Turning the machine on, you’ll find that the familiar cross media bar — or XMB — is gone. In its place is the LiveArea, which features a number of bubbles, each presenting one of the Vita’s functions. From here you can access your movies, music, photos and games, along with the PlayStation Store on the location-based Near service. It’s a very visual menu, with everything almost immediately apparent and accessed with a tap — gone are the days of scrolling up and down menu chains. We say “almost”, as the home page of bubbles spreads over two pages, accessed by scrolling up or down and making it a bit fiddlier than it could be. Hopefully, these will be customisable in the final retail units, ideally allowing you to place your most often used apps at the top, or clearing unused ones entirely.PlayStation Trophy support is integral to the Vita, with achievements awarded even for completing the built-in tutorial mini-games. Those in themselves are a nice touch, offering a half-dozen different introductory lessons in the Vita’s various technical tricks and, for the most part, are genuinely quite fun to play. Using the same PSN account on the Vita as your PlayStation 3 will also link your trophy info.
One of the biggest failings of the original PSP was a weak launch line-up, creating a “no good games” mentality that haunted the console for years. Thankfully, with a “killer app” available on day one in the form of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, alongside a wide variety of content for seemingly all demographics, that’s a stigma that the Vita looks set to avoid. The aforementioned Gravity Rush will appeal to gamers with an affection for the weird, Japanese anime, or weird Japanese anime, as it places you in the role of a young girl given control over gravity by a cosmic cat and sent to fight monsters by kicking them to death.
Frobisher Says could well be a party game breakout hit, with hundreds of microgames taking advantage of the hardware’s quirks, while more conventional tastes will be catered to with the likes of EA’s F1 or FIFA. With a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor, 512MB of system RAM and 128MB of dedicated graphics memory, the Vita is a mighty beast — even accounting for stylistic decisions, such as the animated Rayman Origins, the games are already on par with high-def home consoles. A few years of developers getting used to the machinery and we should see some very impressive content.
Is the Vita worth your time? In our minds, yes — it’s positioned to be the most powerful and most promising dedicated handheld games console on the shelves. Sony’s plans for augmented reality and social gaming features make it more than a simple gaming device though, and everything from the aesthetics to the overall build quality make the Vita an easy recommendation.
Pricing will likely be a big issue though. Nintendo’s 3DS cut its price drastically only months after release, and the launch price of £229 for the WiFi-only model Vita (or £279 for the 3G model, with no firm pricing yet on data contracts) is undoubtedly going to be steep for some. On the games side, with a generation of consumers now in the mindset of paying only a few pounds at most for portable games on their smartphones, full retail prices of circa £40 for each Vita game may sting — and in turn, sting Sony right back.
We also have no idea of how long the battery will last in real usage terms. Sony stated at this year’s Tokyo Games Show that we could expect 3-5 hours of gameplay, which is less than many gamers would like. Unlike the PSP, the Vita’s battery isn’t removable, so the opportunity to replace with a higher capacity pack is simply not there, though plans for an external booster are in the works.
Should Sony overcome those concerns, it’s got a winner in its hands — a true next-gen handheld.