Tacky post titles aside, I'm often asked what kind of gamer I am. Now, the obvious rant about labelling and stereotyping aside, my usual response is that I'm a Portable Gamer. Yeah, sure, whilst I own a considerable collection of consoles, legacy and recent, my true love has always been handheld systems - and whilst I have historically weighed in more on the Nintendo side of things (I did own a PSP, a Gamegear, and even the shortlived and lost-to-the-annals-of-history N-Gage), right now, my absolute console of choice is the Playstation Vita.
Dead or Alive 5+
The thing is - and I won't pretty this up at all - the PS Vita, for some absurd reason, does not appear to be a very popular console. Head into your local videogame store and you'll only see a handful of shelves given over to the console, the games and the accessories, and that's if you find a PS Vita section at all. My local store boasts three whole shelves of games (two shelves are Preowned games), but that is with the games front-facing, and about four hangers for accessories like cases, charging docks, and memory cards. To put that into perspective, the Nintendo 3DS has twelve gaming shelves and an entire bay for the console. Even the Wii has six shelves of games, which are stacked spine-out. Oh, XBox 360 has approximately forty shelves, and that's not including consoles.
With such data, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the PS Vita is a sinking ship with no content. I'm here to explain not only that you would be wrong for thinking that, but also to explain why I genuinely think the PS Vita is not only the best handheld out there (and believe me, I love my 3DS to pieces) but a strong contender for the best gaming console; and I'm going to do it in the form of a Q&A, in order to address the question's I'm most commonly asked.
WipEout 2048 - Genuinely my favourite in the series thus far
Why does the PS Vita have so few games available?
An easy error to make, and perfectly understandable given the small amount of shelf-space offered to support the console. The thing with the Vita is that its true strength lies in the PSN Store. I've been working on an article explaining why (so keep your eyes peeled) but digital is the way of the future, and that's never been truer than on a portable console. Who wants to carry a dozen cartridges around when you can store it all internally?
There are hundreds of games developed for the PS Vita, many of which don't get a physical release. The back catalogue of Vita games is staggering and incredibly varied, from excellent fighting games, to first-person shooters, to rhythm games, to racing games, and some of the best JRPG's in the world (ohai Persona 4 Golden) and everything in between.
Beyond that, the PS Vita also supports a staggering amount of PSP and PSOne Classic games that you can download to the console. I've been playing through the original Spyro the Dragon trilogy on my Vita, and recently went back through classics like MediEvil, Tomb Raider 2, Metal Gear Solid, and Alundra. With Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on the horizon, I'm about to download the PSP Classic Monster Hunter Freedom: Unite! to go through again.
Yes, few stores stock many PS Vita games, but the PSN Store is rammed with an incredible variety of amazing games.
All this downloading sounds confusing and expensive. How does this work?
Amazingly well. It's all very simple to set up; the console itself runs you through all you need to know to set up your own (or attach an existing) PSN account. Purchased games are available for limitless download, so if you need to delete something to make space, you can always download it again. More importantly, if you're a Playstation Plus subscriber (and as a Vita owner, you really should be), your game save data is cloud stored, so if you do delete and download a game again later, you can continue from where you left off.
This also works with cross-save and Playstation TV. If you're playing the game on Vita, PSTV, and/or PS3, you can share the save data.
Sadly, PS Vita memory cards are expensive. Only Sony make them, and the memory cards used (internally they're Micro SD cards) are designed exclusively for the Vita. No cheap second options here, sadly. Admittedly, it does allow Sony complete quality control, so you're not about to buy a dodgy third company card (as often happened on PS1, PS2, even Gamecube) but you do pay for this. I have a 64Gb card in my Vita, and that cost me £66. It's pricey, but when you consider it £1 per Gb, it doesn't feel quite so bad, but it's still a lot of money to stop me juggling the process of deleting and downloading the same game repeatedly as space becomes required.
Worse, these prices haven't changed since Vita launch, so it doesn't seem likely that Sony are going to make them cheaper any time soon. On the plus side, even the largest and latest releases are rarely more than £35, with most games clocking in at the £15-25 margin. That makes the games considerable less expensive, especially when compared to a £55-60 PS4 or XBox One game.
Killzone Mercenary - The best FPS I've played since... a long time.
What strengths does the PS Vita have over the Nintendo 3DS?
My initial response here is to point to the right analogue stick. The Vita has two sticks on it, and until the New 3DS consoles launch in February, the 3DS only has one. This has allowed the Vita to maintain a classic console feel to the games, with first-person shooters that have controls immediately familiar to console users, and games like Assassin's Creed: Liberation also feeling particularly at home on the console with proper camera controls. Until the New 3DS launches, I've been having to use a Circle Pad Pro attachment for my 3DS XL in order to make Monster Hunter playable, giving it proper camera controls. The tag-line of the Vita was always that the device offered 'console gaming on the go', and it really does.
