Last week, we were invited to London to see Sony’s PlayStation Vita. We spent a colossal three hours with the device, playing at length the titles that you will be getting your mitts on come the consoles western release at the end of February.
As we have covered in detail many of the games that were available during previous events, this article comes in the form of a round of the hands-on impressions from the time we spend at the Vita Rooms event. So without further ado, on with the games.
Hustle Kings was the first game we got to play at the event and strangely it was one of the most impressive. Not being particular fans of pool, we weren’t sure how struck we would be on the PSN crossover title, but it was a pleasant surprise to find that the game plays brilliantly on the PS Vita. The game not only looks crisp, but plays well too. The graphics in Hustle kings were some of the best we saw at the event, with the table and surrounding environments both being well suited to the small screen.
The touch screen controls for this version have been well integrated into the experience with the left analogue nub moving the cue around the table and your power and to shoot via the touch screen. As you move the cue into position you will be given a line of trajectory to allow you to see where your shot will land the targeted ball, once the shot has been decided, tapping at the top or the bottom of a sidebar on the edge of the screen allows you to change power of the shot (you can also draw your finger up and down to change the power too). As your increase or decrease the power the indicator line will change to show how the ball will be affected. A quick hit of X changes the sidebar to shoot mode, in which you draw the side image of the cue back and then push it forward to perform the shot. These controls take a little while to get used to but after that it feels as natural as can be and unbelievably smooth. Thankfully, the touch screen controls also feel well thought-out and make the gameplay stronger.
This title is perfect for a quick fifteen to half an hour game and suits the portable platform to a ‘T, and while probably not for all, pool fans will love it and so will anyone who is looking for a short burst of gaming fun.
Escape Plan is one of the more unusual entries into the gaming sphere and follows in the vein of PSP title, Exit, in which you are presented with a large room based puzzle that requires you to overcome traps and the like to reach the exit. So far, so simple right? Well, not all so. You play as two strange black blob-like things with Michael Mayer like faces, one is called Lil (his small) and the other is called Laarg (his big).
To direct Lil or Laarg around the area you need to use the touch screens (rear and front), the front screen allows you to move the selected character (level dependant, you control either Lil or Laarg or both switching between via the shoulder buttons) by dragging your finger along the screen to make a line which they will follow. In addition, the back screen affects objects or your characters from behind (strangely), tapping on say the lid of a trapdoor will cause the door to close and complete the path for you to then draw your character over. Likewise, Lil and Laarg have fart powers they can use a fart; that is accessed via pressing the back and front of the Vita and literally squeezing it out, to gain a short burst of speed.
The two levels that we played in at the event only consisted of basic traps involving electricity and trapdoors that needed to be closed to allow passage. But they did show off the unique graphics that the game has. The colour scale is set to the grey and black side of the colour palate, but as something that normally would annoy being so dull and lacking in colour but this choice makes character design stronger.
If you enjoyed the design and gameplay of Exit then this will appeal to you. The fun design and short level length suits the pick up and play that is required for a portable console.
Welcome Park is a collection of mini games with a similar idea behind them as Nintendo had with their Augmented Reality games. It gives you access to games that fit the different control interfaces that the Vita has. First up is a simple game called Skate Axis, this game as you can guess uses the SixAxis motion controls. The game gives you a stick person on a skateboard, who you need to tip the console left and right to speed up and slow down to avoid balls that bounce along the screen at different speed levels. In terms of learning the console it works really well and gives you a change to try it out. But those who have used the PS3’s controller will have experienced the control interface so may not really feel the need for this game. It’s free and comes with the console so at least you can play a game if you don’t get a release title with it.
Digit Chase is probably one game you will have seen that comes in the Welcome Park, here you need to chase digits around the screen. Once again the main point of the game is to teach you, but this one is for the front touch screen as you need to tap on the numbers in order. As the game progresses extra taps are required for each number to add an extra level difficulty to the game. But really as long as you can count there isn’t much of a challenge.
Sound Loop uses the microphone to create bubbles of sounds. These can then be tapped to create a clip of sound. Therefore you can create your own mixer of sorts, tapping the different bubbles plays the sound recorded. Honestly, there isn’t anything in particular that this teaches you but it is an application that shows ways that you can use the microphone.
Swap and Slide is a slider puzzle game where you can use a picture in your stored image gallery or taking a fresh photo to create a jumbled image. You use the touch screen to move the different squares around the screen to recreate the original images. This is nice and simple fun, but has somewhat of a limited fun factor. Sure, you can have a laugh just picking image and trying to remake it but after a while it gets a bit boring.
The Hello Faces application is the strangest of the Welcome Park lot. Here there is no other point than you can take a picture of anything that has a face-like shape and the application will change that image into a face. Pointless but can be pretty funny with certain images, also slightly creepy.
Another bar room sports game here, but this one doesn’t have the same shine as Hustle Kings. Top Darts as you can guess is a darts game, you use the touch screen to target then draw back and flick forward to throw the dart. Nice and simple! But that unfortunately is not the case, during my experience with the game the target lock often became unstuck resetting your dart or even more annoyingly relocking somewhere else and completing the shot scoring you merger points.
To add to this the graphics are pretty low resolution right the way through, from the texture of the board to the surrounding area. When compared to Hustle Kings, this looks like a poor man’s port. It’s a shame really as if the game was designed slightly better then this could have been another great time waster for those annoying train journeys.
