PS Vita Launch Event
The date… Thursday February 16th, the place… a converted store on London’s bustling Oxford Street, the GL team… Ed and myself, the reason? A preview event thrown together in marvellous style by the nice people at Sony as a prelude to the European launch of their brand new PS Vita. Now, as a former owner and admirer of the original PSP, I was quite looking forward to seeing the next generation of that lovely piece of tech. I loved the feel of the old PSP; how heavy it was in the hand, and how it never felt fragile or at risk from my big old paws. I also loved its style; that black and crystal clear solid plastic casing looked good then, and still does now.
As soon as we were inside we headed to the first free station to get a hands-on look and play with the young pretender to the PS portable name, and at first glance it lived up to the high standards set by its predecessor. The casing was as good as the original in looks and the screen was a decent size, with crystal clear display and HD quality images. It was a good start from my point of view and I eagerly picked one up… and there my face kinda dropped a little. Gone was the ‘heavy in the hand’ decent weighty feel, and the innate sense of robustness. In its place? Well, for me, a big lad with hefty hands and fingers akin to a row of chipolatas, it felt a little fragile, a little flimsy… it lacked that polished feeling and I was a teensy bit disappointed in that. It felt like I had to be careful with it and, in all honesty, that isn’t quite right for something you’re expecting to be bashing about and shaking around as you get into the groove for whatever games you’re playing. The buttons and controls too seemed very small compared to the old one, and I really did begin to wonder how much of a pounding they could take before giving up the ghost with a squeak and snap of ruined plastic.
The Vita has an interesting combination of options for controlling games and scrolling through screens and the like… there is the d-pad and thumb sticks, the four buttons you all know and love (X O square and triangle), there is also a touch screen element, such as you’d find in any good smartphone these days, and an additional touch-pad type affair on the back of the unit. All in all, I have to say that it feels to me like the Vita is a little confused as to what it really is, and what it wants to achieve. Some games use just the basic controls, some a mix of the basics and the touch screen itself, and some a combination (often confusing to my poor old brain) of all three. It’s almost like Sony either couldn’t settle on one choice, or figured that more is better and wanted to showcase their design talents more than practicality could have, or possibly should have, dictated.
Despite all those little iffy bits I really did like the Vita and will probably look to pick one up at some point. It is graphically a beautiful piece of technology and the games we tried all stood up well for being on such a small screen – some of which have been briefly covered below.
The event itself was a good, enjoyable night in a venue that had been made up purely for showcasing the Vita to the London public. We were lucky enough to get in before they opened the doors for their six day public showing. Set over two floors (street level and basement), there were a good number of Vitas (or Vitae?) on show with plenty of titles to choose from. With big screen video adverts on the wall and lots of up beat music playing, we were treated to a little celebrity when MTV’s Tim Westwood popped up to DJ for the crowd, and then Radio One’s Chris Moyles arrived to do a slot. Wel… I say “treated”. In all honesty neither DJ are really my cup of tea and their choice of music didn’t gel well for me either. That’s just me though; I’m old and cranky now and just not down with the kids these days. It was an enjoyable night though, and we got plenty of time to sample the titles available – even with a big crowd in there, it was easy to pick up a unit and play, which is the important thing.
This was the first game I played on the new Vita and it was quite amusing. The built in cameras on the kit allowed you to take a photo of your face and the game then placed that onto your fighter. You choose how your fighter looks, what their style, weapons and their clothing are and you’re ready to fight. We did an ad hoc game, Vita to Vita over a blue tooth connection and using the Augmented Reality to have the floor between us as the arena. It was a fast-paced, frantic kind of game, using the usual button presses and combos to batter your opponent into submission. A best of three rounds and we had a winner… unfortunately not me. Reality Fighters is pretty run of the mill as bash-em-up type games go, but the augmented reality added an extra dimension. I believe you can use it within the main game itself, not just in the peer to peer multiplayer option, so I’m sure lots of folk will have fun around their homes and yards imagining themselves locked in combat.
I like driving games, though I’ve never really taken to Formula One as a rule, so I’ve no reference to the console versions of the game to work against. The graphics were pretty good though, even if, at times, they felt like the F1 car was superimposed onto the track rather than a part of the environment, and the lack of a vibrating rumble in the hands meant that the feedback and feel of driving was almost non existent, but the game itself worked nicely and the control was precise. However, after realising all the driver aids were turned on, the game became a whole lot harder to play! Less like Scalextric and much more like a driving game should be.
Virtua Tennis 4
A great little game, very, very much like the console versions with its temperamental side. It was a tough gig trying to beat Rafael Nadal on a clay court but it was fun and the controls were nice and simple like Virtua Tennis tends to be. This was a game I’d be happy to buy and play the hell out of.
This, for me, is an absolute classic, and one of the few games I had on my original PSP that I adored and played a lot of. It had all the look and feel of the original but with some much more grown up graphic styles and a little less of the Manga feel. It’s still VERY Japanese as you’d expect but the gameplay was excellent and really took me back the five or six years on a bit of a nostalgia trip. If I do find myself paying out for a Vita, then this game is a must for me.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Demo)
My first foray into Uncharted territory, and I have to say, it was pretty good. It was the first of the games I played that utilised both the conventional controls and the touchscreen option, but in a way that didn’t detract from the gameplay or add any fussy over-complicated elements. A quick blast through two chapters of the story had me wanting to play more and see where it would lead. Not a bad result for a brief foray into a game franchise I’d never tried before.
