Is The PS Vita A Device Ahead Of Its Time Or Behind It?

With its big, bright screen, ability to sense touch and motion, and controls that mimic a home video game's, Sony's Playstation Vita delivers the sort of gaming that approaches what you might expect to experience in your den. But is that what gamers still want?

I've spent the past week with a PS Vita, enjoying its smart design, its cleverly crafted games, its luxurious screen and two thumb sticks. I also spent the week wondering whether this was a gaming machine that's come too late.

The growing ubiquity of gaming, the ability to play games on laptops, tablets, digital books and smartphones, undermines the value of carrying around a device that can only game. That doesn't mean that there's no market for dedicated portable gaming machines, just that they face new challenges.

Where portable gaming once had to deliver an experience simply better than not gaming on the go at all, now it has to overcome the advent of micro and casual games, time-killers like Angry Birds, Words With Friends and Bejeweled. These smaller, bite-sized experiences can be purchased anywhere, anytime with a short download for little money. But more importantly, they're playable on devices that people may have on them already to read a book, to do some work, to make a phone call.

The PS Vita is a delightful gaming machine, but its dedication to the experience of gaming brings with it the requirement that gamers plan ahead. Its over-sized screen, multitude of inputs and controls means that this isn't a device you can simply slip into your pocket and forget about. When planning a trip to Manhattan last week, I had to decide if I wanted to bring a bag simply to carry the Vita with me. I decided against it, opting instead to rely on my phone to help kill the hour-and-a-half trip ahead of me.

Having said that, I found myself regretting that decision on the return trip. Why? Because the Vita's experience is so robust that it can outweigh its inconvenience. The trick will be for Sony to convince people of that.

The Vita is shaped a bit like an over-sized, fatter Playstation Portable. Players can use the touch-sensitive 5-inch OLED screen to interact with games or trace their fingers along the devices back to play games that way. The Vita also has two cameras, one facing forward and the other back, and can sense motion. There are also buttons on the top corners of the Vita. The device's lush screen is bookend by controls including a directional pad, four buttons and two thumbtacks. It may not sound like much, but adding a second thumbstick to the already vast array of controls is in many ways a game changer for portables. That second stick means that the Vita's controls are close approximations to what players have in their hands when gaming on the Vita's big brother, the Playstation 3. So the experience of gaming on the go can now feel like the experience of gaming at home. That's a big deal.

Another big deal is how cleverly the games I sampled played with the Vita's array of control mechanics. Some games had me tilting the device to balance my character while using the twin thumbtacks to move. Others had me tickling the Vita's underbelly to virtually push up through the device's screen. In some cases, the experience of playing on the Vita was better than the playing at home.

ModNation Racers is a Playstation 3 game that allows you to create your own drivers, karts and tracks and then race with friends. But the process of crafting can be tedious when done with thumbtacks and buttons. The Vita version of the game, ModNation Racers: Roadtrip has players using the touch screen and back panel to draw creations with their fingers. It's not just easier, it's much more fun.

The Playstation Vita launched in Japan with a bang last month, but the second week of sales for the device saw a significant drop. The device is set for a $US250, Feb. 22 release in the U.S. Sony has one last opportunity, with this month's Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, to prove to a broad audience in North America why they should buy something that can only do one thing, but do it very well.

Some pundits have suggested the best way to do that is to drop the price. I'm sure that would help, but I think the better option is to prove that the experience of gaming on the Vita outweighs the inconvenience of owning an over-sized dedicated portable gaming system.

It's doubtful that the Vita will become a system that redefines who games, but redefining how one games on the go should be enough to allow it some success.


Comments

    While I have a profound appreciation of how the smartphone revolution changed the industry I believe that a niche demographic of consumers will pick up the Vita, eventually.

    The prospect of a truly authentic portable gaming expereince (with buttons, motion, touch, thumbsticks, 3G) is very tantalizing.

    Battery life could be an issue though. Price and game library will need to be amazing to compete with the iOS/Android app stores.

