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?

Video Game Review: Crash Team Racing [Playstation, 1999]

Crash Team Racing [Playstation, 1999]

Crash Team Racing
System: Playstation
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: October 20, 1999

Back in 1999, Crash Bandicoot was still reigning supreme as the Playstation’s mascot. Looking to branch out from the series’ standard platforming games, developer Naughty Dog released Crash Team Racing, a kart racing spinoff very similar to Mario Kart. If you have played a kart racing game before, then you have a good idea of what to expect with CTR. The controls are largely the same and are very simple — the buttons for accelerating, using powerups and the “hop” function are all you really need to know (power sliding is key). The powerups are standard fare — there are speed boosts, rockets that take out the leader, TNT boxes that are dropped immediately behind you, etc. There really is not a lot in the way of originality, but this is not an issue simply because CTR is so well-polished. Naughty Dog took the best elements of previous games in the genre and molded them together to make something that truly stands out on its own.

When I think of kart racing games, I immediately think of multiplayer. Playing split-screen with friends is usually the best way to go with these types of games, and while CTR offers plenty of fun via its battle and versus modes, it really excels in its single player adventure mode. This feature has an absurd amount of depth. You select a character from the world of Crash Bandicoot (Coco, Neo Cortex, Tiny, etc.) and then proceed to race in a variety of worlds while battling bosses along the way. You are given free reign in an open world in which you drive to whatever race you want to participate in. Once you have completed a course’s standard race, new options open up that bring additional replay value to the game: Relic Races and CTR Challenges. The former option requires you to race the track alone in the fastest time possible while smashing crates that temporarily stop time. The latter option puts you in a standard race, but your goal is to find the hidden C-T-R letters while still finishing in first place. Beating all three styles of races for each course provides you with gems/emblems that open up more levels. It really is a lot of fun going through each course while trying to get 100% completion.

Although the graphics shows its age, CTR is still one of the better-looking games from its era. Its kart racing formula is timeless, and even though it is not original in the slightest, it is still a blast to play. In fact, CTR is one of the most well-rounded kart racers I have ever played. I liked this game a lot when I was younger, and I still enjoy it to this day. If you are looking for a simple racing game with surprising depth, I highly recommend Crash Team Racing. You can’t beat its $6 price tag on the Playstation Network either.

8.5/10

Um Jammer Lammy [Playstation, 1999]

Um Jammer Lammy [PSX]

Um Jammer Lammy
System: Playstaton
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: July 31, 1999

Um Jammer Lammy is a musical/rhythm game that is a spiritual successor to the popular PaRappa The Rapper. This time around, however, instead of rapping, you control a guitar-playing female lamb. Uh, yeah, and she just so happens to be in paper-thin 2D, just like the rest of the game’s characters. The game possess a unique style, this is for sure, and its storyline is even more bizarre. The main character, Lammy, is running late for a gig for her band, Milkcan. Along the way to the show, she continually gets interrupted and has to perform a number of amazing feats with her guitar. She puts out fires, delivers babies, and flies a plane, just to name a few examples. All of this is absolutely ridiculous, but it definitely adds to the game’s unending charm.

As for the gameplay itself, there are seven levels to go through. The stages are played by pressing buttons in conjunction with the rhythm of the songs. Easy mode lets you press any button you want, but normal mode requires using specific buttons. Some of these songs get awfully complex, whereas others resort to button-mashing (the pregnancy level is notorious for this with its “ma ma ma ma ma ma ma”). Thankfully there is room for improvisation, which is especially helpful for those who struggle at these types of games. Um Jammer Lammy can get pretty difficult, but the songs are catchy and the rewards for beating the game are worth it. Completing the game on solo mode unlocks the option to play as PaRappa and a new character, Rammy. There is also the possibility of co-op play, which adds to the replay value.

Um Jammer Lammy is challenging, and it has the ability to easily frustrate gamers, especially since sometimes its button-pressing recognition seems a little off-kilter. However, there is still a lot of entertainment to be had here, and there is a surprising amount of replay value despite only having seven stages. If you like rhythm games and have a knack for the weird, you will enjoy Um Jammer Lammy.

7/10