Games

Why the PS Vita still matters in 2015

Why the PS Vita still matters ...
It's easy to write off the PS Vita as a console without an ecosystem, but cloud gaming and remote streaming turn it into the most versatile console we've ever seen
It's easy to write off the PS Vita as a console without an ecosystem, but cloud gaming and remote streaming turn it into the most versatile console we've ever seen
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Sony's PS Now streaming service lets you play titles like The Last of Us (pictured) on your Vita
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Sony's PS Now streaming service lets you play titles like The Last of Us (pictured) on your Vita
The PS Vita Slim is thinner, with longer battery life, than the original Vita – though its IPS screen isn't quite as rich visually as the original's AMOLED
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The PS Vita Slim is thinner, with longer battery life, than the original Vita – though its IPS screen isn't quite as rich visually as the original's AMOLED
There are still handful (or so) of great native Vita games, like LittleBigPlanet
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There are still handful (or so) of great native Vita games, like LittleBigPlanet
Some of the hand gymnastics required to play PS3 or PS4 games that rely heavily on L2/R2 or L3/R3 buttons
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Some of the hand gymnastics required to play PS3 or PS4 games that rely heavily on L2/R2 or L3/R3 buttons
It's easy to write off the PS Vita as a console without an ecosystem, but cloud gaming and remote streaming turn it into the most versatile console we've ever seen
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It's easy to write off the PS Vita as a console without an ecosystem, but cloud gaming and remote streaming turn it into the most versatile console we've ever seen
The PS Vita costs $200
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The PS Vita costs $200

The PS Vita never came close to fulfilling its massive potential, and with scant attention to the portable at this year's E3, it looks like Sony has all but given up on it as the system it was originally meant to be. But that doesn't necessarily mean it isn't still worth a look – as Sony has succeeded (with some asterisks attached) at reinventing the Vita as a modern streaming console.

To say the Vita has been a big commercial dud would be an understatement. It launched right as smartphones and tablets – and the countless "free" mobile games that they run – were skyrocketing in popularity and ubiquity. And while Nintendo has somehow managed to carve out a big place for the 3DS in today's climate, Sony had no such luck with the Vita.

That doesn't just affect Sony's bottom line; it has also had a damning effect on the Vita's gaming ecosystem. Though the Vita is still a great place to find new indie titles, development of AAA fare for the Vita, which was never great in the first place, has screeched to a halt. Considering the high hopes many of us had for the Vita when it arrived, it's been hard to watch serious portable gaming – pay US$30 or so to get a full, real game with the physical controls it deserves – losing out to the casual, freemium, endless in-app-purchase-dominated fare that populates mobile app stores.

Ideally, there would be a place for both, but the masses have spoken. And, by a landslide, they appear to prefer a casual or touch-only gaming experience on the devices they already own, rather than a console-like, pay-once-for-a-full-game experience that the Vita can provide. Thanks for the memories, Vita. It was a slice.

There are still handful (or so) of great native Vita games, like LittleBigPlanet
There are still handful (or so) of great native Vita games, like LittleBigPlanet

But what if the Vita could be something more than a failed PSP successor? What if it could pair with Sony's market-leading PS4 and a streaming back-catalog of PS3 games to push portable gaming into the future?

If you can put up with a few compromises, that's exactly what the PS Vita is today. And, at its best, it's pretty awesome.

If you own a PS4, then the Vita basically turns it into Sony's answer to the Wii U. There's technically a second-screen element, where the Vita can show an in-game map (or something along those lines) for playing on your PS4, but that's been used so little by developers that it's barely worth mentioning. The real star of the show is PS4 Remote Play. As long as you have a good Wi-Fi connection, the Vita transforms into a handheld gateway to your home console.

The PS Vita Slim is thinner, with longer battery life, than the original Vita – though its IPS screen isn't quite as rich visually as the original's AMOLED
The PS Vita Slim is thinner, with longer battery life, than the original Vita – though its IPS screen isn't quite as rich visually as the original's AMOLED

In our experience, Vita Remote Play is one of the coolest recent innovations in gaming. You can use it both at home, when someone else is on the TV (or when you simply want to game in another room) or even while you're away from home – provided your home end has good upload speeds and your receiving end has good download speeds.

Vita Remote Play lets you "bring" your PS4 with you everywhere you go, without lugging around the actual console. Even if where you go is hundreds of miles away.

The other big change that transforms the Vita into a next-gen cloud-based console is PlayStation Now. PS Now is Sony's answer to backwards compatibility on the PS4 – allowing you to stream select PS3 titles onto your current-gen console. But it also works on the Vita.

