Sony PS Vita review
When Sony announced its PlayStation Vita handheld games console back in spring, it was throwing down a gauntlet for the next 12 months.
The release of Nintendo's 3DS was imminent, smartphone and tablet gaming was on the rise, and the dark spectre of the as-yet-unannounced iPhone 5 - which turned out to be the Apple iPhone 4S - even then hung menacingly over the next year, threatening to take it even further. Sony's move was very calmly saying one thing: wait.
So when we sat down with the PlayStation Vita (then known as the 'NGP'), knowing the public would not be able to play it properly till the end of the year, we were intrigued to see whether this confidence was justified. Arguably, we came out with more questions than answers.
Sony PlayStation Vita: Build
The PlayStation Vita is undoubtedly an impressive piece of kit. Looking rather more like an old PSP than you'd perhaps hope (we actually always had a soft spot for its design aesthetic), it's surprisingly 1cm taller to accommodate its really rather lovely 5-inch OLED screen (double the resolution of the PSP, in case you wondered), making it a fair old size for a portable.
This won't be squeezing in anyone's pocket any time soon and is made to dominate part of your man bag.
However, it was noticeably very light despite its size, although the dev kit we had time with was running off the mains without a battery pack, so we reserve judgement on its luggage-denting abilities.
What is clear is that the structural bulk allows Sony to make a hand-held that is truly comfortable to hold. No smartphone control compromises, no utilitarian square edges - this is an ergonomic star.
Sony's taken stock of the PSP's many flaws and fixed them - the horrible bevelled analogue disc has been replaced by quite incredible dual analogue sticks that are responsive and a joy to use, the harsh lines of the unit rounded to fit nicely in your hand, the PS buttons smaller and less clunky.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss plays as close to the PS3 original as you could wish to hope for, long-distance gunning against multiple enemies from behind cover very effectively translated due to the combination of the impressive screen resolution and the tactile joysticks. Call of Duty and FIFA are going to play like a dream.
Sony PlayStation Vita: Controls
There are also control inputs aplenty - the familiar Sixaxis button and motion controls supplemented by a touch screen, a rear touch panel and cameras front and back.
Initial implementation of these seems quite gimmicky on the whole, and not at all intuitive – naturally tilting the Vita instead of pushing the rear touch panel to control a rolling Marble Madness-esque character in Little Deviants springs to mind, or trailing a finger on the touch screen to climb vines in Uncharted when the usual buttons are more instinctive.
But then there are always teething problems adapting to new functions, and Sony is also clearly aiming at new audiences. It’s amazing, in a way, that we already take accelerometer control for granted.
The most impressive showing was Reality Fighters, a fairly hum-drum sub-Street Fighter beat-em-up on paper that is elevated to must-play due to its technological armoury.
Taking its lead from augmented reality and reminiscent of Face Raiders on the 3DS, you are able to create your own character (cue scarily accurate face scanning) and have it battle in whatever location you choose to shoot on the Vita's camera in real time thanks to AR cards.
But one producer told us that they're trying to make it so you can do a 360-degree pre-shoot of your own locations (bedroom, office, Coco de Mer outlet) and then send them to other players for personalised fisticuffs.
Coupled with geocaching prize battles via Sony's Near online network, it's the template for what a modern portable game can be. Potential oozes out of the system.
Sony PlayStation Vita: Games
The Vita has also clearly been optimised to pair with the much-maligned PlayStation Network. The PSP's UMD software has been thankfully scrapped for Flash-based storage cards, but as well as physical products, the Vita will also be download driven.
HD movies on the move will look great on that screen, and it's no surprise that several of the launch titles are PSN games given the touch-screen treatment.
With Sony telling us that Wipeout 2048, the latest in the futuristic racing series, will support Sony PlayStation 3 vs Vita play, there will clearly be much crossover on these arcade games that don't demand the full big-brother console grunt and 3D bells and whistles.
Although, tellingly, while the dev units supported HDMI out to show the games on larger screens (resolution surprisingly impressive, since you asked), the finished units will not, presumably to prevent it from being used as a standalone console and eating into PS3 sales.
Yes, we're getting that close. Review continues after the video...
Sony PlayStation Vita: Price
We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Vita and are very keen to play with it some more, but our head kept turning to the potential price.
Make no mistake, the graphical fidelity and the tightened controls are aimed squarely at the hardcore gamer, but Sony needs this to be a mainstream hit, which makes pricing more key than usual.
Nintendo's 3DS sales have been relatively lacklustre despite heavy discounting (£160 and counting, down from £199, at certain websites), due to a number of factors, but predominantly because ever-more powerful smart phones are doing quick-hit games so well, and so cheaply.
The Vita browses the internet, takes photos and plays all sorts of media, but its size and control inputs will undoubtedly limit its portability and, in turn, its function, so regardless of its intentions, it will still be referred to primarily as a games machine.
Is this the reason standalone portable gaming systems are a dying breed?
With US and European pricing announced at E3 ($249 and 249 Euros for the WiFi model, $299 and 299 Euros for the 3G version, respectively), we'd say that Sony has done well to keep at least the WiFi model under the £250 mark.
For context, the PSP debuted at £179, you can currently buy a PS3 for £199 and the iPod Touch 32GB, our current go-to PMP from the usually fairly pricey Apple which you can slide in a suit jacket pocket, is £254.
The Vita is a hugely powerful, very impressive system, but it needs to recognise what it sacrifices as well as what it offers.
The portable gaming world has never been more competitive, and the needs of gamers on the move and the audience it caters for has changed unrecognisably. Exciting times indeed.
