Why it’s OK to believe in a comeback for the PS Vita
The PlayStation Vita entered the gaming world with so much promise. With its impressive hardware specifications and dual thumbsticks, it was supposed to blur the line the between console and handheld. Over a year has passed since its launch and still the Vita just isn’t there yet; what happened? It’s more a story of what didn’t happen, specifically the games. The Vita’s killer app has yet to arrive and while there have been plenty of great games, there hasn’t been a whole lot on the Vita that you have to have, and couldn’t find anywhere else. The Vita is akin to a top boxing contender in their prime that just can’t get a title shot. It has the skills and the guts, but still has more to do to earn the confidence of consumers and publishers.
Luckily for the Vita, there’s enough evidence out there to start believing in a comeback. First and foremost, the Vita is finally seeing some more big name games trickle in. Killzone Mercenary looks to be the shooter that will finally deliver on the FPS front following the disappointing efforts from Call of Duty and Resistance. Tearaway looks just about as adorable as can be, and is being developed by the talented people at Media Molecule, the team responsible for Little Big Planet. The Vita is also getting its very own Arkham Batman game this fall in the way of Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. While ports and remakes aren’t as exciting as brand new games, the recently released port of Telltales’ Walking Dead series seems like it should be a perfect match for the touch oriented Vita, while Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD is sure to pull on the heart strings of many JRPG fans.
Consoles live and die by their games. While dedicated gaming hobbyists might be willing to ride the storm until the Vita catches up, in order to achieve the mass appeal that Sony so desperately desires, the Vita needs more big names to show up to the party. It’s clear Sony recognizes this problem and has responded by launching Third Party Productions, a group designed to work with third parties to help bring their IPs to Sony platforms. The first victory for the team came in the way of bringing over the popular shooter Borderlands 2. It’s an encouraging step in the right direction and should go a long way in helping to gather more high profile support for the platform.
Also, the newly announced PlayStation Vita TV console will play an important part in driving future software development. While currently only confirmed for Japan, with the help of a Dualshock 3 controller the PS Vita TV will be able to play nearly all of the PSP, PS One, and PS Vita games available on the PlayStation store and will be priced at around $100. On the surface it may seem like Sony is shooting itself in the foot by undercutting its own handheld with a similar product, but both devices are catering to very different markets. Regardless of whether the PS Vita TV or the handheld Vita ends up being more popular, as long as more Vita devices are being purchased, publishers will feel more confident about bringing bigger and better games to the Vita platform.
Throughout this recent lull of third party support, the Vita has instead drafted a standing army of indie games to pick up the slack. Quietly over the last few months, the Vita has positioned itself to be one of the top platforms for indies. Already on board are titles such as Limbo, Guacamelee, Hotline Miami, and Velocity Ultra. Divekick, Spelunky, Kickbeat, and Dragon Fantasy: Book II will be up and running before the end of the summer through the Summer Select promo. Also, throw both Joe Danger games, Rogue Legacy, Fez, and many others onto the pile by the end next year. If it isn’t clear yet, Sony really likes indie games, and is keeping the Vita ship afloat almost exclusively on a hull comprised of these independently developed gems. Expect Sony to continue to lean on them heavily until it can line up a more consistent AAA game schedule.
In addition to all of the indie and bigger name games on the way, the mere existence of the PlayStation 4 will immediately boost the Vita’s value. Gamers that are fortunate enough to own both a PS4 and a Vita will be able to remotely play PS4 games that do not require the new PlayStation Eye camera. Being able to stream your PS4 games over WiFi to the Vita similarly the Wii U’s gamepad, will certainly increase the Vita’s appeal. While it’s still not clear exactly how this process works, the Vita has a big enough screen and enough buttons to make streaming from the PS4 worthwhile. Allowing the Vita to work symbiotically with the PS4 is a smart move on Sony’s part, and should help increase both consoles’ sales.
Perhaps equally as important as the games is the recent US price cut, which is sure to move more Vitas off of the shelves, especially with the holiday season on the horizon. Not too long ago, the 3DS was being touted as a failed system. According to its critics, the 3DS didn’t have enough worthwhile games, a 3D feature that no one really wanted, and was too expensive. We heard over and over again that all kids want these days are iPhones and iPads, and that there’s no room anymore for dedicated gaming handheld devices. Then came the dramatic $80 dollar price cut, and suddenly the floodgates opened. As hardware sales picked up, third party confidence increased. All that was left was to add a dash of first party magic, and once again Nintendo is back in the high life for another generation (well, at least in the handheld sphere). While the Vita stayed the course at $250 for a little bit longer, it has joined the 3DS XL at the $199 price point. For those that have been sitting on the fence about purchasing a Vita, the price cut might be what finally pushes them to take the plunge. The Vita is a powerful device, and at $199 it’s going to be hard to resist for many gamers.
If nothing else, the Vita still has one thing going for it moving forward that should always pique the interest of gamers; it’s still the only major portable gaming device with dual analog thumbsticks. Having those two thumbsticks, in addition to its impressive specs backed by a gorgeous OLED screen, means the Vita has the wherewithal internally to compete with any portable gaming device. Handhelds have always been a step behind their console big brothers. Hasn’t the dream always been to emulate the console experience but in portable form? Smartphones, tablets, and the 3DS each provide a unique and quality gaming experience, but the Vita is different. It’s the only handheld that can really come close to matching that feeling of sitting in front of a TV and playing a modern game on your home console. There’s nothing in the Vita’s DNA that prevents it from being a successful and popular handheld device. With just one more big push on the software front, coupled with a more affordable price point, Sony can hopefully get the Vita to finally reach its full potential.