Despite the rise of the smartphone, which can provide competitive videogame experiences alongside an array of other things, there is still an interest out there for dedicated handheld game systems. The Nintendo 3DS turned up in the UK retail market in early 2011, with the standout feature being the often referenced (glasses free) 3D function bringing something we’d never seen before with a handheld game system. Other 3DS features included multiple 3D cameras, the backwards compatibility with most DS games, motion and gyro sensors, and the SmartPass and StreetPass communication functions. Priced at around £200 in Britain, uptake seemed slow at first but sales did pick up over time. The system spawned a family of related variants, such as the 3DS XL and 2DS, before Nintendo ceased producing that range entirely in September of this year. With what is seen as an impressive run, the 3DS helped Nintendo during their less lucrative Wii U home console challenge.
However, when a product starts to enjoy success, competition seems to follow and one key Nintendo 3DS opponent was the portable game device from Sony known as the PlayStation Vita. The Vita appeared to have some definite strong points: HD gaming, two analog sticks, and a mighty processor that was also used on the iPad 2.
Initially, there were plenty of big name game companies putting their weight behind the system alongside Sony’s own in-house development studios, so that meant Vita owners could play all manner of games including Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, Rayman: Origins, and Uncharted: Golden Abyss. While the high profile mainstream third party development support was there, it wouldn’t be maintained in the long term, probably due to a less than desired uptake. That said, the plucky portable would still enjoy support that has enabled it to solider on, with the main player base located in Japan.
Game Glance: Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012)
With more entries than there are stars in the sky (rough estimate), the ubiquitous Need For Speed franchise from Electronic Arts speeding onto the Vita wasn’t perhaps all that surprising. 2012’s Criterion Games developed Need For Speed: Most Wanted – a large scale arcade racer where you compete in driving related challenges, tune up cars with performance mods, and avoid the city’s cops. There seems to be more than a hint of Burnout in the fast paced, havoc-packed gameplay where realism takes something of a back seat to make way for lots of high octane driving action and over-the-top escapism.
The PS Vita edition was praised by IGN for transferring so much of the game over to the handheld and replicating the main editions quite admirably. The gameplay appears much the same, but the content trimming and changes added up to a slightly less enjoyable version of the game, detracting from the user experience somewhat. In the end, IGN gave the Vita copy a 7.4 out of 10 and labelled it a “good approximation of a very good game” that was “still fun and fast.” You can buy a copy here.
Game Glance: Little Big Planet PS Vita (2012)
In 2012, the Vita got its own iteration of Little Big Planet where you can create, play and share your own games (as ever) and the Vita version had some fantastic system specific bells and whistles. This includes features like using the platform’s front and rear touch sensitive functions to help guide Sackboy through the game’s levels, the inclusion of tilt controls plus touch based content creation which is very, very clever. Never seen before tools were also included. IGN gave the game a glowing 9 out of 10 and you can buy it here.
One of the big downsides to the Vita was the aforementioned fading of support from gaming’s most well known third party companies over time. Game consoles need big name releases to help sustain sales, and having some of the major high profile multiplatform ones can be a strong incentive to purchase one. The PS Vita struggled because of the gradually dwindling support in that area. Though, it is worth mentioning that the system still has a notable physical and digital game library with all manner of potential adventures to be had – it just didn’t seem to sell as strongly at the time as expected.
Another disadvantage was the ambitious launch price. Based on the UK release, it wasn’t exactly insubstantial. At launch, the most basic PS Vita began at £219.99, with the price also high in EU regions and the US. Although the RRP would be cut and the handheld did get an enhanced Slim version down the line, the sales still didn’t seem to come close to the highs of Nintendo’s 3DS family. An obvious strength for the 3DS was its backwards compatibility with Nintendo DS game cartridges, something you simply couldn’t get for Sony PSP games on Sony’s next generation handheld device.
Then there was the storage issue. A decent memory card was considered integral to PlayStation Vita ownership, should you want a decent amount of storage capacity for your device, but that added quite a sum more to an already wallet-threatening package.
A Future Renewal?
The Vita could, arguably, become more attractive to more people over more time. Used console (and some physical software) prices have decreased over the years which could renew the appeal. Perhaps it was too much too soon at a challenging time in an evolving marketplace. The competitors were many and the takers fewer than enough to inspire Sony to make a direct handheld follow up. Perhaps it will be more collectable and popular in the years that lie ahead.
Words by James Gillespie
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