Review: Sony's new PlayStation Vita disappoints

Mar 09, 2012 By Troy Wolverton

With the PlayStation Vita, Sony has attempted to infuse a traditional handheld game machine with some of the smartphone and tablet features that have made gaming on those devices so popular lately.

Unfortunately, this merger of technologies is a clumsy union and often makes for an unsatisfying and even frustrating experience.

The , which Sony released last month, looks a lot like its 7-year-old predecessor, the . It's got a large screen flanked on either side by arrays of physical buttons to control movement and actions in games.

But the device borrows quite a few ideas and features from its rivals. The Vita's screen is touch-sensitive; you can tap on it to launch apps.

Some games take advantage of the touch screen also, allowing you to, say, tap on the screen to pass a soccer ball to a teammate or across the screen to punch someone in an .

Additionally, the Vita has a pair of cameras that allow you to take pictures, play augmented reality games and perhaps video chat with friends someday. It's got that allow users to play games by tilting the screen. And Sony is offering a version of the Vita that will connect to the wireless carriers' 3G networks to surf the Web and download applications. That's right - apps that do things like connect to Facebook and Twitter or to find nearby Vita players.

While users can still buy games that are stored on physical cards, they can also download all the games designed for the Vita over the Internet, just like a smartphone user can from an app store. Downloading the games allows users to store multiple games on a single memory card so they can be loaded and played without switching cards.

Sony tries to go a step beyond most smartphones and tablets by having not only physical buttons but also a touch-sensitive area on the back of the device that allows users to aim a gun, say, or nudge a ball forward without having to touch the screen and obscure what's on it.

You'll find some 25 different games designed for the Vita and an additional 275 PSP games that you can download from Sony. If you're used to choosing from thousands of iPhone or Android games, that may not seem like a lot. But by the standards of traditional game consoles, it's a significant number for the launch of a new device.

I'm not convinced there's a killer app yet that will drive sales of the Vita, but among the launch titles are versions or new installments of games made popular on other machines, such as "Uncharted: Golden Abyss," and "FIFA Soccer." At a typical price of $30 to $50 a pop, the games are much costlier than those available for smartphones, but they also tend to offer superior graphics and much longer game play.

I was never a big fan of the PSP. Its central idea - offering full-fledged console games on a portable device - never made sense for mainstream consumers. To them, games on a portable device are largely meant to be played in passing as time-killers. There's just no time for such consumers to get sucked deep into a console game while riding the train or waiting in line at the grocery store.

But in some ways, I'm even less impressed with the Vita. It shares the same misguided premise as the PSP in offering full-scale games on a portable device. Worse, its smartphone-like features feel half-hearted and often detract from the core gaming experience.

For example, the Vita offers fewer than 20 apps. While that number includes a Web browser app and the de rigueur Facebook and Netflix programs, it doesn't include a video chat program that takes advantage of the front-facing camera or Skype or Pandora or Amazon's Kindle.

The 3G service feature also has some strict limits. You can't use it to download the hefty, top-quality Vita games. You also generally won't be able to use 3G to play those games in real-time multiplayer mode.

And the touch-screen interface on the Vita is cumbersome and annoying. As a smartphone and tablet user, I'm used to a game or app launching when I tap on its icon. But on the Vita, users are forced to go through an intermediate screen after they tap on an app icon. The screen allows users to download new content, update the app or, yes, actually launch it. In other words, it takes two taps to actually start a game, which is one tap too many.

But the most damning thing about the Vita is that it's just awkward to play games on. The array of physical buttons on traditional game controllers and portable game machines can be overwhelming. But the touch screen and touch-sensitive back on the Vita only amp up its complexity. Not only is it often difficult to know when to use the touch interfaces and when to use the physical controls, there's just no easy way to hold the device if you are being asked to do both.

In "FIFA Soccer," for example, I kept misdirecting the ball by inadvertently touching the touch-sensitive back panel; I had a hard time figuring out where to put my fingers. And in "Uncharted," I kept having to switch from two hands to one as my fingers jumped from the buttons to interacting with the touch screen.

