|Review: PlayStation Vita|
Tuesday, 17 April 2012 09:30
The original PSP was launched amidst much fanfare towards the end of 2005.
Since then, Playstation (PS) has become a veritable powerhouse in South Africa, thanks in part to an aggressive marketing campaign by Ster Kinekor. It has enabled the company to build on the success of both the PS1 and PS2, extending the gaming experience to mobile.
Nintendo’s reluctance to consider Africa as a viable market meant that the PSP was able to shine, providing hours of entertainment to gamers who grew tired of playing Snake and Space Impact on their Nokia 3310’s.
Fast forward seven years and the South African gaming landscape has changed quite considerably. Tablets like the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab offer immersive multimedia experiences at a fraction of the cost of traditional video games. Nintendo (through local selling agent Core) has cemented a foothold in the market with the Nintendo DSi, DSi XL and the newer 3DS. Smartphones are also becoming more accessible to South Africans. It is within this context that I am going to review Sony’s latest creation, the PS Vita.
Specs and Features
The PS Vita (Vita means “life” in Latin) feels solid and has a good weight to it. The oval design is aesthetically pleasing and the lack of jagged edges means that it won’t do any serious harm if you pop it in your pocket. The only problem is that it is longer than the previous PSP, which means that unless you have pockets that can smuggle a 500 ml coke into a movie theatre, you’re better off getting a carry case. (Perhaps this is why Sony removed the word Portable from the name?)
Any ill-feeling towards the awkwardness of the size is dismissed when you switch it on and witness the 5-inch OLED screen in action. The touch screen is crisp and bright with colours swashing all over the place. The 512 MB of RAM ensures that the Vita is responsive and almost intuitive to your touch.
The additional analogue stick brings the Vita closer to its larger cousin, the PS3, and the joysticks themselves feel much better than the ‘thumb-tack’ those of the predecessor felt like. There are two cameras on either end, as well as a rear touchpad to round things off. The XrossMediaBar has also been replaced by a ‘LiveArea’ interface, which brings the device into an era familiar with apps.
There are two versions of the PS Vita: a 3G model and a less expensive WiFi model.
The PS Vita was launched with over 20 titles, with a few Sony exclusives like Uncharted and Wipeout to entice loyal fans. Six games were bundled with the review unit including:
Uncharted: Golden Abyss,
Everybody’s Golf 6,
Modnation Racers: Road Trip,
Reality Fighters, and
Little Deviants was the worst of the lot and felt more like a gimmicky tech demo developed to show off the rear touch pad, than a proper game. While it reminded me of the original PSP’s launch game, Mercury, I found the touch controls to be frustrating and inaccurate.
Reality Fighters did not fare much better and felt equally gimmicky as it seems that the developers tried to expand on the augmented reality capabilities at the expense of gameplay. It was fun to create a character in my likeness and to fight on my aquarium, but after half an hour I was bored of the game. Within a few hours I had completed the game and with little replay value, I could see no reason why anyone would want to keep playing. Using the likeness of Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid) was great, but was not enough to save this game.
Everybody’s Golf 6 was a better experience, but failed to use any of the PS Vita’s features to good effect. It felt like an older PSP game that has been touched up with a lick of paint. The game is structured in a way that, if you are not placed first at the end of a course, then you do not proceed. This makes it frustrating and unrewarding, especially when you play a seemingly flawless round only to mess up one shot at the end and then have to start over again.
Wipeout 2048 continues the tradition of ridiculously fast anti-gravity racing combined with great visuals, as well as a thumping, techno inspired soundtrack. It is a wonder to behold and, in the right hands, demonstrates the power of the PS Vita. The one thing that hampers this game is the long load times. This goes against the very nature of mobile gaming where players are often looking for a quick fix, and the loading time does drop the game score down a few notches.
Modnation Racers: Road Trip is the PS Vita’s answer to Mario Kart and for the most part, is a worthy challenger. The racing is a lot of fun, but Modnation really shines with the customisation options. This enables players to create their own stages, as well as race against other creations, and this is quite enjoyable (or dull, depending on how much time you invest in the game). However, the touch inputs were not as responsive as I wanted them to be, so I spent most of the time using the buttons to control what I was doing.
The pick of the lot is Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Players can expect the same high production values that they have become accustomed to from this franchise, even though this version was not developed by Naughty Dog. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a prequel to Nathan Drakes’ PS3 trilogy which sees Nate trek through Central America with his friend, Jason Dante.
The visuals are reference quality and could be a console shifter (much like the original Uncharted was for the PS3). The soundtrack and voice acting will be familiar to any avid PS explorer, and the touch screens are often used to great effect. However, this is not often the case, and sometimes you get the feeling that the developers are trying too hard to include all the PS Vita features into the game.
But that’s the biggest problem with the PS Vita – given the choice between buttons and touch, I almost always chose buttons. This might reflect a personal bias (I also prefer controllers to video game steering wheels), but one that tells me that the touch interface has not been explored properly on this console.
Three years ago, the PS Vita would have blown the competition out of the water, but increasingly I find it difficult to recommend it over a decent tablet that can do so much more, or a PS3 that costs around the same amount.
The PS Vita is the only place that you will find portable versions of PS exclusives like Resistance and Uncharted, so if you are a fan of these series, it is a no brainer. But for the average gamer, the PS Vita remains an expensive and unnecessary piece of kit. However, I won’t write it off just yet as I am hoping for some software that really pushes the bar in terms of what it can do, and for that killer, must-have game that justifies its high price point. Until then, I will wait.
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