The PlayStation Vita is quite big when you first unbox it. The system is 7.2 inches wide, and 3.2 inches tall, with the 5-inch screen smack in the middle. It also weighs in at 9.2 oz. -- over half a pound.
The new PlayStation Vita, the portable gaming device, launches Wednesday in stores across the U.S., Europe and Australia. For gamers who haven’t already pre-ordered their device, here’s what you need to know to decide if it’s right for you.
How big is this thing? Pretty darn massive. The Vita is 7.2 inches long with a 5-inch OLED screen dominating the front of the device. It also weighs a little more than half a pound. It’s not pocket-sized in the slightest. That may deter those interested in something that isn’t bigger than their smartphones; for others, it’s still smaller than a tablet.
How do I play it? The Vita added an analog stick from its predecessor, the PlayStation Portable. Along with the dual analog sticks and the familiar shape buttons, the Vita supports a multitouch screen on its display, and a matching one on the back. The back touchscreen hasn’t been utilized by a lot of games yet, but it adds an interesting element to the ones it does.
The Vita also supports a Sixaxis motion system that includes a gyroscope and accelerometer that can be incorporated into play.
What type of game cartridges does it take? The Vita uses a proprietary Flash memory card called “The PlayStation Vita Card.” While they are very similar in form to SD cards, the Vita can only run the Sony branded cards. The games are available on these cards, along with blank ones to store games and apps. The Vita does not have an internal SSD to support downloaded content, so anything downloaded must be stored on a Vita Card.
So what does this mean for my PSP games? Sadly, the Vita is only backwards compatible with PSP games purchased from the system’s store. Universal Media Discs have been axed, but that isn’t good news for players who invested in the previous system.
How does the store work? The Vita has access to the PlayStation storefront, where players can download new Vita titles instead of buying them in a retail store, as well as PSP and Mini titles. It also has applications and a wide selection of movies. It’s important to note that you’ll need a Vita proprietary memory cards to download and store your content.
What games are available? Lots. What would a new system be worth without a strong group of titles to support it? Thankfully, Sony didn’t skimp here, and brought plenty of first-party and third-party offerings at launch.
The strongest titles are Uncharted: Golden Abyss, which seems to be a full-fledged entry into the popular action-adventure series; Marvel vs. Capcom 3, a perfect port of the console version; Lumines Electronic Symphony, a sequel to the game that was an essential puzzle title for any PSP owner. There are a slew of titles to appeal to different demographics, such as FIFA Soccer for sports fans, Asphalt: Injection and wipEout 2048 for racing fans.
What about games to look forward to? There are a few interesting titles coming down the pipe that may help propel Vita sales. Hideo Kojima, the creator of the Metal Gear Solid series, says his studio is working on an untitled Vita game, as well as a Metal Gear Solid HD Collection. LittleBigPlanet will arrive on Vita on March 31; horror fans will see Silent Hill: Book of Memories on March 27.
How does internet connectivity on the Vita work? The Vita has wireless capabilities, but also can connect to 3G via AT&T. The data plan does not require a contract. It’s $15 a month for the 250MB option, and $25 for 2 gigs of data.
What are the social features of Vita? The Vita is dependent on a PlayStation Network ID to access many of its features, but it boasts many ways to connect with your friends on other Vitas or on the PlayStation 3. On a Vita, players can access their friends lists to see who is playing what, use a feature called Near to see if any of their friends are nearby playing on their Vita (or find other nearby players playing the same games as they are), and use the Party feature to text and voice chat with any of their friends on PSN.
The social features will work with some PS3 titles; currently wipEout 2048 players will be able to challenge wipEout HD players to tracks cross-console, for example.
What about other social networks? The Vita app store promises to support Facebook, Twitter (through their own client called LiveTweet), Flickr and Skype.
Can I use the device as a media player? Yes. The OLED screen looks amazing when playing movies. The Vita allows you to import your movies, music and pictures with its Content Manager app, while the Vita store allows players to rent and buy movies. Additionally, the ubiquitous Netflix has a Vita application.
What’s the battery life like? Sony promises a three- to five-hour battery life when playing games or watching movies, nine hours for music. In testing the unit, I saw even shorter times. After an hour or so of gameplay, I would see my battery drop to half power. What makes the short battery life problematic is that the Vita’s battery is internal, unlike the PSP’s, so you’ll need to always keep your charger handy.
Should I buy the Vita? If games alone are enough to satist you, and you wanted release titles that pack a punch compared to games on mobile phones and tablets — plus better control options — then the Vita might be for you. Hopefully the Vita Store will be as easy for smaller developers to ship to as the Apple or Android markets, to keep a wide variety of games available.
The proprietary cards and short battery life are a little frustrating, as is the lack of deep integration into existing social channels. Having apps is one thing, being able to update Facebook with a high score is another.
The Vita is a gorgeous, fun system to use, but it may have a hard time standing up to upcoming mobile games and systems.