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PS Vita: It Gets Weirder

/ Oct 30th, 2013 1 Comment

Rogue Legacy

The PlayStation Vita is a bizarre system. It launched poorly despite its relatively healthy launch lineup. Sales have not been anything spectacular, but users who have purchased a PS Vita have generally been happy with it. As a handheld it has not managed to carve out a wide audience like the Nintendo 3DS has or even like Sony’s last handheld, the PlayStation Portable did. Retail releases are inconsistent with third-party developer support for the system sitting somewhere between the Wii and Wii U. Yet the system has endured against its almost insurmountable adversity. It survived long enough to weather a price drop, a re-design, a crazy 32X-type peripheral and the dawn of a new console that will add huge value to the system.

Potential has always been the watchword with the Vita. At launch, it had the potential to offer more complex experiences than other mobile platform but fell short. The launch games were nice, game-y tech demos and bite-sized version of console favorites, but no real must-have experiences. Things got better a few months out when an innovative game that used the system intriguingly came out in Gravity Rush. That served as a reminder of the system’s potential. The Vita then enjoyed a good Holiday season in 2012 with Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation (now receiving an HD remake) and Persona 4: Golden (an absolute masterpiece #teamchie). However, these games alone are not enough to justify the Vita’s continued existence. Quietly, the Vita started carrying more indie games leading to the 2013 indie blitz where Sony got serious about attracting indie developers across all their platforms.

At a certain point, Sony shifted gears with the handheld, moving more toward making it easier for smaller developers working on an independent level to publish on their system. In many cases, Sony actively pursued these smaller games bringing them to the PlayStation Network as Cross-Buy titles. In April, Guacamelee! released on the PS3 and Vita as a Cross-Buy title. It turned out to not only be one of the finest Vita games available, but one of the best games in 2013. Despite being a Cross-Buy title, it plays way better on the Vita. While preceded by a port of the popular Machinarium, Gaucamelee! signaled the coming flood of indie titles for the weird handheld. Plenty of credit should be given to Sony for making smart and aggressive moves to court indie developers and remove barriers to publish on the PlayStation Network (culminating in Self-Publishing on the PlayStation 4).

Volume

Volume from Mike Bithell.

[adsense250itp]2013 has seen tons of quirky and compelling indie titles reach the Vita from ports of popular titles like Spelunky, Thomas Was Alone and Limbo to original new titles like Divekick. This developer-focused approach has lead to Sony aggressively approaching smaller developers to bring their games to the PlayStation 4 as console launch exclusives. The strategy has ensured that great indie titles currently enjoying life on PC will make it to PS4 and Vita in 2014 like Cellar Door Games’ fantastic Rogue Legacy, the zeitgeistian Minecraft, and Phil Fish’s delightful Fez. Additionally, fascinating new titles like the ethereal Hohokum, the disturbing Murasaki Baby, the grueling Nuclear Throne (formerly Wasteland Kings) and the ambitious Volume. There has never been a handheld as friendly to indie developers, which is why there has been somewhat of a second wind for the Vita.

While indie titles have given the Vita a purpose, they may not be enough to give the system a broad appeal. That is not to say any of the upcoming indie titles for the system are not great in their own right, but singularly they likely will not push anyone over the edge on buying a Vita (the collective is the appeal). While Sony continues to weave a colorful tapestry of original and interesting indie titles, they are slowly plugging away at putting out bigger games to draw in more users. This will only help to give these smaller games a larger install base. Sure there is going to be the Ultimate Edition of Injustice: Gods Among Us coming to Vita and an original Arkham Origins (Blackgate) game coming out this year for the Vita, but the one big game that might pull in some more buyers will be Media Molecule’s Tearaway.

Tearaway

Tearaway from Media Molecule.

Tearaway is packed full of charm and personality with the messengers, Iota and Atoi anchoring the game in adorableness. It is not only the charming visuals of Tearaway that give a shot at converting people, but the game makes incredibly smart uses of the Vita’s various capabilities. While early Vita games used some of the various features the system touts in basic ways, Tearaway incorporates them in a meaningful way in its gameplay.  This creates not only a unique experience, but a great showcase for the Vita. Tearaway is still a ways off from its Nov. 22 release, but those interested in picking up a Vita should pay attention to this delightful upcoming title.

The Vita only gets weirder as it chugs along to its second year on shelves. Sony’s shifting approach to the Vita’s use has been admirable. It has resulted in a platform that gives great indie titles a handheld home. Yet coupled with the PS4 and the PlayStation Vita TV (Japan only for the time being), the Vita paints an unusual portrait of how Sony wants people to incorporate the system into their lives. The Vita itself can remote play almost all (maybe most, at this point it is probably up in the air on the full remote play functionality) PS4 games on the 5-inch OLED (or LCD) screen through a home wi-fi adding an off TV mode to the PS4. However, the PlayStation Vita TV will act as a wireless transmitter to play PS4 games on a second TV while playing Vita games (through Vita cartridges and Vita memory cards) on a TV with HDMI out (and streaming Netflix). The PS4/PS Vita/Vita TV stuff is odd (but theoretical right now until the Vita TV makes it out of Japan). The future for the Vita is full of potential, but it will only get weirder.

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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One response to “PS Vita: It Gets Weirder”

  1. Steven Hays says:

    Good article, but let’s get something straight: Assassin’s Creed Liberation is a steaming pile of crap.

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