Part re-evaluation, part updated buyer's guide, we take a look at each platform in turn, framing it through the recent E3 announcements and what they mean for its future, as well as considering what the system offers as of right now and whether it's worth picking up, and giving our own personal recommendations for must-play games.
Now & Tomorrow
Launching at the very end of 2011 in Japan and early 2012 elsewhere, the PS Vita has entered its third year and is still struggling to really carve out its place in the gaming world. At first Sony positioned it as a handheld with power rivalling its big brother - PlayStation 3 - and naturally it got portable version of the major Sony hits - Uncharted, Resistance, Little Big Planet, Killzone - but ultimately that strategy failed to open it up to a larger audience.
These days while there are still the occassional ports of PS3 hits (Borderlands 2 comes to mind), but the main focus in terms of software appears to be indie titles, smaller games, and HD updates of various older titles (Metal Gear Solid, Ratchet & Clank, Jak, Final Fantasy, etc.). There is still a lot going on with PS Vita, only it's not headline grabbing.
One of its biggest selling points today among gamers is probably the remote play feature that allows you to stream PS4 games onto the handheld. It works very well, and in many cases the controls have been adapted so that the fewer buttons of the Vita doesn't affect gameplay (too much).
But it's not just HD updates that have replaced the big franchises who were storming onto the Vita in the beginning. We mentioned indie titles and that's really where the Vita shines these days. Sony has been putting on some smart moves encouraging indies to publish on all their platforms and the Vita has benefitted. Games like Hotline Miami, Luftrausers, Thomas Was Alone, Fez, and Guacamelee are great examples of the range of indie games on offer here. For someone who's invested in more than one PlayStation device the lure of cross-buy titles and PS Plus' instant game collection is immense.
What's troubling for Sony is that in 2.5 years on the market they have yet to hit that magical 10 million mark. And while the PSP is often thought of as a failure in these parts - the fact of the matter is that the Vita falls far behind the PSP's numbers. Reports of retailers not keeping it stocked and more and more desperate bundles (10 games free!) paints a pictures of a platform in dire need of a turnaround. There doesn't seem to be a clearcut path ahead, but perhaps it's not so much about what Sony can do as it is a testament to the fact that smart phones and tablets have ultimately changed the way we game on the go. Perhaps there's simply not a market for a dedicated portable gaming device (that's not from Nintendo) outside of Japan.
Recently at E3 Sony quickly went over the Vita in a minute at the press conference, not really revealing any new games. An alarming sign, but perhaps we'll see more announcements at Gamescom and TGS. Bundling the Vita with PlayStation 4 is a step in the right direction. The future looks unsure, but one thing we keep hearing is that the Vita player base that's there keeps buying lots of games. There is hope for the future though with promising exclusives like Murasaki Baby and Gravity Rush 2 as well as incoming indies like Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, Nuclear Throne, Mercenary Kings, Don't Starve and Grim Fandango (well, semi-indie or something).
It would appear as if Sony has taken a step back from exclusives with the PS Vita. The first two years saw Killzone: Mercenary, Gravity Rush, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Resistance: Burning Skies, Little Big Planet Vita, Assassin's Creed III: Liberation and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified (you tried to forget about that one, didn't you?). And of course, Tearaway. Clearly these exclusive titles haven't sold Western gamers on the Vita.
On the horizon we've got Murasaki Baby - which appears to land somewhere in between major exclusive and indie title. Then there's "Team Gravity Project" that pretty much everyone assumes will be called Gravity Rush 2. Things have been quiet since its announcement at Tokyo Game Show last year, but hopefully we'll hear more soon.
While not technically an exclusive - it is something of an exclusive feature of the Vita that you will be able to play Helldivers online with both PS3 and PS4 players. It's a neat feat to pull with an action game and hopefully the first of several games to offer this kind of functionality.
Apps & Interface
The interface of the PS Vita has remained largely unchanged during its 2.5 years on the market, although various apps have been added, but perhaps the most notable one recently is the PS4 link that allows for remote play. Extremely easy to set up and it pretty much turns your Vita into a streamed PS4 in just a second or two. The same cannot be said of other Vita apps (Content Manager in particular) and one really has to question the usefulness of the quirky Near app. In terms of optional apps there is Music Unlimited, Skype, Youtube, etc. Strangely there is no Netflix app for the UK, but we expect that may change when PlayStation TV launches (we can't imagine that the device would launch without a Netflix app).
One change made to the Vita interface is that you can now add even more apps and games to the slides (500 apparently, though we'll have to take Sony's word for it) - but we're still in the phase where we don't really have to create folders with 6-7 pages worth of apps and games.
While handhelds don't necessarilly get peripherals in the same sense as their stationary counterparts we thought we'd put the PlayStation TV (known in Japan as Vita TV) in this category. Originally conceived as a means to allow Japanese handheld gamers the option of playing their Vita games on a TV at home, it is being positioned more as a cheap streaming device to Western audiences. Sure it will play Vita games, but it is also capable of streaming games from a nearby PlayStation 4 and it's compatible with the upcoming PlayStation Now service - meaning you'll eventually be able to stream PlayStation games to the device (the same has been promised for the Vita itself, by the way).
Even if it dropped its Vita name ahead of the Western introduction, clearly it will help increase Vita's range when it launches as more people will be able to buy and enjoy Vita titles, but clearly Sony don't consider that the main reason for bringing PlayStation TV over here.
Media Molecule's wonderfully imaginative paper-craft adventure swept us off our feet. It's charming yet thought-provoking in a gentle way. It showed us we should expect the unexpected from Media Molecule. It may not have sold PS Vitas to the extent it deserved, but it remains a corner stone of the game library the Vita has built up over the course of the last couple of years. When we felt that the various input options the Vita offers had little to offer gaming, Media Molecule proved us wrong.
Gravity Rush out of Sony Japan is one of the strongest new properties to appear on PS Vita so far. It's gravity defying gameplay makes for a very different open world experience and its novelty is perhaps its strongest aspect. The simple mechanics may not be challenging in themselves, but your brain is sure to get some exercise as you'll need to look at environments in a different way. Here's hoping we see more of Kat sooner rather than later.
The quick restarts and seemingly never-ending grind of OlliOlli won't be for everybody, but we've sunk hours into this charming skateboard-themed platformer. It's heavily focussed on skill, with the player forced to tap X at the exact moment they land on the ground in order to pull off a perfect trick. Failure to do so is punished early on via appalling scores, but as the game progresses, even the slightest errors will mean an restart of the whole level. It's tough, but OlliOlli also has bags of charm, and while not everyone at Gamereactor feels the same, we can't recommend it enough.
Destiny of Spirits
Perhaps an unexpected entry in the list, but this insanely addictive little Pokémon-inspired free-to-play spirit battler has proven itself one of our most-played games on Vita over the past few months, in spite of some recurring server issues. A smart use of the GPS means you're able to "hunt" for spirits when you take your Vita along for trips, travel the world and you can hunt for different spirits, but you also unlock spirits to hunt through working your way through the massive map. If you're into this kind of "gotta catch 'em all" games we wholeheartedly recommend it.
The PS Vita really had a strong launch lineup and Wipeout 2048 was our favourite of the bunch. And it's not just nostalgia, even if we have to admit PlayStation 4 doesn't quite feel like a proper PlayStation until it gets a Wipeout title. Blistering pace. A great soundtrack. Visuals to die for. Wipeout 2048 delivers in all categories. The slightly old school career mode is a nice throwback and we still boot it up every now and then for a quick race to clear our heads.
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