The traditional gaming industry’s new hope23 December, 2011 by Chad
Sony’s latest portable gaming system, the Vita was publicly launched last Saturday in Japan. As luck would have it, I had the chance to get a hands on on this new piece of technology. Impressions within.
For certain reasons, I won’t be showing any actual photographs of the Vita today. And with all the time spent dreaming of the Vita, enthusiasts should have a fairly clear mental image of Sony’s new toy by now. You’ll be able to find dozens, if not hundreds of unboxing and gameplay videos online too. Know that neither do any justice to the clarity and vibrancy of the Vita’s display though.
Appearance wise the Vita shares many similarities to its predecessor product, the PlayStation Portable (PSP). It may not be as apparent from photos but everything from button layout to the actual plastic built feels familiar of the PlayStation branding. From the moment you lay your hands on one of these, you will acknowledge that this is a PlayStation, in your hands.
The only thing possibly more awesome would be to have a milky grey version in the future with the classic PSX branding, though I’m sure some modders out there could make that happen.
Apart from all of the internal workings, the biggest differences between the Vita and PSP are the 5″ OLED touch screen, rear touch pad and the much requested inclusion of a secondary analog stick.
The first and (to a less obvious extent) last changes make the biggest contributions to gameplay. The large OLED screen is gorgeous to say the least and nothing like we’ve ever experienced with portable consoles. The sheer richness of color is something that cannot be described or understood without having seen it for yourself.
While I find my vision getting blurry from just half an hour of gaming on the Nintendo 3DS or even iPhone’s displays, I was able to comfortably enjoy the Vita for extended durations without any discomfort.
In terms of hardware, both the front and rear touch pads are sufficiently accurate. Multi-touch gestures that we have become spoiled by on other mobile devices are executed smoothly and with surprising precision, at least in the Vita’s menus.
Being launch titles, many of the games on the device attempt to showcase these features to varying (but often negative) degrees of success. While the front touch gestures on one of the most anticipated games, Uncharted: Golden Abyss helped to simplify commands, the rear touch and tilt features felt forced.
Thankfully, they were mostly optional. As with other lauded hardware features like the Wii and Nintendo DS’s motion controls, hopefully the reliance on this novelty will die down in time. Ultimately, it would be up to developers to weight in on the suitability.
Alas, all of these pluses have got to come with some pitfalls. Though not a deal breaker, the Vita feels much more cramped for the fingers, even for someone with not particularly large hands. All of the buttons are about 20-30% smaller than the PSP counterparts.
This can be especially difficult for games that utilize the rear touch panel and you are forced to avoid all but the edges of the console. Sony seems to suggest that the console is meant to be held this way, that is daintily or barely along the sides. But this can be sort of counterproductive as it makes using both the front and rear touch pads difficult to reach.
The Vita is also marginally heavier than the newer incarnations of the PSP system, though this a small tradeoff for the amount of technology you’re getting.
Sony has touted the Vita as having nearly the power of the PlayStation 3 home console. I’m pleased to say that this is no lie. While the Vita will never live up to the PlayStation 3 in terms of pure processing power (e.g. the Vita only has 4 processor cores as opposed to the PlayStation 3’s 8), one shouldn’t underestimate the new shader technologies implemented into the new CPU. When coupled with the Vita’s smaller resolution output, it does lead to amazing results.
The Vita also has a lot of other things over the home console, which would be tedious to mention in detail. But many are forgetting the significance of portability and having an all-in-one system. Needless to say, in some situations, the Vita might turn out to be an even better gaming system than the PlayStation 3.
One thing I would like to mention though, which other sources have yet to discover is how good the Vita sounds. Audio-wise, the original PlayStation Portable was horrible, which meant that I had to continue carrying an MP3 Player around. But I recently plugged some earphones into the Vita to discover how amazing tunes here sound. In fact, overall sound quality was much better than that of an iPhone’s. If Sony decides to add call support at some point, we’d have a very clear winner.
If by some reason you manage to get a Vita right now (like through online importers) though, you would realize that there is no reason to wait. With the Vita system being region free, you won’t have to wait until an official release in your country. In fact, multiple language support is built into each system so as it is there is no difference beyond 3G being tied to certain carries. Thanks to the ease of internet tethering in this mobile age though, I bet most would go for the Wi-Fi model anyways.
Normally, you’d have a hard time choosing a title that you’re forced to want to have with compulsory launch bundles but with the Vita, there are actually multiple worth purchasing on day one. With 24 games immediately at launch the PlayStation Vita has some of the most amazing launch titles of any console in recent history, if not ever.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss shipped on launch, possibly the most awaited Vita game in the West. Production values for this game were downright astonishing. You’ve seen the demos, with graphics seemingly taken out of the PlayStation 3. But up close, the amazing pixel density and generous use of specular lighting makes this title a real treat.
