In 2005 Sony attempted to do the unthinkable, take on Nintendo in the handheld market, with the PlayStation Portable. At that point in time, prior to the release of the Wii, it was the only place that Nintendo was still a powerhouse, having reigned supreme since the release of the original Game Boy in 1989. At the time, Sony was the clear leader in the console market, and was on the verge of announcing the PlayStation 3. The release of the PlayStation Portable came two years after it was announced at E3 in 2003, and was initially seen as a success, selling more than 60 million units worldwide, establishing Sony as a clear player in the handheld field. Now, seven years later, Sony is releasing the PSP's successor, the PlayStation Vita. The superior hardware in every way, the Vita is looking to bring console-quality games to the portable arena.
Not surprisingly, the portable landscape is completely different than it was in 2005, and Sony is now just competing with not just Nintendo, but also Apple, as well as the Android platform. While that is some stiff competition, the Vita appears to be up to the task. Over the past couple of weeks we put the U.S. version of the PlayStation Vita through its paces to see if it can hold its ground, and remain a player, with so much competition in the game. Needless to say, Sony has come along way since the first release of the PSP.
At first glance, the Vita may appear to be a monster of a "portable," clocking in at 7.2 inches wide, and 3.2 inches tall, but in reality, it's only slightly bigger than the PSP's 6.7 x 2.9 inch dimensions. Additionally, the raised analog sticks add some extra (but necessary) height, making it taller than it's predecessor. The system's rounded edges cause it seem like it's a lot bigger than it is, but once it's in your hands, it doesn't feel overwhelming. Additionally, both the WiFi and 3G models are lighter than the PSP-1000 design, making it less tenuous to hold for extended periods.
The biggest and brightest new aspect of the Vita is its screen. A 5-inch OLED touch screen, it's significantly bigger than the PSP's and either of the 3DS' screens, making it the biggest of the dedicated gaming devices. In addition to its size, it's quite bright, making every color in the rainbow pop. Sony has also taken a queue for Apple and Nintendo by making the screen touch sensitive, and encouraging developers to take advantage of this new feature. The touchscreen also makes Sony's new user interface, LiveArea, a breeze to use, putting navigation between pages or open applications at the tip of your finger.
One of the biggest flaws of the PSP was its analog nub. While numerous developers attempted to work around it, coming up with numerous different control schemes to accommodate their games, there was really no substitute for a second analog. The Vita's dual analog sticks should not be undersold as one of its biggest selling points, as it allows for truly console-comparable controls in a portable, for the first time. The sticks feel a little on the small side, but they aren’t as uncomfortable or jumpy as the PSP's analog nub.
Something very reassuring to find was that the Vita played nice with everyone. It's simple and easy to connect to your PS3 or a desktop (PC or Mac), making sharing media and backing up the Vita a breeze. The PS3 will recognize the device immediately when connected with the proprietary USB cord, whereas anyone looking to connect to a computer will need to download the desktop software to take advantage of media sharing. Unfortunately, wireless connections to the PS3 are only available via Remote Play (which also sets up and works seamlessly), but not when using the Content Manager.
One of the ways that the Vita is thinking outside of the box is by allowing players to play outside of their box. Certain Vita games will sync up with PlayStayion 3 games, and allow players on the go to game against people tethered to their TVs. With two games in the launch line-up taking advantage of cross-platform play, Wipeout 2048 and Hustle Kings, Vita owners will get to go head-to-head against anyone that's playing on another Vita or a PS3. Taking it one step further, when MLB 12: The Show and MotorStorm RC are released they will include cross platform game save capabilities, which means they will share of progress back and forth between PS3s and Vitas.
The Vita also includes backwards compatibility, although it's not exactly what most fans were hoping for. This handheld has opted to do away with the PSP's UMDs, and move to a PlayStation Vita card, meaning that physical PSP games will not be able to be played or transferred to a Vita. However, digital PSP titles are available in the PlayStation Store, where they can be downloaded and played on the new system. There's a bit of a catch though: if you already own a UMD of a game, you'll need to buy it again as a download (some games come at a discount, others do not). Japan's Passport system, which offered discounts on digital titles for UMD owners, was scrapped for the States, leaving PSP owners with large UMD libraries high and dry. On the up side, PSP games can be downloaded and installed directly to the system, allowing easy access to (currently only 275 of) your favorite titles. One small problem that players may run into while playing PSP games on the Vita is that they look pretty bad. That's because bilinear filtering is not turned on by default, and will cause your PSP games to look pixilated and jaggy. Turning this on will upscale the games to the Vita's screen. Also of note: PSOne games can not currently be played on a Vita, only via Remote Play, as long as the game resides on a connected PS3.
Sony promised 3-5 hours of gameplay from the Vita's non-replaceable battery with basically all of the features turned off. While that may not seem like a lot, for a portable device it actually seemed rather sufficient. The battery seems to hold up to that promise, since it only required a charge after a day's worth of standard use (gaming, media, and PlayStation Store browsing – all with the WiFi on).
In addition to all of the standard hardware, the Vita has offered some unique upgrades from its predecessor. Games and apps will take advantage of VGA cameras on both the front and back of the system. A rear touch screen offers up some unique and unexpected gameplay options, and could most likely serve as a worthy L2 and R2 replacement. And finally, Sony have ported over their Sixaxis motion sensing, which hopefully developers will use sparingly, because no one likes to look like they're pretend driving on the subway.