I won’t even dance around it. I am not your “core” handheld/mobile gamer. And yes, I totally just put both handheld and mobile in the same category, because let’s face it, you play a handheld because it allows you to be mobile. They’re one and the same. Sure, your mileage may vary depending on what side of the fence you sit on, but in essence they both accomplish the same thing.
Do I get satisfaction from launching annoying red birds through the air in hopes that they land on green pigs? Absolutely, but so does my grandma. I’m probably the biggest advocate for phone gaming here on the site, especially after having my eyes opened by Infinity Blade last year. But now, particularly as we approach the launch of the PlayStation Vita, I find myself just yearning for something more.
My day job (outside of the site) gives me access to tons of new and upcoming mobile products and gadgets. I have what seems like an endless stream of toys at my disposal, always looking for the next big thing to enjoy some mobile games on. And while I’ve had some good gaming experiences on both tablets and cell phones alike (fully aware that the eventual takeover is inevitable) neither platform, in my opinion, has yet to hit that killer-app sweet spot.
The thing about dedicated handhelds is that they take familiar characters, storylines, genres, and mechanics and place them in a portable package. This was always the appeal, unfortunately something always seems to get lost in translation along the way. Compromises would always have to be made; whether it was a game’s length, visual fidelity, or overall quality, you rarely (if ever) received a product that can even hold a candle to its console counterpart. And that was always my biggest complaint.
For the first time… well ever, a handheld is going to be released that is almost on-par with its living room console offering. A device so powerful that Sony would pull out its ability to do video out to not hurt the sales of the bigger and not-so-mobile older brother. But they didn’t just set out to create a list of impressive specs.
The first couple of years of the PlayStation 3 was a bit shaky for Sony. The hardware was not just expensive for consumers but also a total nightmare for developers. The PlayStation brand, for the first time in its existence, found itself in the role of the underdog. Crashing down to earth was exactly the wake up call that the hardware giant needed; its from that experience that the lessons were learned that will dictate what needs happens for the company’s next go-around in the handheld market.
With the PlayStation Vita, Sony is making a couple of big statements. The first being that they’ve really changed their stubborn ways. They’ve scrapped the mentality from the Ken Kutaragi era of PlayStation. The one where they’d basically pile up a bunch of over-the-top and not-developer-friendly hardware just for the sake of doing it; you know the same mentality that almost had the PS3 shipping with Dual HDMI in the face of astronomical production and consumer costs, just because they could do it.
Instead, today’s Sony is not just listening but also doing their best to please developers by providing them with the tools necessary to bring great products to market, and most importantly, at lowers costs. The Vita software development kit (SDK) alone is a third of the price that the original PlayStation Portable SDK was at launch. Even the hardware chosen to power their new handheld is based on ARM architecture, a system on a chip design that for the foreseeable future, is the direction that most consumer electronics (cell phones, tablets, laptops, and PCs) will be headed due to the high performance and low power consumption that it allows for. Because of the mass adoption of ARM technology, developers will be available by the boatloads.
The second major statement is realizing that although the PlayStation brand has the ability to stand firmly on its own, it needs to adapt in order to survive in the hurting handheld market, even if that means including more brands and services in the Vita’s offerings.
The original PSP had a few forward-thinking ideas, like a web browser (albeit a terrible one) and the eventual addition of Skype , but the inclusion of native social applications like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and the recently announced Flickr, will be huge, and by keeping its users socially connected will act as the real game changer for Sony this time around. Sure, my phone handles all of these services and does a good job at them but when it comes to gaming, it lacks something we call (in my own Kevin Butler voice) buttons. Dual Analog sticks for the win.
The lack of a compelling alternative is another issue that cannot be ignored. For the 3 months that I owned a Nintendo 3DS, I think I spent more time setting it up, downloading crappy music videos, and cycling through charges than I did actually playing good games that weren’t 13 years old or had “Zelda” in the title. Just like my phones and gadgets, it left me wanting more.
Is the 3DS on the up and up? Sure it is. I sat in the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles during E3 as Nintendo outlined their big titles that would see release for the platform but unfortunately, I’m not the going to be the one to wait around until it they all get here. I’m not saying I outgrew portly plumbers and karts, its just that it’s not going to be enough anymore and my patience is wearing thin.
After spending more and more time with the PlayStation Vita for the past couple of months and seeing the different ideas and things that developers are doing with it, the picture is getting more and more clear (you can Also read Giuseppe’s hands-on preview here). When you see the people that are creating the software for the device get genuinely excited about the hardware, it speaks volumes, and acts as a testament of what we can and should expect. Following the not-so-smooth launch of the 3DS (although press releases preach otherwise) it’s quite clear that The Vita being a success is not just an absolute must for Sony, but for handhelds in general. This could be the last hurrah for dedicated handheld/mobile gaming hardware as the button-less phone gaming apocalypse quickly approaches.
The PlayStation Vita is the handheld system that gaming deserves and the one that it needs right now.