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PlayStation Vita  header logo
PS Vita launches in Europe and US - but is it worth buying?
It's time to mass debate
PlayStation Vita PS Vita, thumbnail 1
 Product: PlayStation Vita 
 Manufacturer: Sony Computer Entertainment 
by Will Wilson
Sony's latest powerful portable console, the PS Vita, is now available in shops across Europe and the US.

Some of the Pocket Gamer staff have had their machines for a while now, but most of the crew have only just received (or in Mike's case: chased the postman down the road) a package containing Sony's handheld beast.

Naturally, those of us who shelled out £200+ for this quad-core machine will have different opinions on the device from those who had theirs hand-delivered by supermodels* from Sony.

So, after allowing the staff a short 'Fun Break' where their bonds were loosened to allow them to charge up their Vitas, we all sat down by the worker cages in PG Towers to discuss what we thought about the new portable.

*Royal Mail

I'll freely admit that I had absolutely no interest in Vita in the lead up to launch.

After years of Android and iOS meddling, I couldn't really see why I'd want a chunky non-pocket-friendly handheld, with games that I'd rather play on my big-screen telly, thanks. The PSP had already gathered quite enough dust.

But, once I actually played around with one in my own home, I'm completely converted. Aside from the fact that it provides PS3-level visuals, blah, touchscreen OLED, blah, the thing that ultimately swung it was something fairly trivial: the second analog stick.

Being able to play big, grown-up console games properly while the other half hogs the telly makes it a no-brainer.

My only gripe is the ridiculous price of the memory cards - especially given how easy it is to fill them up. If Sony can fix that, it has pretty much the perfect portable gaming system.

Will it be a success?
That depends on what you define as a success. In terms of design alone, it's a resounding success, but I still need a little convincing over whether people will rush to buy £40 handheld games. We won't have long to find out...

Since the release of the Game Boy, companies have touted that their handheld is a full home console experience on the go. But, that's never really been true, with watered-down ports and more rudimentary experiences based on original ideas. Until now.

From the first batch of games, it's clear that the Vita isn't quite as powerful as the PlayStation 3... but it's not far off. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is gorgeous to behold, the controls of WipEout 2048 are spot-on, plus the asynchronous online aspects of MotorStorm RC and the competitive community elements of Everybody's Golf are fully developed.

They all do a great job of aping their bigger brothers, yet they bring something novel to the experience.

Visual design isn't hamstrung, the dual-analogues and touchscreen / back panel offer a wealth of input options, and the multiplayer infrastructure is in a class of its own among portable devices.

Will it be a success?
It's a great system with some truly superb games already out there, with plenty more to come. Finally, Nintendo may have met its match in the portable space.

After getting used to the fact that my giant hands mean I'm basically incapable of using the back panel properly, I've been very impressed with the PS Vita since the supermodels delivered it to my door a few weeks ago (we still running with that, yeah?).

Its OLED screen is huge, bright, and so much richer than other portables out there, and that second stick - well, it's importance for gaming can't be understated.

But, what really stands out for me is the quality of the launch line-up. There are some really great games available, like WipEout 2048 and Everybody's Golf, and even some promising new IPs like Escape Plan.

In fact, the download and online functions alone leave the 3DS in the dirt - PlayStation Store is a heck of a lot nicer to use than the eShop in its current form.

What I don't like, though, is how apps like Message, Party, Friends, and Trophies are all split up into different programs. Even more frustrating is how you get literally no warning if a game's about to dump you out of Party chat, and the speed of downloading items is PSN-quality, i.e. terrible.

Overall, though, it's an impressive piece of hardware with a surprisingly strong line-up.

Will it be a success?
Sadly, I just don't think there's a big audience out there for a large 'hardcore' gaming device any more. I hope I'm proved wrong, though.

The first thing you'll notice about the PlayStation Vita is the screen.

It's a generous 5 inches (making it bigger than a whole iPhone), and the OLED tech really makes things pop.

Whether that's busy sci-fi racer WipEout 2048, cartoon platformer Rayman Origins, or just a random menu screen - everything is bold, sharp, and colourful. It's absolutely one of those 'you have to see it to believe it' type things.

