Sony Playstation Vita Launch: My Take

19 12 2011

So…. the 17th saw the launch of the latest and greatest handheld video gaming system in Japan, Sony’s Playstation Vita.  It’s the logical successor to the Sony Playstation Portable, or PSP.  It’s bigger, has better graphics, and a very, very pretty OLED screen.  If you follow video games, you’ve no doubt seen pictures online of people in large groups waiting to get their machine.  Sony pulled out all the stops, having 26 games available at launch… a big tic up from the usual 4 or 5 from past systems.

You can not escape the Playstation Vita. From the electronics isle to the used game store (already!)

 

Now before I get too far, I want to qualify where I’m coming from.  If you read this blog regularly, you know I’ve been gaming since before 1985, so I have a perspective that dates back to Atari and before.  In my time I’ve owned Gameboys, Gameboy Lites, Gameboy Colors, a Gameboy Micro, Gameboy Advances, Gameboy Advance SPs, a Nintendo DS, DS Lites, Nintendo 3DSs, a Game Gear, Nomad, a Turbo Express, Wonderswans, a Wonderswan Color, a Wonderswan Crystal, a Neo Geo Pocket, Neo Geo Pocket Colors, and some different iterations of the PSP including the PSPGo.  I’ve even spent some quality time with an Atari Lynx, but I never dug it enough to own one.

Where is the love? TT

 

Usually when a new machine hits the market, I’m pretty pumped; and the Vita was no exception.  When stores in Japan started accepting pre-orders I attempted to reserve one… but they wanted the money up front, and I balked.  I missed out on playing the Vita at the Tokyo Game Show this year because I hate the crowds, so I was pleased to be able to get my hands on a demo unit at a Bic Camera electronics store two days before they went on sale.  Boy was I glad I got to play one.

Everything you’ve heard about the Vita is true.  It’s big, but not too big.  It has a ginormous, beautiful screen.  It’s light and it reeks of quality.  The Playstation Vita takes the experience of playing a game at home, and puts it into your very large, deep pocket and that’s where I think Sony missed the mark.  The Vita’s rival is the Nintendo 3DS.  It’s less powerful than the Vita.  It has less battery life.  The screen is smaller, and the graphics are less pretty, too.  But it gives you something you can’t get anywhere else… it give you true, glasses-free 3D.  You get a special feeling when you play a 3DS, like it’s letting you look through a window into another world.  The Vita lets me experience the feeling I get from gaming at home on my couch.  I already have that.  So in a way, for all its whiz-bang and beauty, it’s almost like Sony’s Vita brings nothing new to the table.  In my opinion, beyond Nintendo systems, there are only two machines that have approached portable gaming right.  One was ahead of its time, the other was too late.  They are the NEC Turbo Express and Sega Nomad.

 

The Turbo Express came out in 1990 and was a true revolution in portable gaming.  It played the same games you played on your TurboGrafx-16 system at home.  That’s right… in 1990 you could play a 16-bit game on your color TV and then take it with you on the road in what was essentially a full color portable version of your home machine.  Think about it for a moment.  When have you been able to take a console game on the go with you during its systems current generation?  That in itself in mind-blowing, especially considering this was happening in 1990- 22 years ago!  What happened?  Well the TurboGrafx didn’t catch on it the States, and it didn’t help that the Turbo Express cost as much as the home console. Plus, CDs started dominating as the storage medium of choice, and you really couldn’t make a practical CD add on unit for the thing.  Still, it stands as a product way ahead of its time, and a marvel of game engineering.

 

The Sega Nomad was an also-ran.  It came in at the end of the popular Sega Genesis’s lifespan.  The Nomad was a six button color portable that could play the entire library of Sega Genesis games (save 1), as well as having controller ports and an AV out so you could plug it into your TV.  That’s right… it was a handheld, fully functional Genesis.  The Nomad was sold at a price point of $180 in 1995- a pretty fair chunk of change, plus by that time Sega had already released it’s next console, the Saturn, so to the average consumer it seemed as if  you were paying a premium price to play old games.  It also didn’t help that it ran on 6 AA batteries that only lasted 30 minutes.  For all intents and purposes, the Nomad arrived D.O.A.

 

Hey, I thought this article was about me...

What does all that ancient history have to do with the Playstation Vita?  Well, we’ve reach the point technologically that games don’t have to be sold on disks anymore.  The whole reason the market switched to that format was 1) disks held more than cartridges, and 2) disks were a lot cheaper to manufacture so it meant game companies made more money.  Now, flash media greatly eclipses the size of the most advanced Blu-ray disk, and it’s cheap.  Flash memory can’t scratch like a disk can, and the packaging is smaller, so it’s more ecologically friendly.  Plus, reading data off flash takes less time than off of disk so load times are cut and consoles that used cartridges don’t have to have moving parts so it means they’re less likely to break.  The Playstation Vita uses solid state media…a flash cartridge.  So does the 3DS.  But home consoles still use disks.  A true, next-generation handheld should allow me to play my home games on the go, or give me something I can’t get anywhere else… like the 3DS.  Simply emulating the home experience isn’t enough.

That being said, do I think the Vita will succeed?  Yes.  But unlike the 3DS, it won’t take much to best it.


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2 responses

19 12 2011
Mark E

So Sega ALWAYS had problems with battery life? I have yet to get beyond a certain point on the Puyo-Puyo game on my Game Gear simply because that’s when the batteries die…

20 12 2011
James Bacon

What an excellent perspective, and very well presented. I agree with everything you’ve said here, but I think it’s only a piece to the Vita puzzle.

Offering the home experience on the go could appeal to a great many people. Now, I’m not one of them, as I play all of my games at home, even the DS/3DS ones, and even then I’d prefer they just hit a console instead of a portable; but it can’t be helped, with the rise of the iOS powerhouse, and the international awareness and appeal that gaming on the go has piqued, I have to settle with exclusive titles only available on the handhelds. But I digress…

I’m interested in the Vita, but as you’ve said, I’ll need a unique experience appealing enough to prompt a purchase.

TLDR; I agree with you. I can see the appeal of the Vita, but it won’t be for me until a gotta-have-it app debuts.

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