Mi Vita Loca
Walking the line
This past Tuesday Sony held a event in lower Manhattan to let some lucky gamers get their grubby little hands on the newest piece of Playstation hardware. After seeing the blast on the PS Blog I rushed out of work and trekked into the cold, rainy night down to the lower east side. Upon my arrival, I saw an eager line of folks, lined up almost around the block, ready and waiting to play with the PS Vita. People were pretty excited and from the conversations I overheard the buzz was strong. A couple of guys and I were chatting it up when Sid Shuman comes out with a Vita tethered to his waist, pulls out the device and all conversation stops. I consider myself a person that isn’t easily awed but seeing the brightly lit OLED screen under the backdrop of streetlights made me a believer. The 5-inch screen is gorgeous to look at, colors are super vivid and jump off the screen. All the coverage that I read prior to the event talked about how nice the details pop, and they were all totally telling the truth. Pixels seem really small and almost unnoticeable when up close. I know that once people get their hands on the system they won’t be disappointed.
It Feels Good
We all entered the store and ran through the gauntlet of people to sit at a station, to finally pick one up and play. The first thing you notice is just how light the Vita is. It feels considerably lighter than a PSP and I would say maybe a little bit lighter than an iPhone 4 sans case. I caught myself rotating the system just to see how they get all that techie goodness in there without the weight, and to be honest I’m still astounded at how they’ve done it. The analog sticks (YES! a second stick) feel great, the concave surface is smooth and doesn’t have that thumb grating mesh that the nub of the old PSP had. They are raised just enough to give you the movement you need but don’t interfere with the system’s profile. They feel like scaled down versions of Dualshock sticks which is definitely a good thing. Two slightly convex handholds are placed on the back of the device and provide a comfortable place to rest your hands. It did take a little bit of getting used to, to figure out the exact way to orient your hands when playing with both sticks–especially because I didn’t want to drop–it but after a minute or two it felt like playing any other PSP. Interacting with the front and back touch screens showed just how responsive the system was and how nice they both feel. Although very smudge-prone, they had just enough tactile feel to make you know that they serve a purpose.
Vita launching well is going to be very dependent on the titles that come out when it drops on Valentine’s Day. I would say that the Vita might have one of the strongest launch lineups a handheld has ever had. Some of those games were playable at the Social Club that night and from what one of the reps said they will rotate games in and out for the six week period the club will be open. Some of the games there that night were: Hot Shots Golf, Reality Fighters, Modnation Racers, LittleBigPlanet2, Sound Shapes and Uncharted.
I believe Sony’s platform is amazing for indie developers, so I ran over to Sound Shapes by Jonathan Mak (maker of Everyday Shooter) and tried it out for a bit. Due to time constraints I jumped on a game already in progress and unfortunately didn’t get a chance to go through the tutorial, but I can say that what I did play was cute, fun, and really interesting. It seemed like they mixed a platformer with a music game. Going from screen to screen, rolling or jumping on objects and characters added new sounds and beats to the delightful soundtrack. I’m not sure what your “mission” is but I really would love some more time with that game.
Next up was Reality Fighters. After seeing the AR games that came with the 3DS, I wanted to see what Sony had up its sleeve. I picked up a copy and let it run for a bit. Again I didn’t have a chance to run through the controls but the Augmented Reality was awesome. You tell the Vita to pick a ground point and it uses the camera to project the background under your fighters. You can move the camera around the gamespace in real time to change things up as well. The game felt really responsive, it looked great and the ability to import your face into the game worked quickly and seamlessly. I was very impressed with Reality Fighters and would pick this up day one.
Modnation Racers was a great console game, but due to massive loading times didn’t live up to the hype. The Vita version seemed to have some of those same issues. I don’t know if the game was running from the HD or from the cart but the load times were way to long to be viable on a handheld. My 20-minute commute is a short one and if it takes almost a minute to get into a race then I doubt I would really be able to enjoy the game to full capacity. The game did look and sound great, the controls were spot on, but the loading times were hard to overlook.
The game that I believe most people wanted to play was Uncharted: Golden Abyss. It has been touted as the best example so far of what the Vita is capable of, and after playing it I have to say that it is one of the most visually impressive games I’ve ever seen on a handheld machine. Graphically it’s a little bit under PS3 quality, which is a remarkable statement and a testament to how far gaming development has come. Nathan looks as great on a Vita as he does on your big screen, and movement and controls are excellent and have all the small flourishes that you expect from the series. Interacting with the touch screen to initiate traversal sequences feels intuitive and worthwhile and the analog controls feel just right and make it feel like a console experience.
The Vita is a powerful machine with a lot of great software already announced. If they can back that great software with infrastructure that can handle the load, then they will have a winner on their hands. What gamers need is a way to enjoy their content in a no-muss, no-fuss way, easy secure access to the PSN store, and hopefully a consistent way to integrate some features back and forth between the portable and home systems. Again if they can make that happen, they may have the game-changing device we are all hoping for.
Sony did a great job of putting this event together and we all had an awesome time playing with the new kid on the block. I will head back down and update this post with any new games and findings that come up. The Vita seems to be heading in the right direction on all fronts and hopefully will get the attention that it deserves. I can’t wait for launch day to experience all the goodness that this little powerful machine has to offer. A quick shout out goes to Sid and my line-mates Dan and Marlon for braving the cold and being my gameplay muses. Thanks again guys, hope to see you all soon.