Sony's handheld is on life support.
Even though it’s been over ten years now, I can still vividly remember picking up my first PSP back in the day (and by that, I mean 2004). After having saved up countless birthday fivers from anonymous aunts and uncles, and slaved away delivering the local news for about 6 months, the day of my big investment in Sony’s handheld console finally came, and it didn’t disappoint. Even though the PSP was plagued by awkward controls and sub-par console tie-ins, it didn’t fail to blow the then 12-year-old me away, and I actually still have the same console to this day.
So, when Sony announced the successor to the PSP, the PS Vita, I was understandably excited; the new console had dual analogue stick controls, touch screen features and was even backed by AAA developers like Naughty Dog.
The truth is, however, that we’re now three years into the lifespan of the PS Vita, the paper round has turned into a full time job, and I still can’t bring myself to lay out the money for the gadget. With sales figures for the console falling drastically short of expectations, and a distinct lack of big titles on the roster, the time has come to ask whether or not the console has any hope of redemption.
Take Me Out?
Perhaps the PS Vita’s single most attractive feature is its ability to integrate with the PS4 system, and allow you to play your favourite full-scale titles on the move. Speaking at E3 in June 2013, Sony understandably blew the world of portable gaming apart with their announcement that all PS4 titles would support remote play, allowing gamers access to their console collection so long as they had an internet connection. Stage demos and gameplay snippets made the transition from TV to transport appear slick and almost seamless, but in reality this wasn’t always the case.
There are obviously a certain number of requirements you have to fulfil before you can simply turn on your PS Vita and jump into the action, not least of which is a strong, consistent wifi connection for both your PS4 and your Vita. That’s right, even though a large number of the consoles were released with mobile data capabilities, the PS Vita doesn’t actually support remote play on a 3G connection. Whilst there are a number of ways to work around this, including accessing public wi-fi or tethering from a smartphone, the general consensus is that remote play works best when both consoles are hooked up to the same wireless connection… which begs the question of how portable the handheld console really is?
The Future is Bright, The Future is… indie-go?
Upon first release, the outlook for the PS Vita was remarkably bright, with titles like Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Killzone: Mercenary and Assassin’s Creed: Liberation looking to utilise the console as a platform for high budget spin-offs of popular mainstream franchises. Skip forward to 2015, however, and developer support for the Vita has undeniably waned, but this might not be such a bad thing…
As it stands the current array of PS Vita games on the market seems to be a mixture of re-mastered classics (which as you know from my previous article I’m not such a big fan of) and more innovative titles from smaller developers. While it might be fun to trudge through popular PS2 titles like God of War 1/2 and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater again, it’s hardly a reason to shell out for the new console. The Vita, however, looks to be a new frontier in which smaller, independent developers have a chance to publish distinctive and innovative games like Skulls of Shogun: Bona Fide Edition and Murasaki Baby.[yt_video id=”2DsDUsovH3A”][/yt_video]
While titles like these aren’t strictly-speaking original, they represent what I believe to be the best avenue for the future of the Vita; they don’t focus on providing the player with a blockbuster experience, because if we’re honest, we already get enough of that on mainstream consoles. Instead, they opt to challenge conventions of gameplay, mixing up genres like platforming and puzzle-solving, strategy and beat-em-ups.
The future of the console is murky to say the least.
These attempts to present gamers with a relatively new experience are then complemented by unique, and often quite quirky, visuals and character designs. More importantly, they understand the different needs of portable gamers, and actively work to address them. Gamers on the move aren’t typically sitting down for a 3-4 hour session in which they’ll collect XYZ pieces of armour in order to cater to an in-depth character customisation system. Stand-out titles like Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker on the PSP understood this, and offered shorter levels that could easily be completed in the space of a bus or train journey.
Where Do We Come From? Where Do We Go?
If there’s one thing the unsuccessful history of the Vita so far tells us is that the current formula of lacklustre spin-offs and rehashed PS2 games simply isn’t going to cut it. Add to this the fact that the Vita’s main competitor, the 3DS, already has a roster of huge franchises like Zelda, Pokémon and Super Smash Bros, and it’s fair to say the future of the console is murky to say the least.
If the Vita is going to succeed I definitely think it needs to go further down the independent avenue, and carve out a niche in the industry through games that don’t look to compete with or compliment the AAA experience, but rather challenge it. Because let’s face it, with two types of touch screens and Six Axis technology, the PS Vita is a great place to start mixing things up a little.