    I have a multitude of smart-devices available for use at home, including an iPad, iTouch (multiple), and an Android tablet. None of them could best the Vita in terms of true gaming quality. Sure, there's a few good titles out for iOS and Android. But none come close to the experience you get with a handheld, that has real controls, and games that truly offer the depth of console/PC games. So comparing the Vita to a smart-device is quite futile. While I agree, smart devices have made it harder for handhelds, they have not, and will not for some time, eliminated handhelds. Like above poster said, there will always be a niche market.

    I have a handbag, so I don't find not being able to put things in my pocket a drawback. I can just just put in my handbag in case I need it. I'm looking forward to the PSV but I'm just not sure when I'll be able to afford it.

      Every guy knows that female handbags have a Tardis effect; they're bigger on the inside than on the outside. It's one reason to have a girlfriend, so she can carry your PS Vita for you. 8P

    Before they had camera's in them I liked the clam shell designs Nintendo used as I could just shut it and put it in my pocket, if I had baggy enough pants on.

    But with the PSV I don't know how I am going to transport it and keep it ready for rapid deployment.

    The whole 'in your pocket' thing is a mystery to me. I've never transported dedicated handhelds in my pockets and I've had several. I'm yet to meet anyone who does.

    I'm hoping the vita carves a nice niche for itself like the PSP did. Well more so naturally. It would be nice to see blockbuster titles in the latter part of the PSP's life rather than die and be all but abandoned in the US.

      Agreed, although my only exception would be my GBA SP.

    I dont like where the mobile phone gaming medium has gone. Sure, it fills a small gap when on a bus or train, but as said above, they arent authentic or genuince experiences with substance.

    The Vita appeals to me because of its dedication to gaming. For example, picking up Uncharted on the Vita as opposed to Plants vs. Zonbies on any mobile platform really appeals to me. Thats because I know im getting an authentic experiences with variance. PvZ is a simple game with no complexities or variance.

    The screen, dual anaolgues, gyro-scopic controls and touch screens/pads is what i like about it. It doesnt feel like a rehashed preiously made machine. Like the 3ds.... that just felt like a new 3D slider put onto an old DS (to me). I felt it didnt bring anything new to Nintendos already established line and I dont believe it was hysterically ambitious either. At the end of the day everyone got a new DS....

    At the end of the day ill be relying Sony and its publishers to bring tme ultimate experiences and starting with Uncharted and a new Wipeout has already made me smile. The thought of Killzone and Call of Duty on there by Christmas is what I am excited about too.

    Its all about the ManBag.........

    I think the concept of portable handheld game systems are dead. Its not just that people like Smartphone games better or that its too expensive, it's that ever since even back to video ipods people arent even thinking about them anymore. WHen the DS first came out there really wasnt much to do when you had a trip ahead of you, but now in the wake of competition with iphones they really cant compete. The world has changed, and portable systems only for games will go the way of the A-track.

    This device will still be bought by niche buyers, but it will ultimately sell dissapointingly, and it will probably be Sonys last generation for portable platforms. 3DS will do better, but they still suffer from similar problems. Nintendo might come up with anotha idea for a next generation though.

    The PSP has always been a bit of an enigma to a lot of people, and I think the Vita will be the same. I've alrerady pre-purchased my 3G Vita, and I haven't been this excited about the prospect of a new console for a very long time. I spend less time on my major gaming devices (PC, PS3) as I get older and find myself more entertained, and for longer by my handhelds.

    My PSP has seldom seen a period of disuse for any longer than a couple of months in it's life (on my 3rd PSP, a Gran Turismo PSP-3000, but bought the PSP-1000 at launch), and my 3DS is getting more and more love of late. Hell, even the DSi XL still gets regular love, courtesy of the joys of Pokemon on a massive screen.

    I have many games on my Android devices (Galaxy S II and Asus TF101 Transformer) but they have never felt like much more than slightly improved 'mobile phone' games. Sure they keep me busy for a bit, but I can never escape the feeling I'm playing a 'dumbed down' piece of software not intended for extended play.

    I can see the traditional 'handheld' devices and todays iOS/Android devices getting closer and closer together as time passes, but we're not even close at the moment. I also sincerely hope there will always be a market for specialised gaming handhelds like PSP/Vita and the DS/3DS.

