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.


Too Many Games

This is something that I only have a few thoughts on, but it’s been brought about by a couple of things. One is a voicemail I left on Jason’s Mental Doodles podcast, the other a meme-like admonishment that I’ve been hearing in the ludodecahedron and the brainy gamer podcast/blog.

First off, I left a voicemail about the way we consume games currently in the media, enthusiast press, and in my own life. There’s always a new, better, bigger game out there to try. The publishers want us addicted to the spice flow, so to speak, so that they can sell us and our friends and the rental companies lots and lots of videogames.

Secondly, Michael Abbot continually mentions his “chew your food” metaphor for consuming games. It’s a reminder to slow down, enjoy the game, stop rushing through in the quest to “beat” it.

So, yeah, the Holidays of 2008 were a flood of new game releases. The games on my radar were all equally deserving of my purchase: from Gears of War 2 to Far Cry 2 to Fallout 3, each game is a big triple-A title. I don’t have a spare $180 each time this happens, though, and I had just bought Halo 3 to play with my buddies online, who had already moved on to Gears 2 when i finally got the game. Ugh.

So, I got to be part of the conversation about a game I truly enjoyed, but I didn’t get to be a part of the conversation about other games. This is not a huge loss, and doesn’t make my family starve or anything. It’s just a sad, upper middle class privileged whine, I suppose.

But see, that’s just the thing. As I attain more and more disposable income, I dispose more and more of it on things like videogames. I now have the good fortune of a PSP, a DS, a Wii, an iPhone, and an XBox 360. That’s quite a bit. I’m starting to feel like a childhood friend of mine who always had way more toys than I did: a bit overwhelmed and jaded.

When we have too many things, as my childhood friend did, each individual thing becomes less valuable to us. That’s my thought. The more of any one thing I have, be it comic books, or novels, or CDs, or MP3s — the less each individual piece becomes to me. And I experience that sadly. I recall the very first few SF novels I read as a young adult. Each one is still precious to me. I can recall their titles, authors, etc. Not so the ones I read now, as a general rule. As I read more and more books like this, the individual ones blur and aggregate in my mind.

The more games I have to play, the less I play any of them. This feels like a corollary to the above. Right now, I have a game collection that would be called paltry by any serious gamer, but geeze, there’s only so many hours in the day. I spend many of them not with a videogame. Most of the free time I do have needs to be split across other things, including TV, movies, books, music, knitting, and lazing about. I am able to horn in some gaming time with my kids, especially with the more active games like Rockband and WiiSports/WiiFit.

But when I look at my whole gaming collection, I realize that I still have too many of them to reasonably play. Starting with the handhelds, I’m playing the following:

  • The World Ends With You
  • Chains Of Olympus
  • Crisis Core
  • Mother 3 (soon, I hope)
  • RockBand 2
  • WiiFit (becomes my workout for some days)
  • No More Heroes
  • Raving Rabbids (kids love this WAY more on the Wii than they ever did on the 360)
  • Beyond Good & Evil
  • World Of Goo
  • So, that’s eight games that I’m actively involved in playing. I maybe get 5 hours per week or so to just play games. You do the math.

    Here’s a list of the games I’ve TRIED to play in the past year or so and have not finished:

    • (all of the above games)
    • Assassin’s Creed
    • Halo 3
    • Oblivion
    • Eternal Sonata (what?! I like music!)
    • Final Fantasy 4
    • Chrono Trigger
    • Wii Music

    Here are the games I’ve actually finished:

    • Gears of War 2
    • Mass Effect
    • BioShock

    Kinda says something, doesn’t it. About myself, obviously, but I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone in this. I think it says more about our culture, our relative wealth, and the promotional machine.

    It’s only recently that I’ve been turned on to older games, through sites like Good Old Games and The Vintage Game Club. I’m really enjoying the gameplay and the conversations. A small part of me still thinks, “but the new games are passing me by!” Most of me, however, is perfectly fine to focus my energies and time on games that resonate with ME, rather than with the enthusiast or professional games press.

    So, I guess I’m just saying, take your time. I’m giving myself permission to do the same. I’m enjoying the hell out of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer seasons 1 and 2 on the internet. It’s older, and I may not keep up with current shows I’d like to because of it, but that’s ok. It’s my choice and the choice is a good one.

    It’s also ok to turn off the screens, pick up a book, go outside for a ski, rock our socks off in a real live band, or sit on the couch with a knitting project. In fact, it’s imperative to find that balance. It’s my choice and the choice is a good one.

    PSP: P Stands for Promise

    I promise not to just link to videos without some sort of commentary here, so let me just say that the video below really plays to the promise of the PSP. I bought one of these when they first came out. Paid $250 just for the machine, had to get a memory stick, and then some games. I had it for a while, and really loved the screen, the multimedia abilities, and the wifi/surf the net thing. But it was just so damn hard to get movies on there, the memory stick was WAY expensive for very little space (when you’re talking video media, it leaves quick), and there was no playing nice with my computer of choice: a Mac. So, no iTunes integration. It was fun, but a hassle to move stuff onto and off.

    In addition, the games just really didn’t cut it. They looked as good as any console games I’d played (I only had a Game Cube at the time, and used to have a PS1), but they just weren’t as fun as I’d hoped. I sold it so I could afford to import one of the new cool DS Lites from Hong Kong. The story of my DS lis a different blog post, so suffice it to say that I still have and play my DS quite a bit, and the kids enjoy the heck out of it, too.

    Flash forward a couple of years to my new gig at GamesAreEvil, and I’m writing about DS, PSP and iPhone games as the Portable Section Editor. So, of course, I should get a PSP. Because I really DID like it. So, I hunt around on ebay and find a REALLY cheap Star Wars special edition PSP. So cheap, in fact, that the screen can get wonky, and needs to be pressed on to work completely cleanly. Ah, well, buyer beware.

    But here’s the deal. For playing console-like games, you cannot beat the PSP. Try God of War: Chains of Olympus. Try Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. Try Star Wars Battlefront, for the heck of it. You’ll come away feeling like you’ve played a console game. That happens less frequently on the DS, and is only just starting to happen on the iPhone. The PSP has had some time to mature: memory sticks are MUCH less expensive, and there’s an online store to buy games and try out game demos. The web browser still rocks, and the Wifi is smooth and accessible. System updates are easy, as well. No, it still doesn’t play well with the Mac, but my iPhone does, so I don’t even worry about movies or music on the PSP anymore. In fact, it’s really just a great game mini-console. There aren’t a ton of games that I’d consider 4 or 5 stars on it still, but the ones that are do not disappoint. I’d say that two of the games I mentioned above are amazing games in their own right, regardless of the console they’re being played on.

    Ok, enough commentary. This video is what started me off on the tangent. Pretty brilliant work, I’d say. Plus, it makes ya wanna go and grab yerself a PSP, don’t it?