Risk Of Ignored Excellence Threatens PlayStation Vita

It used to matter whether a portable video game machine could fit in your pocket. The Game Boy was a brick, but you could get in your jacket pocket. The Atari Lynx was a small log, but ridiculous ads on TV showed it too could fit in a coat — probably as well as a smuggled carton of milk, if they were being honest.

We had the Game Boy Pocket, the Game Boy Micro and the ever-slimmer line of PlayStation Portables. The DSes were mostly pocket-compatible, until the Nintendo DSi XL emerged to threaten any tailor's best seams.

Today I believe we're past the pocket question. There are more dire matters of fit over which to worry. The PlayStation Vita, the most impressive handheld gaming machine I've ever touched, may squeeze into my coat, but I'm not sure it fits into my life.

I've played the PS Vita twice, once in Los Angeles last June and again last week in New York. Both times, I cradled the surprisingly light Vita in my hands, admired the device's extraordinary screen, marvelled at the system's graphics, thought about how much I'd enjoy having one and realised how little I might play it.

I can't fault the Vita's engineering. The Vita feels great and runs well. I like that it has two, comfortable analogue sticks. I am gratified that it has a touchscreen. I'm pleased it has a gyro sensor and I'm intrigued by the rear touch panels. I'm amazed that Sony will sell the Vita for $US249 when it comes out late this year or some time next, given the quality of the machine and the look of the games already running on it.

Let me tell you what it's like to play the Vita. Last week, at a PlayStation showcase in New York, I slipped through a small forest of Vita demo stations to a corner where one of the new Sony wonder-machines was running a seven-minute demo version of Uncharted: Golden Abyss.

The screenshots for the game do much of the labour of selling the Vita's value. Touching the game helps, too. I played the Uncharted demo under supervision of a lady from Sony who suggested which of the game's controls I should use. She was giving me a tour of the hardware's capabilities, really, in the disguise of a fun Indiana Jones-style game. I used the Vita's control sticks to run the game's hero Nathan Drake through jungle ruins. I tried tracing my finger on bricks on the ruins' walls, to guide Drake's climbing and clambering over them. I tilted the Vita and tapped the screen to make him jump from one hanging ruin to another. I moved the Vita through the air to aim a sniper scope, tickled the touch-sensitive back of the Vita to make Drake climb a rope, tapped on unsuspecting bad guys to perform stealth attacks, and swiped my finger on the screen to toss grenades.

I was, occasionally, disobedient, ignoring the Sony lady's exhortations to tap or tilt the Vita. To get the same results, I discovered, I could usually press buttons or flick sticks. Thank goodness. If the only way to make Drake swing on a rope is to rock the Vita back and forth, then we'll have a ridiculous problem, but in the demo I played, there were two ways to do most things in the game: the World Without Buttons Way and the There Was A Reason Buttons Were Invented Way.

Throughout the demo I was dazzled by how good the game looked. I'd never seen a portable game look this lovely, not in the realism style whose reigning champ is iOS game Infinity Blade. The demo did its work and the thought was in my head: I want this.

I never owned a Game Boy but as a formerly suffering owner of only 1990s Nintendo home consoles and PCs that were too primitive to run the latest hot games, I discovered an end to gaming scarcity via the Game Boy Advance. One decade ago, I was valiantly angling my GBA to catch sunlight and actually see what I was playing. I was having a great time. I learned that there was room in my life for Advance Wars and handheld Castlevanias. I played a lot of GBA but even more DS. I played a lot of PSP when it first came out, especially Lumines.

About a year ago, however, as I was marvelling over the then-prototype Nintendo 3DS, I realised I'd all but ceased playing DS games. My PSP rested in a perpetual state of powerlessness. I'd gotten an iPhone, discovered the joys of listening to podcasts (shout out to the audio version of the PBS News Hour!) and stumbled across the fact that a man can listen to chattering about video games, pro wrestling or This American Life in his ears while playing the thinking man's Tetris, Drop 7 — all on his iPhone — and pretty much fill his subway ride up. The DS stayed in my bag. A year later, the 3DS stays in my bag too.

