Quick Thoughts on the Playstation Vita

Depending on how you look at it, the Playstation Vita has now been out for just over one week or just over two. It has been a strange launch to say the least. I pre-ordered the First Edition bundle back in January, less so because I wanted the pack-in deals (which for the record include a decent but unimpressive carrying case, a mediocre pack-in game and a 4 GB memory card that likely won’t last me very long) and more because I got caught up in the idea of getting it early. For some reason that strangely appealed to me.

So I’ve had it for over a week now, and I would never ever have the time to give a proper review to each of the games I’ve played (it’s a pretty high number, I tend to go overboard when a new system launches) as well as the system so I thought I would do a general write-up and give a very brief overview of my thoughts up until this point.

The System Itself

I will say that the Vita didn’t make the most terrific first impression as some of the initial set-up felt strangely convoluted. In particular, a system update was needed and until I went through with it, I was unable to input my existing PSN ID. So I had to skip that step, go in and perform the update, and then go and input my existing information. It doesn’t sound like much but at the time it was a little baffling and I actually had to hit up the Internet to make sure there wasn’t a bigger issue at play here.

But once the first steps were out of the way and I was playing the system, I was immediately impressed. The desktop (I don’t know what else to call it) is clean and clearly laid out, though I did initially have trouble figuring out to enter in my online pass codes. I know a lot of people don’t like that you can only navigate this area by using the touch screen but I had no issues. It moves things along quickly and it works well. My one complaint is that each game is given it’s own space here, which crowds things up pretty quickly. I’m sure they will add some way to group these together down the road, or at least I hope they do otherwise this is going to out of hand really quickly.

The Vita of course gives you just about every possible way to play a game ever in existence. We have dual analog control, a first amongst the portable systems, at least as far as I’m aware (the control stick pro for the 3DS does not count). There’s obviously the front touch screen, but then there is also the rear touch screen. There is tilt control, a built in camera, and more things I didn’t even know about until some of the games busted them out. It makes for a tremendous amount of possibility for what developers can do with upcoming titles.

The biggest appeal for me is the Vita’s screen. My god do games ever look fantastic on this thing. Large, bright and just fantastic looking.

I could get into more detail but I wanted this to be a broad look. I am very impressed with the Vita overall. It feels good, it looks great, and although I do have some issues with the general menu layout and functionality, it’s nothing game breaking and I’m sure will be patched and fixed as time goes on. Battery life isn’t terrific but it does seem better than the 3DS so far. I would put it at somewhere around 4-5 hours per full charge. This is one of the few systems where I am genuinely excited to see what developers do with it down the road, as it seems like there is a lot of potential for innovation here.

The Games I’ve Played

Of course impressive hardware can only get you so far if there aren’t quality titles to back it up. The Vita’s launch, in my eyes, was impressive in terms of game selection. There were numerous titles I was interested in and Sony brought a lot of their flagship titles to the system right out of the gate. Here are the ones I have tried out so far.

Little Deviants

I figure I will lead with this one, as it is the pack-in with the FE bundle. Little Deviants is a mini-game collection that essentially serves as a way to show off all of the Vita functionality as fast as possible. Front and back touch screen, tilt control, the camera, they all come into play here. It’s a great pack-in in that it shows all of the ways you can use your new system. It’s not a great pack-in in that it is not all that fun.

Some of the games are decent, such as the tilt-focused games that have you tilting the Vita to maneuver through a maze. But the majority are boring, repetitive, and often frustrating. Many of the games repeat themselves (you will be tilting you way through mazes at least 5 times) and when you didn’t have much fun with them the first time, imagine how soul crushing the fourth time is? Some of the games, maybe even all of them, feel like they drag on forever! A whack a mole style game that has you doing nothing but tapping the screen to kill enemies goes on for minute after minute and it was boring about 15 seconds in. This is a consistent problem.

It’s a decent enough game for a pack-in, but not worth picking it up separately.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss

One of the two main reasons I picked up the Vita, this was the first game I tried out after cracking open the box. While I can’t put it above Uncharted 2 and 3 (god damn it I liked that third game!), it’s easily on par with the first game, if not maybe a slight improvement. The writing may not be quite as snappy but the story is interesting and the action is very solid. There’s also tons of collectables, some of which are well implemented, such as using the system to take in-game pictures of certain locations.

