Hands-on with the Playstation Vita, part one

I popped in at the Playstation Vita Rooms in Manchester today to have go with Sony’s latest handheld effort. I thought I’d share my experiences. This is part one of two. I’ll cover the console itself and a trio of the biggest games today, and then I’ll recount my experiences with a selection of games and provide a final conclusion in part two.

The console

The Vita looks pretty large in photographs, but in the flesh its size doesn’t leap out. The analogue sticks are quite significantly raised, and the screen isn’t protected by a clamshell design like the 3DS, so it isn’t ideal for shoving in a pocket anyway – and a case will add significant bulk when transporting it around. The screen is nice and big, with good black levels (when it’s dark you can barely distinguish it from the console’s black casing). The front of the console is quite plasticy though – I wondered if they’d added some kind of protective plastic shield to stop the demo units from getting damaged when I first saw it. That said, I didn’t see any scratching on the demo units, which must have had some significant mauling (I visited Vita Rooms on its last day in Manchester) and the use of plastic perhaps contributes to the console’s low weight. The Vita is very, very light and while it’s much larger than a iPhone it probably weighs less than one.

An image of the Playstation Vita displaying the home menu

The analogue sticks are actual analogue sticks this time. I’m not sure whether I really like the 3DS’s Circle Pad so I prefer these. The face buttons are very small, and while I didn’t have any problems with controlling games, I would have preferred them to be a little bigger.

From the little use I made of it, the console’s basic interface was smooth and easy to use. Changing software on the home menu was a very fluid experience, more so than on the 3DS. I wish I’d checked to see how it controlled without touchscreen use – if there were a graphically intense title that didn’t make use of the touchscreen, I’ll probably want to clean the screen then start it up with the buttons to avoid playing with fingerprints all over the place.

Wipeout 2048

This was one of the first games I tried. The Wipeout formula worked well on the PSP and it seems to work well here too. Unlike the PSP games, thrust is allocated to the right shoulder button. This would have been an unmitigated disaster on the 3DS but the control scheme feels very comfortable on Vita. The graphics are nice, although the framerate on the demo version I played was lower than I would expect on a home console, so in that small respect Vita fails to match the home console experience.

A screenshot of Wipeout 2048

Uncharted: Golden Abyss

The goal of the Vita is to provide a console-quality gaming experience on the go. But I’ve heard a few people questioning whether it’s appropriate to put console-oriented experiences onto a portable device, and my experience with Uncharted: Golden Abyss might provide them with a bit of vindication. There was actually a little headphone-equipped area for people to play Uncharted, but I was a little rebel and just played it on one of the headphone-less units on the big table. There was fairly loud music playing and various consoles making noise, so I couldn’t hear the game very well. I I found I couldn’t tell what was going on and didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing. It’s hardly new for it to be preferable to wear headphones while playing a portable game, but I can’t think of many where the absence of sound significantly hinders the experience. They’ve taken an experience that’s consumed in close-to-ideal conditions and put it on a console that you might not use in ideal conditions, without making any significant changes during the translation. I’m sure I’ll enjoy Uncharted when I eventually end up playing it, and it may even have subtitle options, but perhaps it’s a little bit of a fish out of water.

A screenshot of Uncharted: Golden Abyss

Getting back to the actual meat of the dish, the graphics are lovely, the soundtrack (or at least what I could hear of it) is lush, and the gunplay seems to work quite well (I played a little sniper section and found it easy to aim accurately). I used the touchscreen to climb up some pipes – controlling with the touchscreen felt pretty fluid and exceeded my expectations. As with Wipeout, the framerate in the demo version I played was appreciably lower than in the console games, but it didn’t really detract from the experience.

LittleBigPlanet

This looked lovely and played very similarly to its console counterparts. The demo only seemed to contain one platforming level, but it was an enjoyable one that introduced all the new interactions. The mechanic of manipulating objects with the front touchscreen worked well and has a lot of potential. Manipulation using the rear touchpad seemed a bit tacked on. I think the touchpad will probably work best in situations where you hold your finger on it and slide it around so that you’re being given constant onscreen feedback on the location of your fingers. In the demo I was jabbing at things and I struggled to co-ordinate my fingers with the objects on screen. The other levels in the demo were little minigames. They were quite clever I suppose, if a bit gimmicky. The game’s shaping up to be more satisfactory than LittleBigPlanet on PSP and it should hopefully develop a healthier community.

A screenshot of LittleBigPlanet for Vita

That’s all for today. Part two, with my impressions on a variety of Vita games and a final conclusion, is coming soon.

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