Sony PlayStation Vita Review

I am always excited when I get a chance to relive my childhood with handheld gaming.  Of course every little kid has played a very simplistic type of handheld game like racing cars or shooting basketballs.  To see how far we have come from that is astonishing.  Graphics on those devices were crappy at best.  The delay from pressing the button to the action happening seemed like days, and as time move forward we got our hands on Nintendo’s Gameboy.  Tetris took the world by storm and it revolutionized handheld gaming.

To now where the market it dominated with Smartphone gaming like Angry Birds or Draw Something, it would almost appear as if real true handheld gaming is out the door.  Then you see a device like the PlayStation Vita that has the ability to take handheld gaming to a whole new level.  Here we are going to take a good look at this device and help you figure out if it is the right device for you.  You can check out my video review of the PlayStation Vita and see for yourself.

The PlayStation Vita has been around for a few months getting its debut in Japan, to some soft sales, and when it finally arrived in North America, UK and Australia it brought with it some new software features, a vast array of games, and some great online features.  There are some limitations in its proprietary technology, unintuitive software and of course steep price.

Hardware

When you see the American version it is identical to the Japanese unit except for a few small changes.  It is an all plastic case but still has a premium look and feel with a silver metallic-finish accents and edge work.  You get a nice 5-inch OLED display, which has some of the best visual display I have seen and it even comes close to the iPhone 4S retina display.

Now the overall design of the Vita is made for keeping the overall footprint low.  The D-Pad, action buttons and joysticks are small placed closely together to keep it very easy to hit all the buttons in a very quick manner.  The shoulder buttons are responsive and the action buttons, while smaller than the average gamepad, are still separated far enough so that you aren’t hitting two buttons at once.  The control sticks are like the action pads and are smaller than a standard Dual Shock and are just as effective.

The touchscreen and rear touch panel are fairly accurate, though performance would vary by application and game.  My main issue with the rear touch pad is that sometimes while playing a game you forget that the rear touch pad is on and can cause a bad reaction to gameplay.  For example FIFA Soccer uses the rear pad, when you are close to the goal, and acts as a representation of the goal.  Touch the top right corner and the ball goes top right corner.  After some usage you get used to it but when you aren’t used it to and you are holding the game in the normal position you fingers and hand can make the rear touch panel go bananas.

The PS Vita comes in two flavors–a Wi-Fi-only model and a 3G model, priced at $249 and $299, respectively. The 3G model’s service is furnished by AT&T in the U.S. and offers constant connectivity to the PSN, turn-based multiplayer, the system’s mobile browser and social functions.  The 3G connectivity does allow you to do some online functions, however when downloading anything over 50MB the Vita tells you to look for a WiFi connection to continue the download.

Battery Life and 3G connection

The battery life of the Vita is the big issue here, as you want to know just how much gaming you are going to be doing.  Of course with 3G turned on it will drain the battery very quickly.  You can turn that off and tune some other settings to get about 5 hours of battery life.  The 3G connection is what you expect it to be around and isn’t really anything to be proud about.  1.7MB down and .9MB up at times.  I found I was around more WiFi spots so I kept the 3G off and just ran on WiFi

Camera

Let’s be honest here you aren’t going to be using this thing to take photos and with good reason.  The camera quality on this device leaves a lot to be desired.  The camera is perfect for the augmented reality games and for using Skype.  The video looks grainy and washed out, so what we are trying to say is don’t throw away your smartphone camera anytime soon.

User Interface

The main display of the Vita is a Bubble icon that when you look around the edges looks choppy and for a system such as this you shouldn’t be having laggy edges at all.  Everything should be smooth.  So when you click a bubble it opens up in a new window that displays links to DLC and a few other options and then you have to click ANOTHER button to start the game.  Just too many steps for one game

What’s more, the system ships with a variety of app-style functions that seem to overlap. Here’s the full list of functions:

  • Near – A GPS-based social app that shows nearby Vita.
  • Maps – A Google Maps app that provides directions and GPS data.
  • Photos – The system’s camera and photo/video viewing app.
  • Party – Connect with other PSN friends with voice and text chat.
  • Group Messaging – Basic text communication with friends and PSN users.
  • Trophies – View the trophies you win during gameplay.
  • PS Store – Direct access to the PSN Store.
  • Browser – Basic web browser and we mean BASIC.
  • Content Manager – An app that allows you to copy content to/from your PS3 or PC.
  • Remote Play – App that allows you to access a paired PS3 remotely via Wi-Fi.
  • Settings – Primary system settings interface.

Games

This is what this whole review has been leading up to.  The games and all about the games.  I will say this about the Vita; every single game looks AMAZING on the device.  I played a handful of demos on this unit and was impressed with the gameplay and controls on each one.  FIFA soccer was by far the favorite game to play for the people I showed.

The control sticks were very responsive and allowed for easy control of the players.  Unlike the Sony Xperia Play where I couldn’t get the guy to move half the time, never had a problem with this device.  Like I said earlier in the review the rear touchpad can be a bit of a headache when you aren’t used to it but after playing many games and losing MANY MANY times I got the hang of it and won maybe one or two out of the dozens I played.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss was a fun game to play at times the controls were confusing for me as I haven’t played that style of game in a while.  ModNation was a fun little time waster.  I could go on and on, I would like to mention the augmented reality games like Cliff Diving were fun to show people a cliff coming out of a table.  Even those games were fun and enjoyable at times.

Another great feature of the device is the cross platform playing.  Where you can start a game on your PS3 and finish it on the Vita.  How amazing is that, just think you don’t have to sit on the train thinking about your game and how much farther you could have gotten, now you can continue the game and have fun.  The possibilities are endless really at just how great this could become.

Sadly the downside is the price.  At $249 and $299 respectively for the WiFi only and 3G model the price of the Vita will be a huge a barrier to many people.  Then you add in the price of the system’s memory cards and the games themselves it all adds up.  When you look at the bigger picture it would cost the same or even more than a PS3 or an Xbox 360.

Check me out talking about the PlayStation Vita on All For Geek…show those guys some love as I show up from time to time!

Final Thoughts

Overall I really enjoyed what the PlayStation Vita is, at its core it is a solid gaming device that has its eyes set on doing more than it should.  If it was just a pure gaming platform this thing would be a solid 10/10 but it wants to do more and it suffers because of it.  Not too much suffering of course just some flaws in design and application of said innovations.

With that we got to the Kyle Scientific Scale-o-Rama and on the scale of Buy It, Flip It or Skip It we are going to give the Sony PlayStation Vita a Buy It.  The price may set people back but the gameplay and ability to take a game from home and continue it on the road outweighs that.  This device just has to much going for it to not perform well.

 

Article first published as Sony PlayStation Vita Review on Technorati.

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