The launch line-up is seriously impressive. Between Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Everybody's Golf, and a heap of downloadable games, I'll still be working through the debut titles until the next must-have game arrives.

Will it be a success?
The PSP was incredibly impressive technology for its day, and it was trounced by the DS. The embattled 3DS might not prove such tough competition - but there are now 69p apps to deal with. Releasing PSN games for £5 is a good start, at least.

The PS Vita has a Foursquare app. Now, just take that in for a second. Let it tick over. I don't care if you're not a Foursquare user or have no interest in 'checking-in' at your local Starbucks - this is important stuff.

The PS Vita has a Foursquare app, a Facebook app, and a Twitter app. Aside from the wealth of Sony's own built-in social platforms for the handheld (a strategy that's arguably far too fragmented), this says more about the firm's intentions with Vita than anything else.

Indeed, to me, it's not the fact PS Vita looks like an amazing piece of kit, sits snuggly in my hand, and is capable of the kind of visuals that would make even Infinity Blade blush - that's all just icing on the cake.

More important than all of this - and in stark contrast to what I still think is Nintendo's utterly flawed 3DS - the PS Vita launches with the beginnings of an app store, populated by the kind of free socially aware titles we're all used to seeing on smartphones.

And that's what I'm taking away from Vita after 24 hours with Sony's slick, sleek, and, most importantly, social new baby. Sony knows the portable market has shifted towards mobile, and has reacted accordingly.

Will it be a success?
It's going to take some time, but Vita will comfortably outsell 3DS in the west in the long run, though that relies on Sony selling the device as a rival to tablets, rather than the next PSP.

My time with the PS Vita hasn't got off to a great start.

The whole system completely crashed on me within five minutes, and I had to Google how to restart it. Then Near crashed while I was using it, and I had to restart the console.

It also appears that Vita download speeds are about as crappy as PS3 download speeds - it's just taken over an hour to download Frobisher Says, which is 500MB. In the meantime, I played the Welcome Park games, which were a lot more challenging than I assumed they were going to be.

I've no doubt I'm going to enjoy my time with the PS Vita, but as of this moment, it seems like it's going to suffer from a number of the issues that the PS3 has.

What are you going to do later today?
I'm looking forward to downloading some games from the PlayStation Store, and especially to grabbing some PSP games, for I never owned a PSP. I hope Near is expanded a bit more, as it seems a bit underwhelming / pointless at the moment. [Mike managed to skilfully avoid the proper question like a pro - Ed]

I was initially hesitant about Sony's second stab at handheld domination, but it has delivered a pretty nifty portable that - despite its epic size - is surprisingly comfortable to hold. The OLED screen is a sight to behold.

It's also crammed full of features and gimmicks that should have your favourite developers gushing with inventive uses and ideas.

There are a few niggling issues off the bat, though. The system's menu looks and feels like it was designed by a child, and the launch line-up resembles the 'please everyone' approach, leaving it bereft of standout titles.

Will it be a success?
Handhelds are remembered for their games, and though no one will argue that having Uncharted in your pocket isn't cool, the PS Vita will struggle if the software doesn't start embracing the amazing hardware opportunities the Vita has to offer.

I'm actually surprised at how much I love the PS Vita.

I'm used to gaming on the Nintendo 3DS and Apple's 4S - both of which pack small screens - so the Vita's large touch display is a welcomed change of pace. It's also rather mind-blowing that I can play through Nathan Drake's latest romp on the bus. Who wouldn't be impressed by that?

I do have some gripes with Sony's latest handheld, though. Its UI is clunky, for starters. Also, aside from playing games, there's very little on offer that isn't handled better on other portable devices, such as the aforementioned iPhone.

Will it be a success?
It's hard to predict whether the PS Vita will become a portable gaming powerhouse or a major flop.

If it wants to be the former, however, Sony will have to continually add new features through software updates and ensure that major first- and third-party studios stay on board.

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Will Wilson 22 February 2012
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