The word Vita briefly trended recently. That was surprising given that its profile is somewhat low most of the time. As with every other handheld since the dawn of time, it’s lagging behind a Nintendo branded one (currently the retina-maiming 3DS) and, for the most part, is even more forgetable than the Xbox One and PS4. But recently it was news – mainly thanks to an ill-conceived hardware iteration which fixes the battery life, improves the rear touch pad (very useful if your fingers continued to grow after you stopped being a toddler) and adds a gigabyte of internal memory (for reasons I neither understand nor care about), but also replaces the Vita’s phosphorous bright OLED screen for a not quite as tasty LED one.
That little trend came to an end pretty quickly (for the most part it was just people moaning about the ridiculous £180 price tag) but this new revision has sparked some demand for the lovely original Vita model and a series of recent deals (including a rather attractive £89.99 preowned offer from a shop I won’t name, but if I say they sell games at terrible prices in horribly over-stickered tatty boxes you’ll know who I mean).
Maybe you’re thinking about getting one. Maybe the idea of adopting a console that’s selling rather less well than those mint choc Pringles should be is activating your buyer’s remorse a little early. If you were asking me should you get one my answer would be “yes”, but not if you’re just looking for a handheld way to play all the big titles. Here’s why you should probably get one:
I got my Vita courtesy of Mrs Richie for my birthday a couple of years ago. I didn’t strictly want one but she was out of ideas and I’d already bought myself whatever tat I wanted during the year, anyway. I took it out of the box, charged up its puny battery (I’m not going to kid you, the battery life isn’t great, clocking in at around five hours for most people) and fired up the games I got with it. The much-acclaimed (but seemingly not any fun at all) Gravity Rush, the lovely Katamari Forever, the ‘not as good as Chime’ Lumines: Electronic Symphony and a download code for Little Big Planet. Twenty four hours later the Vita, as impressive as it was with it’s heavenly screen and massively better controls than the PSP (a console I loved, but mainly because it was ‘customised’ to play Spectrum, Mega Drive, GameBoy Advance and arcade games), found its way into my desk drawer where it lived hidden away like a miniaturised Austrian family.
In shrugging effort to actually play the thing I retrieved it a couple of months later and fired up FIFA Football (acquired for free with a three month PS+ sub). Now I’ve got a love/hate relationship with FIFA (it’s really good but it’s made by pricks for pricks) but this was as close as you could get to the Xbox 360 version without employing the use of actual magic. Now, the series, quite-rightly, gets a bad rep on the Vita due to all three versions being literally identical to each other in terms of the actual game engine, but if you pick up the first one, as I did, it’ll keep you in portable football action for ages.
As with my many dalliances with crystal meth, that was the gateway drug. I started approaching the Vita in the same way as I play the Xbox 360, picking up bargains where I could and focusing on the downloadable titles, too. After trying and failing to get into Uncharted (picked up on a forum for a fiver), I gave Lumines: Electronic Symphony a go (every handheld needs a puzzle game) and found myself enjoying it, contrary to any experience I’ve ever previously had with Lumines.
After trying and failing to get into the bigger games on the system I realised something: the Vita is never going to work as a handheld version of the proper consoles (although it does a pretty good job, technically speaking) but that’s not what I wanted anyway. Who are these maniacs that want to play Assassin’s Creed on a handheld. That’s never been what on-the-go gaming is for. It’s for pick up and play gaming, and while that won’t appeal to the Call of Duty/Battlefield crowd, it’s perfect if, like me, you love things like Xbox Live Arcade and finding sweet, forgotten lemons on the shelves of games shops.
So, rather than do a top ten list or any of that nonsense, I’m going to plough through everything that the Vita has to offer (at least from my exposure to it) and if it sounds good to you then stop messing about and get a nice OLED model before they sell out faster than a nu-metal band being offered a George Michael cover version.
