When I announced the topic of this piece to my colleagues the reaction I received was not a surprise. Some came right out and told me I was wrong, others I know were thinking ‘I wish Graham would stop drinking at lunchtimes’. But I promise this feeling has been nagging away for some time and no drink was involved, well not today anyway. I have long felt I was missing something with the Vita, is it me? Is it the developers of games and apps? Have Sony ruined it in some way? The answer is all of those combined, not one massive cock up, but small little niggles that cause me to reach for a smart phone rather than the Vita for a quick blast of gaming.
Let’s start at the beginning: I acquired my Wi-Fi only Vita in the first week of launch, paying the pretty hefty price that comes with buying stuff close to their release day. At the time I was doing a lot of international travelling and thought it would be the ideal companion. The price did not put me off nor did the small number of games that were available for it at the time. Like many great gaming console releases it would take a bit of time to get into its stride and I was happy to be there in the beginning.
My first concern after a while was the sheer lack of games that were available for it, a little bit like the PS4 is now, there were only a few desirable titles out. I soon got bored of Uncharted, and even FIFA Football lost its appeal after a while. Once new games did start to trickle through, the cost of them amazed me. I had thought they were a little steep but expected a big drop after 6 to 12 months. If you look at the list of PS Vita games on the GAME website now most of the top titles are still £39.99. I can live with the cost of console games, maybe this is a perception thing, but a console game is a big deal, it is an investment, I am swapping my hard earned cash for many hours of entertainment. The Vita is a handheld gaming device, to me this is a time filling device, a pick up and play as and when you can – I can’t help but wonder if the people who spend this much on new games feel like they have got their money’s worth. Do they look up and say ‘wow, can’t believe how good that looks on this small display’? I personally would and have saved my money on full fat games, not half the experience for all of the cost. The train of thought is real gamers have Vitas, does this mean then that we should pay a higher price?
To be fair the number of games has drastically increased recently thanks to Sony embracing indie developers. This is where I have seen most of my new games coming from. Prices are a little better on some of the more prestigious games, but only after they have been out for a while, mirroring the console market. There is another competitor for this market in the form of the smartphone. Every year we see a raft of new models from HTC, Apple and Samsung, all with more firepower than before and the ability to handle a better gaming experience than previous models. The price for these games, even for titles such as FIFA is a lot less, and everyone has a phone these days. I travel on the London Underground most days and I have seen one person other than me playing on a PS Vita, 90% of people however are on their phones. People expect portable prices for portable gaming; the Vita struggles here. Some arguments against this are that many Vita owners play theirs at home, unless there is a power cut I choose the console every time. And, the rear touch pad still feels like a bit of a gimmick, I would expect after a few years it would be second nature to use. I think this is down to a lack of knowing how to utilise it by many. More creative thinking for its use amongst developers wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Pardon?!…… Yes, memory cards! You need a memory card to play, that’s a bit old school but no bother I have loads knocking about. ‘No you need a special one to use in the Vita’. This is kind of how the conversation went with a gaming insider leading up to the launch of the PS Vita. Now I am sure this will lead to no end of arguments about size and weight which is why they didn’t include any internal storage for the original PS Vita, but memory cards must be the biggest pain of using the device, especially if like me in the early days with no PS Plus subscription you went for either the 4 or 8 gb cards. These soon were filled up and you were then force to spending a hideous amount of money on bigger cards. Memory cards are one thing, but charging in excess of £85 for a 64 gig is too much. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure it makes Sony a lot of money and since the aforementioned PS Plus, they must be raking it in.
The new PS Vita does now come with a gig of storage but we all know how long this lasts, memory cards are meant to be coming down in price but I have yet to see this. I have a 6 year old son who has a PS Vita, he doesn’t have a smart phone so it is ideal for him to be able to play some cheaper indie games but when a £3 game means you have to invest much more on a new memory card to play it, this becomes an issue.
OK, this is a personal thing, but in their quest for a small light machine I and a few others I know have massive issues with painful hands after a while. Not so bad on the less intense titles like Pixel Junk Monsters but something like MotoGP13 hurts about as much as falling off a real motorbike.
I will admit some games on the Vita look great and make you appreciate the gaming machine you are holding, but many fall below par. This has to be down to the developers, it makes you wonder if they just can’t be bothered to submit a polished game. Do they also think the Vita is for quick gaming moments and not longer subversive encounters? Maybe, but again if this was the case they shouldn’t be charging as much as they do. MotoGP13 is a case in point, it is 80% there but just lacks the feel of something that is properly finished. Back when FIFA 13 was fast approaching, Vita owners in their 1000’s pre ordered it after reading what they could expect from the next instalment. Like me most thought the cross format game would have similar features on all platforms. How wrong we could be, no wonder EA did not release any review copies. FIFA 13 on the Vita was just a rebadge and an update of the FIFA Football game from the previous year, no new physics engine or enhancements the other platforms were being treated to. How can this be a device for real gamers if the makers do not take their customers seriously?
I love twitter and Facebook as much as the rest of the world, but I can’t say the social elements of the PS Vita appeal to me. It is good to chat to your buddies and see their trophy hoard, but apart from that I wouldn’t mind if it wasn’t there. Near has never worked properly for me, along with MAPS, it thinks I live in Enfield – only 40 miles out. Emails: I have an iMac, Macbook, work laptop, 2 smart phones, an iPad Air and a Nexus 7. Think I am pretty well catered for on the email front and don’t often think about checking them on the Vita – I challenge you to find people who regularly do. I also think that the Facebook and Twitter apps are the best social additions to have, but are a bit awkward and clunky to use.
Very poor and not needed, again would swap for some storage everyday of the week.
Remote Play and the PS4
So in my darkest hour with the Vita I was thrilled to hear that it would be the perfect partner for the PS4 (which I was planning to buy). Now it is here can’t help feel a little let down. Far as I can tell remote play is the best it’s going to get and for me this is a bit rubbish. For one my Vita has a bit of an issue with Wi-Fi signals, being it’s a Wi-Fi only model it should be excellent at this, but no. In my house it hardly registers a signal on any of my networks and makes proper remote play a little tricky – to the point I don’t use it. I did try to use it once but with the shoulder buttons on the Dual Shock 4 being replaced with areas on the rear touch pad I would have had more luck playing patter-cake, patter-cake with a lag-switch fitted CoD player.
Music and Video
It has You Tube which is great! 10/10, my son loves this and it keeps him quiet for hours. The other video and music services are lost in today’s world of Netflix and Spotify, if Sony wasn’t still keen on doing things their way and could offer apps from other providers this would be a great.
To summarise: if it cost less, had some internal storage/cheaper memory cards, lost its pointless social guff and had games priced properly I would love it. As it is I feel like it tries to be too much to too few, a tighter focus on what it needs to be is what I would suggest. If this is a device for real gamers, then focus on them and don’t treat us like fools.