Sony’s New PlayStation Handheld Shows Some Vitality

Sorry for the awful pun in the headline, but, well, you know. Sometimes it has to happen.

I purchased the Playstation Vita the other day, after a long process of swearing I’d never get one. Of promising myself that the PSPGo would be the last Sony folly I’d purchase.

But there was a DSi, a PSP 3000, and a PSPGo sitting on my desk, mocking me. They’d been there for a while, wishing they were an iPhone or an iPad, or perhaps both. “I don’t want a handheld console anymore,” I declared, fruitlessly as it turns out. “I’ve got my iPhone with me all the time.”

When all was said and done, though, two of my handhelds and a bunch of games traded in later, I have a Vita. And, wow, I hate to say it, but this is a pretty amazing little gaming device.


Little is more of a figure of speech. The screen on this bad boy is the same dimensions as my iPhone. The entire iPhone, not just the screen portion. If I were to cut out the PS Vita screen with an Xacto knife, I’d be able to slot the iPhone in there.

The screen resolution is nice–not new iPad nice, but the same chip is at play here–but tons have been said about that already. It’s pretty, yeah, ok. It makes PSP resolution games look a bit hazy. But still, this isn’t a console replacement. The iPad can do almost console-quality graphic performance, if my observations are true. The PS Vita, on the other hand, still looks a bit less than console awesome. Of course, the tech is new and all that, but still. If Epic can make Infinity Blade II on the iPad look that good? Someone should have been able to do so on the Vita.

But that’s not my point here. My point is that Sony has obviously taken some cues from other successful products. The two I notice most now after a few days? The touchscreen and the, well, whatever they’re calling the XMB area. The place with all the apps.

I thought the touchscreen would be a gimmick, something bootstrapped onto a PSP for stupid handheld tricks. Not so. The touchscreen makes this baby sing. Typing, for one, is finally usable. If I never see another ridiculous three letters and a number per space typing interface again, it’ll be too soon. Typing on this is how typing should be. THere’s even a rudimentary word-prediction feature that’s pretty nice.

The Vita interface is slick, and obviously designed with a touchscreen in mind. Games and other apps seem to pause when the PS home button is pressed, shrinking down into sheets that can be swiped left or right, or diagonally down fromt eh upper right corner to dismiss. It’s got a bit of WebOS feel to it in this sense. Great way to have it work. Tap the PS home button, freeze the app, move it aside for another. It feels like multitasking. Bravo, Sony. I thing the circular app icons are a bit too “not-apple-at-all-no-way” for my taste, but they are easily moved, and app pages are easily added. All in all, a great effort.

The Vita, so far, is a slick piece of kit, just like the original PSP was lo those many moons ago. I miss my original PSP. It felt like a quality piece of hardware, and the Vita has a similar solidity. The power button is (FINALLY) moved away from my clutching right hand, and the dual analog-esque sticks are great. The D-Pad is a little wonky with it’s single piece of plastic design, but I suppose Sony couldn’t get it ALL right.

I dig playing around in the interface. i like “Near,” the answer to Nintendo’s StreetPass system. I like the idea of near, and even in my small city suburb, I’ve found a few other folks playing the same Uncharted and Rayman demos I am. It’s a clever idea, well-enough implemented.

Speaking of Nintendo, while Sony took its cue from Apple in designing the touchscreen, they definitely hired the Nintendo Shopping dude to create their music. Whenever I’m browsing the PSN store or goofing around in Near, the music sounds like the Wii music. There’s no denying the friendly atmosphere of that music. Fascinating choice, there.

Overall? I haven’t bought any games yet, and have only downloaded PSP games I already own, and the demos available for Vita launch titles. But this is a slick piece of kit that I’m fairly happy I picked up. At least it’ll look better on my desk gathering dust than the last three systems that sat there.

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Frere Jaque? WTF?

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Wii Music is as simple and kid-centric as everyone says it is. Except that it’s not.

Seriously, this game is a ton of fun. I’ve just walked away from it after playing with my daughter for the past hour or so.

From Destructoid:

So, the fact that Wii Music will provide us with the opportunity to act like we’re playing a game is the reason why we should gravitate towards the title? I’m sorry, but the idea seems to be lost on me. I realize every game doesn’t have to be competitive, but at the same rate, there has to be something present that is more engrossing than our own imaginations. I understand the sentiment when relating it to the uber-casual gamer, but for everyone? I guess we’ll have to see later when we get our hands on it.

Why are we endlessly chasing our tails with this whole, “hardcore gamers” label? I like gaming. I like Halo 2 and 3, I like Gears of War, I play RockBand, I play a PSP and a DS, and I play games on my iPhone. There’s nothing casual about it. But I also enjoy Wii Music. Why?

Because it’s fun. It gives me a different sense of playing music than Rockband does. Rockband is about hitting the “correct” notes in sequence, in the way they’re written. Wii Music is about finding the notes and rhythms within a common tune. It’s about expression and gentle melodies. It’s about traditional and classical music. Wii Music is about songs I know and have hummed for years, many of which I didn’t even know the names of.

If I want anything for my son and daughter, it’s to have an appreciation for music and an aptitude and interest in playing an instrument or singing. It’s something that defines our family. This game is as educational as I’ve seen, in a real way, not in a “Mario Teaches Typing” way. It’s not a slapped-on mascot on top of a boring educational game. It’s actually a game that allows for learning. It even has lessons, but they’re fun, non-threatening, and really well put together. As the graduate school gamer says:

When Shigero Miyamoto introduce WiiMusic to the enthusiast press he emphasized that it was less a game and more of an inspirational toy. When you play WiiMusic it is not meant to simulate the actual instrument but rather to inspire gamers to actually take an interest in music or even pick up a real instrument.

I do wish, though, that they’d spent some time recording the text in these lessons and in the menus, so my pre-reader could follow along. It’s not horrible to have to sit and read the dialogues for him, but I’m sure he’d enjoy feeling like he was learning in the same way his sister is, alone, privately, and with no one there to tell him what to do or how to do it besides the game. Without a parent looking over his shoulder, as it were.

That being said, Wii Music has become our favorite party game. Wii Sports is fun with other people who aren’t musical, or really into that sort of thing. This game, however, is like our family’s Wii Sports. It’s a way that 2 or 4 of us can play along. The Games section is a ton of fun, as well, and really enriches the other multiplayer activity, Jams. There are three games to play, each allowing 1 – 4 players to play real music with different instruments. One, Harmony Hand Bells, is just a hoot, with each person getting two different color hand bells to shake (via WiiMote) in time. In retrospect, it’s almost exactly like the other music/rhythm games, as you watch handbells cross a line, and shake your own colored handbell in time with the song, and as the bell icon passes a specific line.

No, I wouldn’t recommend to only get Wii Music. It’s not the only music or rhythm game I want to play. But it’s definitely one of few I’m glad to own, and play, and continue to play. Alone, with others, and so on.

Some other great thoughts on Wii Music (a big thanks to David Carlton, who suggested this in a wonderful blog post):

Stephen Totillo (mtv multiplayer): http://multiplayerblog.mtv.com/2008/10/17/how-wii-music-works-as-a-game/

Michael Abbot (brainygamer): http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2009/01/unlock-the-door.html

Steve Amodio (8bithack): http://www.8bithacks.com/2008/10/wii-music-why-even-doubt-ead-anymore.html