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Quality Ignored: Why Hardcore Gamers Should Embrace PS Vita

John Robertson

Features


The marketing might have failed but that doesn't make the PS Vita a bad console.

Published on May 3, 2013

Broadly speaking, failure comes in two varieties. There’s deserved failure. There’s undeserved failure. Deserved failure applies to those products/people/ideas that are poorly designed, badly thought through and sometimes, downright idiotic. Think Disney’s John Carter, Robert Kilroy-Silk and McDonald’s attempt at pizza and you’re thinking deserved failures.

Undeserved failures are the things worthy of recognition and success, but for whatever reason, have gone unnoticed and/or untouched. Half of John Carpenter’s movies fall into this category, as does the work of musician Rodriquez and games such as The Last Express and Blur.

Every time an undeserved failure comes into the world, those enlightened few that have found and embraced the joys it has to offer can’t help but be overcome by a sense of grand injustice. Here is something that has so much to give, why are people ignoring it? In the world of videogames, there is no greater example of an undeserved failure than Sony’s PS Vita; a handheld capable of bringing pleasure to many, only so few have given it a chance.

Marketing Mayhem, Confused Consumer

When was the last time you saw somebody using a Vita on the bus, on the train, in a coffee shop or at the park? When was the last time you spoke to somebody about the Vita and what games you/they were looking forward to? When was the last time a Vita game appeared anywhere near the top end of the videogame software chart?

The fact is that the Vita has a small install base, tiny when compared to that of Nintendo’s numerous handhelds. Pick any of Nintendo’s still-supported handhelds, and the numbers dwarf those of the Vita. If gamers don’t start supporting the Vita now, it will soon die a premature death; developers do not enjoy taking risks on producing games for consoles with low install bases.

Sony’s handling of the console has not helped matters. Poor marketing about what the console offers and what its focus is has put off a hardcore audience unconvinced by the benefits of gyroscopic motion, touch screen inputs and front and rear cameras. On the other hand, the casual crowd are put off by the perceived hardcore nature of the games and their complexity.

Everyone is put off by the pricing which, coupled with the fact that high-street retailers are unwilling to stock and sell a console intent on removing retailers themselves from the equation by way of its own digital store, can make the Vita a difficult investment.

Bad Marketing Does Not A Bad Console Make

Bad marketing, however, does not affect what the console actually delivers. What it delivers is an experience for the serious gamer that is second to none among today’s handhelds. Its game catalogue is diverse and stacked with quality, the console itself allows for gameplay ideas and execution that can’t be found anywhere else and its ability to link with the PS3 allows for genuinely welcome and long-needed connectivity between our in-house and on-the-move gaming lives.

Yes, Sony have made things hard for themselves with the naive manner in which they’ve tried to get the console into our hands. However, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give the kid a chance just because the parents have made mistakes.

At the end of the day, consoles should be judged by the quality of their games. The reason we buy a console is to play, every other feature is just a potential added bonus. Undoubtedly, the Vita’s lineup is aimed towards the serious gamer, the digital junkie, the hardcore, the ones that know their Hadokens from their Shoryukens, their materia from their mana. If you don’t instinctively know that crates should always be smashed or that the Princess is usually in another castle then the Vita isn’t for you.

A La Carte Menu For Hardcore Gamers

Just a quick look at the games designed specifically for the Vita should be more than enough to get you excited. Soul Sacrifice offers a dizzying level of player choice when it comes to battling monsters, so much choice that it becomes one of those rare games worth playing over and again just to see how things can be done differently, better and more efficiently. Gravity Rush is similarly engaging, an action RPG whose mechanics centre around the ability to warp the rules of physics.

Elsewhere, Vita editions of established franchises prove that home console games can and do work on a handheld. WipEout 2048 is easily the equal of the PS3’s WipEout HD, the Vita’s beautiful screen capable of capturing and enhancing the visual flair that the franchise has become synonymous with. LittleBigPlanet on the Vita, on the other hand, is arguably the finest of all LittleBigPlanet games - the Vita’s touch capabilities making level creation more instinctual and less fiddly than it could ever possibly be with a DualShock pad. Dead or Alive 5 Plus and Rayman Origins are equally high-class home console experiences ported to handheld that mimic the quality of the original in virtually every way.

Add digital-only Vita exclusives such as Hustle Kings, Escape Plan, Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack and Motorstorm RC and you’ve got a set of top class experiences that you really can’t find anywhere else.

Even the ones you can find elsewhere are worthwhile and/or improved on the Vita. Sony’s recent and aggressive push of cross-buy/play has been a huge success for those that own a PS3 and a Vita, providing much improved value for money and is going a long way to breaking down barriers between hardware. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and Retro City Rampage all fall into this category and all look and play brilliantly in the palm of your hand. 

Special mention must go out to Drinkbox’s Guacamelee in the cross-buy category, a metroidvania style game featuring a Mexican wrestler that plays superbly and arguably looks better on the Vita’s OLED screen than it does through a PS3 and HD TV. More developers like Drinkbox (also reasonable for Mutant Blobs Attack) need to take a long, hard look at what the Vita can offer and start designing games for it if the console is going to succeed in the long term.

All of these games mentioned are designed to appeal to the serious gamer, none are specifically targeted at the casual, I-just-love-to-touch-the-screen-and-see-things-happen, crowd. Not only are these games designed for the hardcore crowd, they are worthy of the hardcore crowd. The quality is high, the longevity is commendable and the diversity is equal to that of any console.

A Sweet Sprinkling Of Retro Style

That’s just the more modern crop. We haven’t even mentioned the best-in-class back catalogue of PSOne, PSP and NEO GEO games on offer for (usually) bargain prices. On how many consoles are you able to go from playing LittleBigPlanet one moment, to loading up Final Fantasy IX the next, followed by a few bouts on the original Guilty Gear before replaying Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey? Throw in some arcade action in the form of Metal Slug, overlooked PSP gems like Corpse Party and old-school Resident Evil and you’ve got a veritable history of many of videogaming’s best moments right there in the palm of your hand.

And it’s not just the games, it’s the extra-curricular add-ons around the games that make the Vita even more enticing. The dual analogue sticks mean that first and third person games are playable with a degree of skill, the online connectivity brings worthwhile multiplayer and a PS Plus membership provides free games (recent freebies Thomas Was Alone and Virtue’s Last Reward being particularly worthwhile purchases, free or not).

Ignore the marketing blurb and the naysayers preaching that the future of handheld solely resides in the realm of smartphones, the Vita is the best (and possibly only) portable option for the serious gamer. It’s unfortunate that such a well-designed and conceived bit of kit has failed to find the market it so clearly deserves.

A recent price-cut in Japan has helped sales in its native land, but the failure level to date may already be too severe to convince new developers to jump on board and start investing time, money and staff into producing new content for it.

Here’s hoping that’s not the case. Here’s hoping that the console finds a bigger audience. Here’s hoping new games continue to be made and old ones continue to find a new home. Here’s hoping an undeserved failure finds deserved success.

Long live the PS Vita.

 

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