Sony's PS Now streaming service lets you play titles like The Last of Us (pictured) on your Vita
Sony's PS Now streaming service lets you play titles like The Last of Us (pictured) on your Vita

That means you can play PS3 classics like The Last of Us (above), the first three Uncharted games, Infamous 1 and 2, Batman: Arkham City, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and many more – all on your Vita.

And most of those are included in PS Now's (Netflix-like) all-access subscription portion, which lets you play all you want for $20 per month. The Vita technically doesn't support the subscription part yet, but as long as you have a PS4 to sign up on, you can then use your active subscription on the Vita.

Like PS4 Remote Play, PS Now streaming worked great on our Wi-Fi. Unless you have network problems, it's as if all these terrific games live on your handheld.

Some of the hand gymnastics required to play PS3 or PS4 games that rely heavily on L2/R2 or L3/R3 buttons
Some of the hand gymnastics required to play PS3 or PS4 games that rely heavily on L2/R2 or L3/R3 buttons

The biggest problem with PS Now and Remote Play is that the Vita doesn't have all the controls that the PS3/4 Dualshock controllers do. So you end up having to use the front or back touchscreens to replace the L2/R2 and L3/R3 buttons, which can lead to some awkward (in some cases, uncomfortable) hand contortions – like you see above.

Many games don't rely much on those buttons, and in those cases it isn't an issue at all. But for titles where things like shooting or driving acceleration are mapped to the Dualshock's back triggers, there's going to be a period of adjustment for learning to use that back touchscreen on the Vita.

On the whole, it's somewhat annoying, but workable. We've been enjoying Batman: Arkham Knight and The Last of Us on the Vita, both of which use those buttons for some key actions. But if you don't already own a Vita, you may want to play with a store's display model, and see how it feels reaching your middle and ring fingers around to the four corners of that back touchscreen, before investing in the portable.

(PS3 games through PS Now can map those buttons to the front touchscreen instead, which may be easier than the back ... but PS4 Remote Play only lets you map the buttons to the back, since the Vita's touchscreen is reserved for mirroring the Dualshock 4 touchpad)

The PS Vita costs $200
The PS Vita costs $200

If not for that one compromise, we'd be urging every PS4 gamer we know to run out and buy a Vita. We still think Remote Play and PS Now can make for a great setup – awkward control mapping and all – but it certainly isn't for everyone. Ideally, Sony will see the potential here and make a new version of the Vita with physical controls that perfectly match the Dualshock's.

While the Vita is seen as something of a commercial turkey, you might want to think twice before opting for a 3DS or the smartphone you already have for mobile gaming. When you add up the Vita's native titles (a small group, but one that does include a few great games), digital versions of PSP games, PS4 Remote Play and PS3 game streaming through PS Now … it's probably the most versatile gaming console we've ever seen – and perhaps a glimpse of what gaming will look like down the road.

There are much worse ways to spend $200.

