Join us over the next few days as we look at all of the leading games consoles and platforms out right now and try to convince you why you should spend your hard-earned cash. We're kicking off with the PlayStation Vita, with Tom McShea outlining why Sony's portable is worth your while.
I haven't been shy about my love for the Vita. Hardly a day goes by that I don't lose myself in one of the countless digital offerings on Sony's fantastic handheld. And yet, if you were to look at the sales figures, you would see that I'm part of a tiny minority. Well, I can't explain why others haven't been as excited as I am, but I can sure tell you why this is a system that you need to own.
The Vita is a veritable greatest-hits collection of the best independent games out there. For some, having ports dominate the library is a bad thing; I have no idea why that's the case. Games from every platform find their way onto the Vita, so instead of rushing from one device to another, I have most everything I want in one place. Plus, even if I already played a game for dozens of hours when it first came out (such as Terraria or Spelunky), having them in portable form makes me eager to dive in once more. Sony has really embraced portability by giving some games cross-buy/cross-save functionality. I can solve devious puzzles in Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark on my PlayStation 3, and then continue where I left off when I commute to work in the morning.
Although the indie section is where the Vita is strongest, there's a wealth of more traditional retail offerings as well. As far as I'm concerned, Rayman Origins and Legends were meant to be played on the Vita, because platformers thrive in short bursts. I'd much rather collect lums on the go than tethered to my television. And visual novels such as Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward and Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc have coaxed me to leave my Kindle at home while I'm absorbed in their digital stories. If you want to spend more than a hundred hours invested in one amazing adventure, Persona 4 Golden will keep you riveted with the daily lives of ordinary high school students who battle demons. Oh, and whenever you need your heart warmed, Tearaway is like an arts and crafts table brought to life. Where else can you design the scary face of a jack-o'-lantern while exploring a colorful world?
Don't forget about the expansive back catalog from previous generations. Many of my favorite games from the PlayStation and PSP can be downloaded on the Vita. For someone like me, who has never played through Metal Gear Solid, has missed many games from Final Fantasy's heyday, and somehow skipped Chrono Cross the first time around, having these available wherever I am is a huge bonus. I am never at a want for new games for my Vita. Because of the huge selection of games on offer, my backlog grows larger with each passing week as I struggle to find time to play everything.
If I could choose any game to be brought to the Vita, it would be Super Meat Boy, which is sadly an impossible dream. Lousy licensing issues! However, for those who enjoy the comedic sensibilities and dastardly challenge of that unforgettable platformer, there's The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, made by one half of Team Meat. I just hope it isn't the first game that causes me to throw my Vita in anger after what are sure to be many, many deaths. Speaking of building on legacies, the mastermind behind Thomas Was Alone is bringing the stealthy Volume to the portable realm, and if you desperately wish you could spend more time with the cast from Golden, look no further than Persona 4: Dancing All Night. Dancing? On a handheld? Why not? The more rhythm games, the better, no matter how bizarre they sound.
You're still hungry for more games, aren't you? You're so greedy. Well, you're in luck, because there are more than just three games planned. CounterSpy has been making me excited for quite some time. Sneaking around is my specialty, and I assume such hijinks are made even more interesting when you throw them into a Cold War setting. It's better than a hot war, right? Well, that depends on what you want. Android Assault Cactus sports a silly name and copious amounts of blood as you race for high scores in twisted battle arenas that may as well be warzones. And don't forget about Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, which should pick up right where the outrageous original left off.
Want to give your trigger finger a rest? Hohokum is as far away from police enforcers and hired assassins as you can imagine. Drifting through eye-catching worlds while relaxing music plays over you seems like the perfect way to forget about the day's troubles, even while surrounded by anxious commuters on a train. I could go on listing games that make me squirm in anticipation (Dustforce! Rogue Legacy! Natural Doctrine! Starbound!), but, sadly, I must wrap this section up. I'll leave you with two words: Murasaki Baby. Let that sink in for a second. Want to know what it is? Think Baby's Day Out except, you know, fun.
Raw specifications have never interested me. What does matter is how a system's technical prowess affects its games. Killzone: Mercenary looks just as good as its PlayStation 3 counterparts, and having that kind of power in portable form is a luxury. With gorgeous games such as Gravity Rush and Assassin's Creed III: Liberation cramming in visuals I'm accustomed to seeing on a television screen, the Vita provides great-looking games no matter where you feel like playing. Plus, don't ignore the incredible flexibility of this hardware. There's a touchscreen, back-touch panel, gyroscopes, a camera, and two analog sticks, so a huge variety of experiences can be brought to life.
But that's all marketing babble. One of the reasons the Vita is such an incredible piece of hardware is that it's extremely versatile. By supporting Unity--an engine used by many developers--scores of games can be easily ported to Sony's handheld. And because the system is so powerful, developers can bring games over without taxing the system's resources. That's why we're seeing a steady influx of so many independent games. Sony's hardware welcomes the small-scale games that provide the creativity and innovation that make me so excited about the future while still being powerful enough to let larger teams push its technical limits. It really is the best of both worlds.
Speaking of the future, because the Vita is so well designed, I don't expect many changes in the coming year. Sony has released a cheaper model in Japan that swaps the gorgeous screen out for something less impressive, and there's a chance that could make it stateside, but don't expect anything more significant. The Vita TV is also out over there; it lets you play Vita games on your television, but it's little more than a novelty. So the only real hang-up with the system right now is the exorbitant price of the memory cards. Hopefully, Sony will cut their price soon, eliminating the last reason someone might have to stay away from the platform.
The Vita's focus is entirely on games and you can see that dedication when you look at the ancillary features that further enhance the experience. PlayStation Plus is a subscription service that is a huge help for those who want to spend as little money as possible while still enjoying the best games out there. Every week, Sony hands out select games free of charge, along with deals on lots of other games, so as long as you're willing to shell out $50 per year, you're always going to have new games to try out. Just last week I downloaded Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed, the sequel to one of my favorite kart racing games, and that joins other free games such as Soul Sacrifice and Hotline Miami in my queue. Not too shabby.
Another amazing feature is Remote Play. The Vita seamlessly connects to my PlayStation 4, allowing me to play console games without the need for a television. I'm immediately spoiled by this option. While my wife watches a movie, I can try to survive for one more day in Don't Starve or learn another sea shanty in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. I've had no problems with lag hindering my experience, and even though the Vita has fewer buttons than the DualShock 4, developers have figured out creative ways to use the touchscreen that has eliminated any potential problems. Leading up to the launch of the PlayStation 4, Remote Play never seemed that intriguing, but it's an indispensable part of my gaming routine now that I have it.
Finally, Sony just unveiled PlayStation Now, which feels downright gluttonous considering I already have more games than I could possibly find time to play. Now is a streaming service that brings the extensive back catalog from Sony's rich history (PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation 3) to modern platforms. And, yes, the Vita totally supports this service. Just imagine playing Shadow of the Colossus while staying in a hotel room, or being able to admire Alice: Madness Returns after being dragged to your in-law's place. The Vita's impressive hardware, robust streaming solutions, and varied library have made it my go-to system, and it's clear to me that anyone who loves games would adore one once they give it a chance. Remember, "It's better on Vita" isn't just a slogan I made up; it's the truth.