Sony has had a modicum of success with their portable console, aptly named the PlayStation Portable, but it never quite caught on the way they wanted it to, or thought it would. In a world with 150 million Nintendo DSes, 68 million PSPs just doesn't sound as impressive. Nonetheless, Sony has come up with a successor to their handheld, and they've really injected a lot of new life into it. Thus, they've aptly named the new handheld console the PlayStation Vita, Latin for life.
At the flashy press conference at E3 2011, Sony showed off a sizzle reel of games for the system, while talking about the impressive technical specifications. The system's OLED screen can display early PlayStation 3 level graphics, literally doubling the resolution of the PSP. It has more inputs than any device before it; a touch screen, a back touch panel, dual analog sticks and a control pad, four face buttons, two shoulder buttons, a gyroscope and accelerometer, even the microphone might wind up being used for some games. What's surprising is how simple all of those inputs wind up coming into play. This tech powerhouse had a surprisingly low price, as well: $249 for the wifi model, $299 for the model with AT&T 3G built-in for gaming on the go.
While our hands-on time with the PlayStation Vita was limited, we did get to play through large portions of two games: the as yet unofficially titled Dynasty Warriors, and Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Both games were built from the ground up solely for the Vita. Both games are from well-established franchises, and both, it turns out, are awesome fun with a great combination of new and old inputs.
It's hard to add something significant to the Dynasty Warriors franchise. Each game tweaks a standard, and very successful formula of controlling medieval warriors, running around hacking and slashing hundreds of enemies, and delivering massive Musou attacks to eliminate large groups of foes. This game does all of that; when you first start playing, you control your character with the left control stick, and hack and slash with combos using the face buttons. It's a lot of X, X, X, SQUARE and a lot of glorious death on the battlefield. The graphics and sound both immediately take you back a step, as this truly looks like a portable PlayStation 3. The fidelity reached on such an early playable build was really shocking, and probably would sell fans of the genre on this immediately. Then the new gameplay, courtesy of the Vita's unique controls, comes into play.
Musou attacks were the first to significantly use the touch controls. During a big attack with the game's version of magic, my character could bring fire from the ground in many directions. This was done by spinning the right control stick while tapping the back touch panel with 8 fingers. you can tap all over the screen, and anywhere you tap, BOOM bursts of fire! It was just exciting and fun; it evoked a giddiness about playing a video game that hasn't been felt since the first time I picked up a Nintendo controller. There were other touch and gyroscope modes, as well. When ambushed, the screen freezes for a brief moment. During this pause, you hold the Vita up in front of you, and move it around to see the attacking enemies, and tap them before the time runs out, then delivering a killing blow on all of them at once. The boss battle we played was even all touch; block by tapping the back pad, stab or slash with the front touch screen. It all felt very natural, and was so easy to jump into. Everything just worked, and none of the new touch inputs felt forced. With just one level on this game, it was easy to see it being one of the best of the Warriors franchise yet, and a great early reason to put the PlayStation Vita on your wishlist.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is not a knockoff of the original franchise, but rather a whole new adventure that you can take with you on the go. The graphics are on par with Drake’s Fortune and Nolan North is still the voice of the best adventurer since Indiana Jones, Nathan Drake. The demo showed that this was not just going to be a combat game; the story is still there, although how it plays into Drake’s main plotline in the console games is yet to be seen. With story, the voices, a strong script, and those amazing graphics and sound, the cinematic action you’re used to from the Uncharted franchise is definitely present here.
What makes Golden Abyss special is how the new Vita controls – the back and front touch screens – work so well with the original controls. The game allows for whatever is comfortable for you as a player. When Drake is climbing a rope you can just use the analog stick to move him up, or you can move two fingers against the back touch pad as if they were actually Drake’s feet. Likewise, you can use the jump buttons during Drake’s iconic climbing sessions or you can trace your fingers across the screen and Drake will follow. For any Uncharted fan, the touch screen climbing will make you giddy and wonder why Sony has not found a way to add this type of control to the PS3. The touch screen is also used for the puzzles. In the demo, you swiped your finger back and forth across the screen to help Drake make an etching of some carvings on an old bridge.
For anyone who has doubts about the Vita, just pick up Uncharted: Golden Abyss. The stunning graphics and intuitive controls are sure to change your mind. Uncharted is one of the most beloved franchises for the PS3, so it would only make sense that Golden Abyss would be the number one game for the Vita, the new portable for console gamers.
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