PSP Hardware

Hands-On with the PlayStation Vita

PlayStation gaming just got a whole load more touchy-feely.

The race for claiming your mobile time has been hotting up recently. Smartphones and tablets have become increasingly game-oriented and the 3DS is starting to gain some serious traction now it has a real Super Mario game and a very attractive price. Sony have gone all out to gamble of portable gaming already with the Xperia range of phones including the Xperia Play and its slide-out joypad, Dualshock 3 support for the Tablet S and the PlayStation Suite for Android devices but for them this is not enough. Enter the PlayStation Vita.

Despite its appearances the PS Vita is much more than just a new generation of PSP. Sony has thrown in a whole array of new technology alongside the kind of processing power that can seriously rival the PlayStation 3 and this makes the PS Vita an entirely new beast.

The first thing to notice about the PS Vita is just how light it is. The PSP has pretty heavy at the beginning and it became lighter with gradual refinements. What is surprising though is just how light the Vita, with all its fancy new tech is. The Vita boasts Sixaxis motion controls, front and rear-facing cameras, a true 16:9 HD touch screen (720p), a trackpad on the back, twin thumbsticks, Wi-Fi connectivity and even the option of 3G for those who really love gaming on the go.

All this really presents a challenge for developers to see exactly what they can come up with. The processing power of the Vita allows for a full triple-A hardcore gaming experience and the inclusion of the second thumbstick is a definite nod to hardcore gamers who were disappointed by the limited controls that the PSP offered. On the other hand, touchscreen, and trackpad controls, Sixaxis motion sensitivity and twin cameras not only push the boundaries of how games can be controlled, they also really open up much more casual possibilities as well.

As far as the visuals go, the new HD OLED touchscreen cannot be faulted. Wipeout 2048 is the ultimate test for the screen and it copes with the latest title in possibly the fastest racing game series around very admirably giving amazing clarity without any sign of dropping frames or screen tear.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss is another title that really shows off the power that the PS Vita has. It's not quite as demanding as Wipeout in terms of producing sharp fluid visuals, it's more about the detail of the environments and again the Vita doesn't disappoint. Nathan Drake swings, jumps, rolls, shoots and fist-fights his way out of trouble with every bit of exquisite detail as he has on the PS3.

The hardcore gamers will be catered for pretty well on the Vita. Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 retains the pace over-the-top combo insanity of the home console version without missing a step. Rayman Origins is a real delight too with Michel Ancel's 2D platformer really shining as an example of how the PS Vita can present old-school game experiences with modern HD clarity and precision.

It's not just hardcore gaming experiences that the Vita can do though and what it does best is combining it's traditional and new control methods to provide a whole other experience. One series that has the potential to find its true home on the PS Vita is LittleBigPlanet. The PS3 versions of LittleBigPlanet were revolutionary, showing console gamers that they can build their own content around games and indeed grow an amazing community around it. LittleBigPlanet on the PS Vita has the potential to extend that idea and make content-creation far more easy into the bargain by exploiting the touch controls to their maximum. It also uses the cameras to help players design new textures and stickers to use in level and game creation.

The bit where LittleBigPlanet shows its true genius is when we take to the platform action with Sackboy. The platform puzzles now incorporate impressive tilt controls using Sixaxis and touch controls on the back and front to help manipulate the environment. The nicest touch was where a square of Tetris-style puzzle blocks was built into the wall and we had to move them in and out of the depth of the screen using the touch controls on the front and the back to tap the blocks in and out to allow Sackboy to ascend to the next part of the level.

LittleBigPlanet is an absolute joy to play on the PS Vita and it very well could be one of the true killer apps for the handheld when it finally arrives.

Showing a little more of the indie side to the Vita is Escape Plan. This is game very much in the style of Lemmings where players have to guide a single character out of a factory filled with dangerous machinery and diabolical traps. It adopts a monochrome colour palette that initially makes it feel a bit like Limbo. This feeling soon fades as the game progresses with Escape Plan adopting an altogether more slapstick approach to the deaths of the poor little avatar. Escape Plan is completely controlled by touch. Solving puzzles involves tapping the Vita front and back to manipulate the environment, pushing out bridges to allow the character to cross gaps flicking bricks and other obstacles out of the way and even pinching back and front of the Vita together to allow the little guy to dash for a brief moment.

This is simple and very elegant puzzling with a dash of new flair and really demonstrates that the PS Vita can do so much more than just allow gamers to play Uncharted on the bus.

Outside of the games, the new bubble interface is very simple to use. It shows everything that you need or want to use right there in front of you and takes its lead from smartphone design with multiple screens available at the flick of a finger when the first screen fills up with PSN titles and apps. There's an internet browser in there and the Vita even supports all the latest social networking tools putting Facebook and Twitter right alongside some tasty gaming experiences.

With the machine in hand it's really hard not to like it. Whether it be the 3G or the Wi-Fi model it is an awesome piece of kit for gamers who are on the go and it has bags of potential to appeal to gamers all across the spectrum of gamers from casual gamers looking for a bit more than their smartphone can provide to those hardcore gamers who get withdrawal symptoms from being away from their PS3 or Xbox 360 for too long. The PS Vita is a great new handheld and with the right software support it has the potential to revolutionise the way we play games in the very same way that the DS did when it arrived in 2004.

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