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It must have been ideal timing for Sony when, just days after the most recent Playstation hacking debacle, they had the chance to unveil to the world their next hand-held console: The Playstation Vita.
After a quick apology concerning the hacking episode, Sony’s Jack Tretton presented the Playstation Vita to an excited E3 Expo. The Vita, which in a past life was called the NGP, will be released by the end of the year, and there will be eighty games scheduled for release in time for Christmas.
So, what did we think? Might it succeed the PSP, and compete with Nintendo’s 3DS?
The first issue to discuss: the name. Vita. I must confess to not being a fan. What does ‘Vita’ mean anyway? Playstation is a station which you play on. That I get. Vita I don’t. Now, perhaps my negative first impression just stems from hideous memories of Windows Vista – which it sounds ominously similar to. Still, factoring in their previous Playstation brand names such as the Playstation Portable – well with that name the customer knew what he was purchasing – he was getting a hand-held version of the Playstation. Vita? Hmm. Perhaps it’ll grow on me.
Onto the design… as you would expect from Sony the Vita design is slick. Very slick. It has a black shell, which will look instantly familiar to PSP players. It carries a 5-inch OLED display, twin analogue sticks, plus a pair of cameras, situated on the front and back of the Vita, which can be used for augmented reality games. The Vita’s most intriguing addition is a good-sized touch-pad on the back of the device – a feature that could open up some fascinating doors for more creative developers. This was shown during a play-through of ‘ModNation Racers’, where it was revealed that, while creating your own levels, it’s possible to also mountains by pushing against the pad.
In terms of size, it is surely the biggest ‘hand-held’ so far. To the point where you start to question if hand-held is even the apposite term for it. This device will measure 182 by 84 by 19mm. That’s larger than the PSP 3000, although it ought to be mentioned that the Vita is slightly thinner. To give you some idea of the size, you could just about fit an entire iPhone 4 into the space used up by Vita’s screen alone. The Vita is much wider than the 3DS, so there’s no way that this device will fit in your pocket. So, all things considered, for a hand-held it could become fairly awkward if you take it with you to play on the bus.
As everybody knows by now, the success or failure of any device is determined by the quality and number of games. As discussed above, there will be eighty games ready for the release date – and quite a few of these early titles were listed in the announcement trailer that arrived online in the wake of the Vita’s unveiling at E3. The total quantity of games featured was superb. Titles rank from the massively exciting (Uncharted: Golden Abyss, a new version of LittleBigPlanet), the intriguing (Wipeout 2048, Project Gravity) and a few that seemed fairly bland (a few sports games that came and went, for example). Crucially, many of these titles will be cross-compatible with the Playstation 3 – these include Wipeout, and an RPG going under the working title of Ruin. It’s important to note that while games ought to be playable across other Sony machines, to make it work you’ll need to buy both the PS3 version as well as a copy of the game for the Vita.
Onto the price… during the E3 presentation it was made crystal clear that Vita’s power is comparable to its console stable mate. Sony say the Vita will cost $249 for the Wi-Fi only version, and $299 for the 3G-enabled device. To be fair to Sony, this places the Vita only a little more costly than the Nintendo 3DS. This is a forceful pricing strategy from Sony, especially for a handheld as strong and loaded with great features. This device will offer social networking components which appear to surpass the 3DS, such as Near, which seems to work like Nintendo’s Streetpass, but in fact allows players to communicate properly, as well as swap trophies and other statistics.
When you think that the market has become increasingly dominated by low budget, casual games, be under no illusions that Sony’s decision to create a console that has been geared towards the core gamer is a brave and interesting one. The Vita is a big deal for Sony, and while they may still be reeling after the cyber embarrassment, their new hand-held might yet capture the imagination of the gaming crowd, and re-assert Sony’s position at the pinnacle of the console pyramid.