Both the PS Vita and 3DS have motion controls and, in honesty, I rarely use either, but could find no real difference between the consoles; and like the 3DS family, the Vita also has a front touch-screen, but also a rear touch-pad. At first, this confused me, but became an absolute blessing. It's unusual. Because you can't see where your fingers are (compared to using a front screen) there is much more skill involved. Even games like FIFA, which normally I wouldn't play, surprised me. Using the rear touch screen to aim passes or penalty kicks is both intuitive and fun. Poking my fingers 'through' the rear touch-pad and 'into' games like Tearaway, or having both screens meaning you can push blocks into or out of the screen in Little Big Planet, is equally as innovative and a beautiful breath of fresh air.
Noticeably, the PS Vita has much better online support. Online multiplayer, leaderboards, downloads, even social interaction over PSN, Twitter and Facebook, just works so much better on the Vita. Nintendo have always been (understandably, given their main market) quite shy around the internet, but the Vita embraces it with arms open wide.
Of course, the Vita also allows you to remote play your PS4 games, much in the same way the WiiU controller works with it's own screen. Unlike the WiiU controller, however, the PS4 Remote Play uses your home's wifi, so you can theoretically move much further away from the PS4. The downside to this is that there can be noticeable lag - most games don't suffer, but if you're playing a particularly twitchy game (Destiny, for example) you might want to make sure that both your PS4 and PS Vita have a darn good wifi signal.
Finally, especially of use to me, is the screenshot functionality. Hold the PS button and press Start and the console will take a screenshot of most screens. This is saved into the Photo app, and can be shared on social media, or transfered to your PC or PS3/4 systems via the Content Manager App (over USB or even Wifi). It's such a small little thing, but I love it. Considering how much people enjoy sharing their gaming experiences, and how simple it is to implement, coupled with the fact of, well, free advertising, and I can't help but wonder why other companies haven't been doing it.
Can I play PSP games or movies on the Vita?
Not directly. The console doesn't have a UMD slot like the PSP did, but many of the best PSP games are available to download to the Vita. Yes, you'll have to pay for them again, but most are only £5-7, a bargain for a full game.
As for movies, any films you have on your PC or PS3/4 can be transferred across via the aforementioned Content Manager App, which works really well. You can also download movies from the PSN Store, of course.
What are the benefits of Playstation Plus?
I've always been an advocate of Playstation Plus, mainly for it's free games, and this is where the Vita really shines. For the past year, the Playstation Plus games on Vita (which are free to download to PS+ subscribers for that month, and you get to keep them as long as you remain subscribed) have been between two and six games each month. Some of these have been brand new games, and after two or three months, you've already made back the money on your yearly subscription. It's also a great way of trying games you'd not normally have looked twice at. I download all of the games each month (hell, they're free, right?) and try them all out. I'd never have purchased Steamworld Dig at first, but having played it, I'm hooked.
Secondly, PS+ subscribers save money on many of the download titles, making already cheap games even cheaper. With the discount on all the PSOne Classics I loaded to my Vita in the first week, I think I more than paid back the subscription.
Finally, as mentioned before, you can save your Game Save Data to cloud storage, meaning that, as long as you keep it backed up, you can always re-download a previously deleted game and continue right where you left off.
If you own a Vita, you really benefit from PS+.
What would the downsides of the system be?
Originally, the PS Vita's biggest downside was it's price. The console was expensive, and then you needed memory cards. Now, the console is much cheaper, and many stores offer a bundle deal where a memory card is thrown in with a selection of game downloads, so price isn't so much an issue anymore.
Yes, you still need to buy a memory card (the PS Vita Slim has 1Gb of internal memory, which will do you for game saves for a while, but won't really cover you for many download games at all) and they aren't cheap, but I found an 16Gb card (approx £25) kept me going for a while with only minimal download juggling. Eventually, you might want to upgrade, but at that point, it's more a matter of convenience than necessity.
Also, whilst my 3DS XL sits in my bag comfortably, thanks to it's flip-down design, like the 2DS, the Vita has an exposed screen. Unlike the 2DS, it also has two analogue sticks poking out the front. You are going to want a case for your little bundle of joy to protect that beautiful 5" screen and thumbsticks.
So, essentially, the only downside is the initial startup costs. After that, the console becomes considerably cheaper than most other consoles.
What games should I get for the console?
Haha! With a list that huge, goodness only knows. Do your research, either on the PSN store on the console, or right here. I'll be frequently talking about my favourite Vita games, and also mentioning some of the worst. There are plenty of free demos on the PSN store, and as a PS+ subscriber, you'll get even more free games!