Playstation Vita: A Software Tragedy

Finally I’ve managed to get my hands on a Vita at Christmas, and have now spent enough time with it to provide my opinion. I’ve been playing around with a few of the smaller titles as well as Gravity Rush and Persona 4 Golden. It’s time to give my opinion on the platform as a whole.

In All Its Glory

First and foremost, upon picking up a Vita and starting playing the first thing you’ll notice is the screen. The PS Vita’s screen is gorgeous. Games like Persona 4 Golden look utterly beautiful on this system. Even older PSP games look really clean and clear on this system due to the better hardware. The system itself is a pretty thing too. As far as aesthetics go, nobody does hardware as well as Sony. Their consoles and controllers are always the best to look at, not that it really matters – but if you’re going to do something, you might as well make it pretty, right?

The Hardware runs well too, starting and shutting off quickly, loading games almost instantly and switching between applications and games quickly and responsively(note: it can only run one game at a time, but you can run multiple apps along with your game and switch near-instantly). All of the hardware aspects work, the analog sticks feel nice to use, the touch screen is responsive and doesn’t feel too bad – this is coming from someone who usually despises touch screens so this surprised me – and the buttons are all responsive and work well. I was actually really surprised by how much I liked using the touch screen in a few of the games I played, since it works quite well in conjunction with the analog sticks and face buttons.

The console is fairly light, comfortably shaped, and just feels right to hold. As far as a pure hardware standpoint goes, I am in love with this handheld. It works, it’s comfortable, and it looks incredible.

Not All Sunshine and Rainbows

Unfortunately, hardware isn’t all there is to it. The pricepoint for the console itself is at a pretty good place, but unfortunately I cannot condone what Sony did with memory cards for this console. They’re prettymuch generic memory cards, yet they charge like 3-4 times as much as that much memory is actually worth. I don’t want to pay 99 dollars for a 32 gig memory card. That is not only greedy, it’s also customer unfriendly. People are going to buy the console, start looking to download games and then realize they have to go spend another 50-100 dollars in order to get a memory card large enough to hold anything on it? A 4 gig memory card is barely big enough to hold the Uncharted game after all. Bad move Sony… really bad move.

The menu and store interfaces are another sore point for me. I don’t mind using the touch screen, and I find the menus fairly responsive using it… but I wish that it wasn’t exclusively touch screen. My biggest problem with a lot of devices that add a touch screen are that they start removing options. A new control interface should add options, not remove them. Just because I CAN use the menu with the touchscreen, doesn’t mean it should be required. Don’t get me wrong, as I said above, the menus work well with the touch screen, but why not add functionality to select items off the menu with the analog sticks or d-pad. It’d take a bit of dev time, but in my eyes options are important enough to be worth spending mere time on.

Sony also made the mistake of betraying their own reputation with this one. Sony is known for backwards compatibility, they’re just about the only hardware manufacturer that really cares about it. Yet the PS Vita offered no option for people to play their PSP games since it has no UMD drive and there was no program for people to register their UMDs to be able to get access to a downloadable version, or anything like that. Not only that, but they also decided to release with physical media that is so small it’s hard to even really call it physical media. Portable console, I understand… but there’s a point at which it goes from ‘portable’ to ‘loseable’ and Sony has gone well past that line. I won’t buy any physical media for my Vita. Ever.

The Downfall of the Vita

Most people can attest to the fact that, unfortunately, this platform is largely defunct. It’s unfortunate, because aside from the memory card issue, almost everything about this handheld console is a positive. It works very well, it offers responsive buttons in addition to a reliable touchscreen, it has a gorgeous screen, is comfortable to use, and even had a pretty good launch lineup – way better than the 3DS had, for example. But the Vita waited too long. If the Vita had come out about 7 months earlier – the summer before when it did – it probably would have made a huge impact. But it didn’t, it gave the 3DS almost a full year to actually cement itself, and by that time Zelda, Mario, and other solid titles had come out – and most importantly the 3DS had seen a huge price drop. And, to further make things worse, it came out right AFTER Christmas, in early February. As a result, the Vita ran into its other biggest problem…

Software. The real downfall of this console is software. After it’s launch lineup, it has really had nothing come out that has moved consoles. The two biggest titles that have come out since release were the Call of Duty game and Persona 4 Golden. Why haven’t there been any big software titles? It’s really pretty simple… low initial sales as a result of a bad release time, poor competitive placement, and the memory card debacle led to developers not being willing to lend support to the platform. The Vita needed a title that was associated with handhelds… something that would really get people interested. Monster Hunter would’ve been the best choice, since it was responsible for probably half of what success the PSP had… but any major title would’ve given it traction. Unfortunately, at this point, I don’t see much hope. There really aren’t any announced titles for it that have me excited, and there are only about 5 or 6 games already out for it that are worth giving my time to.

Overall

As much as I love the console, I think its lifespan is prettymuch over. Admittedly, anything can happen and a big release at a good time could change everything…. but this pretty powerhouse is probably on its deathbed right now. It’s sad because I think the Vita is the closest thing to a ‘perfect’ handheld I’ve ever seen, but the lack of affordable memory, a bad release time, and poor software representation have doomed what is otherwise an incredible piece of hardware.

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