The first console launch I ever covered for Push Square was the PlayStation Vita, so I remember those heady February winter days well. It was 2012 and message boards were aflame with complaints about the infamous Online Pass (remember that?), while the PlayStation 3 was struggling to step outside of the Xbox 360’s considerable shadow in English-speaking territories. Elsewhere, smartphone apps were in vogue, and the media was telling us how they’d eventually crush console games for good.
And then there was this nugget: why would you ever play Uncharted on a handheld? It was the hot button topic of the time: the PlayStation Portable – despite its enormous 80 million units install base – had failed to engage fans with its promise of console gaming on the go, so why was Sony repeating the same strategy for a second time? No one could fathom it, and so the confusion continued until the platform holder unceremoniously popped the system in its console crypt, where it remains covered in cobwebs today.
Don’t believe me? While my Google-fu is yet to reach black belt status, I did manage to dig up a couple of ancient articles proving that I remember correctly. Take this one from Wired way back in 2013: “After two bites at the apple, Sony may have to admit that gamers simply aren’t drawn in by the idea of almost-console-quality games in their pockets,” Andrew Groen analysed. “Most hardcore gamers would rather play a higher-quality console experience on the big screen.”
It’s a statement you’ll find repeated in practically every editorial written about the Vita from the moment it was announced through to today. Here’s another quote, from The Guardian’s Keith Stuart: “[With] the PSP and Vita [...] the philosophy has been ‘bringing the home console experience to your pocket’. Not only has that proved costly to the consumer in terms of retail price and battery life, it grates against what a lot of people want from a portable experience.”
Why am I bringing all this up? Because after I rubbed the salt from my fanboy eyes and saw the world afresh, I actually started to agree. I’ll never forget reviewing Gravity Rush in the summer of the Vita’s launch year, sitting on the same seat I use to review all of my games, only with the television screen off and my hands clamped around Sony’s expensive slab of portable plastic. “What am I doing?” I remember thinking to myself, amid crude fantasies about protagonist Kat.
And yet last week’s Nintendo Switch release of DOOM brought with it a chorus of chirpy Mario, Link, and Metroid avatars: can’t wait to play this very console-esque experience on the go, they all sang. I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve been sat here with a scrunched face for a while now: I honestly didn’t think this was what anyone wanted. And if it is, where were you when Sony was biting away at an apple that everyone already agreed was rotten at the core?
Now I understand that the Switch scenario isn’t exactly comparable: the console’s hybrid nature has always seemed like a more elegant realisation of Sony’s efforts to put console games in the palm of your hands – after all, cross-buy and Remote Play and cross-save are all part of the same playbook, aren't they? But back then it was very much considered a bad idea, and now all of a sudden it’s a brilliant idea. And I’m not really sure what’s changed?
I suppose someone looking to shoot holes in my article would point to the fact that the likes of Skyrim and L.A. Noire on the Switch are the complete console games, like Borderlands 2 and Resident Evil Revelations 2 never came to the Vita at all. I’d argue that if people had indicated they actually wanted to play these titles portably in years past, there might have been a teensy bit more incentive for publishers to actually take a chance.
So I’m not sure what’s changed – or, indeed, if anything even has. Perhaps I’m being suckered by the online echo chamber, where common opinions reverberate but never actually reach the masses at all. A quick look at DOOM’s UK debut on the Switch – where it sold an estimated 3,500 units at retail – suggests that may be the case. Either way, I’m certainly not arguing that the Vita was some underrated uber-appliance that deserves your love and admiration; I’m merely illustrating how tones have changed.
Do you agree with Sammy that tones have changed quite considerably? And why do you think that is? Are you one of those people that wants to play console experiences on the go, and why? Take your experience out and about into the comments section below.