The PlayStation Vita is now three years old, and it has been an interesting ride. The stunning and stonkingly powerful handheld once promised AAA-quality games on the move, but three years on it finds itself largely ignored by the biggest developers and plenty of disillusioned gamers, as even Sony found other priorities and dedicated their biggest studios away from the device and towards the PS4.
But, in doing so, the PlayStation Vita has quietly found a new niche and target audience that we never really expected.
Sony are celebrating with a PSN sale and freebie party bag, but we have to ask: is this really a happy birthday? Or is it more of a case of reading the last rites for a console that's living on borrowed time? The three of us put our heads together and talked it out.
In all honesty, if it wasn't for the free games offered by PS+, I would have sold my Vita ages ago. Sony's technical marvel had a great start and proved that the handheld could do incredible things. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is still my favourite Vita game by miles and is a testament to the power of the handheld, offering a true AAA experience in the palms of your hands.
Since then though, we've rarely seen the effort from other studios. Killzone: Mercenary proved that FPS titles could work easily on the handheld, and Tearaway made fantastic use of the Vita's multiple input methods for a unique experience that the PS4 port is going to struggle to recreate.
In all honesty though, there's one game that royally screwed the Vita's chances of seeing regular AAA titles, Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. This awful title could have been the big third-party success story the Vita needed to prove to other publishers that the Vita was worth investing in, instead, the half-baked mess put them off forever.
Jon's right though. The Vita isn't dead, it's just evolved into a different machine, a home of niche and indie titles. As a non-PC gamer, this has meant I've got to play loads of ace oddities that would have usually passed me by.
But the constant supply of games via PS Plus has highlighted another problem with the Vita, I am of course talking about the memory cards. Over-priced and proprietary use has made memory management an absolute bitch. It's especially annoying that the save file is connected to the chunky data file. Thankfully cloud saving has eased some of the problems there.
When it takes so much effort to juggle games around each month though, I often just don't bother. Especially when so many of the games are cross-buy, meaning I can play them on PS3/PS4 instead. Also, if you're yet to buy a Vita, don't do it for the sake of Remote Play on your PS4. Even with a wired PS4 connection, the stability is awful with even Lego Marvel struggling to cope.
I'll continue to try to make an effort to play whatever lands in the PS Plus collection each month and maybe check out a few more titles like Tales of Hearts R and go back to that excellent port of Final Fantasy X HD. But for me, I'm just a bit sad that the Vita has resorted to treading water with no signs of progress by its third year. I can see Nintendo continuing to make successful handhelds, even with strong competition from mobiles/tablets, but I think this is it from Sony.
When it comes to the Vita, it’s been an emotional rollercoaster over the last three years as a day one adopter. After a positive stat with fantastic looking games and all the potential in the world, there was a worrying lack of interest for the longest time. That’s not the case anymore, though, and thanks to a shift in perspective I’m no longer worried about the Vita at all.
And it’s all thanks to those localised JRPGs and visual novels.
Before I get onto all that though, I’d like to point out how impressed I have been with the Remote Play feature when paired up with the Playstation 4. I’ve actually used it more than I thought I would with the connection quality being far better than I was expecting. Considering most games have tailored controls for the Vita, it has made it a fantastic accessory to my current gen console.
But of course, as we hear all the time in those PR spiels, it’s all about the games. Despite an early surge of great games like Uncharted, Everybody’s Golf, and Rayman Origins, the truth is that a lot of the exclusives didn’t deliver the quality we were hoping for. Case in point, Resistance: Burning Skies - a game where, despite a few great touches, the potential wasn’t realised.
Oh, and the less we say about Call of Duty: Black Ops - Declassified, the better.
The thing is, just because the AAA titles haven’t been there (with the exception of Borderlands 2) it doesn’t mean there haven’t been fantastic experiences to play on the Vita. Plenty of cross-play titles have found new life on Sony’s handheld, and old classics such as the Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid series have shown that given the chance the Vita can do the business.
For me though, it has been about the localised JRPGs. Despite its dark and joyless tone, Soul Sacrifice was a pleasant surprise, and Persona 4 Golden has given me nothing but joy (even if I’m still making my way through it, trying to woo Rise at every opportunity. No, YOU SHUT UP.) Then there is the Final Fantasy X/X-2 Remasters from last year, that ensured that I was actually using it at my primary gaming device for a good few months. That’s a scenario I wouldn’t have thought even remotely possible 12 months prior.
So here’s to you, Playstation Vita. The bigger, more bolder experiences may have dried up, but you’ve got a steady supply of fantastic localised stories in your arsenal that makes you a worthwhile handheld to have. If that’s not a reason to celebrate on your third anniversary, I don’t know what is.
Rumours of the PlayStation Vita's death have been greatly exaggerated.
People tell me that the Little Black Dress of handheld consoles is circling the drain, people whose opinion I trust, but I'm having precisely none of it. See, I haven't stopped reviewing Vita games over the last few years and spend an inordinate amount of my free time playing them, and they're releasing in abundance.
They're just not everyone's sort of game. As I explained in an article last year, that's because the big-budget AAA titles are too expensive to make, turning the Vita into a platform for indie, niche, localised and imported titles with a massive back catalogue. AKA: my sort of game.
It's easy to criticise, but this is supposed to be a happy birthday, and I'd rather look back at some of my favourite games. Persona 4 Golden is of course superb, but as someone who already played the original, I've been enthralled by the dangerously sexy Demon Gaze, hypnotised by the arcade brilliance of TxK, enthralled by Tales Of Hearts R, consumed by Ys: Memories Of Celceta, addicted to LittleBigPlanet and drawn back into a tempestuous love/hate relationship with Soul Sacrifice Delta.
And let's not forget that Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is one of the best games...well, ever, actually.
It does annoy me that Sony have taken their eye off the ball. Ready At Dawn should have been developing handheld games, perhaps another great God Of War tie-in, not half-assing a home console project. Tearaway should be getting a sequel, not a port. But Sony is a company focused on the bottom line, and it pains me to admit that they're right. The PS4 is making money, and when it becomes profitable enough to make the Vita a widespread companion device, those golden days might come again.
For now, though, I've had a great three years and I really do hope that there'll be a few more. If I have time, that is... oh gawd, I've still got to write that Hyperdevotion Noire review!
Three writers, three opinions, three years of PlayStation Vita gaming. Want to share your thoughts on the PS Vita's past, present and future? Sound off in the comments!