stop staring at it!) you will start hitting those buttons on the device. Sure they don’t do anything unless you are in-game (the Live Area is all touchscreen-based, but more on that later) but the button layout here could have been a disaster. Sony had to be really careful because of those new sticks so the D-pad and face buttons shrunk about half their size and got moved up. Blasphemy! Actually no. Despite the higher placement and smaller size I still hit them accurately like the PSP even with my really big thumbs. The D-pad is way better than the PSPs and works well with fighting games (yes relax!) so no worries there. But…there is one problem with these buttons. The start and select buttons are way too small and are level with the system instead of sticking out. What! Did Sony fall asleep at the drawing board here? They are also placed all the way at the bottom of the right side so you have to move your hand down. C’mon…what happened there? Other than that the L and R buttons are nice and huge and you get a nice big PlayStation Home button the size of Venus on the left side, but hey it glows!
Anyways, the buttons are just fine so how about everything else visually? Sony made the little “compartments” more subtle this time around so the memory slot is hidden at the bottom as well as the game card slot on top so the whole system just looks like a big oval. Don’t be worried about the size of the thing either. Sure it’s big and not exactly pocket-sized, but for what is under the hood this thing is compact and pretty light.
Now that the visual stuff is out of the way let’s talk about it under the hood. This thing is the most powerful handheld on the market only being rivaled by devices powered by the Tegra 3 processor. The thing has a quad-core Arm-9 Cortex CPU which is freaking powerful. This allows for PS3 quality visuals that no other portable device on the market has. It also has a quad-core GPU which is over 4 times as powerful as the iPhone 4S’s GPU. The system also packs 512 MB of system memory and 128 MB of VRAM (Video memory) which is astounding (the Xbox 360 has 512 MB of memory for comparison). We also get two cameras that are front and back-facing which can track head movement, a six-axis gyroscope, Bluetooth, a microphone, and a 3G wireless card. Holy crap that’s a lot of stuff. This is one powerful device, but have yet to see what it is fully capable of.
Now let’s get down to software and how the thing plays. Every PlayStation fan by now is used to the XMB (Cross Media Bar) thanks to the PSP and PS3. Get ready for change because the new Live Area is made of bubbles. You like bubbles right? This is to make use of the touchscreen and takes a while to get used to. You can rearrange these bubbles to your liking kind of like on a smartphone and even change the background for each “page”. The Vita can multitask which is something the PS3 can’t even do. You can play a game, hit the home button, go online and lookup an FAQ, then flip back to your game without having to quit. Why can’t you do that on the PS3? Someone at Sony was dropped on their head as a baby one too many times, but it’s nice to have it here.
Once you start playing with the Welcome Park which gets you used to Vita’s new features, play around with Near which is like the 3DS’s StreetPass, but worse and more confusing, you will really start liking this guy. The browser works like the PS3 but has fewer features for some reason, but we get trophies! Oh my God, trophies! These are also great for games that are cross-platform so you can start working on a trophy on Marvel vs Capcom 3 then pick it right up on the Vita and finish unlocking that trophy.
The Vita uses remote to play a lot better than the PSP mainly because it’s more powerful and can do what the PS3 can do. Right now the remote play is still pretty weak, but the potential is there. Right now only 3 games support cross-play (MvC3, MLB 2K12, and Hustle Kings) but I’m excited about what this can bring. Overall the Vita has a lot of software potential, but is lacking a lot and feels kind of thin. Sony’s attempt at augmented reality comes to life with the Vita with AR cards (yes they ripped off the 3DS) and it works really well thanks to the system’s more powerful hardware and gyroscope.
Overall, is the system worth $250? Yes, it is if you are a hardcore portable fan or console fan. This is the first real console experience in portable form and Sony nailed it perfectly. The other big issue I forgot to mention is battery life. You get about 3-4 hours on a powerful game, 9 hours for music, 4-5 for video, so don’t expect huge play sessions like on the DS. The battery lasts forever in sleep mode though! Sure, what good does that do you? For what this system does the battery life is actually pretty long because you’re running a mini supercomputer off of it. Cut it some slack! The games for the system right now are OK, but not as awesome as the PSP launch (considered the best launch ever), but the games are reviewed separately. I would pick one up if you love portable consoles because this thing has so much potential. It just has a few major flaws and is quite lacking software-wise, but Sony will probably pick up the pace over the next year.
Over the next 5 years, I see the Vita as the model for portable games. We’ll start seeing games push the system graphically like God of War did for the PSP. I think we’ll see games that give us more than just touchscreen smartphone games thanks to the rear touchpad. In 5 years I expect the library to grow beyond ports and we’ll probably see the Vita’s first killer app by the end of this year that redefines portable gaming kind of like Syphon Filter and God of War did for the PSP. Those games showed that even with major flaws the system can be something incredible and helped people look past them all. Something like that will pop up for the Vita in the next year or two and then we can start talking about moving forward in the portable market.