Tuesday, February 21, 2012

REVIEW - The PlayStation Vita.

This was written seven days after I unsealed my First Edition Vita.  
It is not a final word on this platform - merely how I feel about it
at this moment.
What can I say?  I really like that wallpaper. 
The PlayStation Vita promises triple-A, console-quality games on a handheld.  That is a bold statement - but the only question I'm at all concerned with answering - so this review will be rather different from those you've read on other gaming sites.

The Vita has a great deal of facets I don't care about and so, won't talk about.  Many reviews concern themselves with its pleasant list of bullet-point features - the cameras, which allow for augmented reality games.  The 'Near' thing, which I won't begin to get into.  The strange interface with its hidden menus which feels totally alien after the largely intuitive XMB...

I'm not about to discuss most of that.  The Vita can do a ton of stuff - and while having a Google Maps button right on the main page is very cool, I don't much care about that, either.

I don't care about anything the Vita does that isn't involved in allowing me to play awesome video games.  I'm willing to bet that if you were to consider shelling out two hundred and fifty dollars for a dedicated gaming handheld, you too are much less concerned with all its little extras than you are with how well it does the whole "video game thing."

Well... Near is weird,  the cameras seem like a needless tack-on, the fact that it requires you to purchase a separate memory card feels kinda' douchey, and it is without question the best portable gaming device there has ever been - if...

And this is The If.

...if you, like me, concern yourself first and foremost with playing gorgeous, immersive, high-end and high-production-value video games - and all the other ones, too.

Keep in mind - I actually have to downgrade these screenshots in order to fit them on the blog.  These images are 640 x 362 pixels - a direct screen capture from the Vita is 960 x 544 - yet the screen is only five inches.  The Vita's minuscule pixels provide images so attractive it's almost unsettling.

Its OLED (organic light emitting diode) screen is bright, lightning-fast and supernaturally sharp.  But heck, the PSP Go had a fancy screen, and where did that get it?

What separates the Vita from every other portable gaming device is what's under the hood - what it's capable of producing - with its quad-core processor and 640 MB of RAM.  That's right - the Vita actually has more random access memory than the PS3 or 360.  512 MB of RAM and 128 MB of dedicated VRAM.

This allows the system to produce visuals that - while not quite on-par with the best-looking games of the current gen - easily surpass titles available at its launch.  Let's compare with a trio of third-person shooters, shall we?

Technical wizardry, neh?  The Vita can't match it...

...but look at those textures!  Look how sharp it is.  Now look at the first third-person shooter to drop on the PlayStation 3.

Bleugh.  Character models are detailed, but effects are almost nonexistent and the textures have all been smeared in vaseline.

The Vita leverages a half-decade of industry knowledge of how to create art from technology, and applies all the little tricks of the trade folks have learned.  The high-end games look absolutely stunning - but that's only halfway to keeping its promise.  The other half is something consoles have understood since the turn of the century, and it's not just one thing - it's two.

In March of 2000, Sony's Dualshock solved the 3D Game Dilemma.  This was a very important step in console gaming.  Movement had been handled by analog stick in polygonal games on consoles since Super Mario 64 in 1996, but the experience had always been marred by the inability to intuitively control the camera as well.

Since the introduction of the Dualshock, with its twin analog sticks, every major 3D action game has utilized this classic control scheme - movement on the left, camera on the right - and things have never been better.  This is a lesson Sony should have learned with the PSP in 2004 - and you'd think Nintendo would have had the mind to include it with the 3DS, instead of as an afterthought peripheral.

You simply cannot produce a modern, console-style action game without two analog sticks.  Given that the PlayStation Vita's primary concern is providing such titles, there was only one control scheme they could have used:

So, we essentially have a Dualshock with a gigantic, gorgeous OLED screen and guts capable of producing current-gen high-end graphics.

The math is simple.  Correct controls plus cutting-edge technology equals what is, perhaps, the greatest handheld gaming device ever produced.

Now that, too, is a bold statement - a blanket statement, which makes assumptions about your consumption.  If you only want to play Angry Birds when on the go, you may as well stick with the iPod.  If you are entirely aligned with Nintendo's largely excellent but never-quite-up-to-current-gen first-party titles, you definitely want a 3DS.

There has been a renaissance in gaming over the last five years, led by Apple.  We call it "casual" - which is, perhaps, a fair moniker - but let's not ignore that billions of dollars are spent on ninety-nine cent games which boast little more than cute 2D sprites and clever mechanics.  People want to play those tiny games, and if you love gaming, chances are you do, too.

I'm not saying These Games are better than Those Games - Those Games are often pretty damned fun - but it begs the question of why, then, one should invest $250 plus (memory card) plus (games) plus (accessories) in the Vita?  The only answer is that you don't just want to play Those Games.