I wasn’t a huge fan of some of the Vita specific mechanics. Many are optional, many are not. There’s definitely some that are used well, like the charcoal rubbings and one neat trick involving light. However I certainly didn’t miss using the tilt function to not fall off platforms that you’re crossing, and some of the QTEs, which are all done by swiping your finger across the screen in specific directions, are frustrating because often you’ll fail and wonder why. And some of them go FOREVER and one wrong input means right back to the beginning.

Overall though I really liked this one. It looks fantastic and feels great with the dual analog sticks. It’s a lengthy adventure and one I will go through again so if you’re getting a Vita, this is a must.

Modnation Racers: Road Trip

Another flagship franchise is brought out for the launch of the Vita. I only played some of the PS3 and PSP versions and had fun so I figured I would pick this up. I have not been having as much fun with this one. It just feels so stripped down. There’s no online multiplayer or sense of community and once that’s gone all you are really left with is a pretty mediocre kart racer. The later levels get frantic to the point of frustration and the controls often feel a little broken. My character seems to veer wherever the fuck he wants and will often go skidding off the track for reasons I can’t understand. I wouldn’t bother with this one.

Hot Shots Gold: World Invitational

If you are a HSG fan and are looking for more of it, here is that. No massive overhauls to the formula, just more of what you remember and for the time being I’m still ok with that. The controls feel great and the game has a bright and colorful aesthetic that still works. Tons of unlockables, lots of course and a store full of items to buy increase the replay value, and there’s a daily online tournament you can compete in as well. If you’ve grown tired of the franchise then this won’t change your mind but if you’re up for another round, it’s completely worth your time. A great portable game.

Michael Jackson The Experience HD

Sooooo I definitely was amongst those who downloaded the demo of this and was a little surprised to find that trophies were unlocking and there seemed to be no limit to what you could do. Yes the full game was put up instead of the demo and I nabbed it before the error was fixed.

The game itself is decent. It’s all touch screen based as you tap and swipe to match the on-screen prompts. There are definitely occasions where I get a ‘Miss’ and am not sure why, which can get frustrating when you’re trying for a trophy that requires a perfect run. The song selection has everything you would want but you’ll burn through them fast and if you don’t have any interest in playing the same 15 or so tracks over and over again to get all of the unlockables then the game will grow tiresome quickly. The presentation is top notch, with each song capturing it’s associated video pretty well. Overall, decent.

Lumines: Electronic Symphony

Full disclosure – this is the first time I’ve ever played a Lumines game. Oh I knew a lot of people had some serious affinity for it,  but I had never experienced it myself. First time I fired this game up, I played it for about 2 hours. The next session? Almost 3. Since then I have toned it down to only a few rounds per play session but it has been getting a lot of play. Puzzle fans and video games alike need to buy this immediately, that’s all I’m going to say. Fast and addictive game play, great music and a ton of content, buy it!

Rayman Origins

Did you love the console versions of this game? Then you will love the Vita version as they are one and the same. Didn’t play the console version? Then you will love the Vita version because it’s a fucking fantastic game. Easily one of the best platformers to be released in years, Rayman Origins looks incredible, plays incredible and is flat out incredible.

Touch My Katamari

Aside from being able to stretch your katamari by using the rear touch panel, the katamari formula has not changed here. If you are up for more katamari then you shall receive exactly that. Hell the game itself jokes about how the series may have grown stale. The gameplay remains fun but the game is over very very quickly. I would say this game took me 3 hours at the most to get to the end. There are reasons to go back and replay the levels but the whole package still does feel a little thin. For 30 bucks though, there is definitely fun to be had.

And those are all of the games I’ve played so far and just my quick thoughts on each of them. I think you can piece together that I am a fan. I think the system itself is great, and it features an impressive launch with a lot of quality titles to pick from. Yes many are slight revisions on well known franchises, but I’m kind of ok with that. If anything I forgot just how many great franchises Sony has.

A lot of people are not happy with the Vita’s $250 entry price but you know what, I feel it has been completely worth it so far. Sure the memory card prices are a little insane (I’m rocking my 4 GB for as long as possible) but god damn it I like this thing. I like it a lot. Well done Sony, you got me once again.