Tuesday, September 24, 2013

PlayStation Vita Impressions

A week ago I made a bit of an impulse purchase on the PlayStation Vita, intending to get some quality mobile gaming done during downtime at work. Over the summer, I'd been using an old hand-me-down PSP-1000, but used it almost exclusively to play old downloadable PSOne classics, since hardly any of the actual PSP games interested me. The Vita seemed like an appealing option since it retains the same backlog of PSOne classics as well as various downloadable versions of PSP games, all on newer and better hardware with the expanded library of Vita exclusives. The recent price drop to $199.99 USD was also an appealing factor in the decision. 

I bought four Vita games with the device: Gravity Rush, Soul Sacrifice, Dragon's Crown, and Killzone: Mercenary. Of these games, the only one I've played thus far is Gravity Rush, which has proven to be a pretty fun experience. The Vita came bundled with the full first season of Telltale's The Walking Dead, which I've already played on PC. I was also able to download the Vita version of Playstation All-Stars for free, courtesy of Sony's cross-buy policy, since I'd already bought the game on PS3. Finally, I bought the updated PSN version of Spelunky, after having played the original version extensively on PC. These are the seven games I have to start my Vita library, and here are my thoughts on the system after one week of use.

At first glance, the Vita bears a close resemblance to the original PSP models, except with a slightly larger screen and the inclusion of two full joysticks. What's not so apparent is that the front screen is touch capacitive, and the backside of the device features a second touch capacitive surface. I somehow never realized this, and was surprised when the device asked me to touch the corner of the screen and "peel" it off. Besides that, the device also features sixaxis motion control, enabling tilt and rotational control. This is all, of course, in addition to the better CPU, GPU, RAM, and screen resolution, making the Vita an all-around impressive upgrade to the PSP. But that's to be expected; the original PSP was released back in 2005, after all, and the PSPgo was a flop right out the door.

Top: PSP1000, bottom: PSVita

The operating system and software feels pretty good, too. Turning the system on prompts you to swipe across the screen to get past the lock screen (a process that gets repeated whenever the device goes into standby mode), which brings you to the home screen. The home screen looks and feels a lot like that of a modern smart phone, with small application icons on each "page" of the home screen. Pressing the PS button on the lower left of the Vita brings you back to the home screen, and pressing it again lets you switch between multi-tasking applications. So you can be in a game, return to the home screen and bring up the browser or messaging, and then switch back to the game effortlessly.

The most import aspect of the Vita, though, is that it looks and feels great to play. The device feels very comfortable in my hands, and all of the buttons and joysticks are easy to access. The rounded edges and shoulder buttons of the Vita feel a little nicer than the angled edges of the PSP, and it goes without saying that the actual joysticks on the Vita offer better control and feel than the sliding analog "nub" on the PSP. The face buttons are a little smaller and feature a harder, "clickier" feedback compared to the PSP, which I find a little more enjoyable on the Vita. It's also nice to note that Sony has finally abandoned the detached four button directional pad and gone with a more traditional, solid plus pad, which feels so much easier to use. And the touchscreen is, of course, a nice addition as well.

Having already played PlayStation All-Stars on the PS3 with a DualShock 3 controller, the experience is nearly identical on the Vita. Controls feel just as natural and precise on the Vita, whether you're using the left joystick or the directional pad. It's a little weird picking items up by tapping the touchscreen, since that requires you to take your thumb off the face buttons, but that's a bit of a minor nitpick. The graphics, meanwhile, are very nearly identical to the PS3 version, save for some slightly lower resolution textures and some differences in lighting effects. This cross-platform comparison of PlayStation All-Stars just goes to show that the Vita truly has the potential to deliver console-quality gaming on the go, an aspiration once held by the PSP that never quite panned out.

Side-by-side comparison of a match on PS3 and Vita

I've put just as much time in Gravity Rush, which showcases the Vita's capabilities a bit better. The graphics quality is basically on par with what you'd expect from the current generation of consoles (everyone around me at work is stunned by how great it looks), but it's even more impressive how well the game blends the Vita's various control methods. You can use the two joysticks for traditional movement and camera control, and the face buttons all function as normal, but you can swipe across the touchscreen with your right thumb to roll dodge in whatever direction you swipe. If you press and hold your thumbs on both edges of the touchscreen you can slide. You can also tilt the Vita to change direction while sliding or to aim yourself when shifting gravity. It's just amazing having the possibilities of a touchscreen interface along with two dedicated joysticks and face buttons.

After a week's use, I'm very impressed with the Vita and can see myself using it a lot in the future. The only real issue I have with it is its relatively scarce library of games. The Vita had a fairly impressive set of launch titles, but quality games have been few and far between since the launch. This slow trickle of games has led some people to declare the Vita is already dead after 18 months, but it seems like Sony still has plans for it. After all, when they showcased the PS4 at E3 this year, integration and connectivity with the Vita was a central theme of their demonstration. Sony's just announced a newer, slimmer model of the Vita, and has even announced a home console version of the Vita called the Vita TV that be played on a TV with a DualShock 3 controller.

It kind of makes me wonder if I picked a bad time to get the Vita, if maybe I should've waited for the newer model, or with the rising popularity of iOS and Android gaming, if maybe the Vita really is a dying breed. On the other hand, maybe this was the perfect time to get one, considering the upcoming PS4 release and the recent price drop. Either way, the Vita is a strong piece of technology that showcases the best mobile gaming has to offer in this day and age. This is a mobile gaming device I can actually enjoy, so I'm hoping the Vita continues to grow and finds a strong footing in the years to come.


  1. Or maybe that was the time to you buy a 3DS. Just saying....

    1. I'd considered it, but for some reason the games library didn't appeal to me as much. With the announcement of the cheaper 2DS, I figured if I were to get a device to play 3DS games I'd just wait for that to go on sale.

  2. Okay, so maybe this one you *will* like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outlast

    Survival horror. Indie developer. Not yet reviewed by you. Right up your alley :D

    1. I've been eye-balling that one since it came out on Steam. With Halloween coming up I might put it higher up on my to-do list.