Being a member of the gaming press obviously has its advantages, one of which, of course, is receiving things like the Vita before the rest of the continent receives theirs. The Sports Gamer has had his Vita for over a week now. Heck, I've even had the chance to take it with me on a trip, to see how much of a road warrior this thing is. (More on that later.) So what do I think of Sony's first new console in five years? And would I recommend the Vita, right now, at launch? The answers are coming at you in 3…2…1…
1. It was love at first power-up. As soon as the five-inch OLED screen lighted up for the time, my eyes were in love. OLED, in case you're not in the know, stands for "organic light-emitting diode." Instead of using backlighting, like a traditional LCD screen does, OLED somehow harnesses something called "organic electroluminescence." What exactly does this mean? It means that colors are brighter, blacks are deeper, and the contrast is ridiculously sharp. Think your iPhone or iPad screen looks pretty good? The screen on the PSV looks better--much, much better.
2. This is a much more user-friendly machine than the PSP--or the PSP go--ever was. Right from the start, using the PS Vita feels kinder and gentler thanks to the fact that the big, beautiful screen features touch-screen functionality. Instead of trying to figure out which button does what, a simple tap of the screen is usually all it takes to get the Vita to do what you want it to do.
3. Those analog sticks make a world of difference. Finally, we've got a portable machine with a control interface that's nearly as good as the controls we use when playing home consoles. Sony's Dualshock controller, which dates back to the original PlayStation days, has always been a personal favorite of mine. And using the Vita, holding it in my hands, feels almost identical to holding a DualShock controller in my hands. The one downside to the dual analog sticks: they're a little twitchy at first, and definitely take some getting used to. Evidence of this: all the damage I did to my anti-gravity racer in WipEout 2048.
4. Unfortunately, those sticks also make me worry about the machine when it's tucked inside my duffel bag. Because they stand in relief of the face of the machine, I couldn't just toss the Vita into my duffel and forget about it. The machine, as a whole, seems sturdy enough. But if the machine does have one Achilles heel when it comes to travel and overall portability, it's those sticks. Only time will tell if they can actually withstand some serious jostling.
5. The rear touchpad works well enough, but it's too soon to say if it will actually play a big role in future game development. Tickling the backside of the Vita during FIFA Soccer is not only encouraged, it's mandatory for success. You kick with the touchpad in front, but where your fingers are on the rear touchpad determines the location of the kick in the goal. Other games, like the playful Little Deviants, has you using the rear touchpad to raise and lower the environment to manipulate a ball onscreen. I like the idea of rear touch, but whether or not it will actually change the way we game remains to be seen.
6. Cross-platform play is, finally, a reality. The Vita is as powerful as the PS3. That means that Vita owners can play competitively online against PS3 owners, and vice versa. Also: cross platform saves mean you can start a game on the Vita version of, say, MLB 12: The Show, then continue the saved game on the PS3 (assuming you own both consoles, of course). Now, I haven't personally experienced this yet, so I can only comment on this in theory. But man, is this ever an appealing concept. I'll report back on cross-platform gaming in the coming weeks.
The Sport Gamer's Verdict: Make no mistake, the Vita is incredible. It is, without a doubt, the best handheld gaming machine ever created. The roster of launch titles--including Hot Shots Golf World Invitational, ModNation Racers Road Trip, WipEout 2048, and the aforementioned FIFA Soccer--is one of the best launch rosters in gaming history. There's something here for everyone, with even more awesome games on the way.
But like all new tech, the Vita, still, is all potential and promise at this point. Will it make good on that potential and promise? Will we have new gaming experiences that are unprecedented? Only time will answer those questions. My advice? If you've got the dough to spare, go ahead and pick up a Vita ASAP. But if you don't? Don't feel too bad about it. Six months from now, we'll all know, without a shadow of a doubt, whether or not the Vita is here to stay.
Verdict: 8 out of 10 based on one week of playtime, including a road trip to Las Vegas. Stay tuned to the blogs for more Vita info in the coming days.