Sony's latest gaming gizmo, Vita, has now been in the hands of enthusiastic PlayStation gamers for over a week. Naturally, quite a few of the Push Square staff are early adopters and have been spending an unhealthy amount of time enjoying the delights of the shiniest handheld on the market. With that in mind, some of the team decided to get together to talk about early impressions and experiences, the system's positives and negatives and also what we hope to see in the future. Joining features editor Thomas Whitehead are associate editor Sammy Barker, assistant editor Mike Mason, Vita editor Corbie Dillard and U.S. reviewer Christopher Ingram.
Thomas Whitehead: First of all, please introduce yourselves to our lovely readers.
Corbie Dillard: I'm Corbie Dillard, Vita editor extraordinaire.
Sammy Barker: S'up guys, I'm Sammy Barker, associate editor at Push Square.
Mike Mason: Hi, I'm Mike Mason, assistant editor on Push Square.
Christopher Ingram: What’s up guys? I’m Chris and I’m one of the U.S. reviewers.
Thomas Whitehead: Thanks guys. If you had to sum it up in one sentence, what was your first impression when you opened your very own Vita?
Corbie Dillard: You mean when I stopped jumping up and down and screaming like a little girl? I think the size is what got me. It was much bigger than I had remembered from E3.
Mike Mason: Love at first sight. That OLED screen seems even more fantastic now it's my own!
Sammy Barker: Yeah, I pretty much echo Mike's thoughts. The system's capable of some amazing stuff, but it's the screen that catches you straight away. It's gorgeous.
Christopher Ingram: Good night! The screen is huge!
Corbie Dillard: I never knew black could be so black.
Thomas Whitehead: Excellent. Which game or app had you most excited about firing up your new toy?
Christopher Ingram: Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus of course, but it didn’t launch with the First Edition Bundle, so I settled with Uncharted: Golden Abyss. It was a nice supplement.
Sammy Barker: Honestly, I was most excited about Near. The idea of being able to communicate with other nearby players as well as share unlocks from various games had me hot under the collar. I still haven't really figured it out though.
Mike Mason: Ha, that's strange, because Near is the one for me as well. I find it really interesting and it's got some cool potential for communities.
Corbie Dillard: While I find Near a cool feature, the apps were of very little importance to me. I just wanted to get Hot Shots Golf in that baby and hit the links. Of course Rayman Origins was the US game I was most excited about.
Thomas Whitehead: Interesting answers. Do you think, judging on those comments, that Vita is well setup for those keen on communities and interaction, but also more conventional single player gaming? Which is most prominent in the system's ethos, if at all?
Corbie Dillard: I think Near is a good start, but maybe lacks some of the interaction of Street Pass.
Honestly, I was most excited about Near. The idea of being able to communicate with other nearby players as well as share unlocks from various games had me hot under the collar.
Mike Mason: Yeah, it doesn't have the immediacy that StreetPass does I don't think — unless you have the 3G model.
Corbie Dillard: I've never gotten mine to work on my Wi-Fi. Of course I live a way outside of the city.
Mike Mason: I get quite a lot of hits on mine, but I've only been able to use it at home. A few people have even tried to add me on PSN through it!
Christopher Ingram: Most definitely in my case! I’ve got the 3G version and I had a blast perusing my city this past weekend playing around with Near. Not only did I get to interact with tons of Vita users, but I scored lots of Near goodies as well. The Black Market in Uncharted coupled with Near is a stroke of pure genius! If Sony gets smart and allows Vita users’ to connect to PlayStation Home, then they’ve got some real potential for effective community interactions on their hands.
Sammy Barker: I just think Near is too convoluted. They need to add in some instructions or something — I don't know what's going on half of the time. But Near aside I think it's crazy the amount of community functions the Vita has. It betters PS3 in terms of feature set, and I think it even rivals Xbox Live. PS3 owners have been crying for cross-game chat for years — and Vita has that!
Corbie Dillard: I think as Sony updates Near in the future, it should get more in-depth and functional.
Thomas Whitehead: Just to pick up on a point raised, is Near an example where having separate Wi-Fi and 3G models is potentially an issue?
Mike Mason: I think so. Without 3G, you're left hunting for open Wi-Fi hotspots before you can connect, which I think lessens its impact.
Corbie Dillard: It has me wondering if maybe I should have sold this Japanese unit and picked up the 3G model.
Mike Mason: I immediately thought I should have bought 3G when it came to Near.
Sammy Barker: I wouldn't call it an issue, more a benefit. I went with the 3G unit myself and it's pretty awesome being able to check friends lists and sync trophies on the go.
Christopher Ingram: Is it an issue? No. But is owning a 3G Vita a plus? Yes, and that’s exactly why I purchased it.
Thomas Whitehead: A comparison was made with PS3 earlier, and some have argued that Vita is basically PS3 on the go. Two questions: is that a fair reflection of the device's functionality, and do you consider that accusation to be a positive or negative?
Christopher Ingram: Yes, I think it’s both a positive accusation, as well as being truthful. Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus puts a direct port of a PS3 game in the palm of your hands. Not only does it play wonderfully, it actually plays better and has more than the original version(s). The market is flooded with quick play games and devices and it’s awesome to have something catered directly to (us) hardcore gamers.
Mike Mason: I don't think it's entirely fair, it's got to have a chance to blossom on its own. With Near it has potential to bring things to the table that PlayStation 3 can't simply because it isn't a portable. It's certainly intended as a positive comparison, though.
Corbie Dillard: I think it's natural given the system's capabilities, especially visually. I think Sony wants to go with the "console in the palm of your hand" approach and I think it does do a nice job of setting itself apart from 3DS and shows the direction Sony wants to go with it. So yeah, I think it's a positive. At least as long as developers can deliver on the games.
Sammy Barker: And to further that, I think just because it can do PS3-style content doesn't necessarily mean it has to. You look at stuff like Frobisher and Escape Plan and they're totally original games designed for the platform.
Corbie Dillard: I agree. I think a good mix would be nice. But it's nice to know the power is there.
Mike Mason: Yeah, it should lead to a nice, varied selection. It's already got off to a good start on that front, a few experimental titles side by side with traditional.
Sammy Barker: Exactly. I want both types of experiences. Right now I'm darting between Top Darts and Virtua Tennis 4. One uses the touch screen exclusively and can be played in 2 minute chunks. The other is pretty deep and focuses on the console experience. It's all about choice.
Corbie Dillard: But if you're going to go for the gold, like Uncharted did, you'd better get it right (which Sony did, for the most part).
Thomas Whitehead: Great stuff. Now that initial sales have come through, what about the 'value' of the Vita, including those dreaded memory cards, do you think this represents a reasonable investment for experienced gamers, first of all?
Sammy Barker: The thing about Vita is, it's expensive, but it's hard to argue against it being value for money. The system is absolutely crammed with tech. It's a bargain for the price. The memory cards do sting though!
Mike Mason: The memory cards are a real sticking point. For what you're getting, the price of the hardware is pretty fair. For experienced gamers, looking at the launch line up, it's definitely worthwhile in my opinion. But those proprietary memory cards are still unreasonable.
Corbie Dillard: I think experienced gamers, for the most part, want the system and will pay the extra for the memory card, even if it does tick them off that it has to be purchased separately and at a fairly steep price. But I'm not so sure it won't turn off more casual gamers.
Sammy Barker: They'll come down too, right?
Mike Mason: Will they come down too late to stop some people purchasing altogether, though, Sammy?
Corbie Dillard: I think Sony is using them to help make up the production cost of the Vita. So I'm not sure how quickly it’ll start knocking the price down.
Thomas Whitehead: I think you're right there Corbie. I’m sure I read that the hardware is making a loss. If 3DS is selling at a loss, you can be pretty sure the Vita is.
Corbie Dillard: Right.
Sammy Barker: I also wonder whether Sony’s trying to cut retailers in on the cash. It must have been tough convincing them that all digital games are going to be discounted.
Corbie Dillard: Plus the 32GB card seems to be very popular, even with it's $100 price tag.
Mike Mason: 16GB, the highest over in the UK, is too — it was sold out on launch day.
Sammy Barker: Yeah, so people are buying them.
Corbie Dillard: I guess people figure if they're going to have to spring extra for them, they might as well make sure it's just this once.
Sammy Barker: Pretty much.
Christopher Ingram: Honestly, after spending time with Vita, I felt like I didn’t pay enough for it.
Thomas Whitehead: These early sales and issues, much like the initial high sales of 3DS, represent loyal fans, surely. How will pricing, regardless of marvellous tech, affect the casual uptake of Vita?
Mike Mason: I don't think the casual market, at this point, is going to take too well to Vita.
Corbie Dillard: I think when you start adding up the system, memory card, games, and accessories, it starts to get pricey, so I see most of the casuals waiting for a price drop, at the very least.
I don't think Sony is too worried about that (casual market) at the moment. It’s clearly gunning for the hardcore audience right now.
Sammy Barker: But I don't think Sony is too worried about that at the moment. It’s clearly gunning for the hardcore audience right now. It’ll expand that strategy in time. Sony's never gone mainstream out of the gate.
Corbie Dillard: Exactly.
Mike Mason: Agreed. The cost of entry is too high for that market right now, but it's definitely not the direction Sony want Vita facing at this second.
Corbie Dillard: Sony want to scoop up the hardcore PlayStation fans and then worry about everyone else later. Much later if necessary.
Christopher Ingram: I’ll be blatantly upfront here: I personally don’t give a rip. Any and everything that can play games in today’s market is bending itself over backwards to cater to the casual markets. Xbox used to be the ‘hardcore gamers’ console, but it’s now gone mostly casual too. There are enough free casual games on the market to keep casual gamers busy for a lifetime already and Sony’s direct advertising to the hardcore gamers for Vita has me standing in applause!