But For How Long?
The Vita sailed into the doldrums within a few weeks. After the thrill of Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Motorstorm RC wore off, early adopters were left with precious little to play or even look forward to thanks to Sony's bizarre decision to almost completely clam up about upcoming releases. Even Gravity Rush couldn't stop the inexorable onset of malaise and discontent from permeating the player base over the last few months, most of whom continually railed against the publisher and, rightfully, demanded to know exactly why they'd bothered to pick up the expensive gizmo in the first place. My Vita soon started gathering dust on its luscious five inch screen, overshadowed by the 3DS XL and its delicious selection of new titles.
So it's with no small measure of surprise that I recently realised something: my Vita has barely left my hands over the last fortnight, save to hurriedly type up some news and reviews while its woefully small battery recharges. Sony has created a small yet powerful perfect storm of gaming goodness that makes their pricey handheld a must-have gadget for the time being, one that provides a nifty and unique little set of games unavailable on any other platform.
But will it last?
Of course, we have firmware update 1.80 to thank for adding PSOne Classics support. Though the first couple of days were a little shaky to say the least, Sony soon managed to deploy a range of utter gems onto the PSN store: including Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII-IX, G-Police, Syphon Filter and countless others. Playing through these essential titles feels natural and relevant on the Vita, to the point where I am now clinically sleep deprived thanks to Zidane, Steiner, Vivi and Dagger. And Quina. We can't forget Quina. With PS2 support rumoured to be in the pipeline, the Vita has found a new calling as a legal emulator, a new lease of life that will remain pertinent throughout its lifespan.
A couple of decent exclusives helped to up the ante, mainly thanks to their strong community aspects and unique features. Sound Shapes' user-created library is already delivering a slew of fan-made levels, and I'm getting seriously stuck into the review build of LittleBigPlanet. We also saw the multiplatform release of Zen Pinball 2 last week, which works brilliantly on the Vita (even providing an extra tilt-enabled view mode) and packs one-purchase DLC for the PS3 version. On top of this, remote play support is starting to dribble through the cracks, providing an exciting new reason to use the handheld in the living room.
As Carl mentioned in our latest PWNcast, much of this newfound Vita renaissance is also down to the launch titles getting reduced in price. £39.99 might seem a bit steep for a portable version of Uncharted or WipEout, but £20-30? Sold.
However, this is just the honeymoon period that we should have enjoyed when the PS Vita launched earlier this year; a by-product of Sony finally catching up with the base level of functionality their console needed to provide on day one. As the Starks like to say, winter is coming, and we don't know whether the warm sunshine will last.
Some big games are scheduled to launch over Christmas, including Black Ops: Declassified and Assassin's Creed Liberation, but no-one's willing to talk about them except Ubisoft. Liberation is looking very lovely indeed, but Activision are remaining tight lipped about their portable project save to confirm that Treyarch are barely involved. It's Nihilistic at the helm, the developer responsible for the shoddy Resistance: Burning Skies. We know nothing about Killzone Mercenary. Precious little about the mysterious BioShock game that Levine and co. mercilessly teased us about. Silent Hill: Book Of Memories has received next to no attention, save some fan outcry. Sure, Media Molecule's Tearaway is in the offing, but it seems to be a small glimmer in a worryingly barren lineup. Sony needs to coax third-party publishers onto the platform in far greater numbers than we're currently seeing, which is proving to be rather more difficult than they'd hoped.
Perhaps the cross-buy games could help? Maybe. Maybe. But as we learned from the PSP, most people prefer to play their console games on consoles and save their handhelds for unique experiences designed specifically for a portable platform. I'd love to be proven wrong, but without some revamped autosave systems and extra functionality, console titles often don't translate particularly well onto a handheld. Plus, Sony recently stated that the Vita will focus almost exclusively on truly unique games, which leaves the cross-compatible titles in a bit of a grey area to put things mildly.
Zen Pinball 2 demonstrates that one of the Vita's major strengths is its ability to perfectly emulate PSN games. The Vita is supposed to be easy to develop for. The SDK, even PlayStation Mobile, makes development easier than ever before. So... where are the rest of these ports exactly? [Yes, I know that there are a few out there, but they're in short supply.] If Sony can encourage third party PSN publishers to simultaneously release on Vita and task their first-party studios accordingly, we'd likely have another compelling reason to pick up our handhelds. I'd love to play the likes of Shank 2, The Walking Dead, Papo & Yo, Dyad and even Journey on the train - or at least have the ability to if I wanted.
Oh, and wouldn't it be nice if some of the Japan-only games made it over to the West? Games like Hatsune Miku Project Diva f, which proved to be so popular that it boosted the Vita to the top of the Japanese hardware charts. It's region-free after all. How difficult could it be?
To their credit, Sony are clearly taking these concerns on board. Their TGS showcase demonstrated a renewed commitment to the Vita, while their Gamescom presser opened with a few new titles. PS Plus is already seeping into the marketplace, Jet Set Radio has been confirmed for the device (amongst others) and new remote-play features continue to come out of the woodwork.
What matters most is that Sony keeps up the pace and momentum of the summer, continually providing us with new games to play - and just as importantly, keeping us fully informed about titles to look forward to - before malaise and discontent has time to set in again.
For now, though, I can't stop playing the damn thing. Time is fickle. And so are we.