State of the Vita
I created all of the artwork for this post using the Paint Park, Vita app. As you can see, I'm artistically challenged, but what else am I supposed to do with my Vita?
Even when it was still known as the NGP, I had my doubts about the Vita. The market for a game dedicated portable had shrunk drastically since the early days of the DS and PSP and a high price and lack of backward compatibility clearly would not help matters. I felt that the Vita had the potential to resonate with a niche audience of core gamers, though I was concerned that Sony were expecting it to be much more and would therefore mishandle their new platform. It never even crossed my mind that Sony would do so little for the Vita, with their baffling display of indifference culminating in an E3 non-event. Unfortunately, they have done precious little since to dispel the notion that the Vita is without software.
I'm not usually an indecisive person. I lack the requisite patience for agonising over a decision, yet I lost count of the number of times a Vita bundle found its way into my online shopping-basket only to be discarded at the check-out screen. I went back and forth in the weeks leading up to launch, inching ever closer to the pay confirmation screen, until one day I parted with half a monkey. I took a day off from work so that I could wait by the door for my bundle of joy to arrive at launch and then thoroughly enjoyed posting smug tweets and pictures of games and system, which I am sure the rest of the internet appreciated.
The launch line-up was strong, with Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Lumines: Electronic Symphony being my favourites. However, it has been slim pickings ever since. Despite an eagerness to spend on my new toy, I have only managed to buy two games after launch: Super Stardust Delta and Gravity Rush. Super Stardust did little of interest that the PS3 version hadn’t already done, and while it was not without its charms, Gravity Rush just didn't grab me the way I hoped it would.
|Max Payne 3, obviously|
Software woes aside, the Vita remains an impressive slab of plastic and screen; it is beautifully designed and would not look out of place in any gadget collectors’ stash. The system price is gradually coming down, though this would appear to be a case of retailers accepting a reduced profit in hopes of shifting a device that hasn’t been flying off the shelves, as opposed to a saving passed on from the manufacturer. A number of leading online retailers are now selling the WiFi version for £169.99 ($265), with some even throwing in a memory card, but without new and recognizable games to support it, what value can it have?
Software is still the key, as demonstrated by a recent sales spike in Japan. Persona 4: The Golden saw the Vita achieve its best sales figures since launch, with the Atlus RPG having already become the system's best seller, despite only being released last month. Dependent upon what it’s offering, Black Ops Declassified could headline resurgence in the West, if it features a unique campaign whilst integrating with the home console multiplayer. However, Activision and Sony's continued silence regarding Declassified is cause for concern, especially considering all the noise that usually surrounds a new CoD. Is it possible that Activision are getting cold feet or is it still so far away from release that there is nothing yet to show apart from a bland logo? If it is the latter, how did Sony let a game so vital to their success slip so far?
|I have absolutely no idea|
Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation certainly looks interesting but it's not the homerun that the Vita needs. Uncharted has been a critical and commercial success on the PS3, but I can’t see people wanting to pay for a Vita to experience a series that is better on home consoles. Looking at forthcoming releases, I see too many games that are "also for Vita" rather than "Vita exclusive" and I doubt I'm alone in viewing them as the lesser versions of their superior home console counterparts. If you are going to push an existing, home console franchise you’d best make sure it's a big one; Monster Hunter would be a boon for Sony in Japan and a unique, standalone Final Fantasy could work wonders all over.
In the seven months since the Japanese launch, Sony has not done enough to make the Vita attractive to gamers or developers. Problems persist with cross compatibility and they have all but missed their opportunity to pre-empt the Wii U's tablet-to-console control by combining PS3 and Vita. Vita playing friends still show as an error on the PS3 and for some reason, trophies do not appear at all. The fact that we are still waiting for the most elementary of functions, the PS1 game support that has long been available on the PSP, is indicative of Sony’s delayed approach to their floundering property.
|I feel that Journey would have benefited from a fez or two|
This post was not intended as a pre-emptive obituary, though it may read as such. It has only been six months and the Vita is not beyond saving. The blueprint for turning around an underwhelming portable launch in current market conditions has already been established by the 3DS: bring your price in line with customer expectations and/or offer a recognizable and deep software line-up. Unfortunately for Sony, they do not have a Mario or even a Zelda to come to the rescue and, as far as pricing goes, I find myself agreeing with Sony that this is a high-end piece of equipment and that the cost should reflect that.
Sony must therefore justify the price of the Vita with quality software, and they’ll have a couple of opportunities this summer to map out the future. They are already talking up Gamescon (August) and Tokyo Game Show (September) as being focussed on their struggling handheld, and there will be another Japanese Vita Heaven in a few weeks, though if it's anything like the last one I wouldn't expect too much, unless you like robots and games that are unlikely to ever leave Japan.
Back in February, I was recommending the Vita to all and sundry. Nearly six months later and I can hardly be arsed to defend myself when friends needle my premature purchase, let alone recommend it to enquiring parties. I do not regret my at-launch adoption, as it is still a beautiful gadget and I've had hours of fun with Uncharted and Lumines, but I do find it increasingly difficult to envision the Vita getting the turn-around it deserves and have already tired of searching for reasons to pick up and play. Oh well, at least I have Paint Park to keep me busy.