If Sony doesn’t stop chasing that AAA dragon it’s going to kill the Vita

Borderlands 2 has finally come to the Vita with some mixed reviews. Our own EIC Mike Splechta gave the game a 7.5, saying it’s a cool way to play the game if the framerate doesn’t drag you down. Others have been less kind, with Kotaku calling it “the worst version of a good game.” But wasn’t that always going to be the case? Didn’t we already know it would be the worst version before it ever came out?

There’s this notion that the Vita should put the console experience in your hands. Non-Vita owners tend to cite a lack of AAA games as their reason for passing on it. Meanwhile, Sony has rushed to get big name after big name onto the platform with poor results. From the start it’s been less-than-ideal versions of Uncharted, Wipeout, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, and now Borderlands 2. Was that likely-canned version of Bioshock on Vita ever going to be good, or was it just another big-franchise checkbox for Sony to mark off their list?

Even Killzone: Mercenary, which did the impossible, was met with a tepid response. It was a beautiful, big-budget FPS with a better-than-average story, fun online multiplayer, and solid controls. It’s quite a bit better than the PS4 game that came after it and yet no one really cared that much. The console experience seems to be an awkward fit on Vita no matter how many ways you slice it.

Killzone Mercenary

Some have said that Sony had better pull out the big guns at E3 this year, or the Vita might be done. But Sony pulled out the big guns last year with stuff like Borderlands 2 and God of War Collection. Now they’re out and no one really seems to care that much. I don’t think Sony needs to pull out big guns at all, they just need to find the ones that actually kill.

You know what gets me excited about being a Vita owner? Indie ports are a good start. Having on-the-go versions of Spelunky, Limbo, and Hotline Miami has been great, but again, a lot of people have played these games before. Those are all great and they should keep coming, but they’re not “big” enough in the mindset of many non-Vita owners.

What really gets me excited are the games I can’t get anywhere else, or definitive versions of already stellar games. Persona 4 Golden is a perfect example — it is the definitive version of an amazing RPG. And you know what? It’s become one of the de facto recommendations to new Vita owners and one of the system’s key must-own titles. I wonder why that is?

Persona 4 Golden

Then there’s the unique stuff. Dangan Ronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is super-niche title, but it’s received a lot of attention because the visual novel is a refreshing, handheld-centric genre and it’s also the best version of that game. Then there’s the fresh take on the hunting genre, Soul Sacrifice, or the unique use of the Vita’s touch and tilt functions found in Gravity Rush and Tearaway.

At the end of the day it isn’t any one game that will save the Vita. What will save it is a suite of unique and definitive experiences. It becomes a worthy purchase when Sony can show off enough “best on Vita” and “only on Vita” experiences for fence-sitters to make the jump. People don’t flock to any platform for bad versions of good games, portable or otherwise.

If Sony really wants to kill it at E3, or just start selling Vitas in general, they need to start offering things people haven’t thought of. They need to offer robust experiences in genres that suit the platform. If they’re going to go with the AAA angle, how about a AAA visual novel, or a AAA JRPG, or a AAA farming game? Sure, it would be exciting if Sony got on stage with a portable take on Watchdogs or Infamous, but a year from now these imaginary games will arrive to flat sales and tepid reviews. That farming game, though? That thing is going to sell like hotcakes.

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