New Playstation Vita Owner — First Impressions

Black Friday found another victim.

I normally don’t succumb to the hype surrounding the so-called “biggest shopping day of the year”, but I found a deal I just could not pass up. I had been eyeballing the Playstation Vita since its February release, but I was waiting for a bundle and/or a price drop before taking the plunge. Enter: Amazon.

Normally the Vita Wi-Fi system on its own costs $249.99, but Amazon put together a bundle with more content for a much lower price. For a grand total of $179.99, this bundle came with a white Vita, a 4gb memory card, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, three free months of Playstation Plus (which includes six free Vita games), and a $10 off coupon toward the purchase of the PS3/360 version of Assassin’s Creed III. On its own, this package would cost twice the sale amount, which is just ridiculous. Merry Christmas to me, I suppose.

White Playstation Vita

Since my package arrived last week, I have been trying out everything at my disposal. The system itself is an amazing piece of technology with a slick, stylish design. The five-inch OLED screen is gorgeous, and the ability to use both front and rear touch pads is a nice inclusion. Former PSP owners will love the addition of a second analog stick, which will come in handy with shooting games.

The touch screen interface is simple to navigate and customize, and I have found that the button-based system is much easier to use than the PS3’s XMB menu. Every function is easy to get to and fast to load, and connecting with friends is even smoother than before.

The only real problem I have come across has nothing to do with the system itself; rather, it’s the high price of its memory cards. Rather than use the reasonably priced SDHC cards, Sony opted to make its own line. This wouldn’t be a problem if the damn things weren’t so expensive! Since the Vita has a heavy emphasis on digital distribution, a good-sized memory card is needed to get full value. The biggest size offered, 32 gb, retails for a whopping $99.99. I should be able to get by for now with my two 4gb cards (the second of which was on sale for $9.99), but I can already tell it’s going to be frustrating to swap them out repeatedly.

Onto the games. I have had the chance to play both games the system came with, as well as a handful of those offered for free on Playstation Plus. Here are my quick thoughts on them, based on my limited playing so far:

Assassin's Creed III: Liberation
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation
The only Assassin’s Creed game I have ever played was the first one, and quite frankly it was terrible. What seemed like a cool concept quickly deteriorated into a series of repetitive events — it felt more like work than fun. From what I’ve heard, the series has improved drastically since then, so I was willing to give Liberation a shot. I have played through the first few missions, and so far I’m digging it. The gameplay feels more refined, and I haven’t run into any monotony yet. It’s still early, but I’m feeling much better about this than I ever was with the first game. Also, I really dig the 1780s setting, and it’s pretty cool that the main character can change disguises to complete different tasks.

Gravity Rush
Gravity Rush
This is one of the most intriguing games currently on the Vita, and it’s the one I am enjoying most. Gravity Rush is a slick-looking game with dazzling visuals and a fantastic soundtrack, and the ability to change gravity is a fresh gameplay mechanic that is also very rewarding. Being able to explore the floating town of Hekseville is fun in its own right, but given the ability to fly adds a whole new dimension to it. There’s a very good chance that this will be the first game I finish and review.

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
I’m not a big fan of fighting games, but this collaboration of Sony and third party mascots is quite enjoyable so far. I have been playing as Sly Cooper, but I love the variety in characters available (looking forward to trying out the Big Daddy from BioShock). I have only played through a handful of matches, but I have been dominating. I tried out the online feature and promptly destroyed everyone in the four-player match despite my opponents already being ranked well over level 200. I can’t possibly be that good, right??

Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack
Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack
It’s kind of amazing that this is the fourth highest rated Vita game on Metacritic. After playing through a good chunk of the game, I can see why. The platforming action is fluid, and many of its touch-screen additions work surprisingly well. I also love the sub-levels that make you tilt the Vita to move the blob to the end of the course (a 21st century spin on the wooden Labyrinth puzzle, if you will). While I got this for free thanks to PS+, its regular $7.99 price tag is a steal.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
I have only played through the prologue so far, but this Uncharted looks and feels just like its PS3 brethren. Some of the touch screen controls are a bit ludicrous (i.e. swiping the screen to climb), but thankfully most appear to be optional. I’m looking forward to playing through this in its entirety.

Wipeout 2048
Wipeout 2048
Wipeout HD is one of my favorite PS3 games, so I was excited to play its Vita counterpart. It’s pretty much the same Wipeout I know and love, which is definitely a good thing. My only concern is, what’s up with the excruciatingly long load times? As a digital game, this is inexcusable, especially for a portable system. The racing action is great, but it takes a long time to get there.

Conclusion

The Vita has a lot of momentum right now, especially since Playstation Plus is offering free downloads as part of its Instant Game Collection. Being able to play Uncharted, Gravity Rush and others basically for free is a huge positive, and I can’t wait to see what else the service brings in the future. I am very happy with my purchase so far, even if the upcoming release lineup is a bit thin, and this is easily the best handheld gaming system I have ever played. Now if only Sony would lower the price of those memory cards…

What do you guys think of the Vita? Anyone else out there own one? What are your favorite games for the system?