Sony PS Vita Review
The time of handhelds is far from dead, especially if Nintendo and Sony have anything to say about it. Nintendo's 3DS served as a nice update to their standard DS model, and while some may have prefered for the 3D fad to stop, it still shows that people are willing to accept this new piece of technology.
Sony wasn't far behind however, as the PS Vita takes mostly everything gamers love about consoles and bunches it up into a compact handheld, sans the high def big-screen, of course. The Vita is surely a remarkable handheld that introduces a variety of new features and some truly impressive graphical capabilities, but should you dish out $250 - $300 for one?
The PS Vita is slightly larger than Sony's original PSP. Many might not remember how big and heavy that thing actually was. By that regard, some might say the PS Vita is too big, but when compared side by side, the Vita is only a bit larger than the PSP and has about the same width.
Layout wise, I think Sony really nailed everything correctly. The d-pad, which rests above the analog stick, and the face buttons, which are above the right analog stick, are slightly smaller than they used to be, but still raised enough to give you full and unobstructed control. The PSPGO's buttons were also small, but they were barely raised, which made performing combo's or precise driving movements with it almost impossible. Needless to say, the Vita holds its own even with frantic fighters like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Basically every button is smaller. Start and select are way smaller, and even the PS button is shrunk to size. These smaller buttons are obviously made to give as much real estate to the Vita's giant screen — but more on that later.
The two analog sticks are real analog sticks this time — no more nubs — and therefore when playing games that require camera movement, the whole control scheme feels more natural. That isn't to say they don't take any time getting used to. In fact, the first time you place your fingers on it, you'll feel like they might be a bit too small for your hands, but as you keep playing and using them, you'll find them to be just as usable as its PS3 equivalents.
The entire front of the Vita has a glossy finish, which means this thing is most definitely a fingerprint magnet, though if you make sure your hands aren't greasy from that delicious pepperoni pizza, you should be fine — just keep a cloth handy. The back, however, has more of a matte finish, not counting the back touchpad. The Vita also sports two cameras, one front-facing and one in the rear. These cameras can be used to take pictures or even be used in some games, or with the included AR Cards.
The front screen is an absolutely gorgeous 5-inch OLED screen, which makes any game look great. Even PSP games played on the Vita look amazing, and it actually makes me want to replay many of the games I own. It's the Vita games that really shine on it, though, specifically Uncharted, which is undoubtedly the best-looking Vita game currently out. Looking at Uncharted on that bright screen will make you think you're playing your PS3 on a smaller screen. The touchscreen is also super responsive. If you're used to Apple's iPhone and its super responsiveness, you'll be surprised just how quickly everything reacts to your touch. I was worried at first that the menu being touch only would be annoying, but once I started playing around with it, I wouldn't have it any other way.
The rear touchpad
This feature is slightly gimmicky and is definitely not on my favorite features list. It essentially lets you control certain things in certain games, such as raising terrain in Little Deviants, or controlling a fairy in Dungeon Hunter. The effect is cool, and it's a nice added feature, but I have one problem with it. I tend to stretch my fingers out when I hold the Vita, which in games like Shinobido 2 creates a slight problem, since the game picks that up and instantly thinks I want to switch to first-person aiming. It has happened quite a few times already, so I can firmly say I'm not a huge supporter of the touch pad.
When I first saw the interface during the NGP unveiling, I absolutely hated the circle icons. The whole thing just looked very old school — it didn't look like a next generation menu interface. After playing around with it, though, I absolutely loved it. Of course, much of it is from its super responsiveness, but everything about it is user-friendly and intuitive. The menu shows every installed app, which then takes you to the app's hubpage when pressed. The hubpage always contains useful information; for example, the PS Store will showcase the latest releases even before going to the store itself. Once in each app, a press of the PS button will instantly take you back to the initial hubpage, and another press of the button will organize all active apps in a side by side list. Killing apps is as easy as "peeling" them off from the page, which is just as fun as it sounds.
