Spending Time with the PS Vita

With a week to play with it, the Vita has proven itself to be a powerhouse. Despite the inevitable quirks, Sony has delivered on hardware capable of withstanding a wide volley from growing portable competition, even without a phone installed. The Vita is gaming first, and despite the apps of Twitter and Netflix, this is about interactive software. It’s almost sad when that’s refreshing.

Toying with the like of Uncharted, Dynasty Warriors, and Super Stardust, nothing has been a letdown in the “major” category. The Vita’s faults lie in the attempt at mainstream accessibility, or in other words, the attempt to turn this into a iOS device. It’s a launch disease, in line with everything the DS suffered from. You don’t have to use a touch screen simply because it’s there, and no one who played prior Uncharted’s wondered what it would be like to clean objects by rubbing the screen. That’s not innovation, it’s development desperation.

When it’s alive and kicking though, something like Uncharted is everything the Vita can be. Those marvelous vistas and thick foliage work in tandem to create a miniaturized, at times indiscernible experience from the PS3. The smaller screen benefits the hardware, sure, but the end result matters.  We have arrived in a way, where console games can co-exist with their portable counterparts, not work against each other. There is little need to dumb down the handheld title; it can be much of the same without being concerned about losing something important.

No, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Interface issues, including that adherence to the touch screen (sometime it’s never made clear what needs touched and what needs pressed), are irksome. The idea of Near, a kinda/sorta spin on the 3DS’ Street Pass, is barely explained. From the outset, it appears that it’s even giving away your home address as a sharing feature. When it works, the concept creates an ideal place to download additional content amongst friends and strangers. When it doesn’t, it’s a mess of ugly design and lost possibilities.

Sony’s persistence in not using a backwards compatibility transfer process will be forgotten as time passes, although it’s safe to say PSP titles look fantastic upscaled. The addition of dual analog emulation stings a bit without proper BC support, but there is a port right next to the cart slot wide open for potential add ons. Can you say a UMD drive?

The highlight of any discussion about the Vita inevitably steers towards the screen, and rightfully so. It’s a masterpiece, the type of thing that makes a retro gamer look back on something like the Game Gear and whimper. Games running on the screen in full resolution (Dynasty Warriors, Stardust) offer superior sharpness. Games that don’t (Uncharted, Army Corps of Hell) carry a softer veneer, but an acceptable one. It’s not as if detail is lost.

It’s unclear whether the Vita will survive. It comes down to whether or not people have room for it, not only in their budgets but in their gaming lifestyle. The latter is the new frontier as people switch their time around to make room, and sometimes it does come down to minute-sized chunks. Can a portable Uncharted still survive? In this form, one should hope so.