Sony has returned to the handheld gaming market with avengeance, unveiling the PlayStation Vita: an all-singing, super-upgraded version of the PSP, with everything but the kitchen sink included. It’s big, bulky, powerful and quite a lot of fun.
Mind you, it takes a certain bullishness to ignore the impact Apple has had on the gaming market with the iPod touch, iPhone and iPad. With many geeks and gamers armed with an iOS device, is there space for dedicated games handheld any more?
The Vita is best described as an upgraded Sony PSP with every new piece of technology thrown at it. Superficially it sports a similar design to Sony’s early handhelds, but where it excels (or over-compensates) is in its controls.
Deep breath. The Vita sports dual analogue sticks, Four regular buttons, a D-pad, two dual-action shoulder buttons, an accelerometer, gyroscopic compass, multi-touch display, and a touch-sensitive rear display (presumably because Sony didn’t want a single surface that wasn’t input-ready in some way).
Some launch titles hilariously attempted to shoehorn every single control method into their gameplay, leading to some experiences best suited to contortionists. But, sarcasm aside, the touch surfaces and gyro controls ensure that the Vita delivers a lot of the input Functionality of iOS devices, with the addition of full physical controls. A touchscreen display and motion controls tend to suck on traditional games like Arkham City and Modern Warfare, and the Vita’s physical controls ensure that many gaming experiences are more precise, fluid and intuitive than they’d be on a touchscreen.
Granted, the two devices clearly offer markedly different features for different purposes. Would the iPad be better with thumbsticks? Of course not. And anyway, the iPad does all kinds of things: email, photo editing, movies, and so on.
The PS Vita is primarily a games machine with some networking Features bundled in; the iPad is a class-defining post-PC device. But let’s compare and contrast anyway. On the one hand we have the new iPad with its gorgeous 9in multi-touch Retina display, up to 64GB of storage and 10-hour battery life. The Vita has a smaller 5in screen but an extremely good resolution (960 x 544 pixels, 220ppi) with OLED technology. The screens on both are pretty special, although the former’s is larger.
The iPad has excellent web browsing, email and apps such as Google Maps and Facebook; the Vita has less-excellent web browsing and Google Maps and Facebook, and no email. Don’t buy a Vita if you want to surf the web.
Sony does have a couple of nice web-enabled Functions, though. The PSN Store is a joy to use even if it’s a lot emptier at the moment than the App Store; and online gaming works well not only between Vita users, but also between Vita and PS3 gamers. There’s also a new service called Cross Play, which enables you to play compatible games on your PS3, and then pick up where you left off on the Vita version.
In terms of graphical welly, the Vita really isn’t that far from the PlayStation 3 – which is a hell of an achievement for a handheld device. But the slight edge it had over the iPad 2 was wiped out when the new iPad launched. The Vita has a battery life of three to five hours, which seems anachronistic now we’re used to devices lasting all day.
What about pricing? The Vita starts at a reasonable £209, but you have to purchase a Sony-branded memory card separately (£27 for 8GB and £37.68 for 16GB). All of which is markedly less than the £399 that the new iPad sells for.
But then there’s the matter of the games. For better or worse, most games on the iPad sell for only 69p or £1.49; really good ones might warrant five to ten quid. On the PlayStation Vita, however, we can currently see FIFA Soccer available for download for a tidy £44.99. Good luck with that, Sony.
This may just be the market ‘trying it on’ with a new platform, however, and as time goes on we may see indie developers seeding apps developed for the iPhone or iPad to the PS Minis section of the PSN store For similarly low prices.
The new iPad has the power and versatility to raise some doubts over the future of dedicated gaming handhelds, but we reckon that if you’re into gaming, the Vita still makes a lot of sense. The OLED screen is beautiful, the controls are precise, and what it lacks in versatility it makes up for in Focus. It’s like having a PS3 in your pocket. Longer battery life would be nice, though, as well as some games at App Store-esque prices.