Michael Jackson Experience
To have a dancing game on a portable console at first seems a strange combination. Sure, the Vita has a camera but you really can’t place the console far away from you to capture the sweet moves your pulling off on the Tube, can you? Nor would you want to after shelling out almost £300 for it. So instead, Michael Jackson Experience uses the front or back touch screens to input moves in a QTE like style. You can use either the front touch screen or touch panel on the back of device depending on how you feel, it doesn’t affect the gameplay to a great extend but using the front screen did mean that the next input was missed at times as our fingers obscured the screen depending on the movement of the action.
The game plays very well on the small screen of the Vita. But not only that, it is graphically very strong with it, looking like a slightly lower resolution version of the Xbox 360 game. The appeal of this title will depend on how much you really like Michael Jackson and his music. There are some classic tracks featured as well as some lesser known songs, we were treated to Thriller which was great fun to play through even if we weren’t all that good at playing.
Another unusual entry into the gaming catalogue here, with Frobisher Says you are given a set of mini games that are designed to fit the Vita’s controls. The strange thing is while it works well in terms of the use of controls and offers something different in the launch line up, the mini games are a little hit and miss.
The games range from dog drying; using the back touch pad and the front touch screen to dray each side of the dog, to a Mario style platformer; which uses the face buttons and left analogue nub to move around the screen. There are also games which you aren’t given too much instruction as to how to play, which was confusing and required asking one of the staff at the event what was required. An example of this was a game were you need to find a rare bacteria but you have no details or description of what this rare germ looks like, all while there are other germs floating in a white space all looking that same, much to our confusion and slight annoyance!
It’s hard to view Frobisher Says as anything but a tech demo for the console in many respects, but that isn’t to say that there isn’t some fun to be had with it. But we’re not sure if you would want to act out some of the challenges in public.
Super StarDust Delta
This is based on the original PSN game and looks every bit like it, although that’s no bad thing. Thanks to the added analogue control it plays like the original on PS3, but with added touches for the Vita (for example you can shift the camera but moving the console around). You use the analogue nubs to direct your ship and control the ribbon of fire at asteroids.
For those who haven’t played the PSN entry, the basic idea is an updated version of Asteroids! You pilot a ship around in defence of different planets as they come under attack from asteroids and alien space ships. This should be the flagship product you buy with your Vita come day one. It’s fun and addictive to the max.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Uncharted is the flagship title for the Vita. In all honesty it has translated very well onto the small screen. The demo on show only gave a small view into the game and how it feels, but it was enough to be sure that this entry is worthy of the Uncharted title. It isn’t developed by Naughty Dog but Sony Bend, who developed Syphon Filter for the PSP, and for that point the game doesn’t have the scale and feel that Naughty Dog has brought to the previous titles.
The unfortunate thing is that it does feel very much like Syphon Filter with Uncharted’s universe attached. This shines through in one of the section of the demo were you are required to help out a friend by sniping at enemies as she runs to meet you. The viewpoint and take on the mechanic will feel very familiar to anyone who has played any of the Syphon Filter games on PSP. This isn’t a bad thing as they were good games, but it feel somewhat simplistic. In the same sniper section, a collection of explosive barrels are mentioned in dialogue to be in a truck at which point the cover of the truck’s hold comes loose and allows you to see the barrels. That is the kind of simple that you get, it’s not a bad gameplay mechanic but dumbs down the experience of Uncharted slightly.
The other section that we played through has been seen in demos, with Drake trying to escape a burning building. This does show off the dynamic environment well as the building does feel like it is falling apart as you work your way around it. This entry is a prequel to the original game, but not much of the story is given away in the demo, so how it is placed into the Uncharted arc is unknown.
Uncharted is the biggest title on the roster without a doubt, but the fact that the game feels slightly simple could affect some people’s opinion. Without a doubt it is a great game and a worthy entry to what we hope is a portable spin-off series set to the main franchise.
This next entry into the long running racing series sets you in a near future experience unlike some of the recent games in the series, but moreover it is looking as good as it’s home console counterpart. The game, according to the developer on hand, is running at 30 frames per second on the Vita’s OLED screen, which even works out better than the 60FPS that is the key for home consoles. Needless to say it looks amazing and incredibly smooth.
The game plays as previous PSP entries have, but also includes new tilt controls which feel very comfortable and natural. This big show case at the event for WipeOut was its cross platform play which was very impressive, two players can race again each other; one on WipeOut HD for PS3 and the other on the Vita. The only limitation was that the tracks need to be the same, but that isn’t a massive problem as the game does share a fair few tracks.
WipeOut has been a strong entity on portable for Sony and this is no different. The cross platform integration works seamlessly and adds something more to the normal play that you have in a racer of this calibre. This is one of the best games on Vita at the moment without a doubt.
To say that the Vita line up is strong seem to be a misnomer, the console has a stronger line up than any of the recent portable console launches. Keep it locked to STN as we will bring you more news on the Vita games as we approach the Japanese release.
We may also have a special video or two for you once it is finally released in Japan.
Don’t forget to check out our previous PS Vita previews, including our recent look at Motorstorm RC.
The PS Vita arrives in the UK on February 22nd. You can pre-order from the WiFi only model for £228.85 or the 3G enabled model for £278.84 from ShopTo.