This was another game I could see me paying out for if I do pick up a Vita. It’s a very simple racing game, using similar controls to those you’d find on a proper RC car. The slightly odd viewpoint took a little getting used to, but once I’d figured it out I was racing around like a good un, having fun. It’s also about the only game I went back to for a third and fourth go.
I’m not sure what to say about this one… it’s very much like Wipeout was on the old Playstation, but the two player ad hoc peer to peer game that Ed and I played was a little confusing, but I suspect that was more to do with my lack of knowledge of the franchise and my not wearing the headphones to get the sound. The single player game could be quite enjoyable, however, as the controls were decent and the visuals spot on.
Unfortunately, I could only compare the experience to the console version of F1 2010 rather than the most recent iteration in the franchise, but from what I witnessed it was clear that there was more of a difference than just an updated roster. It goes without saying that a handheld version of the game isn’t going to be as graphically capable but, for some reason, the vehicle models looked dim and faded and everything seemed off in a way that felt kind of distracting more than anything else. Where it matters a lot more is in how the game plays, but unfortunately another issue crops up, and it was something that I couldn’t put my finger on until Pete pointed it out to me: the lack of vibration.
More specifically, the console versions use vibration to further how immersed you are in the experience, allowing you to feel the curbs, every off and provide feedback to correct your driving style, without much more than a second thought. As the Vita lacks the function, it made it a lot harder for me to truly lose myself to the game, but when directly comparing a handheld experience to a console experience, it’s never too hard to see who’ll lose. Besides, these minor points only serve to undermine just how big an achievement it is to carry so much content onto the Vita. You’re looking at all the regular modes you’d expect to see on Sony’s bigger console: quick races, career modes, time trials, an online mode, albeit one smaller in scale, and with the added ability to take it all on the go with you. If you’re an F1 fan, the best way I can put it is to think of the Vita version as the Massa to the Console’s Alonso.
The idea that Reality Fighters presents is one that I can easily get behind; you put yourself into the game, customise yourself any which way you want, then wail on AI opponents or your friends in a variety of preset environments or the one around you, thanks to the Vita’s built-in cameras. There appears to be a load of variety in the way that you can set up each character, with a full range of clothing, facial and bodily features, as well as the fighting styles and weapons available. After snapping yourself and having your face plastered over an in-game model, and after customising yourself to your heart’s content, you’re free to take on all comers. Additionally, you’re able to take photos of your in-game persona, meaning that an awesome picture is only a button click away, and it’s fairly simple to connect the Vita to a computer or laptop to extract the images as well.
Opting to go with a top hat, blue handlebar moustache, a plunger and the body of an overweight superhero, I was ready to take on Samurai Pete (the long forgotten spin-off of Samurai Jack). While the customisation options are quite plentiful, it feels as if that variety could have been applied to the actual fighting as well. If anything, the speed that the fights move feels at odds with the controls, unlike Marvel Vs Capcom 3 for example, where the controls feel suited to the mayhem unfolding in front of your eyes. It means that the flow of the bouts doesn’t feel particularly consistent in comparison to the more renowned fighting games around. It’s by no means one you should write off, but if you’re looking for a deep, challenging fighting experience over the opportunity to put yourself and others in the game to see who’d win, then you’d be wise to choose Marvel Vs Capcom 3 over Reality Fighters.
This was a game that caught my attention primarily through the art style, as Escape Plan is delivered in a stylistic monochrome in three glorious dimensions and, as such, it looks pretty fantastic. From what I played, the game has some promise to it as you attempt to solve each puzzle in a series of rooms, utilising the touch screens on the Vita. From sweeping bricks out of the way and stopping your character from getting into danger, to having to guide the protagonist across a bridge in time or avoid imminent electrocution, there are plenty of ways to get time with the touch screen controls.
After passing each room, you’ll be given a score based on how easily you made it through and how few motions you had to pull off, in an effort to encourage re-playability in the title. The main worry I had when playing the demo was that, considering how imprecise an art using the back touch screen appears to be, some puzzles rely on you being able to pinch the same spot on the back as you do the front, and there’s not enough room for error, nor is it comfortable to hold. I would have been worried about dropping the Vita whilst pinching the front and the back and trying to swipe across but, luckily, it was attached to something sturdier than my hands. It may be a case of unfamiliarity with a rear touch screen that made me curious about how this title turns out, but it’s being released as a downloadable title, and thus you shouldn’t be too hesitant about checking it out in comparison to the more expensive full releases upon launch.
Super Stardust Delta
This is another downloadable title that caught my eye from its presentation, and one that I admittedly found a lot more fun than the Escape Plan (and, indeed, several of the other titles around). Super Stardust Delta is played as a twin-stick shooter, is bright and colourful, and encourages you to keep playing with the lure of your name at the top of the leaderboards. In fact, you wouldn’t go too far wrong comparing it to the likes of Geometry Wars until you factor in the 3D environments, the asteroids and the fact that the game employs features of the Vita almost seamlessly.
As you deliver carnage you’ll gain power-ups that allow you to unleash even more fury on your surroundings, with the ability to change the range of your shots and activate black holes via the touch screen, clear up the screen with a quick shake, and even change your perspective by tilting the device. None of the console-specific features felt shoehorned in, and neither did they feel clumsy or obtrusive to employ. Where my concern lies is with the true replay value of Super Stardust Delta, but for many gamers it should hold just as much dominance over your Vita as any of the fully priced launch titles.
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