PlayStation Vita Hands-On (PS Vita)

Sony hasn’t been in the handheld game as long as Nintendo, but it certainly did a good job with the PlayStation Portable when it debuted a few years ago.  However, ever since, it’s been trying to perfect its foothold in the portable gaming market with the release of the ergonomic, yet digital-only PSPGo.  We were wondering when the next step would arrive, and this week it finally does with the first edition of the PlayStation Vita.  We recently went hands-on with a finished build of the system, just to see if it has improved any since we last tried it at E3.

PS Vita

First off, for a $350-priced handheld (that’s the first edition with 3G and Wi-Fi — cheaper models are available next week), Sony has loaded this one to the gills with a lot of technical features.  It has a 5” OLED screen that’s touch interactive, so you can drag around menus with a flick of your finger.  It also has twin analog sticks, which is a nice step forward from the singular analog nub that the PlayStation Portable came with, as well as a D-pad that actually serves a purpose with fighting games.  (Good thing, too, as Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a launch title, and a port of Mortal Kombat isn’t too far behind.

But that’s just the basic stuff.  The PS Vita also comes with two cameras, one built into the front and one in the back, so it can take advantage of the augmented reality games, like the 3DS did last year.  (Only in 2D, mind you.)  There’s also GPS support, so you can track locations on your device and play around with other folks through the Near program.  Finally, there’s the back touch pad, in which you can interact with certain games by poking and dragging around.

To be honest, there are a lot of gimmicks here, and that could be a setback for some people.  Sony could’ve easily done away with the back touch pad, since it only works with certain games anyway, and made the system a few bucks less.  Also, while the GPS is nifty, the Near service still has some work to be done.  Augmented reality can only go far with particular games, though we’re sure checking in with game experiences may be ideal later on.

Gimmicks aside, the system’s technical performance from the games we tried out is marvelous.  The screen is perfectly sized to show off just how much of a powerhouse this is, as games like ModNation Racers and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 run just as well as their PS3 counterparts.  Furthermore, the touch screen, while obviously smaller than iPad devices, actually serves a great purpose with both in-game action (Uncharted isn’t bad, though regular controls are also very good) and menu navigation.  You can touch certain gems on the screen to check out demos, download music and other Sony Entertainment Network (SEN) movies and DLC, and change your settings.

As for how the unit feels, the analog sticks still feel as if they might snap a bit easily during more frantic game sessions, but they are quite responsive and make character movement feel natural compared to tap-tapping on a screen.  The D-pad and buttons react very well, and even the smaller “select”, “start” and “Home” buttons respond properly, despite their smaller size.

PS Vita

We have yet to test download speed with the device, but with a good 3G connection or a Wi-Fi Hotspot, we don’t see why you couldn’t download games with ease using the device.  It’s easy to search for and set up access points via the menu, and browse the PlayStation Network and other SEN services from the menu.

We’ll have a full review of the PlayStation Vita over the next few days, so stay tuned for the final verdict.  (We’ll also check out most if not all of the system’s launch library as well, including downloadable games.) But don’t be afraid to buy in the meantime, if you have the cash.