So the Playstation Vita has launched in North America. As I write this, they are trickling into the hands of consumers. I feel as though we should mention a console launch to some degree here at NODJ, but alas I just can't conjure up the excitement that usually goes with the release of new gaming hardware. Instead of excitement there is a overbearing feeling of dread. Then again this wouldn't be the first time my apathy has been no indication (in fact many times it has had inverse effects) of how well a console will do. But as it stands right now, the big question circling around the PSV is simply: Why?
Being in the gaming industry, and working for a company that has excelled in the hand held market, I was fortunate enough to get to see the PSV before its commercial release. No bones about it, the Vita is a nice piece of hardware. Every check-box for what the PSP needed has been addressed and then some. No slow refresh rate on the screen, two analog sticks, UMD drive taken away. Everything seems to be going in the right direction until you stop and look at why the PSP didn't set the world afire, and realize that none of these were the reasons.
Many have made the argument that the PSP had no games. Games sell hardware. Yeah sure... maybe. I would have agreed with you, pre-Wii. The thing is, the PSP had quite a lineup of great games. Metal Gears, GTAs, Tekkens, God of Wars, Gran Turismos, classic favorites from PS1, new IPs like Patapon, and a Final Fantasy fighting game! PSP had its share of big games (and I'm not even throwing in the off-shore hit Monster Hunter). As we look at the PSV launch line-up, it has to be one of the strongest in a good long time. Lots of the Playstation classics return, and with an eye-meltingly beautiful Uncharted game to convert the non-believers, it's hard to say there is nothing to play on this thing. Looking forward, there seems to be a robust catalog of titles lined up. So the PSV is looking to be as good as, if not better, than the PSP in the games department.
It's a looker. Almost as good as the console Uncharted....wherein lies the problem.
The PSP was a pricey piece of kit when it came out. At $300 it was as much as a PS2 and still needed memory sticks and other accessories to work on top of that. But I don't look at price too much anymore as a deterrent either. While gaming consoles may pick up more sales with price drops, there are still a large amount of the population that are willing drop big cash, on a yearly basis, to keep up with the latest "cool" gadget. Unfortunately, the PSP never broke into that sweet spot of mass appeal "coolness", and was stuck trying to act as multi-use device that played games, while the DS soaked up the younger market who wanted to "catch them all", and didn't need streaming music, and remote play. Here we have the PSV, again going for the multi-function "cool" device crowd. This time there are even more "cool" functions: digital downloads, 3G, touch screen, cameras, the list goes on. But being multi-faceted didn't work for the PSP, and that was BEFORE smart phones were everywhere. Handhelds just can't break into the "cool" spot that seems reserved for tablets and iPods, both of which are actually less versatile devices than the PSV.
I don't even want to talk about the fight the VITA will have against the smart phone. I won't insult your intelligence by spoon feeding you why Sony has an uphill battle there.
Long story short: fffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff
So basically what Sony has done is make a much, much, much better PSP. Unfortunately what they haven't done is ask what do we want out of a PSP? They always said (just look at the name) that the Playstation Portable was meant to offer the Playstation experience in the palm of your hands. What I never quite think they understood was that that is impossible to do. The Playstation experience is sitting on a couch, spending your hours of free time, dedicated to the immersion and relaxation that a console game brings you in the comfort of your own home, with friends, or alone. Why would someone want to water that down just for the ability to play on the go? The people who love the home console experience (myself included) never thought "man this sure is great, now if only I could scale it down, put it in my hands, and play it on a tiny screen with headphones on." Sony essentially created a goal for the system that by definition is unattainable.
So with the Vita we just have a repeat performance. If PSP brought the PS2 to our hands, the PSV brings PS3 to our hands. Sadly we wanted neither. Sony should be marketing to the people with no concept or expectations of a console experience. As much as I hate to say it, they are spending too much time and money on a few good big budget games, that try and ape the PS3 experience. They should just carpet bomb this thing with smaller non-games, and retro games. Basically make it a portable MAME machine so that any of the A.D.D. riddled target audience can just jump around, play their favorite mobile games, some new Vita "minis" type games and update their Facebook status. All on a machine that offers dual analog stick control, gorgeous screen, and double touch pads. In time, if that audience slowly began to appreciate the gamier games, then up-sell into the Playstation 3 experience, instead of taking the PS3 audience and trying to sell us down into a PSV experience. It's worked for Nintendo, although I am still doubtful that the Wii turned people on to gaming.
Mobile games seem to cater to people who want to go backwards, not forwards, upwards not forwards, and always twirling, twirling, twirling.
For what it's worth, I applaud Sony for catering to the more devoted gaming population with the PSV. It takes some balls (or stupidity) to say that you will offer a PS3 experience on the go. Sadly I think the need for a portable system that captures the console experience is like the need for a movie that captures the roller coaster experience. There is a small group of people who would watch that movie. Time will tell, and I've been wrong more than right lately. I really hope the PSV does well, but I will not be buying one anytime soon. How about you reader/s?