I'm sure that some games won't have these shortcomings and that developers will figure out how to better use the Vita's controls. But even if they do, my portable game device of choice will remain a smartphone. There's more games, you can do more with it-and to me, it's just a lot more fun.

---

SONY PLAYSTATION VITA PORTABLE GAME SYSTEM:

-Likes: Bright high-resolution screen, moderate price, dual stick controllers, high-quality games

-Dislikes: Complex, confusing controls; clumsy interface; few applications; requires proprietary memory cards; bulky for a portable device

-Specs: 5-inch OLED display; dual analog joystick controllers; rear touchpad; front- and rear-facing cameras

-Price: $250 for Wi-Fi only model; $300 for model with Wi-Fi and 3G

-Web: us.playstation.com

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More information: Troy Wolverton is a technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.

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User comments : 6

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JWOP
3.8 / 5 (4) Mar 09, 2012
Oh lawd. What a ****ing joke this reviewer is. You hated PSP, you hate all portable games that aren't cheap iOS timewaster; Vita clearly wasn't made for people like you. So why in the hell are you reviewing it? How is anyone supposed to trust such a biased and unfair perspective? Might as well get Santorum to write episode recaps for Queer Eye or something.

This might be hard for your stupid mind to comprehend, but there are people who actually do want full-fledged portable gaming experiences. Who the hell are you to dictate what people should or shouldn't enjoy from a portable gaming device?
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2012
Mobile gaming is for wasting time in the bus or in bed before going to sleep while teasing your brain. Mobile phone games do this perfectly fine, no need for a "handheld gaming device". If you want to properly play games hook up a controller to your PC with a good headset and a good graphics card and enjoy the amazing experience.
sherriffwoody
5 / 5 (4) Mar 09, 2012
I don't see any statistics that point to the Vita being a failure within your article buddy. I don't own a Vita myself but from what I've read in the media it's selling far more units than Sony expected. That means its a success in that context. User reviews in most situations have been glowing, its by far outsold Nintendo's last unit by 6 times in the same opening sales period and it offers real games with great graphics in comparison to other devices that also act as phones. I really can't believe they'd publish a review by someone who is obviously so biased that they can't write a decent article about the object.
sherriffwoody
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 10, 2012
Mobile gaming is for wasting time in the bus or in bed before going to sleep while teasing your brain. Mobile phone games do this perfectly fine, no need for a "handheld gaming device". If you want to properly play games hook up a controller to your PC with a good headset and a good graphics card and enjoy the amazing experience.


You can also use your steak knife to fork food into your mouth, you can also take a non four wheel drive vehicle four wheel driving, but in truth people want something specialised to the job, and for serious gamers mobile games don't cut it and its a lot harder to carry your PC to bed or on the bus, set up your headphones, controllers, screen and play a game. Are you on drugs?
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Mar 10, 2012
something specialised to the job, and for serious gamers mobile games don't cut it and its a lot harder to carry your PC to bed or on the bus, set up your headphones, controllers, screen and play a game. Are you on drugs?

I guess you are just a casual gamer. Like I said if you want the true intense gaming experience, hook up a controller on your pc.
You don't want the gaming experience before going to sleep, because you are to drowsy for good reflexes, you are in a uncomfortable position to properly react on your controls. You just want to play a casual game that makes you sleepy. A handheld device is not specialised for gaming, just easy button bashing for casual gamers.

Talk to some real gamers out there, not casual gamers.
sherriffwoody
not rated yet Mar 17, 2012
Talk to some real gamers out there, not casual gamers.

I think you missed the point. I am a serious gamer and love the fact I can now play pretty serious games even when I'm not in front of my PC or Console, that includes on the train or bus, on the toilet, while cooking dinner, and not have to reduce the level of gaming that would happen if I were only given the choice of mobile phone games. Thats why they Vita is so cool. Sorry you missed my point.

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