Previews - PS Vita
Written by Ryan Farrenkopf Saturday, June 11 2011 20:11
When the PS Vita was first unveiled back in January this year (under the name NGP), it boasted some impressive features and titles. But many were left wondering if Sony could compete with the Nintendo 3DS. Since then, a lot has changed: the 3DS came to the market with a weak launch, which leaves Sony in a prime spot. At E3, Sony showed they are ready to declare all out war on the 3DS, by aggressively marketing the PS Vita at just $249 for the Wi-Fi only model, and $299 for the WiFi and 3G model.
Now with the current rumor that the titles will retail for $39.99, matching most 3DS titles, it seems likely that there will be no stopping the PS Vita when it launches. That is, of course, if its capabilities really live up to the hype.
While at E3 I managed to get my hands on the PS Vita, and give it a quick test run with a few titles Sony had on hand. The first thing I noticed with the PSV is the size. While it is noticeably larger than the PSP, it's not too large, with its 6-inch OLED screen (an early concern of mine). It actually fit better in my hand than the PSP, thanks to two small grips in the back. The screen itself looks crisp and colors really seem to pop. While the screen isn't technically HD, as its resolution is 960 x 544, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference as you can't even see the pixels. I do want to note that one of my biggest complaints with the original PSP hardware-wise is the screen brightness, as it made playing games outside nearly impossible. The PSV's screen was noticeably brighter, but not as much as I'd liked. When I asked a Sony rep if the screen could go brighter they said they didn't know, and I was unable to access the settings to change it. So for now, I can't be definitive on that issue.
The PSV also felt more durable then its predecessor, but didn't feel heavy at the same time. I also noticed that the two micro analog sticks, while a huge strep up from the single analog pad on the PSP, are still not up to par with it's bigger brother, especially since they don't act as buttons (L3 and R3) like on the DualShock 3.
None of this matters, of course, without the games. Sony had five different titles available, each showing off the systems capabilities. The first title I got to try was Little Big Planet. Which played exactly like you'd think it would. Graphically, LBP for the PS Vita looked like its PS3 counter-part. However, LBP's stunning visuals have always been due to the games' aesthetic style more than its graphical power. LBP for the PSV only utilized the front touch screen, at least in the demo. These touch features offered very little in terms of innovation. I didn't see anything that couldn't be done with traditional controls. However, I barely scratched the surface of the full game in the demo.
The next title was Little Deviants, which is a collection of mini-games. The first one I tried out was an AR game, which was way too similar to Face Raiders on the 3DS except you don't get to shoot your friend's faces. This did give me a quick chance to see the rear camera in action, which offered a fairly clean image. I'm not certain of the specs, but it is most likely 1.3 megapixels or higher, already giving it a clear advantage over the 3DS's 0.3 megapixel camera.
The second mini game was similar to a labyrinth-style game, where the goal was to navigate the character, who is a ball, into a hole. Instead of titling the device, you use the rear touch pad to push up the ground. Oddly, this didn't utilize the multitouch. While the demo was quick, it seemed like it would be a good pick up and play game, but not much more.
Next up was Virtua Tennis 4, which was probably the weakest title shown. The controls could be operated with either touch or traditional, but touch seemed to give you a handicap. When you'd swipe to hit the ball, you didn't need to time it in any sense of the word; it simply waited for the character to make contact with the ball. Graphically, the game was decent but not too far beyond what you could see on the latest mobile devices.
The fourth title I got to see was a fun little indie game called Sound Shapes. It's exclusive to the PSN and PSV. It didn't utilize any of the PSV's new features, but still had potential for it's pick-up-and-play value. The game plays similar to Rolando or Loco Roco, but adds music to its arsonal. While traveling through the level, you pick up little spheres that add a beat sample to the music. If you collect all the spheres then you'll have a full beat by the end of the level. It was a cute little title, but its biggest draw will most likely be the content creation mode similar to Little Big Planet or Mod Nation Racers. While I didn't get to try this out, I do know that Sony fans will love this, and will probably create some truly amazing levels. While the Sony rep didn't mention it, I'd imagine the content creation mode will utilize the touch screens.
Sony saved their prized fighter for last. Uncharted: Golden Abyss was meant to be the most impressive title shown. But to me, it actuallywasn't as impressive as Little Big Planet. Since the demo was extremely short, I can't speak for the games story, but rather, its controls. In the demo, you could use either traditional controls or the touch screen, which Sony "encouraged". While climbing, you can simply "paint" the path for Drake to climb. This feature single-handedly made the game feel too easy and a little boring. There is no skill involved. While I know that there really isn't much skill when using the traditional controls either, it at least feels like you are doing something. When painting the path, it's like the game is playing itself. Using the touch screen to pick up a weapon or take down an enemy does not add anything to the gameplay. The silver lining here is that you don't have to use the touch controls. Uncharted: Golden Abyss can be played with traditional controls with no problems as far as I can tell. Uncharted did point out a limitation with the systems hardware, though; the two micro analog sticks are by no means perfect. They are a step up over the PSP's single analog pad, but not as good as a full analog stick. While trying to aim at an enemy, I found myself constantly aiming too high or too low. This could be due partially to Uncharted's loose shooting mechanic, but it felt mostly due the micro analog sticks being too small. This isn't a terrible thing, as I'm sure it is something you'll get used to over time. When it comes to visuals, Uncharted definitely looked good, though obviously not nearly as good as on the PS3. There were noticeably less shadows, and the water effects were a little basic, but it is still a huge step up from the PSP.
All in all, the PlayStation Vita is a powerful system with a lot of nice features. At only $249, it is priced to compete with the Nintendo 3DS and even the Apple iPod Touch. The PS Vita is currently more powerful then those devices, but for how long? Mobile devices like the iPod Touch and Android phones are getting better and better. It won't be long before they outclass the visuals of the PSV. As I said earlier, it all comes down to the games, and from what I saw, I wasn't incredibly impressed with what Sony has to offer. But it is still very early, and with titles like Killzone and Resistance in development, not to mention physical controls you won't find on mobile devices, it might have what it takes to become Sony's phoenix rising from the ashes of the PSP.