Sony’s PSP successor comes out swinging, but does this mobile juggernaut have enough features and most importantly software to get the “casual gamer” away from their i-Devices and .99-cent games?
There is no denying that the iPhone 4 was an influence in the Vita’s design and form factor. The volume keys could be almost ripped straight off my iPhone and placed on the Vita and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The metallic bezel that wraps around the system is also a nod to Apple’s iPhone. The Vita’s screen is a massive beauty – measuring at 5 inches (diagonally) and doesn’t disappoint. The colors and backgrounds in game almost pop off the screen. The screen is also capable of multi-touch gestures and swipes. Vita also features a rear touch panel – the first on a gaming or mobile device. The rear touch panel is incorporated in a numerous amount of the launch games. The best or better yet, most fun I had with the rear touch controls were on FIFA 12 for the Vita. The controls were still mapped to the face and shoulder – while still letting you use the BTP (back touch panel) to shoot. This let you place a shot any where on goal by just swiping your finger in that direction. (You use the BTP ‘s area as the width and length of the goal) Hopefully more developers can make more games that take advantage of this new feature and not let it fall to the wayside like the Six-axis on the PS3 controllers. Speaking of the PS3 controller’s – one of the biggest concerns I had prior to holding a Vita in my hand were the analog sticks. I’m sure many who haven’t held one were also curious about this. I for one never liked the loose-ness or sensitive feel of the Dualshocks and prefer the more stiff and sturdy 360 sticks. Rest assured the Vita sticks are less sensitive than the Dualshocks stick’s, but are still a bit loose, not to say they don’t get the job done. Now to one of my favorite parts of the Vita – the D-pad, yes the D-PAD! I grew up on the NES and SNES and have always loved a great D-pad and with the Vita this could be one of the very best I’ve ever played on. I recently put it to the test as with Megaman X Maverick hunter for PSP (more about PSP games later) and it performs excellently. If you’ve ever used a D-pad for fighting games, I’m sure you’ve gotten your fair share of sore thumb and calices from it. With Vita I’ve yet to experience this while playing UMvC3 for hours or during a Vita hill UMvC3 tournament. Playing the same game on the PS3 with the D-pad left me with a beat up thumb and calices. Fighting game fans will be happy to know that they can take a portable copy of their favorite fighter on the go and be able to pick-up where they left off and continue to practice. The Vita’s build feels very high quality and is surprisingly light for having such a big screen, which probably has to do with there being no moving parts inside – i.e. no UMD drive.
The Vita features two cameras – front and rear facing. While both are suitable for augmented reality or capturing a mug shot, they leave a lot to be desired. The 3DS cameras, which are pretty terrible in their own, look far better than the Vita’s. That being said, I don’t think anyone will be buying a Vita for capturing breathtaking vistas or sunsets.
The UI (user interface) on the Vita is all touch based, and features app icons, again drawing from the iPhone’s success. The UI however, feels and looks Android based, which isn’t surprising since Sony made a PSP GO type phone that ran Android a year or two ago. Apps open up quickly, but are a bit annoying since you have to tap them twice to start, regardless of whether it’s a game or and actual application, such as the PS Store. This method of opening is a bit confusing, since with iPhone or any touch-based phone you only need to touch the app once to open – going with this system would’ve made more sense since Sony is clearly trying to cater to the iPhone and Android market with the UI choice. The Vita requires you to tap once to open up a page for that app that displays update and website info along with the games manuals and once more on the start button on the center of this page.
The Vita is built around a speedy and A9 quad-core processor – meaning it will be able to handle mostly anything thrown its way along with multi-tasking. I put the Vita to the test while having multiple programs running at the same time. Trophies, PS Store, Voice Chat, Group messaging all while playing a game, and the Vita never slowed down or chugged once. The Vita is superior to PS3 in some aspects and is almost graphically powerful as it’s console big brother. The PS3 while being a very powerful and capable system can’t do some functions the older and weaker 360 can. Learning from its mistakes, Sony has corrected many if not all of the complaints people had with the PS3 and its infrastructure. The Vita, equipped with 512 MB of RAM is now capable of cross-game and party chats with other Vita users. Testing out this feature with a couple friends worked flawlessly and will please plenty of Vita users playing with friends or who just want to chat while playing different games. You can sync/plug in any wired or Bluetooth headset with or without a mic for chat use. Battery life on the Vita is not bad and is about 4-5 hours on a full charge. With a device this powerful and screen so big it’s understandable the battery life wouldn’t last longer.
Software on any home or mobile console is the bread and butter now days it doesn’t matter how great your system is if it doesn’t have the games then it’s useless. Luckily the Vita has a very good and robust lineup out the gate. From retail games to strictly PSN downloadable titles to Facebook, Netflix and Twitter apps the Vita has you covered out the box. The Vita doesn’t offer backward compatibility for your old UMD’s, but it does let you transfer digital PSP games you might’ve already purchase. The PS store is offering about 200 PSP titles at launch, with promise of adding more over time. PSP games on the Vita look great and better than they did on the any of the previous PSP models. The colors pop and the load times are a bit quicker – for people who never played or owned a PSP this is the best way to do so.
One of my favorite things Sony has offered with the Vita is the ability to purchase full retail games right from the PSN store on day one launch. I love this so much! Being able to have all my games on a memory stick and not have to switch out game cards is awesome and reducing the game boxes in the process. This is a bold move by Sony and not only are the games available on day one, most of the games and all first-party titles will be about 10% cheaper - roughly $5 off the in store price. Sony is leading the digital charge with this move and I applaud them.
Things I hate – ok, maybe not things I hate, but more like I wish were done better. I honestly don’t think I have found anything I hate on the Vita. The thing I didn’t like the most was the cost of memory cards. For all strides Sony took in fixing the mistakes with the PSP and PS3 I felt they took 3 back with the prices on there proprietary memory cards. 4gb stick only cost $20, but a 32gb stick cost $100. The prices being this high are due to Sony going with a another set of proprietary cards rather than simply use one of the numerous readily and more cheaply available. Also, not carrying sleeve or minimal memory card included with the purchase of the Vita. One Vita, charger and manuals are all you get with your purchase. Sony would’ve done well to include a 4gb card with every purchase to make the system complete out the box.
Those negatives aside – the Vita is an amazing portable device. The price might seem a bit steep starting at $250 for the Wi-Fi and $300 for the 3G models respectively, but for a premium device that offers console quality games and functions – I believe the price is justifiable. For gamers on the go who wish they had something more akin to a console experience then the Vita is for you.