Tuesday, 8 January 2013


    The Sony PSP was the Little System That Could.  It tried to do everything, and succeeded at nothing.  The RPM in most games was awful, the MP3 MHz (sound quality) was shitty compared to your most meat-and-potatoes $30 MP3 players, and, while the megapixel quality in videos was standard, it was nothing that an iPod couldn't do, right?  Don't let's not even mention the games.  Yeah, many were graphically superior.  One need only consider blockbuster titles like "God Of War: Chains Of Olympus," "Manhunt 2," the "Grand Theft Auto" games (with the possible exclusion of "Chinatown Wars," which I put down after about 20 minutes because it was so plainly a DS port), and "Final Fantasy: Crisis Core" to showcase the incredible aesthetics of that system.  Unfortunately, almost all of the above games and just about everything else on the bloody system made you remember that David Foster Wallace quote about how life is a series of waiting rooms.  The loading times were godawful, probably the worst part of the system.  Last generation was when people started colloquially referring to 'handhelds' as 'consoles,' which I enjoyed a private chuckle at because it was so obviously a marketing gimmick, like calling something a 'collectible.'  The DS won the last-gen handheld war because it remembered that, first and foremost, handhelds need to be pick-up-and-play.  Most gamers will accept mediocre graphics any day over arduous waiting times and clunky gameplay, particularly when it comes to a handheld.
    Obviously, I was a bit reticent to shell out another $300 for a Vita, which it turned out I didn't have to do because I have pretty much the most awesome fiancee in the world, who likes to get her Christmas shopping done early.  Anyway, on what amounted to more or less Christmas, yours truly received a black PS Vita, complete with a 'Vault' carrying case, a 16 GB memory card, and four games: "Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified," "Metal Gear Solid HD Collection," "Assassin's Creed: Revelations," and "Uncharted: Golden Abyss."  My first impressions were ambivalent.  I could tell straight off that the dual-analog stick configuration was going to go a long way towards replicating a solid FPS experience.  However, I was afraid at first that the Vita would turn out to be an ornery adolescent where the PSP had been a squalling baby; specifically, I didn't want to break it to pieces whenever I pushed its buttons.  The original PSP was very, very delicate, something which a handheld should never be.  Nintendo grasped this very early on with the Gameboy Advance SP.  Even the original Gameboy Advance was fairly indurate.  With both the PSP and the Vita, though, you're living in perpetual fear that you'll touch the screen too hard and crack it, or that some kid will get his dirty mitts on it and drop it.  I thought that the PSP Go was a step in the right direction for Sony, but they've retrogressed big time with the first edition of the Vita.  They'll probably change that sooner or later, at the cost of several hundred dollars for me and other Vita owners.
    The whole separate-memory-card thing is a bit obnoxious too, given the fact that Nintendo has long since dispensed with this and created an internal hard drive.  This, too, is an open season cash grab by Sony.
    With those picayune gripes out of the way, let's take a look at the Vita as a system.  The hardware is more sophisticated than the PSP, incorporating not just dual analog sticks but both a front and a back touchscreen.  This is an obvious DS emulation, and, while one is welcome, the second seems a bit gratuitous in a Look-Mommy-No-Hands sort of way.  Unlike the PSP, the Vita has an external camera, as well as an external app to take pictures and film/stream video.  This is a most welcome addition.  The web browser is far easier to navigate on the Vita than it was on the PSP, mostly because of the touchscreen.  The Vita still doesn't have a Flash plugin, meaning it's hard to run YouTube videos unless you run a third-party app or jailbreak it, but this isn't a huge deal.
    Game-wise, I fail to understand why so many people have appealed to Sony over the lack of launch titles on the Vita.  Everything that I've played so far is entertaining and has a good deal of longevity.  The "Metal Gear" title is actually a collection of classic titles from that series, faithfully rendered into hi-def.  I'm a newcomer to the series, and played "MGS3: Snake Eater" first because it chronologically takes place prior to 2.  Loading times seem generally less painful than on the PS3, and the control schematic is generally way easier to handle.  The touch screen interface can be awkward at times (meleeing or throwing grenades in COD being prominent examples of this) but these gimmicks don't impede gameplay very much.  Sometimes, again, one gets the vibe of a surly adolescent trying to get into the future too fast; the touschscreens feel tacky, unwieldy, the gravitational puzzles or light puzzles (i.e the map revelations in "Uncharted") can seem tacked on or downright obnoxious.  I for one prefer the 'traditional' console, comprised of one or two analog sticks, four main buttons, etc.  Everybody's jumped on the Wii bandwagon now.  In my view, if you want exercise, go for a walk.  If you want to play a game, sit down and play a game.  In palces, the Vita tried too hard to convince you that it's as trendy as its big brother consoles, but, if you're a more traditional gamer like me, this won't get in your way too much.
    Something else about the Vita that I really like is its compatibility with both traditional cartridges and DLC games.  It feels like having your cake and eating it too.  With the original PSP, you were stuck with UMDs, which could be lost, broken, etc.  With the PSP Go, content was exclusively downoadable.  
    All around, the Vita is definitely a solid investment because it's marginally more inclined towards portability than its predecessor, plays like more of a handheld, and manages to maintain the cutting-edge console feel which originally distinguished Sony in the handheld market.

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