Vita versions of ModNation Racers and LittleBigPlanet make their way as launch titles too. Their presence on the system a inspiring example to other developers of the ability to effectively port titles to the Vita (more on this later). Only the most addicted of existing players will feel the need to re-purchase the new incarnations of these games but the ability to tap into existing DLC is certainly a very tempting feature.
Many launch titles tend to skim on content. But the sheer amount of stuff in ModNation Racers and LittleBigPlanet combined with the infinite customizability make them some of the most replayable launch titles ever seen.
When talking about replayability, you can’t forget Wipeout 2048 and Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 either. These were easily the two titles I was most excited about. Needless to say both games look amazing. Wipeout 2048’s psychedelic visuals show off the Vita’s display quite nicely. Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 on the other hand is just something quite awe inspiring for this editor.
While fighting games have been ported over and over to other systems, most of them have been watered down renditions of their original counterparts. Sure 3D character models would entertain your kids of some time but when it comes to playing Street Fighter 4, the tiny Nintendo 3DS just didn’t cut it. But Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3, is for the first time, a true port.
The entire game (and then some) is here in all of its glory running at a full 60FPS on the Vita’s wide crystal clear screen. A tear would come to any aspiring young game developer in the past, if you had told them they’d be running a full arcade game in their hand sometime in the future. And with Street Fighter X Tekken well underway for the Vita, fighting game fans have much to look forward to.
It used to be that consoles were leading the competition in terms of graphics and processing. Developers would get a certain piece of console technology and would spend years fiddling and understanding the inner workings of the system. As time went by, the familiarity with the system lead to more impressive titles further along the lifespan of the console.
It would be nice to believe that this is still the case, and many would still have you believe it to be true. While consoles do still lead the pack in terms of certain areas (the PlayStation 3’s processing capability to cost ratio and scalability give them use in research facilities), I believe with have better understanding of how computers, software and middleware in general work these days.
So while my common sense tells me that the limits of the Vita can only be pushed so much in terms of pure power, I would love to be amazed. That being said, many of the launch titles had less than a year to take their games from the drawing board to the final released product and I think that says quite a bit. Prepare for a lot more great things to come.
When it comes downs to things, perhaps one of the biggest factors for most would be the actual price of the system. Everyone scorned at Sony when the Vita was first revealed to the public, only to be shocked by the low price point.
The PlayStation Vita is not cheap by any means. But it certainly is affordable. Retail prices put the system at 24,980 yen for the Wi-Fi version and 29,980 yen for the 3G+Wi-Fi version of the system. The systems will retail at USD$249 and USD$299 respectively when it official launches in American on February 22nd 2012.
Expect to pay at least SGD$399 for the Wi-Fi version in the typical one game retailer bundles when it hits Singapore at the same time next year. This is quite a bit when you consider how much the PlayStation 3 is selling for these days but note that it was the same price as the Nintendo 3DS at launch, a comparatively weaker piece of technology. As with past Sony consoles, the company is actually making a lost on each system.
The biggest complain seems to be with the internal memory (or rather lack of any) in the Vita system. Like the PlayStation Portable, the new system will require memory sticks to save most game’s progress as well as any of the games downloaded from the PlayStation store.
Each system comes bundled with a 4gb card already, which would be adequate for saves. But with the Vita’s emphasis on downloadable titles and DLC content, a measly 4gb would surely not suffice. Prices for additional cards would range from USD$19.99 (4gb) up to $99.99 (32gb, the current maximum). This is cheaper than Sony’s previous proprietary Memory Stick format but still a costly upfront investment that adds to the overall price of the bundle.
There is only so much I am allowed to say about this new system but I would like to express the hopes I have for it. As someone who has worked in the industry for quite a number of years already, the future of gaming begins to look rather bleak.
But with the PlayStation Vita, I found myself experiencing a level of excitement that I had missed in a long time. Not just as a gamer but as a developer too. It seems the intercompatibility of the PlayStation 3 with the new Vita will open many new doors that were once closed. Game companies will be able to make use of the infrastructure that they have built up in recent years to speed up and more efficiently produce games.
Porting games are now devoid of many of the previous barriers. And in this way, the PlayStation 3 is bound to see renewed life and an extended life expectancy.
Sony has worked closely with game developers and fans to deliver a system that everyone can be satisfied with. If I were so bold to say, if things play out well and the Vita lives long enough to fulfill its promises, this might very well be the eventual winner in this generation’s console wars.