The Vita Experiment

images-115It’s been over a year since I purchased a Playstation Vita.  I have made only two dedicated posts on the subject since which may lead people to believe that I have not enjoyed my purchase.  Far from it actually, as the Vita has been getting a lot of attention from me and has probably been played more than my 3DS over that same time frame.  Not all that long ago I made an entry about the Wii U and how it has been a disappointment for me since it’s launch last November.  The Vita has similarly been a disappointment at retail, though for different reasons.  And while I’ve enjoyed my Vita thus far, I’m not anymore optimistic about its future than I am of the Wii U’s.  If anything, I’m more pessimistic since Nintendo has a lot more riding on the Wii U and is further incentivized to make sure it does not fail.  While Sony similarly has invested a great deal in the Vita, I get the sense that Sony could afford to have it fail and move on (though such an admission would likely end Sony’s attempt at penetrating the portable gaming market via a dedicated gaming device).

Not much has changed regarding my opinion of the Vita as a piece of tech since its launch last year.  The device is quite nice and it functions really well.  I have had no problems with my Vita in the year-plus that I’ve owned it.  No game freezing, no glitching, no nothing.  The screen is large and beautiful, the buttons placed well, and the twin analog sticks much appreciated.  I’m not saying they don’t exist, but I have yet to encounter a game that makes annoying use of the front and rear touch panels as developers have, so far, resisted the urge to shoe-horn touch controls into their games.  Just judging the console on its own merits it’s fantastic and easily the best portable gaming device ever created.

Unfortunately, it takes more than cool tech to make or break a console.  The Vita’s biggest obstacle so far has been price.  The Wi-fi edition retails for $250, which is a lot to ask of consumers for a handheld game console.  And that’s not all, memory cards have been obnoxiously priced from the start and easily push the total cost beyond $300 for any new adopters looking to get just one game with their system.  Sony has put out bundles that help trim some of the costs but it’s still a pretty big investment to get into the Vita.  Especially considering that consumers can get a pretty solid gaming experience on the go via their cell phones.  While true that there’s no cell phone equivalent to Uncharted:  Golden Abyss, many consumers seem content to save the money and just play games like that at home.  Combating mobile gaming is not a problem unique to Sony, but Nintendo has done okay with the 3DS since lowering the price which seems inevitable for Sony if it wants the Vita to have a fighting chance.

Some titles have been promoted as a 2 for 1, in that buying one copy of the game earns the ability to play it on the PS3 and the Vita.

Some titles have been promoted as a 2 for 1, in that buying one copy of the game earns the ability to play it on the PS3 and the Vita.

Aside from price, the other make or break aspect of any gaming device is the software.  Namely, the games.  Vita had a respectable launch on that front with several quality portable versions of strong games being made available alongside the aforementioned Uncharted title.  Uncharted has been a successful franchise for Sony on the PS3, though it doesn’t move units like some of the other premier video game franchises and it apparently wasn’t enough to attract a lot of early adopters.  Ever since the launch, the Vita has been spotty on the games front.  Some Vita exclusives like Gravity Rush and Assassin’s Creed:  Liberation have come and gone, and have failed to impress critics.  It feels like every Vita exclusive has scored in that 6.0-7.5 range with reviewers.  They’re good games, but not exactly system sellers.  The rest of the Vita’s catalog has been reduced to ports of console titles.  Some of these ports are done well, like MLB The Show, and work with their PS3 cousins.  One such game, Sly Cooper:  Thieves in Time, even came bundled with the Vita version allowing basically free portable play while others offer discounts when buying both.  Being able to play a console game on the go is certainly neat, but is it worth the added cost of getting a Vita?  Other ports, like last year’s edition of Madden, were done poorly which is inevitable with this sort of thing.  Developers are going to spend the most time on the editions of the game set to make the most money-making the Vita port an after-thought.