    I'm not surprised the Vita hasn't sold like crazy, as many people are happy with their iOS/Android devices for gaming, and given the price crash of the 3DS, there's not much incentive for the average consumer.

      The PSP kind of got reignited for me with the arrival of two things...the PSP Go (yes I was one of the few that bought it, and actually think its the best iteration of the PSP in terms of hardware design...I found the slider design to be really comfortable to hold to be honest.)...and Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker (I put 150 hours into that game and loved every moment of it)

      Weirdly enough, I felt the system got a nice second wind in its last two years of life and finally became the go to system for me.

      Weirdly enough, with the arrival of MGS Peace Walker and a few other games (The 3rd Birthday, Monster Hunter, FF Dissidia) I found myself using the PSP more then I did the DS Lite. Which is weird because it used to be that I much preffered my DS Lite over the PSP...but in those final two years, the PSP got some killer games and reignited my love for it

        I know exactly what you mean. Games like MHFU, Persona and Persona 3 Portable, Dissidia, Duodecim, Tactics Ogre, MGSPW, Valkyria Chronicles, Phantasy Star Portable 2, Final Fantasy IV Complete and all my classics like Final Fantasy 5-9, it got used a LOT. Also a translated ISO of MHP3rd gave a bit of a boost too.

        Admittedly, a lot of those games weren't for 'everyone', but I was always bewildered when people called it a dead system.

          I think because at that point it was just common knowledge that the DS had pretty much dominated it.

          But yeah I agree completely, I thought it had a nice little second wind in its dying years and played host to some pretty damn good games in its final years.

          It was like Sony actually remembered "Oh yeah we have this Handheld device don't we, I guess we better start supporting it"

    The one thing that would help the Vita: A killer launch line up of AAA grade titles. The 3DS launched flat due to no great titles on launch and it killed sales so much the price drop was needed to revive sales. If the Vita launches with 2-3 great AAA titles, then people will eat it up

      Granted I might be bias because I am an Uncharted fan....but I think honestly that Uncharted is so far the killer app for the system. After playing through the game, its truly a showcase for everything that the Vita can do and is surprisingly a meaty game and not a bad one.

      It's the game that I've been playing the most on my Japanese Unit

      But outside of that...the US/European launch...I'm really looking forward to ModNation Racers actually. Also Unit 13 looks kind of cool.

      But yeah I think when the system launches in Feb that Uncharted really is going to be the killer app...and rightfully so as it really is a damn impressive showcase for what the system (not just in visuals but in gameplay as well)

        1 - Yes you are biased with your Uncharted love lol

        2 - I did say it needs 2-3 "killer apps" (to steal from your vocabulary) at launch to have some success. Sony needs to learn from Nintendo's mistakes, not repeated them

          For me personally though they do

          Like I said I'm really excited for ModNation Racers, i'm really excited for Escape Plan (the art style alone in that game looks awesome). LUMINES (I loved Lumines on the PSP so that's a must buy for me once its out). Army Corps of Hell (I wanted to import this but I'm a little hesitant with the amount of text)

          Granted these games may not appeal to the mainstream but those games do appeal to me and so yeah I think they've got a pretty good launch lineup

          I still think they're in a far better place then the 3DS was at its launch. I bought a 3DS at launch and outside of Street Fighter 4 and Pilotwings, they're was really nothing else of interest for me at that system's launch...which I can't say for the Vita because there at least 4 or 5 games that I want to pick up once it launches

      The vita has quite a few games coming out for it, the 3DS had almost none in it's first few months let alone launch day.

    I've had my Japanese Vita for a week and I've got to say I'm impressed by the system as a whole...the whole "in-pocket" thing has been a mystery to me. I mean honestly could you fit the original Brick Game Boy in your pocket? What about the original launch DS? That thing was pretty chunky when you look back on it. The original Game Boy Advance is another "could you really fit it in your pocket?" moment. Or what about the behemoth that was the Game Gear?

    Personally, I take a bag with me when i traverse to work via trains, so I just throw my Vita/PSP/DS or whatever system I decide to take in my bag and go.

    But the whole "Can it fit in my pocket" thing is a bit of a mystery to me, especially when you consider the fact that most handhelds haven't really been that "portable, put it in your pocket" (at least not in their first hardware iteration)

      Got one already? So jelly!