If you’re into shooting folk you might want to stay the hell away from Call of Duty, which is apparently abysmal on the Vita; instead, you may be tempted by Killzone: Mercenary or Resistance: Burning Skies. I’ve not played either, instead opting for Unit 13. Now, I was waiting for this to drop in price when it turned up for FREE on PS+. Holy shit. For the price of PS+ (a little bit more than Xbox Gold) they just give you two or three games a month (plus more for the PS3), as well as discounts on other games. Anyway, Unit 13 with its short stages and decent twin-stick controls is an excellent handheld shooter if you’re looking for some Tom Clancy-esque fun.
Racing fans also have a choice. From the excellent Wipeout 2048 to Need For Speed: Most Wanted, you’re pretty much catered for. Throw in the mixed Motorstorm: RC and Modnation Racers and you’re sorted before you even get into the indie titles on PSN and PlayStation Mobile.
Beat ‘em up fans can enjoy the experimental Reality Fighters (which I think is probably shit) or step up to the well-received port of Mortal Kombat (as well as Injustice from the same dev team) and a couple of the bigger Capcom fighting games, while fans wanting less-confrontational fun can enjoy the deeply lovely Tearaway (one of those kooky games that Sony used to specialise in back in the original PlayStation days), Little Big Planet, Rayman Legends and more besides.
Then you’ve got the absolutely corking GEMS that are Virtua Tennis 4 (an already brilliant tennis game, before you throw in a heap of brilliant mini-games and it’s always really cheap for some reason) and Earth Defense Force 2017 Portable (a straight port of one of the best things to ever happen in the world ever and there’s a new one happening at the end of the year). Good God, readers. That’s only the start of it, but those are the full retail games – an area in which the Vita suffers in comparison to the major consoles (kind of like a shiny and loveable minature Wii U), but where the Vita is finding its feet is with its indie support and downloadable games.
Much like with Xbox Live Arcade, PSN – both on the Vita and the PS3 – offers much more variation when it comes to games, thanks mainly to lower development costs and the independence of the developers. This is where anything goes and the resulting games, usually being smaller and cheaper than their cartridge-based counterparts, tend to be better suited to handheld play. Kind of like iOS, a format that I truly love but which is clearly hampered in most genres by the control options.
The first PSN game that I really bothered with was Urban Trial Freestyle. Sure, it’s a straight rip of the much-acclaimed Trials HD but the game is a little more tailored to humans, and the additional objectives give a little more depth to proceedings. It’s a great game that’s as immediate as its big brother but a little less harsh. Now, Urban Trial Freestyle is cheap and often gets reduced in price (it was also a PS+ freebie a little while back), which is the thing about the Vita. For a system that apparently has no games, it has so many games, and picking them up on the cheap (or free) is addictive enough to make your overpriced proprietary memory card gently weep.
Then there was Velocity Ultra (an incredibly slick vertical shooter/puzzler/racer/I don’t know what), Men’s Room Mayhem (like one of those air traffic controller games but primarily based around piss), Thomas Was Alone (highly-acclaimed but smug indie platformer that’s not quite as clever as it likes to think), Sound Shapes (a decent platformer with a clever musical twist), Guacamelee (a Mexican-flavoured Metrovania puncher that I really need to get back to) and Hotline Miami (which many people love but I think is cack). I’m still working my way up to title contention in the excellent, and handheld-friendly, Fight Night rip-off Real Boxing. Now that’s before you even get onto the stuff I haven’t played such as Age of Zombies, the spooky indie fave Limbo, Superfrog HD, Terraria (which is currently ruining my life on the Xbox 360), Machinarium, Spelunky, Tales From Space and various other highly rated downloadable titles.
Now I’m on OlliOlli which is so addictive it’ll probably kill me before this article is published. It cost me like seven quid and is BRILLIANT. It wouldn’t work on a tablet and is exactly the sort of thing that Vita devs need to be doing. With more and more indie titles being announced every week, the future for the Vita looks good. It will never dominate like a DS, but with its stock now rising thanks to Sony making it a big part of their PS4 campaign – both in terms of remote play and crossbuy games – the Vita seems to have its place in the current gaming consciousness, even if it is in a niche. But then, that’s where all the best things happen in gaming anyway.