“Growing Pains”: How the PlayStation Vita could impress us

Alaric discusses why he’s interested, but also why he’s not buying just yet. It was the second or third entry on this Industry Blog, I think, when I confessed to buying a Nintendo 3DS and enjoying it in spite of my inclination towards Sony’s more […]
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Alaric discusses why he’s interested, but also why he’s not buying just yet.

It was the second or third entry on this Industry Blog, I think, when I confessed to buying a Nintendo 3DS and enjoying it in spite of my inclination towards Sony’s more adult-oriented PlayStation Vita.

At the time the PlayStation Vita was grossly overpriced and sported very few unique games of note. Then it had the crucial shot in the arm which saw consumer interest rocket sharply upwards, namely Sony CEO Jack Tretton’s announcement that Electronic Theatre Imageit would be the PlayStation 4′s “ultimate companion device”. Once that news broke a lot of things started to make a strange kind of sense.

Gaikai’s streaming tech, for one. Streaming games from the PlayStation 3 is a laborious and fractured experience. That’s probably because the PlayStation Vita was never designed to work in tandem with the PlayStation 3; that functionality was just sort of tacked on as an initial point of ‘cleverness’ and consumers weren’t all that impressed by it. But the PlayStation 4′s core functions, specifically its wireless capabilities, have clearly been designed to incorporate the PlayStation Vita – to the extent that you could have your PlayStation 4 in one room while you stream its games through the PlayStation Vita in another.

What also makes sense is the hard run Sony has been making at smaller games developers. Since before E3 Sony have stated their unequivocal support for the independent games sector, going so far as to have Jonathon Blow present his next title The Witness at their initial PlayStation 4 announcement, and they have continued this support by releasing more and more indie titles compatible with the PlayStation Vita.

Sony’s latest portable gaming device was viewed by many as a tentative and misguided step towards competition with the mobile and tablet markets. With all the indie support Sony are pulling towards the PlayStation 4, the PlayStation Vita can only benefit from this as its companion. It could make a very strong contender indeed, not just because it offers indie dev teams the chance to design different kinds of games with its multiple control methods, but also because it presents them on a platform where they don’t just vanish into the ether.

The PlayStation Vita is highly desirable for having something the PlayStation 4 does not:  backwards compatibility, of sorts. As long as you can download a game from the PlayStation Network you are able to play it on the Vita; PSP games, PS One classics, PS Minis, and PS Mobile games are all compatible. In addition to all ofElectronic Theatre Image this Sony announced a much needed price cut, encouraging the machines audience to grow and thrive before the PlayStation 4 release later this year.

So, this is all good news, right? We can finally breathe a sigh of relief for Sony’s handheld device and consider it a worthwhile investment… or can we?

The initial problems with the PlayStation Vita were big turn-offs to consumers and developers both, and for a time the machine dwindled in a self-made no man’s land.  Now, having pumped a sizeable amount of publicity and investment into it, Sony has other problems to tackle before us non-believers find the faith to put our pennies on the counter.

As much as we might applaud the expanding catalogue of indie titles available to download on the PlayStation Vita and Sony’s desire to see many more, a major concern is the lack of unique premium titles. How many games would we actually buy a PlayStation Vita for? The only one I’m interested in is Media Molecule’s Tearaway and that’s about it. Assuming that all or most indie titles will be compatible with the PlayStation 4, why should we buy a PlayStation Vita when the PlayStation 4 will most assuredly have the best in indie and premium gaming?

Don’t get me wrong, the tech is highly appealing. I can see the appeal for gamers who live with their families, who might want to play on their PlayStation 4 and can’t because the kids, siblings, or whoever, are watching TV or otherwise mucking around. The Gaikai streaming capabilities will come in very handy under such circumstances, of that I have no doubt, but for someone who doesn’t have those obstacles it’s hardly a major selling point.

There is a glaring bullet wound in Sony’s foot which they have yet to address: the price of PlayStation Vita memory cards.

Considering that the PlayStation Vita encourages users to download as much as possible from PSN, from games to films and music, you might think it came with a good amount of memory storage. You’d be wrong. Buying a PlayStation Vita without a decent sized memory card gives you what’s essentially a very expensive lump of plastic and realistically you’ll need atElectronic Theatre Image least a 16GB card to go with it. That 16GB requirement could easily go up when the online content really starts to roll. If you download a big title like Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation you’re already down a couple of gigabytes. Think of a slew of indie titles, your music, game demos, and DLC… Yeah, the lack of internal memory storage on the PlayStation Vita is going to become a problem.

The prices you’re currently being asked to pay for the required memory storage are outlandish, to say the least. For 32GB you pay about £65.00 GBP, for 16GB you pay around £25.00, and for memory cards of 4GB to 8GB you can cut that down to £10.00 and £15.00 respectively. By way of comparison, you can buy a 32GB memory card for a Nintendo 3DS at just over £20.00.

If it was possible to construct a middle finger out of the Pyrenees mountain range, make the Himalayas into knuckles, and put Mt. Kilimanjaro on top of it as a grubby snow-capped fingernail, that middle finger still wouldn’t be big enough to counter the one Sony has given their fan base with this proprietary nonsense.

I’m not kicking down the PlayStation Vita just because I don’t currently want to own one. It’s a great system and I stand by the sentiment that it has a lot of untapped potential, but Sony still has some way to go before I can honestly say that I’m ready to take the plunge and buy the bloody thing. The hope is that once the PlayStation Vita puts these growing pains behind it what emerges can outshine the hellish, zit-riddled puberty that came beforehand.

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