Product page: Sony

9 comments
Daishi
Something I wish more people would have embraced is a simple solution like GameKlip. It's a really simple concept in that it's pretty much just a mounting bracket for the PS3 controller that allows you to attach an Android phone to the top. You can use bluetooth to connect if your phone is rooted and usb if it's not. Considering most people own a controller and a phone it only costs about $20 for the clip to combine them. I would love to see Sony just embrace something like this through an official product. $9 dashboard cellphone holders are pretty universal too and the design could be borrowed for a premium version of the gameklip. It would be extremely simple for Sony to adopt something like this and it would take cell phone gaming to the next level with a solid physical controller. Sony could position themselves as the de-facto controller for this and it would bring them a presence in mobile gaming. I think it's a big opportunity they are mostly blowing.
JweenyPwee
I'll admit. I've been waiting for the Vita to be fully "hacked" before I buy one. It would be one of the best portable emulation devices ever. PSP is the current all-around best, but chugs on some 16-bit.
MichaelCoralluzzo
Vita has tons of games (not just indies) that blow 3ds out of the water. There is a lot of sleeper jems on the system. Remote play and PS now are cool and all, but the Vita can stand on its own legs. Without Sony 1st party AAA titles. Articles like this and the countless others damning the Vita from birth are to blame as much as memory card prices for the lack of market success. First is was the AAA titles weren't truly as good as the console counterparts. Now it's the misconception that there aren't any games. Look on metacritic and count the number of games. Then consider the fact that Sony said at E3 that over 100 games are still yet to be released before January 1st. I've got 2 Vitas and around 50 Vita games. Best bang for your gaming buck.
AnthonyRaymondWatt
Great article, especially like the damning commentary on mobile gaming. There may be thousands more games on iOS / android but I'd argue the number of titles worth playing is similar. I'd also argue that the indies, Japanese titles and smattering of western released keep the vita in the game. Three years in and I play it more than PS4, 100+ games and counting:-)
AnthonyRaymondWatt
Amazing system, plenty of titles out and coming.
David Foggia
Good article. I think sony is going to make a push for the vita in a couple years. As of now though, it still has some great games and PS plus free games and PS vita go great together. Rarely buy games for it because of tge two free games every month But I really think sony needs to do one more complete showing of the vita at an E3 in the near future and announce some new titles. Give it one more chance
zekepliskin
I'll tell you what Sony hasn't all but given up on as regards the Vita - DRM. Every time homebrew developers find a loophole in order to do something useful like native hardware level emulation of old consoles (the SNES being one of the more popular) they find and plug the hole. Perhaps if they were this quick to bring more blockbuster first-party titles to the system a) this would be less of a problem and b) they'd be shifting more handhelds and more Vita TVs. There's plenty to shout about on the PS Vita - a nice resistive touchscreen, full controls with nearly as many buttons as the current eighth gen consoles, a small but pretty impressive bunch of triple A titles already including some hits from previous generations (Metal Gear Solid/God Of War HD collections) and as mentioned the ability to really open up what the device can do via Remote Play and PS Now. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to have actual physical versions of other hits like GTA5 and Watch Dogs would it? Because not everywhere has great WiFi and things like that would shift more units too. If the lack of backward compatibility between PS3/PS4 and Xbox 360/Xbox One taught us anything, it's that people will buy things twice if they really like them. Now normally I'd object to this, but if they started bundling a PS Vita copy of a game with the regular PS4 version for only a little more - say an extra £10 or $15 - with saves easily transferrable between both versions - you could really capitalise on cross-platform gaming and offer something Microsoft can't do (because they don't have a handheld Xbox... yet) and Nintendo can't do (because even the newer 3DS consoles are laughably underpowered). Start a game on your PS4 which saves to the cloud, then go camping with your Vita and the companion copy of the title. Next time you hit a WiFi hotspot the PSN cloud automatically syncs your game, even if it's a week later. Roll up at home, continue your game on the PS4 exactly where you left off, trophies and all. Just be careful not to have both on at once, obviously - there could be safeguards built in to detect dual signins and disable saves, not difficult. People will buy a game twice on different platforms. People will pay for a season pass on top of an already expensive game. Why not throw them a bone, meet them halfway and offer the same game running on your handheld and your home console as an all-access pass for just a tiny bit more on the top, all in one shiny package? Sounds like a good business model to me. Could work if they made it appealing in just the right way that would work for the hardcore gamers. It has worked before, minus the cloud facility by the way - Sumo Digital released OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast on Xbox, PS2 & PSP. If you own both the latter titles the saves are transferrable near-seamlessly by USB back and forth from one to the other as much as you want, and this is on hardware from 2000 and 2004 respectively. More powerful hardware these days, and rescaling textures etc from a triple A PS4 title to the PS Vita not that hard to do. Even if it was just on platinum re-release stuff: for example, don't just give us a Batman: Arkham Knight [Game Of The Year Edition] or inFAMOUS: Second Son [Remastered], give us that with a perfectly ported PS Vita copy too as part of the package. Any title that does a grand slam and gets a re-release, give it a new home on the PS Vita as well. Touchscreen only devices like smartphones will never rival a proper set of controls on a screen dedicated to gaming. I can't even play Tetris without physical buttons, personally. With the exception of the odd device like the now-aging Xperia Play, the PS Vita has a lot of advantages others just don't, but could use even more to stay ahead of the smartphone casual crowd. Remote Play and PS Now could be just the start. Listen up, Sony. Get on with it. The first three years were a bit weak, but the next three could make the PS Vita count - it might never reach the heights of the original PSP but you could at least try. Otherwise the clever engineers and programmers who built this thing were just wasting their time. That's my rather wordy, ambitious opinion anyway. :-D
ThomasFalco
Ps plus 2 free games a month arnt free.... if you stop your plus subscription you loose the games....
DelaCruzNoel
Obviously PS Vita still matters today because it doesn't force you to spend money just to reach the next level. Can you even play FFX hd on your smartphone? Dream on. How abouy Freedom Wars? Yeah right. How about this JRPG series called Atelier? Can you even find an alternative in smartphone? Oh yes Potion Maker!