I really should go back to Ghost Trick or play some more Professor Laytons, but it took me a year to find the time to play through the last DS Zelda and the most recent DS Mario & Luigi. And I loved those games... just not as much as I loved staying informed by listening to the News Hour.

The pocket test used to matter for portable game machines, but so too did the the flight test. Could a DS or PSP hold enough battery juice to last a cross-country flight? I don't think my 3DS can, but I don't know if I'll ever test it because I'm perpetually re-running that experiment in 2011 on my portable TV/book/comic/gaming device called the iPad. Planes were my favourite place for binging on handheld games. Not any more.

The Vita is sharp, but I just dont' know if it can wedge into my life, not while other portable gaming machines I have are already struggling to do so. And then there's what happened after I finished playing Uncharted on the Vita. I walked over to Uncharted 3 on the PlayStation 3. That game was running on a big TV. A Sony rep was playing a portion of the game set on a storm-rocked ship. I was looking at something extraordinary. The ship swayed, the enemies inside stumbled, water spilled into rooms realistically. The action was big, fast and exciting. It blew away the little Uncharted I had just played in my hands. If I had to choose one Uncharted to play in the next year, I'd go with the PS3 one.

As an avid gamer I'm familiar with the concept of ignored excellence. Any of us who play games surely are. We find a game we love, a game we know is wonderful but that we also know is being shunned. We shake our heads at the fools who don't recognise the glories of the games we play. We might deride their ignorance or their bad taste, but in a generous moment we might consider that they don't have room in their life to learn just how superb our favourite hidden gem is. I've had this experience with games many times before, but never with gaming hardware. I've also never had this feeling about myself, never knowingly been that guy who was doing the foolish ignoring of something great, the guy who didn't have room in his life for excellence. With the Vita, the amazing, amazing Vita, I fear I may be that guy.

I've played the Vita twice. I love the machine and I do have some jackets with big pockets, but I don't see a Vita-shaped hole in my life.


Comments

    I have a cell phone. I use it to text and occasionally to talk to people.

    I have a PSP and a DS. I bring one of them with me every day, depending on what game(s) I feel like playing that week, and I use it to play games.

    I have never been tempted to play the games on my phone instead of the games on my DS and/or PSP.

    I think the bigger issue is whether or not these new handhelds really are intended to be used 'on-the-go' as much as handhelds have been traditionally. If Sony does too many console-like 'ports' that don't lend themselves well to quick 15-minute bursts of play, then I see that developing into a problem. Lots of games for PSP suffer from that problem already. I suppose Battery life could be an issue as well, but I've never had a problem with the DS or PSP battery life so far.

    *PS. my PSP fits in my pocket pretty easily... maybe I just have HUGE pockets :-P haha

    Maybe your just getting to old? :P

    I definatly see plenty of Vita space. Like the Psp, i'm sure it'll just take up my free time and if the games good take up my PS3 time. As for on the go play. Most serious gamers don't do that as much as they play at home. But i'm sure this will fill many the boring car trip.

      I think you hit the nail on the head there in your first line. Totilo is obviously getting on in years (not a dig, just a statement) and as you get older tastes change. I think handhelds are the realm of the younger gamer.

      Sure I am generalising but as you get older you get busier and you end up being the person driving the car or in charge of some other responsibility that prevents you sitting back, relaxing and playing the game. You have shorter and less frequent moments of down time until you get home and can relax.

      This is why the iphone with its shorter quick hit games appeal more to older, busier gamers like Totilo. He always has his phone so its not another device to carry and it satisfies the itch when needed. I think he needs to realise though, as much he is a games enthusiast games are not a niche product anymore and with the wider market not all games and game devices will be targeted at him.

        I'm an older gamer. And I find the portables fit perfectly into my life as a parent.
        I can use them when I have a brief few minutes to myself and also I can use them when the kids have their kids stuff going on on the TV.

          I was generalising (which is bad I know) but the core of what I meant was portables fit some lifestyles and situations and not others.

    Yesterday I saw a friend playing iPhone games. Over the course of the day, he swapped between ten or more different games, because each one was either extremely short lived or he just got bored.

    Meanwhile I spent that entire time playing God Eater Burst. 10 games to 1. That doesn't even mention the fact a huge majority of iPhone games are Newgrounds quality.

