PlayStation Vita Launch Line-up: Preview
More than one reason to consider importing Sony's machine.
Nintendo may have done its best to spoil Sony's party by announcing that Monster Hunter would be coming to the 3DS, but the air of celebration continues around PlayStation Vita. Thirty-one games for the handheld made an appearance at the Tokyo Game Show, and Monster Hunter aside, it was the biggest pull of the event.
With no firm word of a release date outside of Japan and no region locking for the console's software, there is of course a huge temptation to import Sony's Vita when it comes out in the East on 17th December. Twenty-six games launching alongside the handheld ensure that, unlike this year's 3DS launch, there will be a wealth of options when it comes to picking up games.
Sony's first-party games provide the obvious highlights, and Uncharted: Golden Abyss is as close to an essential purchase as there is for the Vita, both a technical marvel that's perfect for showcasing the console's power as well as an extension of one of this generation's best-loved series.
Third-party support is strong and varied. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is arguably the pick of the bunch, wisely leaning heavily on the connectivity of the handheld to tap into the game's rich sense of community. Elsewhere, Namco Bandai upholds the tradition of releasing a Ridge Racer at launch, while Ubisoft upholds its own less noble tradition of shovelling Gameloft ports onto new handhelds with the poor Dark Quest: Alliance.
Power Smash 4
A pleasant surprise from Sega, Power Smash 4 (or Virtua Tennis 4, as it'll be known when it leaves Japan) manages to do much more than simply port over the well-worn arcade template to the Vita.
Touch-screen controls have been well thought through, with prods and swipes firing off appropriate shots and volleys. It's the mini-games that benefit the most, and Sega's clearly had much fun exploring the further reaches of the Vita's many control schemes. One game switches to a first-person perspective, the gyro being used to navigate and track incoming balls, while another takes a top-down perspective and allows two players to face off on one Vita.
It all looks remarkably handsome to boot, the robust visuals translating well to that crisp, crisp screen. And of course, if you do want that well-worn arcade template unadulterated by touch controls, it's still all there for the taking.
Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3
Here's one game that lives up to the promise of PS3 games playable on the move, in most regards at least. Capcom's feature-complete port of its comic-book brawler is an impressive feat, and while a little fidelity's lost in the translation, everything else is present and correct.
Indeed, Marvel vs. Capcom's combo-heavy fighting is arguably a better fit for handheld than some of the more complex games in the genre. The three-button fist-play ports well to the diminutive face buttons, and the Vita's d-pad will make an equally accommodating home. Should that all be a bit much, there's always the touch-pad shortcuts which work in a similar fashion to Street Fighter IV's recent handheld outings.
The Vita's biggest boon to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is what its connectivity brings to such a social fighter, a fact heavily alluded to by Yoshinori Ono as he revealed the game, even if precise details aren't yet forthcoming.
Given how well Codemasters' F1 games have fared on home consoles, it's a shame to see that its Vita debut looks so regressive. Yes, PS3 visuals on the handheld are something of a myth, even if some of the launch games do make an impressively close approximation, but seeing a game that's graphically well below what Sony Liverpool achieved on the PS2 is a little disheartening.
Still, the content's there, even if the visual quality currently isn't. Having the official license guarantees the best track list in town as well as a mighty fine garage. Handling isn't quite up to the spec of the more recent, retooled game, but it's no disaster, and there's at least an acknowledgement of the Vita's networking capabilities in the multiplayer options.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
It's no surprise that the best looking game on PS3 would also be the best looking game on Vita, but the brilliance of Uncharted: Golden Abyss' visuals still comes as something of a shock.
Sony Bend has conjured a brilliant imitation of Uncharted's matinee world of dense jungles and stone temples, and the TGS demo, set in a burning house that Drake is trying to escape from, had echoes of the presentation that introduced Uncharted 3 to the world last year.
Sony Bend has also provided an equally convincing simulation of the series' mix of platforming and gunplay. It's fine-tuned to the Vita, introducing gesture based traversal and puzzles that use the touchscreen well. They're sometimes a less than perfect fit, though, touch-screen platforming seems like a fad too far when sticks and buttons are much more adept at the task, but it's not enough to detract from the marvel. Undoubtedly the must have of the Vita's launch line-up.
As a collection of mini-games, Bigbig Studio's Little Deviants doesn't set the world on fire, but as a showcase of the Vita's many and varied control schemes, it's much more impressive.
AR modes join mini-games that make judicious use of the touchscreen, but it's Little Deviants' use of the rear touchpad that really shines. In a game that's uniquely tactile, a maze is manipulated by poking the touchpad, guiding a ball into a hole by deforming the ground.
Elsewhere, it throws up gyro-controlled traversal and a touchpad-enabled shooting gallery, not the most exciting fare, to be honest, but certainly a thorough way to explore the Vita's feature set.
Army Corps of Hell
One of the stranger surprises of TGS, Army Corps of Hell sees Square Enix take on some of Blizzard's darkly comic aesthetic, the result looking not unlike Codemasters' fantasy genre hybrid, Overlord.
Army Corps of Hell plays out in a similar fashion, too; you control a towering demon surrounded by his goblin hordes, sending them out to attack enemies with the right analogue stick. Goblins come in three flavors, with wizards, swordsmen and ranged fighters all providing different approaches to the busy combat.
Overlord was itself a take on Pikmin, and what's really interesting about Army Corps of Hell is that its developer, Entersphere, is headed up by Motoi Okamoto, an ex-Nintendo employee who worked on the GameCube's much-loved gardening simulator. Reason enough, for sure, to keep a watchful eye on this one.
What would a Sony hardware launch be without a Ridge Racer? Sadly, Namco's series doesn't quite hold the same clout as it did when Sony's last portable was released, and other, prettier games have stolen its thunder on this particular device.
That's not to say it isn't a looker, and there's something about Ridge Racer's world of concrete and neon that feels just right on Sony's hardware, especially when paired with a device that's as downright sexy as the Vita.
Mechanically, it's the same, though as the 3DS' own Ridge Racer proved, sometimes there's nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia when it's wrapped up in such a comprehensive package. How much history the Vita version decides to embrace remains to be seen, but series staples such as a butter-smooth frame rate and a thirst for nitrous look to be intact.
Lords of Apocalypse
A sequel to Lords of Arcana, itself based on the popular Lords of Vermillion trading card game, this action RPG sets an interesting precedent in being released alongside its PSP counterpart, whose assets it shares.
Lords of Apocalypse's taut combat and well produced universe are both handsome fits for the Vita, and the second analogue stick gives the kind of camera control that's impossible on the PSP, but its lineage is clear enough.
Ultimately, it's a game that's unlikely to make it outside of Japan, and the language barrier makes it an unattractive option to import, but the concept of porting over some of the PSP's bigger franchises and custom-fitting them to the Vita is one that may well make it over here.
Dark Quest: Alliance
You've not experienced true disappointment until you've stood in line for over an hour in Tokyo Game Show's sweltering Makuhari Messe to play a mystery Ubisoft Vita RPG, only to get to the head of the queue and discover it's just the Japanese version of Gameloft developed Diablo clone, Dungeon Hunter.
No surprises here. Pick from one of three nearly indistinguishable character classes, await the goblin horde and then mash away at the face buttons until either you stumble on the level exit or your wrist goes into spasm.
Uncomfortable (albeit optional) rear touch pad controls that let you control an accompanying spirit character at least demonstrate some effort to lever the Vita's feature set, and there's four-player online co-op available, but it's all deeply unexciting stuff nonetheless. If you're curious, you can pick up an iOS version on the App Store on the cheap.
Used under license from Eurogamer.