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The PS Vita carries the weight of great expectation on its diminutive shoulder buttons. Not only does it have to make a break from the foibles of the PlayStation Portable and PSPGo! but it has to establish a new way of playing portable games -- not to mention coping with a silly name.
It comes with a squadron of new control features. Some of these are familiar technology. The touch screen and accelerometers have been popularised by the DS and 3DS already. Others head into more uncharted waters. The rear touch screen sounds like an after thought and the provision of dual analogue sticks on a portable device has never worked well in the past.
On paper the specifications sound like a rehash of the PSP. But hold on in your hands and it takes on an entirely new character. The unit is slightly larger than the PSP whilst retaining the same thickness. It feels good. The extra real estate is largely given to the impressive OLED screen whilst leaving enough space for those aforementioned analogue sticks.
It's ergonomic without sacrificing its clean lines, and fits in the hand satisfactorily. The front has a single glass covering the screen to the edges of the unit. This removes the awkward border areas that hampered the DS and 3DS. A small thing but one that makes touch input more streamlined.
The screen has another benefit over the 3DS. Like the iPad and iPhone it's a multi touch capacitive input. While this means you can't use a stylus to interact with it (unless you purchase a bespoke third party offering) it adds a whole layer of gameplay opportunities. Two handed touch screen gameplay is possible on a dedicated handheld system for the first time.
The analogue sticks take the longest to get used to. This is most likely because we are so ingrained with how they should work on a joypad. Here they are much smaller while still providing a proper analogue experience (unlike the awkward approximation of the original PSP's slider). Once acclimatise first person and third person shooters like Uncharted Golden Abyss and Unit 13 are a joy to play.
Gyroscope and accelerometer controls are the biggest technical advancement.
It's in the gyroscope and accelerometer controls that I found the biggest technical advancement. These are used like a third analogue stick in some games (again, Uncharted is a good example) so that you can really dial in your head shots with a subtle movement of the PS Vita in real space. It works so well that I wonder why it's not been implemented via the SixAxis or DUal SHock controls on the big console games. I suspect that the absence of a gyroscope in those controllers (although they do have accelerometers) means that this level of one-to-one accuracy isn't possible.
Of course, as with any new system, there are a few rough corners. Some of the best features have yet to be fleshed out. The RemotePlay feature is one of these. It has been suggested that a wider range of games will be supported, but currently you can only play the same small subset of PS3 games remotely as on the original PSP.
Battery life is also an issue with the unit lasting around 3 hours (depending on usage) between charges. I found myself taking a charger in my bag for long journeys and this really did solve the problem. There are also a range of third party batteries that can provide on the go recharge.
What is more impressive about this launch than the original PSP (or in fact the 3DS) is the range of triple A titles available from day one. I would recommend Uncharted Golden Abyss and Wipeout 2048 as must buy launch games. Add to this Little Deviants for an experience that makes good use of the PlayStation Vita features, and Unit 13 for a more serious shooting game.
The preserve of the gaming faithful who know how good it feels to get your hands on this technology early.
Many will complain at the price of the PS Vita and the fact that you need to buy proprietary memory to play the games. However this is to miss the point of a console launch. It will get cheaper in time and features will be updated and improved as they were on the PS3.
Buying a PS Vita at launch is the preserve of the gaming faithful who know how good it feels to get your hands on this technology early. If you get that same thrill from early adoption then this is an opportunity not to be missed.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: