Sony held the Australian launch event for the PlayStation Vita on a wobbly barge on Sydney Harbour last night. After wolfing down burgers and a little wine, I had a quick play with Sony's second attempt to win a decent slice of the handheld gaming market. How did it stack up?
Sony's constant mantra about the Vita is that it is being aimed at the dedicated gamer community, not the casual use market (which is now largely the domain of mobile phone games) or the kids market (which Nintendo has dominated ever since it launched the Gameboy more than two decades ago). That reasoning explains why, as we established in last week's Planhacker, there aren't a whole lot of bundled deals on offer for when the device goes on sale this Thursday.
In this context, it's only fair to point out that I do not fall into the "dedicated gamer" category, either on the go or in my lounge room. I'm not remotely part of the target market for the product, and I can confidently say there is no way I will be buying one any time soon. If I wanted a PlayStation-like gaming device, I'd actually be much more tempted by the Xperia Play Android phone.
The Wi-Fi also kept dying on the unit I was playing with, meaning I couldn't check out the social features. So these are casual observations, not an intensive review. (For that, check out Kotaku's perspective.)
It's more like the PSP than I expected. I've seen plenty of pre-launch pictures, but it wasn't until I held the Vita in my hands that I realised just how like its predecessor, the PSP, it is. In some ways that's inevitable, given the desire to replicate the Sony controller layout, but I can't help wondering if a more distinctive look would have made people less inclined to remember the earlier device.
The screen really is gorgeous. The 5-inch OLED screen looks great, and held up well even in the dodgy boat lighting. It would be a nice video playback device, though bulky if that was the main application you use it with.
Escape Plan is not the game for me. "You have to try Escape Plan — it's awesome!" the demonstrator assured me. Unfortunately, tastes differ. After a couple of screens of this odd touchscreen-based puzzle game, I was completely bored. I don't like touch-interface games at the best of times, and I'd rather take full advantage of the controls on the Vita. It was unfortunately a poor title to steer me towards, since it put me in a bad mood right from the get-go.
The back touchpad isn't that appealing. I also had a crack at Little Deviants, one of the titles which uses the back touchpad to offer an additional control method. Quite aside from the fact that I was rubbish at it, there's an ergonomic issue: there's no obvious comfortable way to hold the device while trying to tap front and back simultaneously. After a few minutes of that, I was very happy to hand it back.
As I've already said, I'm not the target buyer for this device, and the right gaming title might just change my opinion. We'll have to wait until Thursday to see if dedicated gamers are more enthusiastic.
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