If my fairy godmother granted me the power to take one thing home from E3, I might just choose the PlayStation Vita.
- It's shockingly light for its size.
- It's five-inch touch screen may be the nicest portable display I've yet seen.
- It sports a pair of responsive thumbsticks (yes, that's two, for everyone who's ever tried to play a shooter or third-person action game on a handheld).
- It has a rear touch pad, a gyroscope, and, optionally, 3G support for on-the-go multiplayer gaming.
- It costs just $249 for the WiFi version (there's no way Sony is making any money off of these things to start).
- And - this is the important part - it really makes you feel like you have a living room-quality experience in the palms of your hands.
I had a chance to try several Vita games in the Sony's E3 VIP lounge Tuesday, starting with Dynasty Warriors Vita. It's image clarity and graphical detail are at least equal to what I've seen of the franchise on current generation consoles. And it makes use of the rear touch pad in fun ways. I drummed my fingers on the back of the device to make my avatar execute rapid strikes, and tilted the screen to cock the camera to focus on targets. I'm not sure what I'd make of these controls in more challenging combat scenarios - changing the position of my fingers and hands was a little discombobulating - but it felt like something I could warm to.
I also checked out the Vita versions of Hot Shots Golf and Hustle Kings, both of which look pretty much like their counterparts on PlayStation 3. And while players can experience the game much as they would on other platforms, both offer control options that take advantage of the system's unique interface. In Hot Shots Golf I changed camera angle using the rear touch pad and used the touchscreen to adjust ball position on the tee. In Hustle Kings I pulled the pool stick back by touching it on the screen and made fine adjustments to angle using the rear touch pad. Excellent additions to control, all.
But none of these games will move Vitas off store shelves. That task will fall to Uncharted: Golden Abyss. This wholly original Vita exclusive looks nearly as good as the original Uncharted running on PlayStation 3. And, thanks to those two thumbsticks - one devoted to movement, the other to control the camera - it plays almost identically to the franchise's console editions.
That said, it also offers the option of employing Vita-exclusive controls. For example, I physically moved the device back and forth to make Nathan, the game's hero, swing on a rope. I also "painted" a series of ledges with my finger to make him automatically climb up a cliff. I'm not sure I prefer these controls to standard controls, but they're completely optional. And I like having the choice.
With perhaps the exception of the God of War games for PSP, this was the first time that I really felt like I was playing a console-quality game on a portable device without making sacrifices in terms of controls or graphics. Mobile phone, iPad, and even 3DS games simply can't match the uncompromising standards of Uncharted: Golden Abyss.
Long story short, if Sony and its partners can regularly deliver Vita games of this quality - and I'll grant that's a pretty big if - the Vita could be the start of an exciting new chapter in mobile gaming.