by Lori Cunningham
My very first impression of the PlayStation PS Vita, Sony’s new handheld gaming system, was formed when I visited PlayStation’s headquarters back in November 2011. As a member of the PlayStation Family ambassador team, I had the opportunity to see the PS Vita before it hit the streets in February of this year. The first thing that struck me was it’s weight. It’s definitely larger and heartier than a Nintendo DS or DS3. And I will say it’s heavier, but not by much.
The second thing I noticed was that once turned on, the graphics were stunning and very clear. I would say they are definitely high-definition quality. I also got to briefly play a game where you shoot at things but the backdrop of the game is the room you’re in – the camera is actually on allowing you to shoot at things that seem as if they are in the room with you. Pretty clever.
I next saw the PS Vita at the MomsLA PS Vita launch party I went to at the Vita Hill Social Club, a temporary location, down in Santa Monica. They had all sorts of games to play, but quite frankly, trying to get ahold of a PS Vita was tough with all of our kids vying for them first. My 9-year-old daughter went to the party with me and she had fun playing the games, though most of them were suited for older children I noticed.
The PS Vita Arrives to My Doorstep
Finally, I have been able to spend a couple of days with the PS Vita, as Sony sent me a review unit to try out myself, as a PlayStation Family member. How exciting! I could not wait for the box to arrive. Although I have a lot more playing to do before I can give you my full take on the PS Vita, I wanted to give you my initial thoughts before…well quite frankly…they are long gone!
The first two screenshots above show the main menu of the PS Vita. As you get more games and apps, you can scroll down to more screens. As you can see, Facebook and FourSquare are available for the PS Vita. I downloaded both of them as well as LiveTweet and Netflix for free from their PlayStation Store. PlayStation is still building up their App library but they currently have around 8 apps available. Another one you might be interested in is Flicker…if you have an account.
As you begin to open more apps, games, and areas (settings/PS Store/etc.), you can click on the PS button to get this screen which shows you all the windows you have open. Clicking on the tab you’re interested in will take you to its screen. Obviously, the PS Vita is pretty good at multi-tasking. Yet, it’s smart about it too. For instance, when I play Little Deviants then decide to open another game, like ModNation Racers, a message pops up telling me that it needs to first close Little Deviants and asks for permission. I like that. Good memory management.
I have to say, I’ve never seen a gaming device or controller that has so many buttons and ways to play games. It has the following controls:
- touch screen
- six axis motion sensor
- rear touch controls
- dual analog sticks
- crossbow directional arrow control
- X, O, square, triangle buttons
- shooter buttons on the top left and right
To help players learn better how to use the controllers, PlayStation created Welcome Park which has 5 games that use the camera and or touch screens. These games get you used to using the camera, using the touchscreen and learning you can use two fingers for better control, and getting used to using the back of the PS Vita to manipulate the screen on the front of the PS Vita. My six-year-old son liked these games, they were more geared to his age level.
Here’s a Welcome Park game where you take a picture, choose you difficulty, and the PS Vita scrambles your picture and you need to slide the pieces around to put it back together again. It’s a fun game to play and it’s fun because it’s personalized.
Here’s the Little Deviants game I referred to earlier. It’s probably hard to tell, but behind the rockets and by blaster you can see a part of my office. The camera is live so you can see your room behind all the shooting activity. Because the aliens you are targeting move around so much you need to move your PS Vita to follow them. So it really does seem as if they are in your room with you. I tell you more about Little Deviants when I review it at another time.
A Mom’s Perspective
Overall the PS Vita is the best handheld gaming system I’ve ever seen. The 5″ OLED touchscreen is stunning and the numerous controls and use of camera is ingenious. Now you might think it has too many controls, but to our children, they will pick them up easy enough. The PS Vita is the closest I’ve seen to having a true gaming console in the palm of your hands. The graphics and gameplay is on par with the PS3. Because the PS Vita is modeled after a full-size gaming console, it is similar in other qualities as well. For example, besides Welcome Park, the PS Vita does not have any games on it. So be prepared if you buy one for a gift, you’ll need to purchase a few games along with it. This is the same as if you buy a full-size console.
Also, just like full-size consoles, particularly the PS3 and Xbox, you are required to have an account that you sign up for and play under. This helps you by saving data about your games and skill level. The same is true for the PS Vita. You need to sign up (or sign-in) for your PlayStation handle name. To get started, you need to ensure you logged in via Wi-Fi or the AT&T network.
I was disappointed to see that Sony uses a proprietary plug to charge the PS Vita. You need to use their cord when you charge your device. I love the flexibility I have with my micro USB phone cord, I can use the same cord to charge up all sorts of devices, but it will not work for the PS Vita. If you forget or lose your PS Vita cord, you’re out of luck – no swapping of cords will work. Using proprietary cords/formats/batteries is a tactic Sony has always pursued, and it’s not at all convenient for the consumer. I will add, however, that they have finally embraced the SD memory card which is a huge convenience for consumers. In the past, Sony used only Memory Sticks, their own version of memory which meant they had the monopoly on the Memory Stick card, making price-comparison shopping non-existent. Now you can easily add more memory or swap your memory SD cards from your other devices too, so Sony is making strides in this approach.
With regards to navigation, I have found it pretty intuitive to move around and find the areas I need to get to. Granted, I’m tech minded, but I really have had little trouble. Over the next several months I’ll have my kids play with it more to see if they have any issues. The PS Vita Wi-Fi version sells for $249. The 3G/Wi-Fi version sells for $299.