        MAN.... i want one too!!!!!! Just gotta wait until Feb 23. ;-(

    As for the Vita...I've truly been impressed by it. It feels to me like Sony has learnt from their mistakes with the PSP...the problem I always had with the PSP is that it was always positioned as a "Do Everything" device but yet it felt really clunky in its design...granted times have changed and mobile interfaces have improved significently from where they were when the PSP launched

    But yeah, for a do it all device, the PSP just felt at times clunky in its interface. The Vita on the other hand, everything is just so seamless. There was something really gratifying about being able to pull out of Uncharted back into the home menu. Being able to check my trophies...being able to go to the music app and start playing some music then flicking back over to Uncharted and heading straight back to where I left it...all of this with no load times or lag...its a really seamless and very quick interface that just feels really damn good in its design.

    What I can say about the Vita is that so far I think they've learned from their mistakes with the PSP...however the problem is that we live in a world that is dominated by everyone have a smart phone, or everyone having a tablet of some sort. My biggest concern is can the Vita find a market...in terms of hardware, this thing is a beast and a very well designed beast...but the concern I have is it too late for Sony

    I am a big fan of my PSP as a technical unit, but I think Sony and a lot of people miss the point as to why more capable and technically advanced portables don't sell that well (or as well).
    If I play the 3DS or iPad, I get games I can pick up and play. With the PSP (and it would seem the PS Vita as well), I get full console games like God of War - which I have to remember the controls, where I have been and what I have to do next, etc. They do not translate well to playing for irregular lengths of time when the opportunity arises. Portable games should work around the times that the player has, not expect a certain amount of dedicated time to complete a complex level.

      No offence Roddy but even that arguement never really made sense to me

      I mean you look at when the DS launched and what launched with it? Super Mario DS (for all intensive purproses it was a port of Super Mario 64). Don't get me wrong, its a great game, but it is a console game in every way. It was designed to be played on a console. But yet it did sell well.

      The DS did play host to those games. I mean the remake of Final Fantasy 3 is another perfect...its a game that will last you at least 30 hours...far from being a "pick up and play for 10 minutes at a time" type of game.

      This is another arguement I've never gotten as well...because if you look at every handheld that has come out then you will see that nearly every handheld has played host to at least one big "meaty" console like game.

      Even the iOS is guilty of doing it...I mean GTA 3 just recently launched on the iPhone...great game but for all intensive purposes it is a console game that was never designed to be played on a mobile device...but yet people loved it

      If you look at the PSP, it didn't just play host to console like games (although they did dominate)...there were a lot of pick up and play bite sized experiences like Loco Roco, Patapon, LittleBigPlanet. and such.

      I think with any handheld device its just a matter of finding the right balance...ypu have your casual games for one market then have the meaty console like games for the other market.

      But I've never gotten this whole arguement of "we don't want to play console games on the go and that's why the PSP failed"...if that were the case then why did GTA 3 on the iOS sell rather well? Why did GTA Liberty City Stories sell rather well for the PSP? Why did the Final Fantasy remakes sell rather well for the DS? Clearly there was a market for these games.

      I tend to agree with this - the Vita is being sold on the basis of its console like experience, but I think this is the last thing you want in a mobile gaming device.

      In actual fact, I think its been a problem for a while and I've noticed that past successes like the DS seemed to get played a lot more on the couch than on the bus. Obviously, there is a market for this, so it might work out for them.

        If Sony can find the right balance between Hardcore and Casual then i'm fine with that.

        I think they're in a much better position for this with the Vita then they were with the PSP simply because of the touch screen. They have the gimmicky controls for your simple pick up and play experiences along with the physical controls for your more console like expeience.

        The thing that impressed me the most with Uncharted Golden Abyss was actually the "Play you want to play" aspect of the game. It caters to both methods of play. And it got me thinking that is the whole idea of the system, play the way you want to play. The device caters for a lot of broad experiences from casual to hardcore and that's what I'm excited about with it.

        Do I think its gonna sell gangbusters and take over the world? No not really, because I think it is kind of too late for Sony...the iOS/Android market dominates the mainstream.

