It's been just about two months since the launch of Sony's newest handheld (the PlayStation Vita, in case you haven't been paying attention.) The release of any new console—handhelds included—is an exciting time for gamers, as its fun to pick through the contents of the box and unwrap each individual cable or accessory, marveling at how carefully packed-up all the little bits are and how cleverly manipulative the packaging is. Some of us even feel obligated to make our own "unboxing" videos and thrust them upon the oddly more-than-willing YouTube audience. However, for those of us who picked up a Vita at the official launch, or at the week-early First Edition Bundle launch, it's probably safe to say that this "honeymoon period" is over.
That being said, this is actually a great time to take a look back at the things we got excited about at launch, and see if we had accurate expectations or if we merely got swept up in the magic of its gloriously plastic-wrapped, cardboard-boxed newness.
I've said several times that the Vita is a great piece of hardware. I can say with confidence that I still stand behind this sentiment. After having spent a whole lot of time with the thing, I still find myself almost hypnotized by its enormous ("enormous" being a relative term here) HD screen. Especially when games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Rayman Origins provide plenty of prettiness for us to look at. The fact that it's a touchscreen, too, is fun, though mine tends to get fingerprinty pretty fast. It certainly makes a microfiber cloth worth a purchase, if you don't have one already. (And come on, in this day and age, you probably should have a microfiber cloth at your disposal, especially if you call yourself a gamer.)
The other feature I can't stop marveling over is the twin-stick control setup. I mean, this is just how we want to play our games these days. The Vita's main competitor, the 3DS, made a huge misstep here, providing only a single nub and then "fixing" the problem by making a hideous attachment that only serves to make the otherwise sleek handheld into something a bit more clumsy. However, as my fellow Cheat Code Central writer Sean Engemann pointed out a while back, the Vita's twin sticks make it a bit difficult to stuff into your pocket, as opposed to the 3DS' nicely folding design. And this comes as a hindrance to the portability factor, which is pretty much the point of a handheld in the first place.
My own personal complaint about the sticks is that they are a tad too small, and long play sessions tend to cramp my thumbs a bit. However, the very fact that there are two sticks here opens the Vita up to a world of gaming possibilities that would simply not work very well on any other handheld. (FPSes, anyone?)
One feature that came as a pleasant surprise was the Vita's Facebook app. This was something that wasn't available immediately at launch, so we didn't get a chance to make any comments on it when we delivered our first impressions of the handheld. When I first saw the app go up as a free download, I said to myself, "Sure, I'll bite." What I ended up with was the most competent Facebook app I've ever gotten my hands on. Let's be honest, social apps in general tend to range from awkward to barely functional. On the Vita, though, the touchscreen/touch panel function actually works (flipping through photo albums is especially convenient), and the touchscreen keypad is large enough that entering a status update or comment is easy to do even if you have gigantic fingers.
Now, I've already mentioned this elsewhere, but one thing I felt a little disappointed by was the Vita's launch lineup. I mean, it had so much promise. Don't get me wrong, Uncharted: Golden Abyss was great, and I've burned countless hours on Lumines already. It's just that so many games failed to hold our interest for very long. WipEout 2048 could have been an incredible racer, showing us the origin of the hover-racing sport it portrays, yet its meager selection of courses made it far too easy to put down and not pick back up. ModNation Racers also could have been great, but the developers pretty much shot themselves in the foot by excluding online play. In fact, compatibility with the PS3 version of the game could have made this a great early title to show off the Vita's crossplay feature. Even Unit 13—which wasn't actually a launch title—had a great thing going for it with its solid control scheme, but blew it by reusing the same environments and making some weird design choices. (A completely empty night club? Really?)
Additionally, much of the software coming out for this thing has already been available on home consoles for a while now. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Rayman Origins, for starters. Even some of the games we are looking forward to are mere ports of already published titles, like Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid Collection, and Disgaea 3. Don't get me wrong, these are absolutely great games, and getting to take them on the go provides a nice little bonus. However, they don't really encourage gamers who already own a PS3 or Xbox to race out to their nearest retailer to go pick up a Vita.
This is forgivable, though. I mean, the Vita is still pretty young, and we can be sure we'll see some great exclusive titles on the device to fill out its game lineup. The 3DS managed to turn things around fairly quickly with a tad-bit-late-in-the-game software boom, after all. It's just slightly disappointing when I really want to plop down in a chair and play my Vita for a while, but don't really want to play any of the games I own. And, as a game journalist, I have a fairly robust Vita game collection already.
Another quibble I don't feel the Vita has been able to rectify yet is that some if its features aren't all that useful. The rear touch panel thus far has very few legitimately intuitive uses, though the downloadable Escape Plan provides a marvelous exception to this. Additionally, as Josh Engen pointed out in his hardware review of the Vita, the two cameras feel a bit silly, especially with their low resolution. Sure, they'll provide a few augmented reality thrills here and there, but I doubt those will be the experiences we'll wax nostalgic over when remembering the Vita a generation or two down the line.
Still, I find it hard to regret my purchase, even at the First Edition Bundle price point. And with some more exciting titles on the horizon (Resistance: Burning Skies and Gravity Rush, to name two such titles), I have a feeling I'll be spending quite a bit more quality time with the Vita this year.
Editor / News Director
Date: April 6, 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.*