Before the launch of the PlayStation Vita, I wrote an article called "Here Comes the Vita," in which I explained my optimism for the device. This was in a time when many gamers and industry professionals were starting to get a tad nervous about how well (or poorly) it was going to sell.
Now, the Vita's been here for almost a month, and I've been playing mine ever since the First Edition Bundle hit shelves. So has my optimism changed at all?
Not really. I mean, before launch I had expressed my opinion that the Vita is an incredible piece of hardware. Now that I've spent countless hours with it, I fully stand by that statement. I love my Vita.
On the other hand, I feel a bit let down by the launch lineup titles. It's not because they're not fun. On the contrary, my reviews for Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Touch My Katamari, and Hotshots Golf: World Invitational explain just how much fun I had with these titles. I even got my hands on a copy of Lumines Electronic Symphony (which I borrowed from fellow Cheat Code Central writer Josh Engen after he finished writing his review) and I've been completely enamored with it ever since. In fact, I play Lumines daily.
The problem isn't the overall quality of these titles, it's that too many of these games have weird little quirks that feel so gimmicky. For example, in Uncharted: Golden Abyss, players can climb ropes by swiping the Vita's rear touchpad. This is incredibly counterintuitive, especially when many of us have spent three entire PS3 Uncharted games climbing ropes with the analog sticks (which feels great, by the way.) Of course, this is optional, and players who like the classic control setup can play it the way they like. What's not optional, however, is the addition of gyroscopic log-balancing sequences. Pretty much every time Nathan Drake needs to cross over a ravine or gap with a log for a bridge, he starts to lose his balance, which the player must maintain by tilting the Vita. These sequences are annoyances at best, and can often lead to unnecessary deaths when you feel like the Vita's gyroscopic sensor isn't responding as quickly as it should be. When you let out a groan of dismay every time you see a log in a game, you know there's a problem.
Other games have explored various ways to utilize the Vita's features, and most of them come off as nothing more than cheap gimmicks. However, there have been a few uses of the Vita's features that I've found to be quite interesting. For example, getting to tap the screen in Hot Shots to get an overhead view of your ball's projection is incredibly useful. Additionally, as I mentioned in my review, the touchscreen use in Unit 13 is very well implemented.
The rear touch panel doesn't fare quite as well, though. In fact, the only game I've seen completely nail its use is Escape Plan. You can move objects throughout the various courses by tapping behind them on the touchpad. Additionally, you can tap walls from behind to get the attention of guards, who will often fall prey to one of the game's many hazards while investigating the source of the noise. This feels like a perfectly organic use of a feature that I'm sure many developers are still scratching their heads over. (I do have to admit that the ball-rolling minigames in Little Deviants are another great example of clever touch panel use, though it's hard to overlook the fact that Little Deviants is little more than a collection of tech demos meant to show off each of the Vita's features.)
Most of these features feel like gimmicks at this point, and many of them actually take away from the enjoyment of the overall game experiences. But this is to be expected from any new piece of hardware. I mean, look at Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, which launched when it was still somewhat common for games to attempt to utilize the SixAxis gyroscopic features of the PS3's DualShock 3 controller. In Drake's Fortune, you can control the arc of your grenades by tilting the controller. It's certainly not as effective as the more traditional grenade controls that would be implemented in Uncharted 2 and would make grenades far easier to use. But the Uncharted series figured this out pretty quickly, and the more recent entries in the series have been all the better for it.
But then again, even the DualShock's SixAxis features have been implemented in some creative ways. Just look at the PSN exclusive Flower as an example (and even the more recent Journey). When developers don't feel obligated to use certain features of a piece of hardware, clever and organic uses for these features will eventually emerge. Though they won't be as common as the "forced" use of the features in the beginning of a game's lifespan, they'll be utilized in ways that actually enhance gameplay rather than taking away from it.
My prediction: As the launch dates of new software grow more and more distant from the Vita's initial release, I'm sure we'll see a smaller quantity of gimmicky uses of the Vita's features. In addition, we'll probably see some pretty inventive uses for these. (Yes, even for the rear touch panel.) The Vita is such a great little handheld that it's almost a shame to have to not use some of the cooler features. However, these features should only be used when truly appropriate and not shoehorned into places they don't belong.
Editor / News Director
Date: March 15, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*