October 30, 2014

Les Dispositifs Terribles: Playstation Vita

Hey there, sports fans! So I have for you today, a new invention. It's a sort of break down of gaming hardware, and I will try to do one every time I purchase a new system. I've recently acquired a bunch of new systems - and by "new", I mean new for me, not necessarily hot off the press - and it occurred to me that putting my thoughts down into words might be a bright idea. Please understand, THIS IS NOT A REVIEW per se. I don't exactly see the point in "reviewing" hardware because A) I (will) own them all anyway, and B) I would never recommend you do or don't buy a system because of its hardware specifications alone, I would recommend them chiefly based on their game libraries, and which would suit the person best. I'm publishing this so you can see my thoughts and first impressions of the system, and I will try to highlight a few things that stand out or maybe that you weren't aware of, and then perhaps my feelings will help you decide whether you are prepared to make the purchase yourself, if you haven't already. Every time I purchase a system, I always find myself noticing things that I didn't know before I made the purchase, and sometimes I think these are things people would like to know. So here goes…

The Playstation Vita is Sony's second attempt at a handheld Playstation device, the younger sister to the PSP (or Playstation Portable). It was made available to Japan at the end of 2011 and the rest of the world throughout 2012.
Not as easily folded, though.
It is approximately 7" long and 3" wide, 3/4" thick and contains all the workings of Playstation Dualshock controller (save for the second shoulder, or "trigger" button), stretched out to fit a 4 1/4" screen in the middle. The screen - like many Sony products - is crisp and clear and demonstrates color quite well.

The Vita is absolutely littered with ports. Along the top, between the power and volume buttons are two slots: one, marked "PS Vita" is where you can insert your physical game chips; the other is the mysterious accessory port. I've done very little research on it so I really have no idea what "accessories" there are. On the bottom of the system is the Vita's unique port, which is where you connect the included USB to connect your Vita to its charger, among other things; beside this is the headphone jack, for obvious purposes, and finally, the harder-to-see port, to the right and slightly below the headphone port is a small flap which hides your memory card port.
There are now two models of the Vita, the original PCH-1000 and later PCH-2000, which is colloquially referred to as the "slim" version (I'm sure you can guess, it's dimensions are slightly smaller). There are a ton of color variations depending on where you live and which model you want, but you shouldn't struggle to find the classic black or for something slightly different, white!

What makes the Vita particularly unique is that there are more ways to get things done than just pressing buttons. The Vita comes equipped with a number of other action methods, including a rear-touch panel, touch screen, tilt feature, and camera which open a whole lotta doors for game developers. There is a default app called "Welcome Park" which has mini games to help you get acquainted with these features.

Upon first hold, I felt the Vita was rather sleek, modern, straight forward and familiar to Playstation gamers. My first experience was actually screwing around with my brother's christmas present, and I found myself perplexed as to how to put the system into standby mode, but other than that it was easy to navigate, which was no doubt aided by the fact that I'm an experienced Playstation gamer. I'd also argue that my experience was helped by my familiarity with the iPhone. Many of the touch screen features (moving apps, for example) work almost identically to the iPhone, so I was able to discover this action easily.
My decision to purchase a Vita of my own was predominately at the behest of my many internet friends frequently praising the number of accessible Japanese RPGs, many of which I'd not have access to otherwise, due to localization issues. And what is an RPG Queen without JRPGs?!

When you open your Vita's box, you will find the system, charging cable (half of which is technically a USB cable) and the usual array of paperwork that nobody ever looks at. That doesn't sound like a lot, which begs the question: does it truly come with everything you need? And the answer is "no." If you want to purchase a brand new Vita, you'll have to stretch your piggy bank a little farther than the console's price tag, if only to purchase a memory card. The Vita demands a Sony-made, Vita-specific memory card, which of course, costs a pretty penny on its own. Without the card though, you cannot really use your Vita, so make sure to budget with this in mind. Also, it wouldn't hurt to pick up a protective case of some kind - since handheld consoles are subject to particular abuse - and perhaps a PS+ subscription, too.

For anyone unfamiliar, PS+ is a subscription service offered by Sony Playstation which presents you an abundance of free games every month (and they don't cheap out on you, either!) as well as countless discounts on other titles. To subscribe, you'll need a Playstation Network (PSN) account (which is free), and about $50 USD a year. You can purchase shorter subscriptions for less money, but in my opinion this is a waste. The catch for PS+ is that you can only keep your collected free games so long as you remain subscribed. Forever. That means $50 a year for the rest of your gaming life. That said, I feel the subscription pays for itself in the first month, and in spite of the growth my DIGITAL collection lately (I prefer hard copies), I support this program enthusiastically.