Sony PlayStation Vita UK release date: February 22nd 2011
Sony PlayStation Vita price: £279 (3G/Wi-Fi model) I £229.99 (Wi-Fi model)
Sony PlayStation Vita Video: All the details
Sony PlayStation Vita Video: Hands-on
Sony PS Vita review
Sony PS Vita reviewT3
Sony PS Vita Review: It's the long-awaited follow-up to the flawed PlayStation Portable gaming handheld, adding a touchscreen and quadcore power
Sony PS Vita review
- Five-inch OLED touchscreen
- Quadcore processor
- Launch games line-up
- Fiddly card ports
- Focus on core-gamers
Update: The Sony PS Vita will soon be superceded by the Sony PS Vita Slim (which will be simply be called Sony PS Vita on launch). Check out our new Sony PS Vita Slim review for more details.
With gaming on the go becoming ever more smartphone-shaped, some would say it was foolhardly to release a new dedicated handheld, such as the Sony PS Vita. The full-fat and full-price Nintendo 3DS struggled against the cheap yet powerful thrills offered by more versatile and ever-present platforms such as the Apple iPhone 4S and the Android-based Sony Ericsson Xperia Play.
The gaming industry may be more lucrative than ever before, but the market is increasingly casual, not to mention time- and cash-poor. What chance does a £200+ dedicated device rocking £40+ games really have? The answer is, more than we thought.
Sony PS Vita: Features
Everything about the Sony PS Vita reeks of refinement. Looking initially rather disconcertingly like the original Sony PSP - it is, in fact, even bigger - the Vita is actually a strong mix of style and substance. Like the Apple iPhone 4, the problems with the first PlayStation portable were certainly not aesthetic, so its sleek and black chassis is unsurprisingly and reassuringly familiar.
An evolution of Sony's first handheld, this addresses a lot of its flaws – a terrible single analogue stick, drop-it-and-it'd-shatter product vulnerability, reliance on dead-on-arrival UMD software – and takes more steps on than you'd expect.
For a start, this is Sony's first handheld you don't have to wrap up in cotton wool, its reinforced shell making it more robust to knocks without diminishing its sexiness or making it too weighty.
OK, we're not talking brick-like Nintendo 3DS resistance, but then it's a portable that screams, "I am not a child's toy, I'm a serious piece of man tech," so it shouldn't need to be. It's also included pretty much every possible input you can think of, and then invented some more just in case you thought it was slacking.
The classic Sixasis gyroscope/accelerometer double header of the PS3's Dualshock controller is present for motion-sensing malarkey, as is a very good attempt to recreate its dual analogue sticks, which though necessarily on the small side reduce the PSP's thumb-hating waffled tormentor to a misdemeanour.
The action buttons are micro-switched rather than analogue, so control is not quite as complete as its big brother, but we rarely had complaint (we reserve the right to redress this once FIFA arrives).
More bizarre is the first capacitive multi-touch rear pad we've got to grips with, a reverse tactile surface that initially appears more gimmick than innovation, but shows ever more potential with every squeeze and prod. Much like how Move refined the Wii, it feels like an attempt at refining the touch screen interface that with the right support could reap rewards.
So far, so PlayStation. But taking a big step into smartphone and tablet waters is the capacitive multi-touch front screen, bigger and just as responsive as that of the Apple iPhone, and front and rear VGA cameras that don't waste their time trying to be world-beating, as anyone using a PS Vita to take moody style snaps needs a lie down.
For their primary purpose, to capture content for in-game use and manipulation, they're great.
The Near GPS location service, a multi-layered tool for finding like-minded gamers to beat/taunt, and messaging services veer off into that social direction more still, the effective content manager also allowing a decent, if unspectacular, variety of movie, music and picture files to be imported from home and abroad and, well, managed.
The menu interface has been noticeably Apple'd and Wii'd, binning the Sony PS3/PSP austere XMB chic for a far more approachable cutesie bubble world of app icon, swipe-able windows and one-home-button-press-from-anywhere familiarity.
PSN syncing is simple, which is important as more relies on connectivity than ever before, while PS3 remote play gets an early blow in on Wii U's unique selling point, though neither of these functions, along with online multiplayer, is fully functional pre-launch in the UK so we'll leave the door ajar for a footnote or two come February.
The Sony PlayStation Vita handheld games console offers a pleasurable gameplay experience, along with top notch graphics and easy-to-use controls
Sony PlayStation Vita: Gameplay video
We rundown the best games on the next-gen handheld console02:07
PlayStation 4 rumours video
All the graphics, design and release date rumours02:54
PS Vita vs Nintendo 3DS video
The PS Vita is here but can it take on the Nintendo 3DS? We find out in our PS Vita vs Nintendo 3DS video comparison00:56
Sony Wonderbook demo
The tech that's hoping to take on the Wii U and Xbox Smartglass00:54
PlayStation 4 Concept Design 2013 video
Could the new PS4 look like this?01:15
PS Vita vs PS Vita Slim screen comparison
It's been downgraded from an OLED to an LCD but can you really tell the difference?01:28
Best Smartphones: Reviews
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 review
Is the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 the best phablet yet?
HTC One review
The HTC One is the brand's new flagship Android phone
Samsung Galaxy S4 review
The Samsung Galaxy S IV is stuffed with features but should you buy it?
iPhone 5 review
The Apple iPhone 5 thinner, lighter and faster than its predecessors
Google Nexus 5 review
Can the Google Nexus 5 trump the excellent Nexus 4?
LG G2 review
Is the G2 the best Android smartphone around?
Nokia Lumia 1020 review
Is the Nokia Lumia 1020's 41-megapixels enough to tempt you to Windows Phone?
Sony Xperia Z review
The Sony Xperia Z has a massive screen, fast processor and it's even waterproof