PS Vita Impressions
I wasted far too much time on Tuesday logging in and out of Amazon, hoping for updates on my yet to be dispatched PS Vita. I was getting rather wound-up by ever changing delivery estimates, which at one point had me missing the launch entirely. I had all but given up when, just before sitting down to dinner, my Vita and games were dispatched on a journey across the breadth of England.
As promised, Wednesday morning brought a Vita and two separate deliveries of games, all of which arrived within a pant-wettingly exciting ten minute span. I was so excited that I would have kissed the couriers if they weren’t so damned unattractive. Since taking delivery of the artist formally known as the NGP, I have spent much of my free time fiddling with the hardware, features and games, going to bed the last two nights with Lumines induced headaches. Overall, I have been very impressed.
Once I had un-wrapped the new arrivals and gotten over my bout of courier passion, I proceeded to do what is expected of all new console owners: I took a couple of snaps for Twitter. I think it highly unlikely that there is even a single twitter user who isn’t now familiar with a Vita box. After prising the miniscule memory card from its packaging and inserting it into the Vita, I took a moment to get a feel for my second new portable in as many months. It really is a smart looking device and far more comfortable to hold than the PSP or the right-angled 3DS. It is lightweight yet feels reassuringly solid and you can't help but be impressed by the size of that screen. The analogue sticks offer just enough resistance and I haven't found the small face buttons to be an issue, nor for that matter have I had any problems with inadvertently spamming the rear touch panel - two of my main concerns after playing it for the first time last year.
Unfortunately, the next ten minutes were far less impressive. The system set-up was rather straight forward, until it came to registering my existing PSN account. I lost count of the number of times I tried to enter my details only to be dumped back to the previous screen where it insisted on my performing an update first, only to ask me to enter my account information yet again. The only way of escaping this frustrating cycle was to forgo registering my account, go into the home screen, download the update, restart and then find my own way to the settings and link my account from there. Not a great first impression and the kind of thing that would quickly put off a casual user, not that the Vita strikes me as being capable of attracting many of those.
With the day one (!) update out of the way and with no mistaking the fact that I am Talkingbook and this is Talkingbook's Vita, I started to delve into the features. I must say that the interface is really unappealing. It looks simplistic, almost childlike in design, yet is not particularly easy to navigate; it’s strange that a cutting edge gadget would opt for such a lazy and uninviting design for its interface. It didn't help matters that it was also bombarding me with god-awful elevator music which my wife, listening in from the other room, mistook for the sounds of the 3DS. I quickly went to the settings and turned off the bangers.
The home screen is a bit of a mess, neither as well organized as the XMB nor as aesthetically pleasing as an iOS device. On top of this, I have yet to find a way of navigating it with traditional controls, which would be my preference as I'm not fond of touch screen when it doesn’t add anything to the experience. I'd rather use the face buttons for the home menus and keep that beautiful screen relatively finger print free.
As unappealing as it may be, the home screen is bursting at the seams with features that have had me dipping in and out of game sessions. Near is a Street Pass equivalent, though to be honest I haven't really gotten my head around what exactly it does apart from informing potential burglars - burglars with Vitas - exactly when I'm out of the house. Although I haven't used Party Chat - no one ever wants to talk to me - it seems like a great addition even if Sony is rather late to the party (chat). There is a Vita Twitter app which is particularly useful given the ability to take screen shots at any time (hold start and home button), so that you can show off hi-scores and brag about having a Vita to your tweet people.
The PS Store is user friendly as is the messaging, trophy and friend lists. Remote Play is perhaps one of the most promising features, but at the moment it is limited to interacting remotely with your XMB and streaming cross platform downloadable titles and PS1 games from your PS3 HD. If and when this is expanded to include full, PS3 games then we may well have a Wii U equivalent before Nintendo's latest even drops.
Despite the lengths Sony have gone to associate the Vita with the PS3 - having killed off the PSP, they need to pair it with the home console wherever possible - functionality between the two is still a work in progress. I have noticed that friends signed into PSN, but who are playing Vita, are not being displayed correctly on the PS3. It either shows them as being idle or their profile falls to the bottom of the list, accompanied by an error symbol. Trophies remain a relative mystery, with Vita shinnies not being viewable on the PS3, and I have been unable to confirm whether they are taken into account for the overall tally and user level. On the other hand, playing on the portable you are able to view all trophies, either mixed together or separated by platform. I'd like to think that these problems will be fixed pretty sharpish, but from what I understand these are issues that date back to the Japanese launch, so I’m not holding my breath.
These issues aside, I have been greatly impressed by a portable that I can't look at for longer than two seconds without having to pick up. It begs to be played and feels just right resting in my sweaty hands. I have so far played only parts of three launch titles - Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Lumines: Electronic Symphony and Rayman Origins - and haven't had any real issues with the battery. I haven't timed it, but I reckon I'm getting about 3-4 hours of gameplay between charges, turning it off completely at night but keeping it in standby mode during the day.
Uncharted was the game I was most anticipating, yet it is the one that I have paid the least attention to. This is partly due to the pick-up-and-play nature of my other two games, but also because I want to finish Assassin's Creed Revelations and Asura's Wrath before going all in with Drake and co. However, I couldn't resist taking it out for a quick spin and am happy to report that it looks stunning and makes the most of that impressive screen. From the unmistakable theme tune, to the voice of Nolan North and the ground-breaking visuals, this looks like a true Uncharted experience, even if Naughty Dog aren't involved. I can't wait to get stuck in.
Rayman Origins plays great on the Vita, with its striking palette making the most of the crystal clear display. I'm sure I would've enjoyed it on consoles, but I'm glad I waited for this version instead. As good as Rayman is, and Uncharted is likely to be, it's Lumines Electronic Symphony that has claimed the lion's share of my vita-ing. It's a stylish and addictive addition to a series that I have long overlooked. With the exception of some forgettable touch controls and higher-res visuals, it does feel like something that could have been done on the PSP. It benefits from the higher resolution and screen size, but the gameplay is pretty much the same block stacking that we are all familiar with, be it from Lumines or other similar series. That doesn't stop it from being a great game, bolstered by an outstanding soundtrack that’ll keep you nodding your head throughout ten minute sessions that quickly turn into an hour.
In all my years of gaming, up until this week I had not bought a new console at launch. With the PS Vita, I wanted to be a part of the launch day buzz and was further encouraged by a software line-up that included games that I genuinely wanted to play, not just something to while away the first few months before something better arrives. It wasn't cheap at £255 ($405) for the WiFi model, 8GB memory card and the above games (a good deal all things considered), but I'm really glad I went for it, although I do reserve the right to become enraged and feel entitled to compensation when the price falls dramatically in the next few months. I'm still unsure of its long term prospects, but I am over the moon with my purchase and as long as quality software keeps coming, then I’ll keep playing. Early gripes aside, I would absolutely recommend the PS Vita to portable and home console gamers alike.