The last time I talked about the PlayStation Vita’s problems I basically continued to reserve final judgment of the platform’s first year until the holiday season. We’re mid-way into that now and it doesn’t seem to be doing all that much better. When thinking about what would actually make me want to buy one, I realize how much potential the Vita really has, but might not ever see.
Like I’ve said more than once, what would basically make me want a Vita are more exclusive games instead of straight ports of console games. More importantly, it needs exclusive games that actually feel like they had work put into them, and for the most part that’s just not what we’ve seen this year.
Almost all the news about Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified since its release has hinted at it being one of the most overpriced rush jobs of all time. This is especially damning for a game that was supposed to save the platform’s holiday season. If I acquired a Vita now, the only games I’d play on it (that aren’t PSP games) are probably Lumines: Electronic Symphony, Gravity Rush, and maybe Uncharted: Golden Abyss.
When it comes to games like this, the problem Sony faces is getting western developers to actually give a crap about a dedicated handheld, at least enough to make games on it as fun as console games. A lot of people are talking about games they’d want ported to the Vita like Borderlands 2, or existing ports that work rather well like Need for Speed Most Wanted. I think it would be better if they cared enough to design exclusive games for the handheld environment.
Maybe a lot of people who own Vitas are fine just buying the Vita versions of those multiplatform games, but those ports aren’t going to convince me to buy one for the simple fact that I already own other platforms on which they appear. The only way things like cross-play and cross-buy will become a really big incentive for me, is if they became much more widespread.
If I could buy a Vita and reasonably expect a sizable chunk of my existing software library and save files to carry over, that might be something. That’s why I buy new iOS devices. That’s probably not going to happen with the Vita though. Even then, I think that kind of support is going to drop like a stone once the PS4 comes out and widens the horsepower gap between handheld and console gaming once again.
Let’s say they did release a Vita version of Borderlands 2 that somehow synced with the save file for my PC copy of the game (by allowing Steamworks on PSN or something I dunno). Maybe I could even redeem a Vita copy by already owning the game on another platform. That might be nice if enough games did this, but if Gearbox actually cared enough to put their full effort behind a wholly original Borderlands game with new areas and quests exclusive to the Vita, that would be a much stronger incentive to buy the system. What if EA tried to make a Vita exclusive Need for Speed game that leveraged the touch screen and mobile aspects?
Certain iOS games I’ve seen have me convinced that if Bethesda actually tried, they could make a great handheld-specific Elder Scrolls game, and the Vita would be an excellent platform for it. Actually, I think the Vita is excellently suited to RPGs in general, whether they be dungeon crawlers or isometric, since someone did get Baldur’s Gate working on an iPad.
Strategy games are a genre in which I think the Vita could out-do consoles. The GBA, DS, and PSP proved that strategy games can do well on handhelds, and the Vita’s touch screen looks well-suited to a game like XCOM. They’d just have to make sure it extolled the virtues of the console and PC game but adapted them to a mobile device.
The reason Nintendo’s handheld games work so well is because the teams that make them are the same teams that make Nintendo’s console games. They put the same effort into making the games just as fun, but specifically fitted to the handheld environment. That’s how you get hits like Wario Land, Pokémon, and Link’s Awakening.
I think that if Sony really cares about the future of the Vita, they need to invest in first party software specifically for the system. They need to somehow convince their first party development houses to put real effort behind the platform. It would be great if Sony came up with a successful IP that could do for the handheld what Pokémon did for Nintendo handhelds.
The PSP got lucky and got that game from a third party — Capcom’s Monster Hunter. I don’t think Sony ever really learned a lesson or figured out what they needed to do with the PSP though. Monster Hunter simply saved the platform’s ass by drawing the Japanese market towards handhelds, and a-list Japanese developer support with it. That’s how so many great third party games eventually showed up on the PSP — pretty much all of them Japanese.
Sony has had to learn once again though how fickle third party can be. Just like so many of the Japanese third parties who developed exclusively on PlayStation and PlayStation 2 have to make their games multiplatform now, Nintendo managed to snatch Monster Hunter away from Sony, and they don’t have much to fill in for it. Sony ended up having to beef up their first party support of the PS3, and may have to do the same on the Vita in order to produce their own killer app.
Actually, I think that support for exclusive Vita games might tick up once the PS4 comes out and developers stop trying to port the latest console games to the Vita. Like what happened with the PSP after the PS3 came out, the hardware gap will force them to make games specifically for the Vita. I think most of them will, like with the PSP, be Japanese.
At this point Sony probably can’t get western developers to care enough to put serious effort into a handheld that doesn’t run either iOS or Android. Japanese developers on the other hand have already announced Vita projects like Tales of Hearts R and Sei Madou Monogatari… many of which probably won’t release outside of Japan. They’re even starting to develop them on both PS3 and Vita, which points to what some hoped they’d do — use the Vita hardware’s closeness to that of the PS3 as a bridge into PS3 development that they otherwise wouldn’t undertake. I’m gonna go ahead and predict that Persona 5 is going to at least be on the PS3 and Vita.
I don’t hate the PlayStation Vita itself. I think it’s a great piece of hardware for its price and I even like the feel of its software service. I just don’t believe in buying hardware for hardware’s sake because I know that after the novelty wears off you’re typically left with a shiny-but-useless appliance.