Originally announced in 2011, the PlayStation Vita looked and sounded like a promising concept, but at that time, I couldn't have cared less. That was until I was able to finally hold one. Once I got my hands on one in February 2012, I was able to notice not only the graphical capabilities, but also how well the controls worked with both physical and touch.
Sony had an uphill battle that I'm sure they were aware of. Portable gaming devices are in most of the population’s pockets in the form of smart phones or tablets in backpacks, so how well can a dedicated portable gaming console sell in a market with an influx of portable everything? As it turns out, it could definitely be selling better, but that doesn't mean the hardware itself isn't a good product. In fact, it’s fantastic. The PlayStation Vita is one of the best portable gaming devices on the market for a great gaming experience, but is it too late?
Boasting a gorgeous OLED multi-touch screen in a compact design, the Vita is beautiful to play games on. Whether you’re playing an indie hit like Guacamelee!, a full console-like experience like Need for Speed: Most wanted, or aching to play a good FPS on the go like the very promising Killzone: Mercenary, Vita’s 16 million colors pop in every way. The touch screen is very responsive and only has the hiccups that one would expect from any touch device on the market. Little gripes when the touch screen isn’t immediately registering are minimal and rarely affected my gameplay experience. There is also a rear touchpad on the back of the console, but more often than not, it was an annoying feature that some games used in the worst way (see Assassin’s Creed: Liberation). The one occasion that I found the rear touch function innovative and fun was during LittleBigPlanet 2’s Cross Controller pack where tapping the rear panel in certain locations moved blocks towards the screen, making a bridge for other players to walk on. The upcoming Media Molecule game Tearaway looks to use this function in very interesting ways as well.
On top of both touch-pads, the Vita also has a few other components built in, even if they are sub-par. As with the DualShock controls of its big brother, the Vita has built in Six-axis motion detection. If you have ever used Six-axis features before, you’ll know the frustration that can come with horrible implementation (we’re looking at you Lair). The Vita is no different at times. In the case of Gravity Rush, attempting to get your bearings straight can be infuriating. Luckily, SCE Japan Studio knew this going in and allowed for dual stick controls which are pretty much the standard across the industry. The portable also has a camera sitting at a terrible 1.3 megapixels and records video at 480p. Needless to say, we would recommend pulling out your smartphone from 2008 and above to get a better resolution. It’s baffling as to why it is such low quality but if I were to guess, it’s probably to keep the price reasonable.
That brings me to the price of the Vita. Starting at $199.99 for both the WiFi and 3G/WIFI model, the Vita presents itself as an inexpensive but full console experience. In most cases, that is a completely accurate description. With the console, you definitely will get your money’s worth playing hours upon hours of content but there are some hidden expenses to take into account before completing your order. Most notably, the memory card that comes standard is 4GB which fills up almost instantly if you download games as opposed to purchasing the physical media card and it is proprietary. There are no other options other than purchasing Sony’s memory card which range from $19.99 for 8 GBs all the way to $79.99 for 32 GBs. Also worth noting, the 3G model requires an AT&T 3G plan starting at $14.99/Month for 250MB of data to a larger $50/Month plan for 5GB of data. Needless to say, these overlooked expenses can become costly but as you can see below, it may be worth it.
Overall, the PlayStation Vita is everything that it should be. It’s an impressive piece of machinery that provides great console like experiences on the go. Although it does face the stiff competition of the casual tablet and smartphone gaming market, be assured that you cannot obtain the same level of gameplay on a portable device with physical buttons elsewhere. With the promise of being able to stream your PS4 games to your Vita from day one, the prospect of the system looks promising. Sony has also worked with publishers/developers to make a lot of PS3 games that have Vita counterparts a “cross-buy” purchase; meaning you pay one price for both versions. With most of these specials, a “cross-save” option is available allowing the user to play on one system, upload the save, and pick up where they left off on the other. There are a lot of great aspects about the handheld console and the occasional disappointing feature which is to be expected, but all-in-all this is a dream handheld. Even though the Vita isn't moving very many units for now, it still goes on BruisedThumbs' “Buy It!” list.
Editor’s purchase suggestion: Bundle packs are available that include the 3G/WIFI Vita console, 1-year membership to PlayStation Plus, and a voucher for a copy of Unit 13 for $299.99 and below depending on your store of choice. The newest bundle available is $199.99 for a 3G/WiFi package that includes the phenomenal game by Telltale Games, The Walking Dead and its downloadable content, 400 Days. Bundles like this are the way to go as currently there are a ton of free games with a PS+ membership. I would recommend picking up a 16GB memory card with it as well. You don’t have to utilize the 3G feature but there is a 30-day free trial to try out allowing you to test the waters before committing to a monthly plan.