Dialing Down Expectations for the Playstation VitaNovember 8, 2011
Coming out of last summer’s E3, I was completely psyched for Sony’s upcoming handheld, the PlayStation Vita. As someone who commutes a lot, I’m always looking for the best way to play video games on the go. And after the dismal reception of the Nintendo 3DS post-launch, Sony’s alternative was looking better and better with each new press release.
Now I’m not so certain. In fact, I’m more than skeptical. Despite the bells, whistles, and multitude of features, in many ways the philosophy of the PlayStation Vita bears an all too familiar resemblance to the PSP.
Now despite its failure, the PSP was in many ways my ideal handheld. The later models were a sleek 21st century take on on Sega’s Game Gear and the plethora of niche JRPG titles catered to my idiosyncratic tastes perfectly. Unlike some, the portable always felt comfortable in my hands, however issues with battery life and the limited number of titles specifically suited to the handheld experience were disappointing.
And of course, there was the Nintendo DS, which established the standard by which success in portable gaming is measured. Unlike its Sony competitor, the DS had an ever expanding library and a simple but competent gimmick that allowed developers to augment gameplay in new and interesting ways.
With various missteps currently holding the Nintendo 3DS back from replicating its predecessor’s success, the stage seemed perfectly set for the PlayStation Vita to fill the dedicated portable void left by Nintendo. But like I said earlier, I’m not confident that the PS Vita is the handheld savior I or anyone else has been waiting for. I can only speculate months out from its Japan release date, but here are some of my concerns.
For example, the portable game system certainly has some great titles in development, but I’d like to see more variety. As Jeremy Parish noted in a recent episode of Games Dammit!, the PlayStation Vita’s current lineup looks pretty hollowed out: many triple-A games and bottom feeders, but not a whole lot of healthy mid-level titles.
Both Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Resistance: Burning Skies look stunning, and coming from franchises that have been well established on home consoles, there’s every reason to think they’ll be top notch. But as of yet there’s no telling just how developer friendly Sony succeeded in making the PlayStation Vita, or whether we’ll see an uptick in the quality of downloadable titles.
And without this healthy array of niche and diverse mid-level titles, is the handheld likely to find an audience outside the most dedicated group of gamers? As some in the industry have noted, the environment has changed, and the idea that a dedicated portable system can still attract a large install base is questionable. Like CVG wrote, “In some ways the PlayStation Vita doesn’t feel like a handheld at all. It’s more like a portable PS3.” For the $249.99 that the PS Vita will cost, one could actually buy the latter. Plus, if it is like a portable PS3, we’ll probably see even fewer moderately priced mid-level titles.
There’s also the unclear nature of some of the handheld’s most attractive features. In an interview with Game Informer, Sony’s Shu Yoshida hedged on the question of just how expansive the PlayStation Vita’s remote play function will be. “So as soon as we complete the development of those utilities, we will release the utility to PS3 developers so that they can check if their games work with the utility or they may have to do some additional work, because the remote play takes some additional memory and CPU time out of PS3 games. So some games that really utilize the PS3 capabilities may not work, so we’ll see.” What the marketing packets claim and what PR says is one thing; whether these features actually come together or can be taken advantage of by developers is very much another.
In addition, It’s probably a good thing that Sony isn’t going “digital-only” with their new device since the memory needed for 4GB downloads like Uncharted: Golden Abyss will have to be purchased separately, putting the base price for a PlayStation Vita, after tax, at around $300; that’s certainly no small sacrifice.
Am I missing something here? If I can already play Uncharted or Resistance on the PS3, why buy them for a handheld when I could play exclusives like Mario, Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda on the Nintendo 3DS?