Waddya Mean You Never Played… Playstation Vita Launch Games?

It’s been a while since our last look back at a Sony hardware launch; so long in fact, there’s been a new launch in the intervening period. Well, everywhere except here, anyway. While we’ll let time pass to decide how the PS4 launch fared and how well its titles stacked up, for now, let’s look at Sony’s second (last?) handheld machine:

Vita

vita

The Playstation Vita had a rough path in front of it in 2011. While Sony’s hubris in 2006 set the PS3 up for a harder first few years, there was a level of intrigue with that machine’s launch, and a desire to see that hardware generation filled out. With Vita though, interest was rock bottom in late 2011. It launched into an intensely competitive market; hounded on all fronts by extremely capable phones and tablets and Nintendo’s 3DS, which was turning the corner into profitability and cannily had a release slate that included former Playstation stalwart Monster Hunter hitting the machine directly opposite Sony’s launch.

The Vita also suffered from strange design choices that made it feel like the console equivalent of  The Homer car from The Simpsons; everything thrown in with little real reason. Twin sticks, front and rear touch, two cameras, accelerometers; it tried to please everyone at once, which is a tall order. From a UI perspective, its operating system offered more even than the PS3, with smooth multitasking and party chat capability, but also attempted a Nintendo-esque level of cartoonish friendliness, making the whole experience feel somewhat inconsistent.

From a pure grunt perspective, this was the machine to make triple A development possible on a handheld platform, but a lack of sales has meant the triple A model just isn’t financially viable on the machine. It was a disastrous launch for the system, which is only now turning around for Sony. Focus on the handheld as a second screen, remote play capable PS4 companion, as well as it’s position as a home for niche indie titles easily ported across from other Playstation platforms, has seen the Vita just start to come into its own. Those launch games though…

Japan


Launch date: December 17 2011
Price: 29,980 Yen (3G/Wifi) 24,980 Yen (wifi only)
Games: BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend (ARC System Works), Dreamclub Zero Portable (Tamsoft), F1 2011 (Codemasters), Ridge Racer (Namco Bandai), Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Capcom), NAX Music Player (ARC System Works), Touch My Katamari (Capcom), Disgaea 3 Return (Nippon Ichi), Virtua Tennis 4 (Sega), Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Sony Bend), Little Deviants (Bigbig), Monster Radar (Q? Entertainment), Shinobido 2: Tales of the Ninja (Aquire), Army Corps of Hell (Entersphere), Lord of Apocalypse (Access Games), Dynasty Warriors Next (Tecmo KOEI), Dark Quest Alliance (Gameloft), Asphalt Injection (Gameloft), Michael Jackson: The Experience HD (Ubisoft), Shin Kamaitachi no Yoru: 11 Ninme no Suspect (Chunsoft), Mahjong Fight Club: Shinsei Zenkoku Taisen Ban (Konami), AR Combat DigiQ (Konami), Minna to Issho (SCE), Minna no Golf 6 (Clap Hanz)

One thing that leaps out about Vita’s launch in every territory is the sheer size of the lineup. 24 titles released alongside the machine in Japan alone, the biggest Japanese launch in Sony history, and given how slow release schedules were post launch, it’s baffling that Sony elected to go for quantity over quality here.

Original titles were few and far between, with the most intriguing being dark brooding action strategy hybrid Army Corps of Hell, which was hardly met as an instant classic, but offered a sort of heavy metal Pikmin approach to gameplay that was interesting to talk about at least.

The biggest surprise of the launch was that such a typically western franchise like Uncharted would have a presence in Golden Abyss, ready comfortably before the western launch and available day one in Japan. It was the game that was demoed alongside the Vita when the system was still under the working title of the Next Generation Portable, and Sony Bend were under the joint pressure of living up to Naughty Dog’s legacy while also trying to produce a game that used every single one of the Vita’s hardware gimmicks. The result was a mediocre muddle that reflected most people’s issues with the system itself; a game full of gorgeous sky boxes but with lacking gameplay that frequently interrupted the flow of things by making you use touch to rub some dust off of a shovel, or stop you from running across a beam by making you do an utterly stupid accelerometer driven balancing act. All this meant that the best game on offer for Vita’s launch was a port of a niche console favourite.

Launch Pick: Disgaea 3 Return

disgaea 3

This port of Nippon Ichi’s PS3 SRPG might not have been the technical showcase of choice for your new portable powerhouse, but a lengthy game was just what people needed in the subsequent software drought for the Vita in 2012, and its turn based nature fitted the handheld very well.

Europe & America


Launch Date: February 22 2012
Price: €299.99/£279.99/$299 (wifi/3G) €249.99/£229.99/$249.99
Games: BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend (ARC System Works, America only), F1 2011 (Codemasters, Europe only), Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (Capcom), Touch My Katamari (Capcom), Virtua Tennis 4 (Sega), Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Sony Bend), Little Deviants (Bigbig), Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen (Tales of the Ninja) (Aquire), Army Corps of Hell (Entersphere), Dynasty Warriors Next (Tecmo KOEI), Dungeon Hunter (Dark Quest) Alliance (Gameloft), Asphalt Injection (Gameloft), Michael Jackson: The Experience HD (Ubisoft), FIFA Football (EA), Super Stardust Delta (Housemarque), Wipeout 2048 (Studio Liverpool), Reality Fighters (Novarama), Everybody’s Golf World Invitational (Minna no Golf 6)(Clap Hanz), Escape Plan (Funbits), Hustle Kings (VooFoo), Top Darts (Devil’s Details, Europe only) Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus (Tecmo KOEI), Frobisher Says (Honeyslug), Rayman Origins (Ubisoft), Lumines Electronic Symphony (Q? Entertainment) Motorstorm RC (Evolution, Europe only), Ben 10 Galactic Racing (Monkey Bar, US only), Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack (Drinkbox)

For the first time, Sony launched hardware in two major markets simultaneously in February 2012, while another massive launch lineup saw a hint of how Vita would earn its indie darling status in 2013. Drinkbox’s Tales From Space was slick and endearing fun, Honeyslug brought a limited but endearing free to play tech demo in the form of Frobisher Says, and Funbits’ Escape Plan, while not a puzzle adventure gaming great, was visually striking and had a good deal of charm. All three download only indie efforts outstripped the majority of physical games at launch, with a couple of exceptions.

Wipeout 2048 was a visually stunning game that took advantage of the system’s gorgeous wide OLED screen, but also tinkered with Wipeout’s often slippery handling to make for a far tighter experience. It also benefitted from Studio Liverpool’s knack for  well plotted game structures, with rewards and new events popping up in nonlinear fashion all the time, and a clever multiplayer structure that opened up new events based on your ability to perform certain tasks in multiplayer races. The problem? Massive load times that were just far too long to warrant 2048 being the goto game for public transport it’s frenzied pace suggested. Two more handheld friendly games were the picks of the Vita’s western launch.

Launch Picks: Lumines Electronic Symphony, Super Stardust Delta

SSD

Seven years after Lumines became the clear PSP pick at launch, Electronic Symphony was the cream of the Vita crop. While core gameplay remained the same, new 3D-used visuals and a great track list created a launch title that many still hold as the best game on the system, albeit one different from the ‘Daft Punk Lumines’ it was originally conceived as.

lumines_ss4

Meanwhile, Housemarque’s Stardust returned in fine form, it’s high score chasing being perfectly suited to portable play, and setting the standard for strong pick up and play indie downloads on the device.

So now we’re bang up to date with Sony hardware launches. Some greats, several duds, and more sports and mahjong than you can shake a stick at. Where to next in our opening day discussions? Wait and see.