It's no secret that I'm a pretty big fan of the PlayStation Vita. It's also no secret that the system has been selling quite poorly and has a pretty negative image in the public's eye, primarily due to its high cost of entry point and lack of games. As a faithful but fair Vita supporter, I'm going to give breakdown my impressions of the Vita; what it did well in its first year, what it did poorly, and I feel its prospects are for the future. Some of my impressions were formed immediately after getting the system and have been strengthened after a year of use, other impressions have emerged over the last 365 days of use.
Let's tackle this one straight away: the PlayStation Vita costs too much. When you consider just what the system is capable of, it's a fair price (perhaps even a little bit underpriced), but the fact remains that people just aren't willing to pay $250-300 on a dedicated handheld. Even Nintendo could barely sell its handheld system at that price, and Nintendo's presence in the handheld market is second to none. It wasn't until Nintendo dropped the price of the 3DS down to $169.99 that sales soared and the handheld became a sales success. When you factor in the cost of memory cards, which cost between $20 and $100, the Vita begins to price itself out of the market for the average consumer. As some have said, the patient gamer is the smart gamer, and in the case of the Vita, most would agree it's better to wait until the price is cut and/or there are more must-have games.
Despite the high entry point, there are a couple of features that add value to the overall package. PS+ is now on the Vita which, if you're a subscriber, gives you games like Gravity Rush and Uncharted: Golden Abyss free of charge.; a nice incentive for people who plan on getting a Vita to compliment their PlayStation 3. Which brings me to Sony's Cross-buy option. Certain games that come out on the PlayStation 3 and Vita are sold at a 2 for 1 deal. If you buy the PlayStation 3 version, you get a free downloadable copy of it on the PlayStation Vita. It won't turn people onto the system, but it's a great incentive for those who are interested.
The PlayStation Vita is a slick, sexy machine. Even people who don't have one agree on this. The 5 inch OLED screen is gorgeous and even more vibrant than many a HDTV. The buttons are simple and responsive, the touch screens are far superior to that of the 3DS and are on a par with the best smartphones. The analog sticks are also fantastic and work far better than expected.
That said, there are a few issues:
The speakers are right where my thumbs rest, so I have to consciously place my thumbs so as to not muffle the speakers when playing a game with decent audio. This was tolerable at launch, but a year later I have much less patience for it. Unfortunately, the only fix for this is a redesign.
The second design issue is related to the analog sticks. They are indeed responsive and surprisingly durable, but they poke out so far from the rest of the system that I have to keep my handheld in a special PlayStation Vita case so as not to risk crushing the analog sticks. It certainly doesn't help that the system is huge. It's tall, it's wide, and it's pretty thick, too. Couple its size with the analog sticks and it's a system I do not feel safe putting in my pocket, which is a huge issue for a handheld/portable device. This is a shame, because it's also a system that boasts the ability to play console quality games on the go.
Its size and power also give it pretty poor battery life compared to the PSP, though it's about on a par with the 3DS. The average charge gives me 8-12 hours of battery life, depending on what software I'm enjoying. If I'm playing something graphics and audio intensive, it'll end up dying after about 8 hours or so, but if I'm playing a PS1 classic or a PSN download, it'll last a solid day's worth of gaming (two or three days if you enjoy your games in moderation). Talk of the battery's short life have been greatly exaggerated in my experience.
Despite the Vita's size, I also find it rather cumbersome and unpleasant to hold for long periods of time. Most games are fine, especially games that can be enjoyed in short bursts, but other games can really cramp the hand. Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Need for Speed Most Wanted both had me needing to take breaks in between long gaming segments because the little crooks in the bottom left and bottom right sides of the console would hurt my fingers. I don't have these problems with the 3DS or even the PSP because both of those systems are smaller and don't weight nearly as much.
