As someone who really likes video games, I can say that I was not alone in being completely underwhelmed by the launch of Sony’s handheld powerhouse, PlayStation Vita. A little more than a month after its release, the PS Vita has yet to make a significant splash.
Yet, the PlayStation Vita is a sweet piece of hardware. Even the most jaded of nerds aren’t left indifferent by the specs: two on-board quad-core processors, a five-inch touchscreen, two analog sticks (one more than its previous iteration, the PlayStation Portable) and your standard d-pad and array of four Playstation buttons, among others. For those not versed in gaming lingo, the PlayStation Vita is a stacked handheld portable gaming platform that is more than capable of housing high-end single- and multi-player content. So why hasn’t anything significant happened in the last five weeks?
For one, portable gaming has (mostly) been relegated to iPhones/Androids and their respective apps. People have started to move away from hours spent playing Pokémon, opting for that 30-second reprieve offered by a round of “Draw Something” or the quick satisfaction of smashing pigs into oblivion, a la “Angry Birds.”
While the casual gaming market has expanded many-fold with the advent of smartphones, more hardcore thrill-seekers can find refuge in some of the higher-end games available for their iPhones/Androids without having to carry around a second item. “Infinity Blade,” for example, is a game with respectable graphics and immersive gameplay available on the iPhone that received a great bit of praise for its use of the available hardware.
Additionally, the PS Vita is falling into the same traps as its predecessor. The PlayStation Portable never lived up to expectations despite a series of good releases and re-releases, as well as the massive success of the “Monster Hunter” series. The Nintendo DS and 3DS, comparatively, acquired a large portion of the casual gaming market through adorable gimmicks like “Nintendogs” and the release of quality content. Nintendo’s 3DS has been smashing the PlayStation Vita’s sales almost every week since its release.
The quality of content being released on traditional consoles (PC, Xbox 360, PS3) is so much higher than what’s available on the Vita — which is admittedly very high-end, especially when compared to previous capabilities of past handheld platforms, but it isn’t necessarily worth the investment to someone who has access to the millions of fun, low-intensity games on smartphones.
Through Vita, Sony appeared to be attempting to appeal to the small niche of gamers who are excited enough about high-end hardware to buy a PlayStation Vita, but who don’t own a smartphone. The biggest issue with this strategy lies with the Vita’s current library. It’s essentially a string of small-name games with no distinctive draws to make them stand out. In other words, (mostly) underwhelming rehashes, including a game with “Okami”-style painting mechanics that becomes cumbersome and boring, a poor “Ridge Racer” port, an average “Katamari” release with the exact same gameplay as the last few, the umpteenth iteration of Major League Baseball games and a high-quality Playstation 3 port of the infuriatingly difficult “Ninja Gaiden” series. Cool.
Looking over all the popular and soon to be released 3DS games, we have a ton of cutesy games that do everything but promise an intense gaming experience — “Funky Barn 3D,” “Horses 3D” and “Girls RPG: Cinderellife” don’t sound as enticing as “Ridge Racer” or “Sumioni: Demon Arts,” but they appeal to a larger group of individuals who probably won’t care so much about how terrible the games are.
Sony’s PlayStation Vita attempts to fill a niche that’s too small with a library that’s too dull while going against some tough competition. It’s an awesome system that lacks the support and demand needed for serious success, and until the Vita gets its own set of high-octane releases, I’ll stick to “Words with Friends.”