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Opinion: Sony killed it at E3, but their Vita news was a huge letdown

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Posted by: Joe Donato

To Vita owners watching Sony’s press conference at this year’s E3, the brief stage time probably felt like another nail in the coffin. Sony showed a handful of games, games that, aside from the God of War Collection, had already been announced in one way or another. Jack Tretton described the Vita as the ultimate companion device to PS4 with Remote Play, and spoke of a future game library bolstered by indie developers. Then, they moved on to PS3 and PS4.

For all the murdering they did on the PS4 front, the Vita presence at the most high-profile part of Sony’s E3 was upsetting. Where was the price drop? Why haven’t they addressed memory card prices? Where were all the games? Where was the confident and bold Sony that showed its hand during the PS4 section?

This was a chance for Sony to boldly proclaim their plans to get the Vita into people’s hands, but they acted more like nothing was wrong. The same Sony that has been learning to listen to its customers, that’s pushing indie development heavily, that skipped DRM, that influenced Microsoft’s next-gen strategy, and that announced a PS4 price people seem pretty happy about, is treating the Vita like it’s the PS3 in 2006.

The Vita NEEDS a price drop

Vita and memory card

In terms of sheer design, build quality, and technical prowess, the Vita is probably a steal at $250-$300. The problem is that value is a nebulous thing. Sony hasn’t shaken the notion that Vita “has no games,” nor has it proved that the Vita is a worthwhile $250 companion device to the PS4. A glorified Wii U controller isn’t worth $250 anyway.

What’s worse is that Sony still hasn’t responded to the criticisms of hidden costs with the Vita. Want a decent memory card? Get ready to pony up $60-$100. Want to embrace an all-digital future? Have fun as the Vita’s largest and priciest storage solution is a mere 32 GBs. Even if you manage your larger game files on the Vita, you have to get past Sony’s terrible decision to tie save files to the game data. If you want to get that 3 GB Uncharted save off your Vita you have to transfer it to a PS3 or PC or lose your save file with it.

If Sony is married to the $250 price point, then they need to incentivize the hell out of it. A 32 GB card in the box with a year of PlayStation Plus would be a good start. Updating the firmware to allow easier save file management would be nice too. Bigger memory card options should be there as well, with more reasonable prices that come closer to non-proprietary storage mediums. Simply getting the handheld under $200, then announcing it at a high-profile conference, would have been a nice shot in the arm too.

The Vita NEEDS to shake the “no games” issue

Hotline Miami 2 may come to Vita

The Vita has games. It also has a lot of games in the pipeline. The problem is that the high profile games so far have been force-fed disasters. Call of Duty on a handheld would have been cool if it was a legitimate entry in the series and not some half-assed reskin of Resistance: Burning Skies. Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation was closer to a proper Vita experience, but it was still a mediocre AC game. Uncharted: Golden Abyss, while probably the best of big franchises thrown on a little platform, still felt like a B-tier experience. Gravity Rush and Soul Sacrifice are average-to-phenomenal depending on who you ask. Persona 4: Golden seems to be the platform’s true must-have, yet it really only has a niche appeal. In fact, most of the Vita’s truly great games are bizarre niche titles like Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, Frobisher Says, or Thomas Was Alone.

The solution, it seems, is to celebrate the weird and the unique, and instead of advertising the Vita as a device that puts familiar experiences in your hands, it should be a device with experiences you can’t get anywhere else. Furthermore, it’s the only handheld where you’ll be able to play amazing indie games like Hotline Miami, Spelunky, Limbo, Terraria, and Runner 2.

Is that what Sony touted at E3, though? Not at all. The highlights were Final Fantasy X/X-2 and the God of War Collection. Great, familiar titles for sure, but not anything that’s setting the Vita on fire. What’s worse, a sub-par port of the Jak & Daxter Collection was just quietly released. What’s to say these other collections won’t suffer the same fate?

The thing of it is, Sony had an impressive showing of Vita games on the show floor. They had dozens of kiosks with playable games that were either briefly mentioned or forgotten entirely at their press conference. Why didn’t they follow through during their high-profile conference?

One of the highlights of the PS4 presentation was when Sony showed off a spread of independent games headed to the next-gen console. They could have easily done the same thing with the indie titles headed to Vita. Imagine if Hotline Miami 2 had been announced on stage for Vita. Considering the developer Dennaton Games is hopeful about bringing it to the Vita, there’s little reason Sony couldn’t lock that down.

The bottom line is this: A lot of what’s said at these conferences has a lasting impression. The platforms and games speak for themselves in the end, but there’s something potent about these conferences. They tend to lay the groundwork for what’s ahead, hinting at where the company's focus is. If that’s what Sony was going for with their E3 press conference, then the Vita still feels like an afterthought.

Enjoy random thoughts about the latest games, the Sega Saturn, or the occasional movie review? Follow me @JoeDonuts!

Tags: PS4, Vita, E3, E3 2013

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