The Average Gamer

Thoughts on the PS Vita

I attended the PS Vita Rooms event in London the other week. This open day allowed plenty of time to try out the various games and also getting used to the new hardware. That got me thinking about the viability of yet another piece of portable hardware. In this day and age it seems we’re loaded with more and more electrical devices. An average person tends to carry around at least a phone, laptop and occasionally a tablet as well. The Vita is a fantastic piece of kit but it’s another piece of portable hardware in a world where we carry too much as it is.

The PS Vita hardware is not really unique and doesn’t really look that great on paper compared to the newer tablets that are being released. The new Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime, for example, has a much higher hardware specification and can be used for far more than the Vita. Sure the Vita has some nice tricks for being handheld – the back pressure pad is a pretty neat idea and does work well – but things fall down when you look at the actual hardware.

The Vita has a quad core ARM A9 CPU backed up with 512mb ram, however tablets like the Asus Transformer have the Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU and 1Gb ram. Then the really big difference is in terms of GPUs. Inside the Vita is a PowerVR SGX543 MP4, being a 4-core GPU. However, the Tegra 3 is actually a 12-core GeForce GPU. Great. A bunch of numbers but what does it really mean? Well, both are quite capable of producing stunning graphics moving at very high speeds and I really don’t think the Vita can compete on this playing field.

Sony definitely have an ace up their sleeve and that’s the gaming titles waiting to be released. The initial line-up includes the usual suspects: Uncharted, WipEout, Killzone but then there are the new games. Probably the most interesting launch title on the day for me was Escape Plan. This is a simple platform game that plays like Angry Birds for the thinking man. The game is designed around a simple idea of escorting two people (Lil and Laarg) out of the current level. To accomplish this the game uses all the special features of the PS Vita, especially the rear touch panel. I actually found it a great way to learn all the Vita features and get used to them before playing any of the other games Sony had to display.

Still, Sony face two more potential problems besides carrying another device, one being the battery that’s used. It’s not swappable, and only does up to around 5 hours of playtime. That’s fine if you are going to be using it on the Tube but not if you are stuck on a 10+ hour flight around the world. There’s supposed to be a battery pack coming but then that’s yet another large device to attach onto the Vita. An interchangeable battery would have been a lot easier. I guess it’s a sign of the times that the consumer is used to having to charge everything daily.

The next issue is Sony creating yet another custom format for their hardware. You would think after Minidisc, then UMD that Sony would realize that it’s perhaps better to stick with industry-accepted standards. Sure Sony did make Blu-ray, but it’s only a great success due to the heavy acceptance of the PS3. Will the new PS Vita memory card format be used by any other device? Highly unlikely and the price is insane. You will need one, and they start at $29.99 which will probably be translated via the magical cross-Atlantic pricing scheme to £29.99. We’re also unlikely to have any third party manufacturers until a while after launch so Sony have got your wallet there.

Sega re-invented themselves by leaving the console world and are now concentrating on their fantastic selection of game titles. I’m not suggesting that Sony do the same, however it might make more sense if they consolidated and did not try compete in a dead-end business. Having taken over Ericsson completely now, Sony could continue making phones like the Xperia Play.

To me, this makes more sense since it’s a multiuse piece of hardware that you’ll have on you at all times. The next great thing about focusing this way would be the portability of the games themselves. Why limit your target market to just those with a PS Vita, when potentially you could target all ARM v9 based devices running Android? Sure there might be compatibility issues, but a lot of the portable hardware available these days is running almost identical chips internally, with just a cosmetic change on the OS to separate itself from the competitors’ products.

Given the list of titles coming out, and the price point of £225 I still believe the Vita will sell well. With everything said and done it’s not clear who the target audience is, and I think it will mainly be the hardcore gaming crowd. Now I will be buying one, but more because I really liked the original PSP rather than any thoughts about longevity or even really carrying it around with me.

What about you? Planning on getting a Vita when it’s out in Europe during February?