"The Vita needs more games!"
Our familiar rallying cry rings as true today as it did two years ago. Sony's handheld may be a sensational piece of hardware, a truly sexy little machine, but consoles live and die on the strength and quantity of their games. The PS Vita certainly isn't short on quality, offering some of the best handheld titles we've ever played, yet the sporadic and spotty release slate has failed to secure the device any semblance of mainstream appeal or traditional success.
So it's odd, then, that I'm about to crown the PS Vita as my favourite console of 2014 thus far. The Vita may lack software clout at face value, but when you look a little deeper, you'll discover a unique, flourishing and deeply impressive ecosystem of left-field games that cater to the most demanding of gamers: the connoisseur, those of us who crave both variety, innovation, uniqueness and tradition from their favourite hobby.
In fact, I've rarely met a Vita owner who regrets their purchasing decision, even when common logic dictates that they probably should have spent their money elsewhere. Let's find out why.
"When the cat's away, the mice can play," as the old saying goes, so the Vita's small number of enormous first and third-party releases has made room for an underground ecosystem of independent games to make their way to the handheld. Sony's indie-friendly push (not to mention the PlayStation Mobile initiative ) fuels an enormous library of fantastic titles throughout a wide variety of genres. From the tense delights of Stealth Inc and harried stressful survival of Lone Survivor to the soothing abstract exploration of Proteus, Curve Studios have brought a gorgeous menu of compelling left-field gems to the platform, joining the likes of Terraria, Fuel Tiracas, OlliOlli, Dokuro, Frobisher Says and more. Just recently, Jeff Minter's TxK launched as possibly the best game of 2014 yet on any platform, putting even Resogun to shame in terms of beautiful, challenging and hardcore SHMUP action.
Though many of these titles are already available on PC, they regain a new lease of life on Sony's device, both due to the crystal-clarity of its OLED screen and the fact that you can play them anywhere. The sheer variety, not to mention the quality, of these releases cannot be denied - and their price points are utterly delicious.
And then we have the cult games, the obscure yet zany, wild and wonderful gems that so often get lost in the crowd, many of which have found their way from Japan to British shores by way of dedicated localisation companies and import publishers. Just this year we've had the utterly exceptional Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, perhaps the best visual novel to ever reach Europe. Ys: Memories Of Celceta, Sorcery Saga: Curse Of The Great Curry God, Persona 4: The Golden, Soul Sacrifice, Disgaea 3, Ragnarok Odyssey, Toukiden and more are all on hand to satisfy our itch for JRPGs and Eastern-developed games, providing a breath of fresh air even as the genre withers on other platforms. These games make little noise when they release, but they're easy to find on Vita - and more to the point, they can't be found anywhere else!
PSN is also on hand to provide yet another unique draw: the PSOne classics and PSP back catalogue. I can play Final Fantasy IX on the train (no, I will never stop plugging it!) , then switch to Metal Gear Solid on a whim. Perhaps dally in Xenogears, Ace Combat X, GTA: Vice City Stories or Front Mission 3. Yes, I suppose you could grab an Android emulator, but enjoying these games on that lovely screen with physical controls is worth the extra expense.
Of course, the Vita is region free, allowing fans of cult JRPGs and international gaming to stump up the shipping costs and indulge their hobby without having to buy a brand new system. Pay attention, Nintendo, because you really ought to be doing this and letting the import scene work for you.
And then we factor the Vita's few exceptional exclusives back into the equation -- the Tearaways, LittleBigPlanets and Uncharteds -- which are few in number, but utterly superb and long-lasting to boot. Spice up the pot with Remote Play and second-screen functionality. Throw in some multiplats like Sine Mora. Simmer. And enjoy.
Don't get me wrong: the Vita still has its work cut out. The console definitely still needs to secure more major first-party releases, which should hopefully increase in number once studios launch their first PS4 offerings. The 3DS still soundly spanks the Vita's touchpad-equipped behind, in fairness, at least in terms of the big picture. It needs to find its mainstream appeal to be considered a success in the conventional sense.
But for cult connoisseurs, the Vita already is a quiet yet powerful success story, and has earned its keep twice over. Long may it continue.