This may lead you to wonder what I’ve been playing that has allowed me to enjoy my Vita as much as I have.  Well, I made entries on my first Vita purchases, Rayman Origins and MLB, and my experience with both was positive.  I have since added the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, which contains the first two Metal Gear titles along with Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3.  I also have Little Big Planet Vita, which is an all new Little Big Planet title created for the Vita and is just as good as the console games.  I also downloaded a PSN exclusive called Dokuro which is an excellent platform-puzzle game.  Lately, I’ve been player Persona 4 Golden, a port of the PS2 game with some added content.  I think my library of Vita games is a decent representation of the console.  Most of it is composed of ports with only two titles unique to the Vita.  Of them all, it’s tough to say what I’ve enjoyed the most.  Playing the two MGS titles in HD and on-the-go was pretty damn cool and I had not played either in quite some time so it was really enjoyable for me.  Rayman Origins is just as good as the console version, which I don’t own, and is a title that works really well on a portable, well enough that I may get the Vita version alone of Rayman Legends when that comes out later this year.  Dokuro was the nice surprise, and is so far the only Vita game I would tell all Vita owners they should get.  It’s fun and it’s cheap which is always a winning combination in my book.  It also sports a unique look with its chalk drawing graphics and the game is pretty meaty as well.  Persona 4 has definitely been the title that I’ve spent the most time with.  I’m currently at the 80 hour mark and still going.  I never played the original so that helps, but even if I had I’d like to think I still would have bought this.  It’s an excellent game, though it’s dated visuals mean it won’t be the type of game you would buy to show off the Vita’s capabilities.

Dokuro, a download-only title in which you play as a skeleton and try to lead a princess to safety, is perhaps the Vita's best exclusive.  And you get to shoot the princess out of a canon.

Dokuro, a download-only title in which you play as a skeleton and try to lead a princess to safety, is perhaps the Vita’s best exclusive. And you get to shoot the princess out of a canon.

I’m nearly finished with Persona 4 so I’m now looking ahead.  I may switch back to the 3DS for a while as I have some games for it to check out, but in looking ahead to my next Vita purchase I’ve basically settled on Muramasa:  The Demon Blade.  Muramasa is yet another port of a console title, this one being a Wii game from a few years ago.  It’s a side-scrolling action title with beautiful hand-drawn visuals.  I never played the Wii version so it will be a new experience for me.  Aside from that, I’m uncertain what’s in store for the Vita.  It had a fairly poor showing at E3 this year, and the only exclusives I’m aware of are a new Killzone and Batman title (with the Batman title being available on the 3DS too, though one would hope the more powerful Vita would be the lead console).  I’m not a fan of the Killzone franchise, and while I’m interested in Batman, I fear it will turn out like AS:  Liberations and just feel like a lesser version of the console franchise.  These games do not seem like they’ll be big system sellers for the Vita, which has lost the PSP’s biggest franchise (in Japan, anyway), Monster Hunter, to the 3DS.  Sony does have plans for the Vita concerning the PS4.  Right now the aim is to have every PS4 game playable on the Vita via remote streaming.  This is a feature the PS3 supports but never made good use of which makes me skeptical that it will be widely available with PS4 titles.  Even if it is, I can’t see it being something that gets a lot of people to buy a Vita.  It can’t hurt, but will people spend over two-hundred dollars for the ability to play their PS4 games on a small screen?  The Wii U can do that with several games but it’s something I’ve only made use of here and there (though I also only play the Wii U here and there to begin with).

The Vita really needs this game to kick some serious ass.

The Vita really needs this game to kick some serious ass.

All of this leads me to one question:  Can I recommend the Vita to gamers?  I feel as if the answer to that question is “Yes,” but with qualifiers.  If you want a good portable gaming device then yes, the Vita is a good and worthwhile system to have around.  I didn’t touch on it much, but there are quite a few indie developers out there making excellent games for the PSN that figure to be made available on the Vita.  There are some good exclusives, and there are console games out there that are the same, if not better, on the Vita.  And if you’re into playing remakes, the Vita seems to be home to many such titles with more to come.  There’s also a plethora of PSOne and PSP titles available on the PSN for download and play on the Vita.  However, anyone thinking about buying a Vita needs to look at the current crop of games and decide if it’s worth buying just for these games alone.  The future is murky and we may have already seen the bulk of Vita’s exclusive third-party titles.  I do believe Sony will support the system at least thru 2014, but if things don’t pick up third-party developers will just use the Vita as a dumping ground for inferior ports of their console games.  And since the Vita, which currently is at least on par with the PS3, will soon be lagging behind the major home consoles those ports will become more expensive to make and may be bypassed all-together.  Someone recently asked me if they should get a Vita for their kids this coming Christmas.  The question was actually phrased as an either/or between a Vita and PSP.  I told them the PSP is not worth investing in at this point, but also to hold off on the Vita since a price-cut may be imminent.  I also slipped in the fact that by Christmas the PS4 will be out and their kids may want that more than a Vita and the difference in price may make the PS4 less expensive if this individual was thinking of getting a Vita for each kid.  That will likely be my response for anyone who asks me if they should get a Vita.  Wait for a price drop, or get a PS4 instead.  The future is just too uncertain for the Vita to give it a full recommendation.

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