I recently sorted through all the games I played and finished in 2013 and one of the observations that came out of that exercise was that of all the gaming I did last year, I played my PlayStation Vita more than anything else. I’ve never been much for handheld game systems. Over the years I’ve owned a Game Boy Color, a Game Boy Advance, a Nintendo DS, two PlayStation Portables and now a PlayStation Vita and I’ve come to feel as though there’s just something special about the Vita.
Part of it might be my current stage of life. At the beginning of last year, I became a new Dad and as such, my daily schedule has been completely changed from what it was during the previous 10+ years I’ve been married to my (amazing) wife. On top of that, my wife’s work schedule changed in light of our new arrival and she is now home more in the evenings. Her and I have very different tastes in media outside of a few common TV shows and the last thing she wants to do when she done either a day at work or a day looking after our Tiny Tornado is watch me play video games. Don’t get me wrong, she doesn’t resent the fact that I play games but she has no more interest in watching or engaging in gaming any more than I have an interest in watching The Talk or Katie.
With all this in mind, when my wife and I are spending the precious little time we get together to relax in our TV room, I’m not playing Assassin’s Creed IV in glorious 1080p on our 50″ plasma set. Rather, we are often on our couch with a show we can mutually agree on playing on the TV while we engage in an activities we enjoy – her with her knitting and I with my Vita.
So outside of the fact that the Vita is conducive to my current lifestyle, here’s a few things that I absolutely love about the little handheld that could:
As I mentioned before, I’ve had both a DS and a PSP before but one of the thing that was always frustrating to me was the lack of any kind of control for the right thumb. It didn’t really make sense for the DS but the PSP should have probably had a second analog nub on the right side. I like to play a lot of action/adventure games and camera control is something that I’ve come to expect from those games. Same goes for FPS games – that right stick makes a ton of difference. Sure, I tried Metroid Prime: Hunters on DS and games like Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker on PSP but to me the stylus/touchscreen combo and the PSP face buttons just can’t compare to a second stick/nub/pad. To me, the Vita is perfect for the kinds of games I like. Having camera or aiming control on the right stick makes all the difference in the world for me when I play games.
Outside of the sticks, I just love how the device feels in my hands. It’s not too heavy and that OLED screen is gorgeous even though it’s a battery hog. It really feels like I’m holding a PlayStation in my hands and it feels great. I love the hardware even though I have a couple minor issues that may be remedied to some degree in the Japanese hardware revision (despite the screen downgrade). First, I’m not a huge fan of how loose the shoulder buttons are. I’d prefer something closer to the 360 controller’s bumpers. Second, I wish the battery life was better. Normally, the five or so hours I get out of it works fine as I mostly use it at home but I would like to not have to charge it as often. Also, I do travel a bit for work so a bit more juice would be certainly be appreciated. Oh, and while I’m making wishes Sony, please drop the price of the memory cards further – they’re still too much. Oh, and I’d like a pony.
The Vita Games
The Vita seems to get a lot of flack over the number of ports it gets. Whenever a new port gets announced you can count on seeing a chorus of people online bagging on the Vita for being a “port machine”. Have you ever seen Finding Nemo? You know the part with the seagulls? Whenever I see comments about the Vita and ports I can’t help but picture in my head the seagulls repeating “port” over and over again in a low, mindless drone. It’s a point that’s been beaten to death but to me, it’s a strength and not a weakness. I’m not an omni-gamer in that I don’t own every system out there. When it was announced that the Vita was getting a port of Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable, I was excited as this was a game that I wouldn’t likely play elsewhere that I’d try on my Vita since I enjoy using the hardware so much. It’s opened me up to games I’d not normally try which to me is a good thing.
But where the Vita really shines is it’s original titles. Granted, the Vita’s lineup of exclusives isn’t overly extensive but it certainly has its high points. Games like Gravity Rush and Tearaway are great examples of what that little handheld can do. Great little stories with engaging characters combined with fun gameplay remind me how much I enjoy the particular brand of PlayStation creativity. Tearaway in particular is something really special and I’m amazed at what just a handful of people at Media Molecule were able to achieve with that title. While the release of exclusives may be slow, that doesn’t stop me from playing all kinds of great games with particular thanks to PlayStation Plus which adds huge value to me (and no, Sony doesn’t pay me to shill for them). Oh, and I know it’s not exclusive and I’ve said it before but Hotline Miami is great on Vita. Just great. So frickin’ great.
The Back Catalog
Another element that rounds out the software lineup for me is the PSOne and PSP back catalog. I don’t delve into these games too often but I’ve really enjoyed the ability to jump into some older games. Last summer I had the joy of playing Final Fantasy IX for the third time. The Vita is great for old games like that due to the ability to suspend a game at any time and come back to it later. I loved that I could play fifteen minutes of FFIX and then put it back to sleep – no more holding out for a save point. As I mentioned, I don’t spend a lot of time playing old games but I like having it as an option for when I have that itch to relive some good, old memories.
PS4 Remote Play
When Sony announced that the PS4 would stream gameplay to the Vita via Remote Play, I was skeptical. Did they ever prove me wrong. Shortly after my PS4 arrived, I set up the RP feature (I have my Vita connecting directly to the PS4 with the console acting like a RP Wi-Fi hotspot) and was just blown away by the results. I know peoples’ mileage has varied with RP but for what I use it for, it’s fantastic. There’s nothing better than being able to grind for sea treasure in Assassin’s Creed IV while my wife is watching Grey’s Anatomy. Okay, so playing ACIV on the TV would be better but I’m an adult and I know how to share. For me, Remote Play is great and is the most next-gen, killer app I could think of given my current place in life.
In the end, I just love this little piece of gaming hardware. Sure, it’s a niche player in an already niche market (compared to smartphone games) but for me, it’s one of my favorite things to play games on. Now to just keep crossing my fingers that PlayStation Now and PS4 Remote Play will be enough to keep it alive while the install base grows. Don’t die on my little buddy, I love you too much!