PlayStation Vita Impressions

Written by on February 24, 2012 in [, , , , , , , , , , , , ]

First and foremost, let me say that I’ll do my best to get through this article WITHOUT making reference to a certain Ricky Martin song (and no, I don’t mean “She Bangs”). With that little disclaimer out of the way, let’s get down to business.

This week marks the official North American and European launch of Sony’s latest entry into the portable gaming market, the PlayStation Vita. There’s been a lot of talk about everything this new console is supposed to be capable of. The only thing missing is infomercial guru Ron Popeil holding up a Vita-O-Matic and proclaiming, “It slices! It dices! It makes julienne fries!” But strip away all of that hyperbole and what are you really left with? Well, if my hands-on time with the Vita is any indication, you end up with a pretty impressive piece of technology that might just make you a believer in dedicated handheld gaming hardware once again.

Let’s start off with the basics. If you’re interested in picking up a Vita, you’ve got two flavors to choose from. There’s a WiFi only model that’ll run you $250 and a WiFi/3G model for $300. The only real difference between the two, in terms of hardware, is that the WiFi/3G model has the extra 3G data capabilities and an additional slot containing an AT&T SIM card. Vita owners with the WiFi/3G model can sign up for an AT&T’s DataConnect Pass with no contract, providing them with a constant data connection for those times WiFi might not be available. The cost for the plan is $15 for one month of service with a 250Mb limit, or $30 for one month of service with a 3GB data limit.

Before you start saying to yourself that you’re content with the WiFi only version of the Vita for $50 less, there’s something you should know. Currently, the WiFi/3G model of the Vita comes with an 8GB memory card included in the package. Meanwhile, the WiFi model is packaged all by its lonesome … no frills, no extras, and most importantly, no memory card. Considering that an 8GB memory card retails for between $30-35 and you’ll need a memory card for a lot of the Vita’s functions, the total cost of the WiFi only version realistically puts it within $15-20 of the WiFi/3G version.

With that part out of the way, let’s get to the bulk of what the Vita has to offer. The first thing you’ll notice is the sizeable 5” 16:9 OLED screen. This has a lot of visual real estate. In fact, this screen is about as big as an entire iPhone. The Vita’s screen is capable of showing over 16 million colors and a smooth refresh rate to keep gaming constant at 60 frames per second. This brilliant screen it also a super responsive multitouch capacitive touchscreen. And when I say “super responsive”, I’m not just blowing smoke. This has to be one of, if not THE, best touchscreens I’ve ever used on any device. And if one touch sensitive feature isn’t enough for you, the rear of the Vita also sports a touchpad that’s a 1:1 ratio to the size of the screen in the front. This makes for some unique gameplay options, such as pushing the ground up from below in Little Deviants or ModNation Racers: Road Trip. And speaking of gameplay options, the Vita has built-in Sixaxis tilt controls, as well front and rear cameras on the Vita which may not earn anyone a prize for photography, but are perfect for Augmented Reality games.

Playing games on the Vita, for the most part, feels like second nature. The dual analog sticks are comfortable and a vast improvement over the analog “nub” that the PSP tried to pass off to gamers. The Vita’s sticks feel much more substantial and glide smoothly in all directions. There’s been some talk that the right stick’s placement might cause some gamers to have issues due to its proximity to the face buttons, but so far I’ve not run into this. What has caused some problems from time to time, though, has been that pesky rear touchpad. It’s slick and works great, but it takes a little bit of time to get used to holding the Vita in such a way that your fingers don’t accidentally hit it.

It’s obvious that Sony designed the Vita to be a very socially oriented device. With its GPS capabilities and the Near app, Vita owners share their gaming habits with other nearby Vita owners, checking out the popularity of different games, exchanging gifts, and otherwise making new friends. At launch, the Vita also had apps for Twitter and Flikr, along with Facebook integration. Other social apps due soon for the Vita include foursquare and Skype. And if you decide to go with the WiFi/3G model and an AT&T data plan, you can keep up with your friends, surf the web, and check in from virtually any location at any time.

One of my biggest gripes with the Vita has to do with the hidden costs associated with it. I’m not just talking about the AT&T data plan either. As I mentioned earlier, the system requires a memory card for many of its functions, including simply saving a game in some cases. And don’t think about digging out an old MemoryStick or SD Card from a nearby camera either. Once again, Sony has developed a proprietary media format for its memory cards. The smallest card available (4Gb) retails for around $20, while other sizes (8, 16, & 32Gb) range in price between $30 and $100. This adds up a lot faster if you’re someone who prefers to buy games digitally. For example, a good friend of mine decided to send me a digital copy of Uncharted: Golden Abyss. The only problem is, my First Edition bundle came with a 4Gb memory card … but Golden Abyss is a 3.2Gb install. Even with many publishers offering a 10 percent discount on digital vs. physical purchases, it doesn’t come close to covering the cost of the card.

Something that WILL save Vita owners a few extra bucks is the system’s cross-platform feature. This extends beyond things like playing PS3 games remotely on the Vita or using it as an extra PS3 controller in other games … two things that the Vita does quite well. What grabbed my attention was the Vita’s integration of DLC you might have already bought. One game I’ve already reviewed for the Vita is Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. I’ve also had the game (and a handful of DLC) on the PlayStation 3. Well thanks to Sony’s emphasis on cross-platform play, I was able to go into the PlayStation Store and re-download the different costumes and such I’d purchased for the console version, without having to shell out any extra dough. It’s things like this that make the Vita feel like a true extension of the PS3. Plus, things like trophy support, a better integrated friends list, and backwards compatibility for digital PSP content help to make sure gamers see more of a future with Sony’s latest semi-pocket sized powerhouse.

I could go on and on about the PlayStation Vita’s launch library, but hey … that’s why we write reviews here at The Married Gamers. Still, it’s worth mentioning that the Vita does have a pretty substantial initial line-up, including new chapters in hallmark franchises (Uncharted: Golden Abyss), faithful ports of fan favorites (Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3), and quirky new originals (Escape Plan). There’s no shortage of choices, regardless of your preferred genre.

There’s been a lot of talk in the media leading up to the Vita’s release that questioned Sony’s decision to release a new handheld to the masses. Some analysts and their ilk said that the dedicated handheld market was just one shovel of dirt away from being dead and buried. If that’s the case, then it’s time to break out the shotguns and pitchforks because, with the Vita, Sony has a good shot of pulling true handheld gaming out of the grave and spreading the infection like wildfire, leaving gamers of all types shambling about with a voracious appetite for more great gaming in the palms of their hands.


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Author: David Chapman View all posts by

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