Curriculum Vitae: First Impressions of the PS Vita

new console time, everybody! With the
gaming world shifting slowly and bumpily into the eighth generation of
game systems, it seems handhelds have become marketing guinea pigs, thrown into
the tempestuous waters of the gaming sea either to sink or to swim. Nintendo was the first to introduce a new
handheld console in early 2011, which, despite the innovative use of an autostereoscopic
3D display (meaning 3D effects without glasses), a low-resolution 3D camera and integrated gyroscopic controls, managed to fall flat on its face for the
first six months of its life due to a lack of software titles, bad pricing
decisions and poor third party support.

Wednesday, Sony parried Nintendo’s thrust by introducing a new handheld console
of its own to replace the decrepit PSP. Sporting the title “PlayStation Life” in a dead language, the PS Vita
was announced at last year’s E3, and was intended to be a powerhouse from the
word “go.” Packing both a quad-core
processor and a quad-core graphics processing unit with 512 MB of RAM and 128 MB dedicated video RAM on the inside and a five-inch, multitouch-enabled
organic-LED backlit display, the Vita packs more graphical punch than the best
gaming PCs were capable of five years ago. Taking major cues from both Nintendo and the smartphone industry, the Vita
also contains two cameras (one front- and one rear-facing) with a pack of
included Augmented Reality cards, removable storage and perhaps the strangest
feature of all: a multitouch-enabled backside. That’s right; you can rub your fingers all over the Vita and watch it
respond to your every touch. Sexy…?

specs always look better on paper than they do in practice, though, as a
poorly-optimized device can run slowly given all the hardware in the
world. So does the Vita live up to all
of its graphical and technical hype? I
was fortunate enough to acquire a Vita for myself last Saturday, so without
further ado, here’s my answer to that question:


be fair, this isn’t entirely the Vita’s fault. What the Vita does, it does very, very well. The one-fourth HD screen is beautiful
to behold, and vibrant and responsive as you navigate the game worlds of your
choice. Taking a line from the iPhone’s
book, the underlying OS on the Vita is much improved since the PSP; as a player
now uses bouncing buttons arranged in customizable groups to launch
applications, and can multitask nicely with the swipe of a finger. The cameras are responsive, if a little
low-resolution (0.3 megapixels? Really? Flip phones do better
these days), and the Augmented Reality cards are fun to play with, even though
they do make you look like you’ve lost your marbles when you play around other
people. Multitouch on both the front and
back surfaces is also a snap—nice and accurate each time with minimal delay.

why does the Vita ultimately fail to impress? Two reasons:

It introduces almost no new features. With the possible exception of the backside touch pad, everything else
on the Vita has been seen, and done better on either the iPhone or the
3DS. There’s nothing about the system
that would make a newbie go Ooh!  Aah!, much less an old veteran.

There are basically no games for it. Admittedly, this will change in the coming months, and a lack of titles is
common for a console’s first run. However, the three games I got at launch are simply nothing
special. Of the three I bought to test
the system out, only Touch My Katamari
stands out as a good game, making innovative use of the back touchpad to allow
you to fluidly stretch or compress your Katamari ball when
the proper situation arises, and granting players the option of controlling the
Katamari by touch or with the more traditional joysticks. Of the other two, however, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, while
graphically the most beautiful game I have ever seen on a handheld console, is
mired with sticky controls and forcefully integrated touchscreen gimmicks that
simply do not work well, and WipEout 2048
is just another evolution of the same futuristic racer that has been a launch
title for every PlayStation system since the original was released in 1994. In fact, the word “evolution” is a nice
summary of the entire Vita experience: it’s evolutionary. Not revolutionary, just evolutionary. The entire system has the air of a nicely-polished safe bet to it—not taking many risks, not incorporating much
bleeding-edge technology and not trying to do anything more than sit in your
room and look pretty.

a few months, when (hopefully) more than ten games are available for the Vita,
I may well find cause to change my opinion and give it a more hearty recommendation. The inclusion of some key features in future,
such as backwards compatibility with the PSP, and perhaps also select PS2
titles would go a long way toward establishing the Vita’s relevance in a
market that has been forever dominated by Nintendo consoles. For now, however, I have to conclude that
anyone who gets a PS Vita should probably return it and go live their real

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