Why the PlayStation Vita is an underrated handheld

Sony's Vita may not have been the storming success it had hoped, but it's full of games waiting to be discovered.

Sony’s PlayStation Vita recently turned three years old in the west. Despite being comparable in strength to a PlayStation 3, it still lives in the shadow of Nintendo’s 3DS and numerous smart devices.

The initial high price of the hardware and memory storage, coupled with a lack of AAA exclusives at its launch, put a dent in its sales which the Vita never really recovered from. Touted as a full console experience at the start, the Vita has since morphed into something a little more unusual and more interesting.

Although Sony have said there’s little chance of any new major releases, there’s a bit more to this system than a yearly Assassin’s Creed title. Here, we take a look at the most compelling reasons to purchase a Vita!

An extensive legacy library for download

The Vita has access to an embarrassment of riches from the PS1 and PSP days. You can be introduced to or revisit classics of the era like Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, or Silent Hill and get to play them on the go. For anyone interested in arcade gaming history, there’s a load of perfect ports from SNK, from their early successes like Psycho Soldier right up to the King of Fighters series.

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The ultimate indie platform

Although initially touted as a full console experience on a handheld, surprisingly, the Vita has found itself the ideal home for indie titles. Although virtually all the Vita’s indie titles also launched on the PC, they really feel more suited for the pick up and play nature of Sony’s handheld.

Binding of Isaac, for example, is a perfect fit due to the twin analogue thumb sticks and bright screen. Mike Bithell’s Thomas Was Alone and Phil Fish’s Fez have found their natural home on the Vita. Jasper Byrne’s superbly creepy Lone Survivor has pretty much its definitive version on the Vita. Play it in the dark all alone with headphones on for the scariest experience.

Gravity Rush

One of the initial wave of titles, and still one of the most visually impressive games available on the system. Gravity Rush is an open world title with the twist of protagonist Kat being able to control her centre of gravity. The twin sticks make flying through the city of Hekesville a breeze as you fall with style onto towering spires and through dazzling dreamscapes. Originally a PS3 title, Gravity Rush was shrunk down onto the Vita yet is no worse for it. There are some levels which are simply awe inspiring and really show what the system is capable of. Even better is that it’s included with a PlayStation Plus membership as standard.

A perfect outlet for J-RPGs and visual novels

In this age of Mass Effect, Skyrim, and Dragon Age, Japanese RPGs (that aren’t Final Fantasy) are starting to look a bit humble. Their appeal has been in telling a truly epic tale using a minimum of resources, while western RPGs have graphically intense third-person action combat.

The PlayStation Network offers a wide range of PS1 classics like Final Fantasy, Arc The Lad and Suikoden.

But the true gem on the Vita is an upgrade of a PS2 title, Persona 4: Golden. Taking the original and including a new character, side quests and new cutscenes, P4G gave the system a huge boost when released in Japan, and still delivers an in-depth, satisfying experience when played today.

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For fans of ‘visual novel’ adventure games like Capcom’s Phoenix Wright, there’s the Danganronpa series and Virtue’s Last Reward. All of which are darker takes on puzzles and intrigue, with colourful casts and insanely complex plots and twists. Visual novels work best on handhelds because, as the name suggests, there’s a lot of reading to be done. The Vita’s crisp screen renders text a doddle to read.

Tearaway

Coming from the developers of Little Big Planet, Tearaway shares a similar handcrafted aesthetic and feel. But where Tearaway soars over the DIY platformer is in its use of the Vita itself. Every feature feels fully used, and you’re given a wealth of opportunities to customize things to your taste. The game itself is up there with some of the finest platformers yet release, with a genuine charm and sense of wonder. It finally gained the recognition it deserved when awarded with several awards at last year’s gaming BAFTAs.

Playstation Plus

Sony’s subscription service has been an absolute game changer since it was first introduced. If you own a PS3, Vita or PS4, it is absolutely vital. For the price of a new game a year, you’re given a new range of recent major releases to download every month. With a good mix on an ever-growing indie library on PSN, it’s a perfect opportunity to try something new without too much of a financial risk.

So while the Vita may not have achieved its aim of being a major player, to write it off is to ignore one of the most interesting and unique software libraries around. For anyone interested in gaming’s less mainstream side, the Vita is an ideal purchase.

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