The offices of Allure Media overflowed with review PlayStation Vita units this morning. Naturally, all productive activity ground to a halt. But can Sony’s handheld saviour live up to our expectations? Mark (Kotaku) and Angus (Lifehacker) dive in . . .
MARK: Well, it's here. And it looks pretty slick. I pulled my Vita out of the box and, really, the first things I wanted to do was hold the device in my hand because — more than any other handheld/phone/tablet on the market — the Vita is a 'lust' item. The kind of device you want to own. It's like an expensive piece of jewellery.
So I clutched at it for a while, cradled it in my arms like Paris Hilton with a shitzu, and then went to put the whole thing together as it were.
Because, sweet lord, it felt as though there was a lot to put together!
My first impression of the Vita is that it comes with a lot of stuff. Mines had a SIM card, a memory card, Augmented Reality cards, and then the games themselves — actually finding where the hell I was supposed to put all these cards was half the battle.
I honestly did spend a good 10 minutes working out where the memory card went. I'm still not sure where I'm supposed to put the SIM card (oops, found it!)
To be perfectly honest, this is not the experience I'm used to with a handheld console.
ANGUS: I do feel duty-bound to point out that at no stage did Mark actually read the manual before attempting insertion. But his general point holds: there’s a lot of gear to handle (even for people like me who didn’t get the 3G version. But hey, I’m not complaining; someone sent me a free console!)
I offered up my launch impressions of the Vita on Lifehacker yesterday, but having one to play with does offer a big potential advantage: I can test all the networking and social stuff that was a total non-starter on the launch boat. I've also got six games to try out, though it should tell you something that the one I suspect I will enjoy the most is ModNation Racers Roadtrip. But first of all I will also need to install the memory card. Curse. Grunt. How's it going back on the Kotaku desk?
MARK: Well, it's definitely going. The interesting thing to me, to begin with, is that it really feels like an Next Generation Portable. Sony's initial code name was an accurate one. On all fronts it really feels like a last stand for handheld consoles.
And like all last stands, the PlayStation Vita is throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the hooded spectre that is the mobile phone. Touch screens on both sides, more cameras than I can count, 3G, Wi-Fi, Augmented Reality, games, online networks . . . . man — the list literally does go on and on.
In that sense the Vita feels, to me at least, like a bit of a Frankenstein's monster of a device. It seems to have taken the PlayStation 3's current slogan 'it only does everything' and ran with it. Big time.
But what's really surprising is that, despite its massive feature cluster, the PlayStation Vita really feels like an ergonomically= designed device. It looks like something you'd pay a lot of money for. It feels like something you'd pay a lot of money for. And this is probably why Sony expect consumers to pay a lot of money for it!
ANGUS: I totally dispute that it's ergonomic. Attractive, possibly. Ergonomic? Not in a million years. I'll repeat one of my earlier whines: There’s no way to comfortably hold this baby for games that expect you to use both the touch screen and the back touchpad. Certainly not with my surprisingly dainty hands.
But actually, I'm getting ahead of myself there, because the Vita on my desk has a bigger problem right now: it refuses to connect to Wi-Fi properly. When this happened on the boat, I figured it was down to the non-optimal environment (crowds, journalists, alcohol, too many devices on one shitty wireless network). But it’s not doing any better with the office network; it can see the network and claims it is connected, but then everything collapses in a welter of annoying messages about DNS I won’t bore you with here.
Trying to fix that problem also made me aware that the user interface for the Vita is, bluntly, not very good. It’s an unfortunate mix of diagonal swiping, button pushing and scrolling that isn't very consistent, doesn’t make much sense and certainly wouldn’t encourage me to spend time on the device outside a gaming context. The wireless issue will probably have to wait until I'm on a different network, but that means all I’m going to be able to do today is play the handful of games that came with it. Which I guess is still ultimately the main point. Prepare for some balls-achingly low scores.
MARK: Yeah, I'm having the same problem with the network set up as well, and network set ups really is your area of expertise, so if you're struggling to set it up, what hope do idiots like me have?
Re: the touch screen situation — I'd probably argue that very few games will force players to use both screens simultaneously, unless games start using some sort of pinch mechanic, so I'm sort of fine with it for now.
Really the back touch screen is the one I'm most interested in — particularly when it comes to games. The idea of a simple intuitive touch experience that doesn't leave dirty fingerprints on my screen, or obscure my vision intrigues me. I had a quick demo of LittleBigPlanet on the PSVita a while back, and that made some pretty nifty uses of the back screen. I'm hoping to see more of that stuff.
Concerning the device itself — one thing that surprised me, was my lack of surprise.
Maybe surprise is the wrong word, but I'll never forget the first time I held a PSP in my hands, at home. At the time it felt as though going back to my DS simply wasn't an option — super high fidelity, super hi-res screen, the sheer size and visual splendour of the original PSP had my retinas doing the moonwalk.
I expected a similar reaction to the PS Vita and the OLED screen, but I'm just not as blown away as I thought I would be. Maybe that's an unfair reaction — I suspect most will be blown away by the PS Vita — but after turning it on and spending a good portion of the last hour messing around with games on the device, it just hasn't had the WOW effect I was hoping for.
Vague, I know, but that slight disappointment is tangible for me.
ANGUS: I hadn't thought of the fingerprints angle. My chief problem with the back touch screen is that if you’re a total gametard like me, it’s very hard to use. I just tried the first level of Little Deviants, where you have to deform the landscape to move the protagonist. I'm absolutely hopeless at it, and now I want to kill myself. Or eat a hamburger. But I certainly don't want to play the game anymore.