        It's a bit of a shame really, because I think it is a really well designed system that caters to a wider market then the PSP ever did...but I think its just too late for them in the marketplace....but we'll wait and see I guess...here is to Feburary when the system launches

      The one feature that made "playing for irregular lengths of time" work really well for me on the PSP was its suspend feature. If I needed to stop, I could just flick the power button and stop playing. When I had time to play again, I could resume exactly where I was before. This worked reliably enough that I never worried about losing progress, so it effectively meant I could save anywhere.

      As Daniel said, there are games available for the PSP that you probably wouldn't class as "console-like experience", and I guess about half my collection consists of such games. As far as the console-style games go though, I noticed that they often have shorter missions, so I'd be able to feel like I'd accomplished something in the game with a shorter play time.

        I think console experiences can work on a handheld, its just a matter of how you design them

        Your right Matt...take Peace Walker as a perfect example, what got me about that game is that it is a console game broken up into a bunch missions that could last you anywhere from 5-10 minutes. Your playing a console game. But the way its designed is really clever that it makes you feel your only playing chunks at a time. Its designed rather well for that pick up and play experience.

        That's where I kind of want to see games like this head. Give me the console like experiences but find clever ways to break it up into chunk size bits.

        As for the suspended feature...that to me is the absolute best part about the Vita...as I mentioned above, the User Interface is just so seamless on this device. I love the fact that you can jump out of a game and return to it in a snap...the UI is very impressive on this thing, its very well designed. It made playing Golden Abyss all that much better to me...especially whilst on commute back and forward last week

          *sorry I meant James in that post. not Matt (was looking at another post whilst typing)...my bad

    My thoughts are that as people (me) get older, their time is more precious and so finding the time to sit down in front of a TV to play a lengthy console game is hard to come by. Being able to have that same lengthy console experience whenever/whereever you can without having to be sitting in front of the TV (on the toilet, commuting to work etc.) is going to be highly valued by lots of people.

    Serious gamers will choose either the vita or 3DS as their portable gaming device of choice.

    Provided that sony and nintendo don't try and compete on the same level as iPhones and androids and produce what are mostly rehashed flash games (similar to whats found at newgrounds) at premium costs, they should stand tall with the serious/hardcore (whatever you want to call non-casual) gamer market.

    As nice as some of the graphics are on iPhones and androids, the experience never feels A-grade. Touch controls can only take the experience so far and the novelty wears thin due to the forced simplicity games must be designed to due to the limitations of touch and gyro controls.

    I have an iPhone because I like a phone that can play music in a neat little package. Definitely not my gaming platform of choice.

      What is a "serious gamer?"

      I agree that current gen touch controls will never be able to adequately replicate the control schemes of a home console, but then again I dont want to play the same types of games on my mobile device as I do at home.

      (Also, how is a range of 1 to 10 dollars for a game now considered a "premium price"??)

    I think the Vita and 3DS will do just fine. I'm not worried at all. The is more than enough room for dedicated portables and smartphones to exist beside eachother. They offer very different experiences.
    Smartphones are very shallow when it comes to games. And having touch only will never give the same experience.

    I'll be picking up a Vita.

    I'm loving my Vita. Hotshots Golf is amazing on it.

    tl;dr: You're saying the Vita might not be casual enough? fml, I'm skipping the thing because it's TOO casual, I don't want to dick around with cameras and touchscreens and gyros, and the original PSP's battery life was already atrocious, this thing apparently has less (thanks to the aforementioned gimmicky crap), that's just plain unacceptable.

    There's no actual handheld for hardcore gamers - and NO, I will not let you try to guilt me out of using that term to try to get rid of people who like their games long, complicated, and difficult - and people think the closest thing isn't casual enough. Seriously. Fml. That is all.

    Just a quick one for the guys who have Vitas out there - Have any of you tried to put a PSP game on there that you may have bought from the PSN? Question is - did it work?

    I'm not sure if it's a device ahead of it's time, given that none of the technology in the thing is particularly cutting edge (except for maybe the DRM, oh snap!).

    But it's definitely a device PRICED ahead of its time (oh snap again!).

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