You want These games, too.

...and no handheld has ever produced games on par with the highest standards technology will allow to the degree of the Vita.

In that, it is a sublime success.  It is precisely what Sony promised and intended it to be.  It's extravagant.  It's a luxury item.  It's not the game device you want to buy for your preteen niece - she'll just break it.

It's, honestly, for adults. For the discerning gamer palette.  For people who grew up with a Dualshock or 360 pad in hand.  People who love gaming.  All gaming.

We want to play Plants Vs. Zombies, and we want hardcore fighting games.  We want Angry Birds, and we want BioShock.  We want it all, and no portable platform can deliver games across such a broad spectrum as the Vita.

Potentially, at least.  Aye, there's the rub.

Did you forget that Irrational Games has committed to making a BioShock game for the Vita?
Man, that'll be sweet!  ...if it happens!

A gaming platform can only ever be judged by its library. If we could judge it based on a single game, then the Vita is fantastic.  It will be years before we know the true measure of the Vita, and all it has to offer.

It's entirely possible that this thing will tank so incredibly badly that it will be pulled from store shelves halfway through 2012 and all developer support will cease.

That could happen.  It's unlikely, but let's be honest - at this point, the Vita is not the best handheld ever made - merely the one with the most potential.

I am entirely and uniformly happy with the device, at this point - having only played Rayman: Origins, Escape Plan and Uncharted: Golden Abyss on it - and Golden Abyss suggests nothing but great things to come.
"[It] asks and answers the question of whether or not there is a place for a dedicated, high-performance gaming device in a handheld market saturated with ninety-nine cent cell phone titles, and successfully makes an argument for the existence of the PlayStation Vita.  If nothing else, it says very, very good things about what we can look forward to on the platform."
-from the review-

The Vita, with all its extraneous bullet points, with its casual-friendly touch screen and cameras, integrated Facebook apps and GPS - does hone itself from that spread of features to a very, very fine point.  

We're gamers.  We want to play games.  

With its phenomenal screen, impressive tech and classic, comfortable control scheme, the Vita has positioned itself as the answer to our portable gaming dreams.  Whether or not it makes the most of its sizable gifts remains to be seen - but never have I observed so much potential in a handheld device.  

The question is, are you prepared to pay two hundred and fifty plus, plus, plus dollars for something that has a few great games and a ton of possibilities?


  1. Great review. Unique take, which is what I expected from you. I didn't realize I was into "gorgeous, immersive, high-end and high-production-value" games until around the time I started reading this blog and bought a PS3 to play on a 110" HD projection screen. Now, I'm hooked on sharp visuals and polished products. Can't wait to be a part of the launch of new hardware with great potential... I haven't gotten nearly as much use out of my 3DS as I'd hoped, but there was also nothing at launch that interested me. I bought it to have early and keep until the good stuff arrived, and... for the most part, that good stuff's yet to arrive. Mario 3DS was superb, and I do enjoy some of the social features, but... I'm waiting for Paper Mario, and other than that, there's not too much system-specific potential to speak of. With the Vita, there are tons of launch games that interest me, and Sony will be adding apps, new features, DLC, cross-system play... It's all so exciting. Can't wait until tomorrow night, when I can sit down and dig in.

    1. Also... I'm going to be picking up Lumines and Super Stardust Delta on Day 1. I'm probably going to get Rayman this weekend, because I've been a fan of the franchise since the original game but haven't picked up Origins on PS3. I figure the Vita would be a wonderful showcase for the colors and animation of Origins. What are your impressions? I would have already picked it up on the PS3, and I'm sure it'd look great there, too, but it's always a hassle trying to get my friends over for co-op anyway and I think I might prefer to have something as awesome as that on-the-go.

  2. i liked it. it put to words what i tried to say when my friends asked me why i bought it. also, how do you change the wallpaper for the lock screen.

  3. You can change the wallpaper for the opening screen in sorta' the same way you change it for the PS3.

    Go into the Vita's photo viewer. From there, just view the image you want, and tap the screen. Some options will come up onscreen, along with a little circle with "..." in the lower-right corner. Tap the circle with "...", and it gives you the option to use the image as your start-up screen wallpaper.

    @ Gio : I like Rayman Origins better on the Vita than on the PS3. The handheld is very conducive to Rayman's short levels, it has added collectibles to find and there's this wonderful feature where you can pinch or pull the screen to zoom out and see everything, or zoom in and check out the amazing art.

    Very pleased, with that one.

    1. Thanks, Chance. I'll definitely be picking it up sometime soon. Played with the Vita a bit tonight - such a gorgeous device. Lumines and SSD are slick, and I even enjoyed Welcome Park (must get 100% trophies!). Picked up Half-Minute Hero and Tactics Ogre as PSP carryovers, but we'll see when I get to those.