Much of this could be easily surmised after a month of play, but I found that battery life fluctuated too often to really give me an idea of how long the system lasted, and the issues like hand cramps and audio mumbling I assumed would get better as I got used to the system. Neither did.The Features:
The Vita has a tonne of features, most of which are pretty well hidden. Despite being an active Vita user I've never used its browser, and I didn't even know it had chat functions until a couple of months ago. I do know it has Skype, but it's voice only, and I generally tend not to use skype for audio chat. Despite using the Vita more in 2012 than any other platform, I rarely used it for anything outside of gaming, browsing the PSN store, and looking at my trophies. Sony really needs to advertise what its system is capable of, because at the time of writing this, even I'm not fully informed of what it can really do.
This is the big one, really. For the longest time you couldn't go anywhere Vita related without hearing the symphonic cries of consumers yelling “The Vita haz no gaemz!” I never quite understood this mentality, really. The Vita is a new system, and few systems have a tonne of games out the gate. Its two closest parallels (the 3DS and PS3) both had terrible first years when it came to software, and they're the two best selling systems right now.
Now that we've had a solid year of Vita releases. You can also play PS1 classics, PSP games that were downloaded (a shame there was no option to turn your UMD's into downloads), and PS Minis on the system, as well as its own PSN games and retail releases of course. The Vita really jumped out the gate with its PSN features, giving us a good heap of downloadable titles in its first year, some of which (like Sound Shapes, Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, and Super Stardust Delta) were truly great. Its retail releases were also pretty good, including ports and multi-platform games that it shares with the PlayStation 3, as well as its own set of exclusives and new IPs.
But then we run into the truly major problem of the Vita's software library. The Vita has games – I'd even go as far as saying it had the best first year of any recent gaming system (personal opinion, not fact) – but it doesn't have any system sellers. Despite it having some very well reviewed and enjoyable games, there's nothing on the system that screams 'Buy a Vita to play me!' Instead, there are just a lot of good-to-great games that you'll get after you buy it. Uncharted: Golden Abyss could be touted as the lone plausible exception, but even Golden Abyss was criticized for not being as good as its console brothers.
In fact, many of Vita's bigger games have been too closely compared to their console counterparts. LittleBigPlanet Vita was by far the best of all the LittleBigPlanet games, yet it got lower scores overall than the console games; Assassin's Creed III: Liberation was an excellent game that is bigger in scope than pretty much anything else on handhelds, yet it was criticized for not being as good as Assassin's Creed III (I'm ashamed to admit that I felt the same way upon its release). Only Persona 4: Golden really stood out as a must-have title that you could get on consoles.
The Playstation Vita has a wealth of great games, but nothing that demands you buy the system like, say, Pokemon or Mario do for Nintendo handhelds. I'd like to think Killzone Mercenary will manage to shift handhelds, but Killzone isn't an especially popular FPS franchise so I doubt it. If Microsoft made a handheld device and put a Halo or Gears of War game on it, that would sell like hotcakes. Sony needs an exclusive like God of War, Gran Turismo, Metal Gear Solid, or even Grand Theft Auto or Final Fantasy on it to differentiate it from the competition and make it a must-have system.In Conclusion:
The Vita is a great system, no doubt about that. It has impressive specs and capabilities, but it's too expensive for the average consumer. It's too big to fit in the pocket (an unfortunate result of wanting such a large, beautiful screen) and the analog sticks protrude too far out to feel safe and secure taking the handheld on the move. Despite having an impressive library of games for a launch year, as well as a good online service and feature set, there's very little - if anything - that demands an immediate purchase.
In a way, Sony have bitten themselves in the backside by offering games like Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time as Cross-buy titles. Had they made both titles Vita exclusives, they may have attracted more people to the handheld. Once the Playstation Vita gets something truly outstanding and exclusive, rather than good-to-great versions of better games on consoles, ports of games people already have, or new IPs that haven't really gained a footing yet, it may be able to really excel as a dedicated handheld gaming device. At least that's how the gaming community sees it, and it's not entirely wrong. Mostly wrong, but not entirely wrong.
That said, for people who are interested in the Vita, I would definitely recommend the following five titles:
2 – Gravity Rush
3 – LittleBigPlanet
That should be enough to get you started. From there, look for more games like Lumines: Electronic Symphony, Unit 13, and Wipeout 2048, as well as the downloadable PSN titles. You won't be disappointed; the system has a good library, it just lacks titles that truly make it stand out.