Sony has a seemingly unfixable problem with the PlayStation Vita, as the comment section of this article will surely indicate. The Vita is cursed with a first impression it can’t shake and hurdles Sony doesn’t seem willing to address. That wouldn’t be a big deal normally — sometimes companies release gadgets, don’t support them properly, and the world moves on — it happens. The problem is that hidden beneath Sony’s fumbles, bad press, and a consumer majority that’s already made up its mind, the Vita is quite possibly the greatest handheld gaming device ever made.
I own a Vita, and I’ve been here before, though on a much smaller scale. Back in 1999, the Neo Geo Pocket came and went in a flash. It was hopeless from the start, with Nintendo’s iron grip on the handheld market and SNK cemented as a niche company, the NGP (coincidentally, also the Vita’s original codename) was deemed a niche product. It failed quickly and gracefully, with a handful of excellent games and a place in the hearts of its small fanbase. More than the failure status and NGP name, though, the NGP and Vita have one big thing in common: they are both an absolute joy to play.
What the sheer numbers don’t tell you about the PlayStation Vita is how great Sony’s handheld is to actually play and use. Unlike the 3DS, DS, and just about every GBA redesign, the Vita is actually comfortable to play for long stretches of time. The 3DS battery life is a respite from strained eyes and carpal tunnel syndrome, but the Vita is just as fun to play at 100% battery life as it is at 10%. Things weren’t so advanced when the Neo Geo Pocket came out, and the lack of a backlit screen was a pain, but those who owned it will tell you the clicky D-pad on that thing was a joy to use.
NGP and NGP, brothers separated by time
For me it’s that “joy to use” status that defines the Vita more than anything else. With a great game like Soul Sacrifice or Persona 4, playing on the Vita is more pleasant than playing on a 360, PS3, or PC. I prefer consoles to PC because I can slouch on a couch much longer than I can hunch over a computer desk, and I love the Vita because I can have a comparable experience wherever I damn well please.
That’s a subtle and difficult thing to sell a $250 device on, and Sony isn’t making it any easier by introducing hidden fees and rushing out a pile of subpar baby versions of console games. Sony hasn’t relented on the price of the Vita, and if they don’t do something by E3 we might just have to call it, because the biggest problem with the thing is that it’s kind of a ripoff.
I say “kind of” because I spent the $250, plus the extra cash for their despicable memory card (32GBs for $100 is highway robbery), and I don’t regret it at all. Especially now, nearly two dozen hours into the wonderful Soul Sacrifice, I love my Vita unconditionally. But come on, Sony, if you aren’t going to drop the price you NEED to fix the memory card issue as soon as possible. The $250 Vita should come with a minimum of 16GBs, anything else is just silly. To paint a picture of how truly misguided Sony has been, they’re selling the $300 3G Vita with a 4GB memory card and a year of PlayStation Plus. That’s awesome until you realize your free copy of Uncharted: Golden Abyss is 3.2 GBs and takes up pretty much that entire memory card.
My fingers after an hour with the 3DS, or Soul Sacrifice artwork?
At this point there is only one chance to truly turn the PlayStation Vita around, and that chance is on stage at E3. Sony is already teasing a strong Vita presence, but if that doesn’t include some repairs on the pricing front I’m not sure people will bite. Great games aren’t enough if consumers need to empty their entire pockets just to get the device itself, and that price is only going to get harder to swallow as the PS4 gets closer. Sony wants the PS4 and Vita to integrate, but if you can only afford one or the other, and the Xbox One already comes with its toy in the box (Kinect), things get a lot trickier.
For those that already have a Vita or are willing to take the plunge despite the pricing, let’s hope Sony can turn things around in a big way. They’re certainly improving on the games front. In the coming months the Vita is going to turn into an indie darling lovefest with titles like Spelunky, Hotline Miami, Terraria, Limbo, and maybe even FEZ. If the Vita managed to court those games despite itself, imagine what games it would get if people didn’t have so many misgivings about it.
By highlighting Sony’s pricing issues, I might be doing more harm than good for the Vita, but it’s a serious hurdle they need to fix. Come E3, Sony has a real chance to squash the bad press, address the pricing, and show some impressive games. If they don’t fire on all cylinders, then I’m not sure how much more life and support it will have. Those aforementioned indie releases, as well as Dragon’s Crown, Killzone Mercenary, Tearaway, and a handful of quality re-releases and ports could be the Vita’s sudden swan song. It’ll shine brightest at the end, and those Vita owners will bask in every second of it. Like the Neo Geo Pocket, it will go down as a curiosity, full of good memories for a handful of people. But if Sony does turn things around, I can’t wait to confidently claim the Vita the greatest handheld ever made (Sorry, Nintendo).
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