The headline should add more weight to the following words.
As our loyal readers know by now, I've never been the biggest fan of handheld/portable gaming. I loved the original Gameboy but since that time, my interest in gaming-on-the-go has dwindled to almost nothing.
There are a variety of reasons for the aforementioned diminishing but I'll spare you the details and come straight to the point: I have questioned, wondered, and in some cases, even criticized Sony's new portable device. Some might be quick to blame this on my personal preferences, but I believe my critical observations leading up to the launch were both reasonable and accurate.
I've also made mention of the fact that I'm not as excited about new hardware as I used to be. As far as I'm concerned, Sony can hold off on the PS4 for another three or four years. All this being said – and bear in mind that I expected nothing less than a ho-hum response to the Vita – I have to say…I'm having a lot of fun with this thing.
Inside The Box
Look, every source on earth has done an unboxing (pick any YouTube offering you wish), and gamers won't be all that surprised when opening up their new PlayStation Vita. It comes with the standard hook-ups, including the power cord that hooks into the USB cable (which of course can be used for PC and PS3 connectivity), and the Vita itself. Now, what it needs is a memory card. Seriously. One of my few complaints is that considering the necessity of this accessory, it should be included; even the 4GB one would be something .
The media kit I received included a 16GB card already inserted into the machine (among a lot of other things) but I know the basic box for regular consumers doesn't have such goodies. However, if you were quick on the draw and took advantage of that Sony promotional deal with the 3G version, you got yourself an 8GB memory card, a 250MB/month data plan for 30 days, and a free PSN game. But Sony, the PS3 should come with an HDMI cable, and the Vita should come with a memory card.
I've seen the pictures. We've all seen the pictures. But you don't quite get it until the unit is sitting in your hands. I would describe it as accessible simplicity and familiarity combined with slick, high-tech design. Above all else, it's the screen that leaps out at you. The 5" OLED high-definition screen is just aching for you to press the power button and when you do… Well, I'll save that for a more in-depth analysis of the visual presentation and graphics.
Interestingly enough, it seems this portable is specifically designed to enhance that screen. The dual analog sticks are probably smaller than you might anticipate (although they still work fine), and the face buttons and directional pad are also a touch on the small side. I'm not saying this to be negative; it's a positive because this style downplays the buttons and input pieces so as to place that amazing screen squarely in the limelight. That means your eyes are always drawn to the screen, even when the unit is off.
It's actually surprisingly heavy but then again, I said the same thing when I got my smartphone (Samsung Stratosphere 4GLTE, for a frame of reference). But the Vita is definitely a solid piece of equipment and at first, I was a little concerned. It's heavy enough to get annoying after extended play time, but I was remembering the PSP – had to use it plenty for work, after all – and the Vita is not the same. That big, bright screen means I don't have to keep the Vita as close to my eyes; I can prop it in my lap, look down at it, and be all sorts of comfortable.
Lastly, two cushioned indentations on the rear – at each side – creates a nice grip for your fingers.
Touchscreen Functionality and Other Features
I haven't had quite enough time to test everything the Vita can do (that's why this is called "Impressions"), but I'd have to say this is a capable and interesting piece of hardware that gamers are gonna love.
As a reminder, the Vita features front and rear touchscreens. I've grown used to the touchscreen feature now that I've entered the world of smartphones, but that rear touchpad was intimidating. However, after using it a bit, I've come to realize it's actually pretty intuitive. Your fingers – which of course are invisible being behind the unit – do tend to line up with your eyes. The only issue I have with this is that when playing a game that asks to use the rear touch pad, my grip on the machine has to change, and it's a little awkward.
Still, the touchscreen works just fine and is quite accurate and responsive. Thus far, I haven't come across some of the complaints I heard when the unit launched in Japan (I've also read it in some reviews of Uncharted: Golden Abyss ); i.e., that the screen won't always read your finger. I have had it happen, but it seems exceedingly rare. I'll have to play more to pass final judgment of course, and I should add that of the games I've played so far, I almost always invariably go with the regular controls.
However, moving through the menus with the touchscreen is easy as pie and I actually like having the option. Just to freshen up the experience, I will often switch to "touching" rather than "pressing." I've also tested out the camera, which works well, and I won't forget about other high-profile features, like the NEAR system, connectivity to the PS3, etc.
The battery life is a hot topic because, after all, it ain't that great. I was one of the first to go, "wait… how long will it last?!" But here's the thing- I never really sit down and play a video game for longer than 3 hours at a clip these days and in all honesty, nobody I know does, either. On top of that, think logically for a moment: if you're out and about, or even if you're traveling somewhere, how often are we away from a power outlet for longer than four hours or so? I only just thought about that.
Besides, given what this thing can do, perhaps the battery life isn't too surprising. I am hoping, though, that later models will offer longer life.
Games, Games, Games
With no less than 13 games to sample, I've seen a lot…and I've still got a long ways to go. Above all else, I think, is the available selection at launch and upcoming titles. With over 100 Vita titles currently in development and 25 ready for the system's official release next week, Sony is coming with the software.
Furthermore, I like the variety and diversity of the upcoming lineup. Just looking at the launch titles, you've got action/adventure in Uncharted: Golden Abyss , racing in Wipeout 2048 , puzzle/action type games in Lumines: Electronic Symphony and Super Stardust HD , an action/RPG in Dungeon Hunter: Alliance , sports games in Hots Shots Golf: World Invitational and FIFA Soccer , strategy in Army Corps of Hell , fighting in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 , a platformer in Rayman Origins , and miscellaneous stuff in Little Deviants . I mean, come on…what more can we really ask for from a launch lineup?
And looking not far down the road, we see Resistance: Burning Skies , Unit 13 , Escape Plan , Killzone , Gravity Rush , LittleBigPlanet , Reality Fighters , Bioshock Infinite and much, much more. Suddenly, I find myself begging to try 'em all. I can tell you right now that when we issue a final Report Card for the Vita, the software will at least get a B…and that's saying something for a PlayStation launch lineup.
Pricing and Availability
This is the tough category because the price is a major point of contention among gamers worldwide. At $250 for the Wi-Fi-only version and $300 for the 3G model, this isn't exactly a cheap machine. Plus, with no memory card, as mentioned above, you're looking at a potentially prohibitive starting price point for consumers, especially when you start tacking on the games and data plans.
And this remains the system's biggest obstacle in my eyes. I have the luxury of just getting it for the sake of coverage, so I have to put myself in a position where I'd have to pay for what I have. I knew this going in. But I was all sorts of convinced that at best, I'd be on the fence. I'd go, "you know, it's your hard-earned money, and we're talking a good four or even five hundred bucks if you want the full Vita experience with some games…and that's tough to recommend." Strangely enough, though, it actually isn't that difficult for me to recommend.
As for availability, I'll just assume Sony won't make the mistake they made with the PS3 and say there will be enough Vitas to go around. But it's a wait-and-see situation before we issue the final grades.
I was all prepared to be a staunch critic. I really was. I don't understand this handheld fascination, whether it be a DS or a tablet of some kind. But here's the thing- I'm still not a big fan of that stuff, but I still love video games . And that's the kicker. The Vita is about the games . It's for gamers and that's really the only reason I love it so much. It's not about a gazillion useless apps or other completely trivial features that 15-year-olds find cool but I just find intensely boring. It's about the absolute best portable gaming experience available, with several modern, high-tech options.
And if we define it along those terms, how can one go wrong? The PlayStation Vita is definitely going over well with me and as I said at the start, that's saying something.
Early Impressions Grade: A-