The Vita comes with some fun and helpful apps to get you acquainted with the system. Welcome Park is essentially a tutorial to the PS Vita's new functions through five various mini games. Near is an app which shows other Vita owners in your vicinity and what they're playing. This app is great, assuming you live in heavily populated gamer areas, which South Florida unfortunately isn't. You can check your trophies, be it from your Vita games or your PS3 games, and you can even browse the internet through the included Web Browser. It is a bit better than the PSP's browser, mainly due to touch functionality, but it still won't replace your smart phone as the preferred browser of choice.
You can put your front and rear cameras to use with the included photo app that can take pictures and video, which comes as a nice addition thanks to the initial firmware update. The update also installed a Google Maps app which works just as you'd think it does. It can pinpoint your current location based either on Wifi or 3G connectivity, or you can get driving directions by typing in an address. Works as advertised.
For gamers on the go, the 3G model would be the most logical option right? It honestly depends on the person. I personally find paying $30 a month for 3GB of data a bit hard to swallow, not to mention the speed still isn't that amazing. After trying the GPS while connected to 3G, I still found it to be rather laggy, even though websites loaded just fine on the included browser.
For me personally, I don't see myself needing the 3G option. I'm constantly around WiFi spots, whether I'm at work, at home, or even at my local Starbucks. Luckily, since the data plan doesn't require a contract, gamers are able to give it a one month trial run and see if it's for them.
Brings your PSP games back to life
Have a slew of PSP games you bought on PSN? Thankfully, you can play most of them on your Vita, and they look better than ever. The bigger screen does stretch the games out a bit, which obviously makes the graphics a bit less sharp, but thanks to a feature where you can turn on called Bilinear Filtering, the games look much better than they ever did on the PSP's smaller screen. Also, since the Vita screen is OLED, the games look much more vibrant and have a higher color range, though if you miss the color space of the PSP, you have the option to turn that on as well.
And then comes the second analog stick feature, which brings a much needed feature to FPS games or any games that require the rotation of the camera angle, such as Monster Hunter United, Lord of Arcana, Third Birthday, etc. A long press on the touchscreen while playing a PSP game will let you map the Vita's right stick to either the d-pad, face buttons or the left nub. Once you actually play any of these games with that feature on, you'll think "How have I ever been able to play these games without it?"
Now remember when I said most games are available to play? That's because for some odd reason, a lot are not available to download on the Vita, even though they are on the PSN store. Games like Metal Gear: Peace Walker, Gods Eater Burst, and neither of the GTA games, which would highly benefit from the second analog stick feature, aren't present. Surprisingly, even Gran Turismo, Sony's flagship sim racer, isn't available for download either. Though these games aren't there now, a post on the Sony blog did reassure gamers that if they don't see their favorite game in the store yet, that they should keep a look out, as more will be added.
Games you should get
If you haven't been living under a rock, you know that Uncharted: Golden Abyss is the game to get. Not only is it the best-looking game, it's freaking Uncharted on a handheld! Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 brings the console fighter to the Vita, and it's glorious. If you're a fan of the frantic fighting franchise, you owe it to yourself to pick this up. Gravity Rush is a new IP which lets players mess around with gravity, making for an extremely fun experience. Tenchu fans can pick up Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen, which plays almost identically to past Tenchu games, gory stealth kills and all. Next week also marks the launch of Dynasty Warriors Next which isn't on the must-have list for everyone, but for people like me who absolutely love that series, I am super stoked to get my Chinese Dynasty on!
The final verdict
The PS Vita is undoubtedly an impressive piece of hardware. With the ability to play near-console-like games on a handheld is awesome, not to mention some of the console staples are ready and available to be played now. Some of the promised features aren't available yet, such as Netflix or the free AR games, though I'm sure those might be released during the official launch on February 22.
With that said, $250-$300 is a lot to swallow, especially when the PS3 can be bought for cheaper than that nowadays. Handhelds aren't for the typical consumer, they're for the gamer who is usually on the go, or the gamer who has to share a TV with a significant other and would like to continue that console experience even when he or she is watching the next episode of Grey's Anatomy.
If the wallet allows it, we're definitely recommending a BUY, only because it's such an awesome piece of technology that I'm sure will get better with time, in regards to new features being added and the numerous games being developed for it.