The Playstation Vita Review: A Good Handheld, or the Best Handheld?

Well, internet, the Vita has finally been released and I’ve had time to screw around with the various features, so it’s time for a review. The Playstation Vita is a handheld console, and is the successor to Sony’s first foray into handhelds: the PSP. I have been an avid handheld gamer since way back in the days of the original Gameboy. I’ve owned every Nintendo handheld, save for the Gameboy Colour, and Sony’s PSP, and I’ve never been disappointed by my experience with them. That being said, I can say with some certainty that I’ve never been as impressed with a handheld console as I have been with the Vita. In terms of accessibility, content, and design, the Vita stands head and shoulders above any handheld device I’ve ever used. Now that I’ve made such a bold assertion, it’s time to go into detail as to why I think the Vita is such a phenomenal device.

This picture is much more tasteful than the man using his middle finger to select everything
First let’s look at the traditional controls of the Vita. By traditional controls, I mean basic input buttons such as X and R, the D-pad, Start and Select, and the Analogue sticks. The D-pad (Directional buttons for the layman) is very good. It’s in a good position, being accessible (Unlike the 360’s D-pad), while not being too emphasized (Unlike the PS3’s D-pad). The reason it’s good it isn’t too emphasized is that for most games, the Analogue sticks will be your main movement option. These sticks are loose, but not too loose, and are very responsive. R and L are reasonably good, but could be a bit tighter. Start and Select are in an inconvenient place, but, as they are rarely used, this isn’t actually an issue. Finally, I found the input buttons to be a little too small at first, but after actually playing a game that used them, I can say that their size isn’t an issue.
The D-pad and Analogue stick: Forbidden Love
Next let’s examine the less traditional controls including: the touchscreen, back touchscreen, mic, and camera. These range from great to totally useless, and most would be classified simply as gimmicks. That being said, only one of these controls are likely to actually be used in most games, and that is the front touchscreen. With the success of the DS/3DS, the iphone/pad/android phones, I think we are at the point where we can say that a touchscreen is not simply a gimmick, but can be a real benefit to gaming. The Vita’s touchscreen follows the iphone model, and, consequently, is very responsive and useful. The same cannot be said with the back touchscreen, unfortunately. It is unresponsive and reeks of gimmickry (Can’t believe this is a word). I can see the use of it for very minor things such as unimportant minigames, but I would be very hesitant of any game that makes it a main feature. The mic, and the camera aren’t any good, but why would anyone expect them to be. For all of the five times the mic was used for the DS (Mainly yelling “Objection”), it never impacted a game in a serious way. Similarly, the camera is a useless add-on, probably only added because of the flack Apple received after not putting a camera on the first ipad. 
Bring this over, and I may accept the mic.

Now let’s look at the interface. I do not see mobile phone gaming as replacing handheld gaming in the slightest; however, it is good to see that Sony took major queues from Apple. The Vita is extremely user-friendly, doing away with the, functional yet bland, user interface (UI) of the PS3 and PSP. Instead, the Vita uses the touchscreen almost entirely for it’s UI. Various icons representing applications and games are used instead of the mostly text-based categories of the PS3/PSP. Overall, this makes the Vita easy for anyone to use, whether they are pro-gamers or technology newbies. Not part of the interface, but worth mentioning, is the Vita’s screen. This 5″ OLED screen is a sight to behold and makes other handhelds look worse by comparison. The screen is so much better that you will notice a substantial difference in the quality of PSP games played in the Vita.

Guess, which icon opens the trophy menu? Hint: It’s not the one with the grotesque face.

Of course, a well made system is nothing without content. First let’s examine the built-in content, which won’t cost you anything to enjoy. There are simple things such as the camera and an internet browser. Thankfully, the internet browser is much more user friendly due to the touchscreen, allowing for easier typing than the PS3/PSP’s horrible letter select. Other basic additions include a music and video category, as well as Google Maps, which seems to be included in every handheld device nowadays. Important features for gaming including a friends list, trophy list, Playstation Store, and messaging systems are also in place. There is also a rather novel application called Near, which seems to track the activity of local Vitas so you can see what people are up to in a totally not creepy way. Finally there is the Welcome Park, which is the Wii Sports of the system. In other words, it is a free collection of small minigames, whose only purpose is to showcase the features of the system. It is a nice distraction and it’s trophy enabled for the achievement-inclined. All in all, the Vita has a very strong built-in presence on par with mobile phone devices, and significantly better than what we’ve seen with the 3DS.

Face: Least original name ever.

Looking at the content available at launch, I can safely say that the Vita has more content available at launch than any gaming console ever (Possible exception to the original release of the PS3, which could play any PS1 or 2 game, but had little original content). A large variety of PSP games and Playstation minis are available, but that’s really just a bonus. The stars of the show are the 26 titles that were released for it at launch, many of which receiving extremely high reviews. On top of this, the Vita was released with a slew of demos, and DLC on day one. I’m not going to argue if day one DLC is a good thing or not, but the demos certainly are, allowing people to sample some of the great games available for the Vita. On top of games there are other applications available for download including Netflix, which, like Google Maps, makes the rounds through every handheld device.

You’re going to need a bigger card.

Altogether, the Vita is a masterpiece of hardware. The controls work extremely good, and it’s nice to finally have a second analogue stick on a handheld. The touchscreen is responsive, quite a bit more so than the 3DS’ in my opinion. The screen is huge and beautiful, going so far as to making PSP games look considerably better. Most importantly the Vita is loaded with content both at start, and available at launch. There is no scarcity of games, or things to do with the Vita. The only limiting factor is the size of your wallet. All these things put together make the Vita a truly awe-inspiring machine.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer


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