But let's get to the good stuff…
I touched a bit on the Vita's screen and my general fandom of Sony's screens. In ideal settings, the Vita's screen is bright and crisp, and I have little to complain about except: I feel the Vita is difficult to play without the correct environmental lighting. Reminds me of my Game Boy days. Regarding sound, I find the system to be rather quiet. I could not enjoy playing in a busy or public place without powerful headphones. Even with the volume cranked way up, and with my reliable ears (if I do say so myself...) I'm left wanting more of the Vita's output.
I'm also a little disappointed with the Vita's battery. I find it typically doesn't last me a single gaming session (2-4 hours, maybe?) and more often than not I have to play with the Vita plugged into the wall, effectively eliminating the portability of the console.
Must be purchased separately and you must purchase memory cards made BY Sony FOR the Vita. They are rather expensive and come in 4, 8, 16, and 32GB standard. Sometimes you can find better deals online, but nothing drastic in my experience. It is frustrating that you can't format your own memory cards, as they are more reasonably priced and may even come in bigger sizes.
For reference, my 8GB memory card can host about 9 games, most of which are on the smaller side.
The Vita makes virtually no console noise, but you will notice the system radiating a bit of heat from the back after a few hours of gameplay. I've not had this ever affect the usability of the system, nor has it ever stopped me.
Navigating the PS Vita is extraordinarily easy and familiar for iPhone users. However the system does come with a boatload of applications already installed and many cannot be removed. This can make your Vita's dash very crowded with many things you likely will never use. You can sort of remedy this cosmetic issue by customizing your screens, but it's an unfortunate, minor flaw.
If you have many apps open, you can quickly switch between them by pressing the PS button, and simply swiping over to the next app.
Once a game is inserted or downloaded, finding and selecting it is very easy. There will be a large picture medallion on the screen accompanied by the game's name, you simply have to tap it!
Allow me to introduce "the mom test". My mum (and pop for that matter) is about the least technology savvy person on the planet, so if she can figure it out, anyone can, dammit! I'm going to use this margin for determining the ease of use of the systems I discuss. It took me mum a few seconds to figure out how to power the Vita on, since you have to hold the button down for quite some time. Once on, she easily navigated the menu and quickly solved commands like "use the camera" or "check my messages". She could not figure out how to put the Vita into standby (runs in the family?) and instead was banking on the Vita automatically going to sleep after no use - a feature you can edit in your settings. I asked my mum to "set up the internet" on the Vita - it was actually already done, but for the sake of science... She got as far as settings. I wouldn't say "network" is a word my mum is terribly familiar with, but most device users should not struggle with formatting their Vita. In conclusion: anyone with basic technology experience (a cellphone, computer) should find the PS Vita very easy to use.
The Vita can be used for online gameplay via PSN and a wi-fi connection. Some systems also come with a bluetooth ability, but that requires a bit more work.
You can also install the Vita's Content Manager Assistant, and wirelessly connect your Vita to your computer! I love this, primarily because it means I can send beautiful screen shots (for my articles!) directly to my computer for uploading with little effort. I haven't poked around with this application otherwise, but judging by the long "database" building period, I believe you can also send content from your computer to your Vita with this manager. Maybe make use of that music app.

The Vita comes with several built-in apps for non-gaming use: Photos, Videos, Email, Music, (Internet) Browser, Calendar and Maps; as well as some to help your gaming experience: Parental Controls, PS Store, Messages, Friends, Trophies, Remote Play, Party and "Near" - an app which finds other Vita users near you and shows you what they are playing! Additionally, you can download apps to run your favorite streaming services like Netflix or Crunchyroll.

Lastly, the Vita comes with the ability to connect to your other Playstation devices (PS3 or PS4). Essentially, this gives you the ability to control your system with the Vita, and play on the Vita's screen. Personally, I have no use for this, but it can be set up using the apps already installed on your Vita.
Today, the average price for the unit is $199.99 USD and the system is widely available at most electronics retailers, online retailers and your favorite game shops. As I mentioned before, you will also have to purchase a memory card, which typically range in price from $19.99 - $79.99, with the 32GB option often being a little trickier to find in stock.
Recently, the system has been advertised in a limited edition bundle with Borderlands 2, still for the basic price of $199.99, and this bundle includes an 8GB memory card! 

Final thoughts? The Vita has a number of minor downfalls, but overall I'm enjoying the system. The games play well, the system is user-friendly and offers a number of ways in which to enjoy it. The system pairs exceptionally well with the PS+ service; there are almost always Vita games available as well as reasonable discounts, not only on Vita games but classic PSOne games, too! PS+ was influential in my decision to buy a Vita.
The Vita makes an excellent travel companion, as long as you have access to a power source. I feel the current price is fair, but I'm not amused by the exclusion of a very expensive memory card. I dislike having to have multiple cards or having to constantly erase my game data (including saved files) to make room for new games.

The proof is in the pudding:
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Muramasa Rebirth
Dragon's Crown
Tales of Hearts R

If there's anything I've failed to mention here that you would like to see commented on in my Les Dispositifs Terribles series, please, please, PLEASE let me know, as I want these to be as thorough as I can make them without boring everyone to tears. It's a lot of information for me to process, so I often overlook things.

1 comment:

  1. "the other is the mysterious accessory port. I've done very little research on it so I really have no idea what "accessories" there are."

    There are no accessories. It was rumored that it used to be the video out for the Vita, but nothing ever came of it.

    It's been removed in the new, slim version.

    "I find it typically doesn't last me a single gaming session (2-4 hours, maybe?) and more often than not I have to play with the Vita plugged into the wall, effectively eliminating the portability of the console."

    You could try various things to extend the battery life. Playing in Airplane Mode helps, as does turning down the brightness. What you're playing matters as well, for example a random PS1 game will be played longer than Borderlands 2.

    "They are rather expensive and come in 4, 8, 16, and 32GB standard."

    There are also 64GBs. They're only in Asia retail-wise though, so people have to import them. With shipping they can be imported for $85.

    "This can make your Vita's dash very crowded with many things you likely will never use. You can sort of remedy this cosmetic issue by customizing your screens, but it's an unfortunate, minor flaw."

    You could make a folder or two to toss them in, bit of a better solution.