    I wonder what Kotaku will do when they realize they've employed a non-gamer.

    If you stop driving to work and catch the bus instead I guarantee you'll get plenty of use out of your handhelds.

      20 years of working & always had a job where I had to drive so that explains the 50 PSP games I have in my pile of shame. Never understood the comment there are not enough good games - I have too many! & not enough time to play them all
      I love a (flying) business trip, charging the PSP, slecting the games, for those quiet times....
      Will get a PSV next year USA busines trip, why not - its only $249

      Not round here you wouldn't. They'd be stolen within a few days and down the local Cash Converter in the hour.

    I don't think there's room in my life for a portable console. If I should find myself in the position of being away from my 360 and PS3, and needing to entertain myself, I've always got a book on hand (wiki it), or iphone games, although I get bored of them pretty quick (the games, not the books.)

    Maybe if I used public transport I would be more likely to invest in a portable system, but generally if I'm out of the house I'm doing stuff, if I'm at home, then I have my regular consoles or PC to play on.

    I have a PSP and yea its not a bad machine. But thinking over the life of it, I think I've only enjoyed maybe half a dozen games on it? (like Crisis Core, Jeanne D'arc, Persona 3 portable)
    But I find myself having had more fun on the DS. I've gone through any number of various RPGs, played the hell out of FF Tactics A2 (love that game), and am now enjoying the 3DS with Zelda and look forward to future 3DS games (with the occasional DS game) like Luigi's Mansion 2.
    I don't think much of iOS games. They're ok for a quick game if I haven't brought my 3DS (and I generally just play FreeCell), but I don't see any long term gameplay on it, especially since it is a touch screen only (I prefer buttons etc) and also battery on iphone etc I find is worse than portable gaming system mainly cos it eats it up (which I would rather have for phone calls and music).
    Speaking of batteries, I've had no issues on the 3DS, has been going well for me - but PSP on the other hand, I would get low battery very frequently.

    I bet 249 US = 450AUD for some reason

    I travel 2 hours a day on trains to Work (an hour, an hour back home)...I pretty much carry around a bag with me and tend to pack in my 3DS and PSPgo for the journey...I do have an iPhone but when it comes to portable gaming, I still much prefer having the tactile feed back of actual buttons.

    Fruit Ninja is cool and all but kind of wears thin after awhile. Same goes for Game Development Story (the two main games I play on my iPhone)...I think the only thing that kept my interest on the iPhone was NBA Jam (which surprisingly works well for an iphone game)

    But given the choice, I'd still rather sink those 2 hour trips into a meaty game. I've racked up 130 hours on MGS Peace Walker on my trips to work. I've put about 20 odd hours back into Zelda Ocarina of Time 3DS on those trips. So for me, there is still plenty of room for Vita in my life...I'm actually looking forward to getting my hands on the system upon release date,

    besides, the allure of "On the Go" Trophy's is more than enough to keep this Trophy Whore happy with purchasing a Vita :)

    Vita will succeed if it offers a new gaming experience. If not, it will die a slow and painful death, like the PSP everywhere except Japan. If they push teh AR stuff, or touch stuff in a big way, that will separate the Vita games from PS3 games. Otherwise, no one in their right mind would rather play this Uncharted over Uncharted 3.

      ^ This.

      The PSP is a more powerful system than the DS, but the DS has outsold and has a stronger library than the PSP.

      The DS offers a gaming experience unique to its platform buy having two screens, one of them a touch screen.

      Putting games I would rather play on a big TV on a handheld is not the way to get me to buy the Vita.

      Here's hoping the Vita will get its own unique library of games and/or compliment the PS3 in a big way.

    Pokemon wouldn't get away with being a console game.

    Samurai Warriors could not have worked in the same way on a console [in terms of the lower screen map/switching gimmick].

    Patapon and Lumines on a console feels like a waste of time.

    Tap tap revolution is perfect on the mobile.

    Console games and the experience they offer are a lot different to what handhelds offer. Similarly, handholds hold a different experience to mobile phone games.

    When the tone is right, handheld games really work. The GBA era worked so well because the games held a good mix of ambition and suitability. The PSPs lack of popularity in the west is a difficult one to justify considering how popular it is in Japan, I personally felt that the DS did a bit of a disservice to handhelds at times by trying too hard to be a mobile gaming platform.

