PS Vita: The Future of Handheld Gaming
After several months of speculation, Sony finally confirmed the successor to the PSP (PlayStation Portable) codenamed NGP (Next Generation Portable) in January 2011. Later at E3 2011, Sony confirmed that the final name of the device will be PS Vita ("Vita" is Latin for "life"). The new handheld will be a powerful one, featuring a Quad-core ARM CPU and PowerVR graphics processor generating near PS3 quality graphics. It also features a camera, 6-axis motion controls, front multi-touch screen with a rear touch pad, dual analog sticks, Wi-Fi and 3G all for the amazingly price of only $249/$299 (non 3G/3G model). That is the same price as the recently released Nintendo 3DS but with much better technology and some intriguing games in the initial lineup. Could the PS Vita be the slam dunk Sony hoped for with the PSP and finally dethrone Nintendo's lock on the handheld market?
Like the PSP But Better
While Nintendo has taken the approach of creating unique handheld experiences that are distinct from their home console counterparts, Sony has generally viewed the PSP as an extension of the console experience. Many of the top games found on the PS2/PS3 were also ported to the PSP for better and for worst with the idea being you can take your PS console experiences on the go. However the original PSP had several significant shortcomings that made that plan backfire for Sony. With the PS Vita, Sony is determined to correct its earlier mistakes while still staying true to the original vision.
First and foremost, the PSP's single analog nub was problematic and could not faithfully replicate the dual-analog experience found on the PlayStation consoles. Thus, many first person shooters and third person action titles suffered with limited or awkward camera and character control. As as a result, one of the most highlighted features of the PS Vita is its dual analog sticks able to accurately mimic the controls featured on the dualshock controllers. This opens the door for big titles like Uncharted and Call of Duty to get quality ports on the handheld. In addition, the PS Vita includes every button found on the PS3's dual shock 3 controller, including the PS home button, four face buttons, and 4 shoulder buttons.
Another major issue with the PSP was that the experience was too similar to the PS2 console. Many people questioned why should they spend extra money for a handheld that plays the same games as the console but looks and controls worse? There were very few "unique" experiences and way too many console ports. Sony is already aiming to correct this shortcoming by adding a number of hardware features into the PS Vita that are not found on any console. This will also entice developers to invest in the PS Vita where they can create a new market with unique games to a new audience.
Looking over the expanded feature set, there appears to be ample opportunity for creating quality and unique experiences. The improved 5-in OLED screen will make images pop off the screen with great detail and clarity. The front multi-touch screen will allow for new and more accessible ways to control games. For example, in the Uncharted game, the user can drag a line across the screen telling Drake with path to climb. The rear touch pad is a feature not found on any other device and may become either a great innovative gameplay enhancer or a useless gimmick depending on how developers use it. The built-in 6-axis motion controls also adds new ways to interact with games where the user can shake, tilt, or move the system to change the game (similar to most smartphones and tablets today). Finally, the camera allows for augmented reality games integrating the real world to the virtual world.
Perhaps the most significant issue with the original PSP was its identity crisis. Sony initially marketed the PSP as a super all-in-one device that can provide all your entertainment needs on the go including music, movies, networking, and games. Of course, spreading itself so thin preventing Sony from focusing on what is the core of any PlayStation device: games. For the PS Vita Sony has made it extremely clear that the focus is solely on games. In fact, they have said very little on any multimedia functionality with the device while showing off over 30 game titles nearly a year before its release. This should also help PS Vita succeed with core gamers and isolate it from the cluttered and competitive markets shared with other do-it-all devices such as smartphones and tablets.
For the complete story and feature set of PS Vita visit the official PSVita website.
Is PS Vita Delivering the Games?
A gaming platform is nothing without quality titles and this is probably the most exciting part of the PS Vita so far. Sony looks to have games for everyone in all genres. Are you a PlayStation fan who likes the Sony 1st party games? Then you can play Killzone, Uncharted, Resistance, LittleBigPlanet, Super Stardust, Wipeout, and Modnation Racers on your PS Vita. Want big AAA games from 3rd party? Then you may want to play the new Call of Duty or Bioshock titles coming on it. Fighters? Try Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter X Tekken. Original titles that utilize the new capabilities of the PS Vita? Try Sound shapes and Little Deviants. This is only scratching the surface as Sony is sure to announce more titles at the Tokyo Game Show and as the end of year approaches.
So What's the Outlook for the PS Vita?
From what we know now, I would have to say the outlook for the PS Vita looks extremely promising. I am not personally big on handheld gaming and did not own a PSP. Yet, I can see how Sony has improved both the strategy and the hardware to appeal to a larger audience of developers and consumers. They have taken the biggest complaints of the PSP and improved on each of them with the largest being the price. At $249, the PS Vita looks to have a value that far eclipses its main competition in the Nintendo 3DS. In a world where millions of people regularly spend $200+ on a cell phone, $500+ on an Ipad etc, the PS Vita looks to be affordable to gamers and non-gamers alike. Sony is also aware of how competitive the portable landscape is and is keen to not overlap with smartphones or tablets both in terms of features and price. By focusing on what PlayStation does best with powerful and compelling hardware, Sony may be poised to take the number 1 spot in handheld gaming from Nintendo. At the very least, I believe it will be a much closer battle this go round.