TGS 2011: PS Vita Hands-On
I knew exactly where I was headed when the doors opened for day two of Tokyo Game Show: the Vita section of Sony's booth. My previous attempts to get my hands on the PS Vita and play Uncharted: Golden Abyss had been foiled on day one by larger than expected queues, with waiting times upwards of 90 minutes throughout the day. I figured a head start on day two and a bit of sprinting would get me near the front of a much reduced line, but unfortunately pretty much everyone else in attendance had the same idea.
I was in the Golden Abyss queue within a minute of the press being let in. Unfortunately, the wait was already up to 80 minutes and I had appointments to keep which meant I couldn't wait it out. That the line never dipped below eighty minutes across the industry days – it would have been far worse for the public – shows you how excited people were to get their hands on the Vita, as well as Nathan Drake's maiden, portable adventure.
Resigned to my fate, but still desperate to test-drive the Vita, I did what any discerning gamer would; I jumped into the shortest line for the least popular game. That game was Sumioni, a rather underwhelming side scroller with some interesting visuals but little else to write home about. It made decent use of the touch screen, but the touch sensitive back panel and gyroscope went unused.
Between my ten minutes of Sumioni and a hands-on tutorial to introduce the Vita's functions, I got a pretty good feel for the smart new portable. Despite its numerous new additions, the Vita will be very familiar to PSP owners. Sony are not reinventing the wheel, rather adding new functionality to what has already succeeded, as well as making it look a little smarter in the process. The five inch, OLED screen is very impressive, displaying crisp images through the smeared fingerprints that stubbornly clung to every demo unit. The touch screen was responsive and offered impressive accuracy, as demonstrated by Sumioni, which was able to distinguish between thinner strokes made by the tip of my finger and those created more clumsily, using the side of my thumb.
Despite being bigger than its predecessor, the Vita is light and easy to hold, with the smooth, rear touch-panel easily forgotten when not being used. The analogue sticks move fluidly, offering neither too much nor too little resistance. The sticks are a little on the small side, though this wasn't problematic in my demo, and the triangle, circle, x and o buttons are noticeably smaller than on the PSP. As with the twin sticks, this wasn't a concern with the tutorial demo nor with Sumioni, but a more demanding game would perhaps better uncover the consequences of this downsizing.
There is only so much you can learn about new hardware in the space of fifteen minutes. My experience was certainly positive, and served to reinforce my existing view that the Vita is an impressive piece of kit. However, I can't see myself buying one until there are multiple games that I have a strong desire to play, that can only be experienced on the Vita. Uncharted Golden Abyss may well be a step in the right direction, but thanks to those nightmarish queues I remain non-the-wiser.
The PS Vita is due December 17th in Japan, which is expected to be at least a couple of months ahead of its release elsewhere. Importers will be happy to learn that it will be region free so, if you can't wait a few extra months, importing a Japanese unit may well be worth considering. Just be sure to take into account the currently horrific exchange rate, which has made this trip to Japan and TGS more expensive than ever before.