    Though admittedly at the end of the day my highest priority is the ability to play music. Every device I own is designed to take over as a player consecutivly as my batteries die. Pretty sure my DS and my PSP spent as much time playing music as games by the end.

    I agree that Vita looks amazing and could be great. But I too am getting older and find myself with less time for games, indeed many of the games I have now are patiently waiting to be played many months and years after being placed lovingly on my shelves.
    I would love to buy a Vita if I was a teenager with lots of freee time again, or if I was bored with all my current games and systems, but I don't know yet if I will buy one. If I start taking more long plane trips then sure. It's not that Sony has done anything wrong -they actually look like they are doing everyhing right this time. It's me, not you.

    I'm one of the few that enjoys PSP more than DS, so PS Vita is more attractive to me.

    Moreover, given the fact that 3DS is region locked, I can finally give Nintendo Portable a miss (I owned almost all models of Nintendo portable since Game & watch time)

    I can totally relate. It's called "growing up" :--P

    But srsly, it's not that gaming is strictly for kids. It's the same with all hobbies: as the more important parts of our lives start taking up more time, something's gotta give. Also, changing priorities: I discovered the joys of podcasts/vodcasts a couple years ago and suddenly I was reading/playing a lot less on my daily commute.

    About 5 years back I bought the DS, then a year after I bought the PSP. 2 years ago I bought the PS3 (came with the TV). IMO, the PSP is the best investment into entertainment I ever made, way ahead of DS and PS3.

    The power saver state of the PSP is an excellent function. Whenever I want to play I turn the power on and I'm right back where I last left it. When I need to stop in a hurry I easily turn it to power saver and don't have to worry about saving etc.

    Although I play the PSP mostly at home, I can play it anywhere and not just limited to sitting in front of my TV, the main reason I don't play the PS3 very often. That and the longer boot time and closing down time compared to PSP.

    Now that I'm about to leave uni, get a work, and marry, I feel the PSP is even more suitable for my lifestyle. What ever my fiancee is doing, whether browsing the net, watching TV, reading, etc, I can always snuggle up near her with my PSP. When ever she needs me, I can easily attend her without the feeling of having to disengage from gaming, knowing that I can get right back into it afterwards.

    So yeah, I'm really looking forward to Vita. Especially I prefer Japanese games way over Western games, the availability of PSN is a very attractive factor.

    I think I mostly -want- to find space in my pocket, and my life for the NGP (lets face it Vita is still a horrid name).

    Ermm... PSV is out today...My brother is buying one this afternoon.

    I'm looking forward to getting one. I use my PSP regularly, mostly to play either Gran Turismo or Peace Walker. I think with any system it just depends on the quality of the titles on it.

    I dig portability. I routinely visit places away from home (I moved to the country and regularly do weekend trips to family and friends in the city) and always take my PSP. I also have fond memories of taking a PSP with me on my last 3 major overseas trips and they're great for plane travel and hotel downtime.

    I can only imagine doing the same with Vita. Being a Sony platform I imagine it will have quality titles, and I hope it isn't ravaged by piracy like PSP, because that has great games, just not enough of them.

    I found it unusual that the iPad was mentioned for portable gaming. I would love to see his jacket that can fit a iPad for portable gaming. To the point, PSP and DS are gaming machines, iStuff and Android have other uses that they are better equipped for. I don't know about others but I struggle to play anything strictly on a touchscreen.

    This article lost me early on. MOST of my gaming is done on portable devices. I just dont have time when I get home to sit down and enjoy the latest 360 game.

    On the train I have plenty of time, on my lunchbreak I have plenty of time, I even have plenty of time to play on the toilet.

    Portability is super important to a person, like myself, who is just too busy otherwise.

    I imagine when your job is to play games then portability is less of an issue.

      Yeah!!! What he said!!!! :)

      Horses for courses really. Portables that play AAA content are needed for this exact reason. If someone only has the option of playing a portable the tech needs to advance so that the games can advance with it. Not everyone just wants to play angry birds and people shouldn't be denied a rich gaming experience that is at least on par with what you can play on console/tv.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now