PlayStation Vita: First Thoughts

- Geoff Barry

When Sony released the PSP there were high expectations for the then next-gen handheld. However, the system wounded up being a disappointment with the clunky controls, having only one joystick, and not having enough solid games to be successful. Sony tried to save its sales by releasing the PSP Go back in 2009, but that found few buyers. With the Nintendo 3DS already out and the Wii U coming soon to change the way video games can be played, Sony had to step up and produce a legitimate handheld contender. With cross-platform games, a touchscreen, and two joysticks the PS Vita has been modeled for great things. 

I’m a big baseball fan and I usually end up getting the annual MLB The Show every year. When I saw that it was made for the Vita, I knew it would be the first game I tried out with my new system. One thing I really enjoy is the cross-platform capability this game offers. If I’m up by a run in the 4th playing on my PS3, and the Boston Red Sox are down by a run in the 8th on tv in the next room, I can switch my gave over to the Vita and do some serious baseball multi-tasking. Are the controls as smooth on the handheld? Not necessarily; I find it easier to score runs on the larger console, and I can usually yield more runs with the PS3. But the Vita executes the controls very well for a handheld. The first baseball game for the Vita is better than any of the previously released baseball games for the PSP

I have to admit to being a bit skeptical about the touchscreen when I first learned of it. I’ve mainly been a heavy joystick-controller guy, and I wasn’t too excited to read about how some of the games would deem it necessary to use the screen as a tool. Escape Plan has done a very nice job of turning me into a believer. I enjoy using the touchscreen, and in some instances prefer it. That doesn’t go without saying that it doesn’t have its fair share of problems. Finishing a level on Escape Plan can result in a one-three star performance, and how long it takes to complete it as well as how many gestures you make with the touchscreen will result in your score. I found it somewhat annoying with how sensitive the touchscreens are. The front and back screen take up the majority of the system, so there isn’t too much room for my hands. When I slip or just lightly press the back touchscreen, it counts as a gesture and ultimately lowers my score. It’s also hard to make precision touches with the back screen. Selecting a pitch location in MLB 12 with the front touchscreen is a joy, but having to punch a walkway from behind in Escape Plan at just the right moment can be a little more frustrating.

With two joysticks racing games are finally fun on a handheld. I recently tried the demo for Asphalt Injection and found it to be a decent experience. Obviously, I controlled the car with the left stick, but could also use the right stick to check my peripherals and see if a car was trying to get the upper hand, or even take a peek on the track for a shortcut. As for the game itself… well it seemed to have the motto of “drive as straight and as fast as you can.” What the two joysticks will really have success with is first-person-shooters. The PSP didn’t have the capabilities of having any FPS, so only third-person-shooters were released, including the Resistance and Killzone titles. With Burning Skies already out, it’s clear that Sony wants to have success in the FPS field.

What I dislike about the Vita are the memory cards. It seems like last-gen technology to me, and a way for Sony to just keep pocketing money from these separately sold items. I bought the starter kit with my Vita and it was a decent deal, but even the PSP had a hard drive that games were saved on. My PS3 doesn’t require memory cards, so why did Sony opt to go back to them? Even though there have been a handful of titles released for the Vita, some claim that there aren’t any worth buying the system for. Uncharted has not had very good feedback, and that was supposed to be the “no-brainer” for consumers. Mortal Kombat has found some success, as well as Wipeout 2048, but those are games that have been previously released for the larger consoles, and people aren’t going to be buying Vitas in order to play those titles. I’m very excited for Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, but it would be devastating to Sony’s prized possession if that is the first popular title released. There have been confirmations on a Call of Duty and Bioshock title, which would only mean good news for the slender handheld, but there haven’t been release dates set for either, and Bioshock won’t likely be a Vita priority until Infinite has been released well into 2013.

I’ve been pleased with what I’ve gotten out of the Vita so far. I’ve been frustrated at times with the baseball game and platformer, but I get frustrated with those types of games even on my PS3, so I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve only had the system for less than a week, so I’m trying to bang out some of the kinks and get used to the new amenities. I haven’t even played enough of one game to be able to put up a review yet. Most of my time with it is trying to get used to MLB 12 so I can pound the snot out of the Tigers and Yankees with my Red Sox. I feel like the back touchscreen has gotten a bad reputation because many gamers find it difficult to use. I do as well, but I think when people are able to use it at its potential it can be a very nice addition to the Vita. I haven’t had enough time to accurately grade this system yet, so I will wait another week to test out some different games to see how the controls work on them. 

 If you have a Vita, what are your thoughts on the system?