Veteran readers and podcast fans know that I am a PSP apologist. More than any other current generation system – even the full consoles – the PSP has earned a special place in SeanNOLA’s Gaming Valhalla. Naturally, when I got my hands on the PlayStation Vita (or “PSV” as it will be called henceforth) I was pretty ecstatic. A new, more powerful PSP with a bigger screen and 2 real thumb-sticks would have been enough for me, but all the over-the-top inputs, a promising launch line-up and a competitive price point made for some pretty nice lagniappe.
In case you hadn’t heard, the PlayStation Vita looks a lot like the PSP 3000, but a little taller to make room for its large OLED screen and additional analog stick. Although the unit is about the size of the PSP launch unit, but is noticeably lighter than a PSP slim – possibly due to the lack of a UMD drive – which took some getting used to but still managed to feel substantial in my hand. The screen responds to multiple touches, and there is also a touch surface on the back, so your fingers don’t get in the way of whatever you’re supposed to see. It has about half of the processing power of the PS3, which provides pretty convincing HD graphic on the 5” screen but most importantly, it has all the buttons and sticks you could want to have a full console experience on the go.
The greatest strength the Vita held was that it felt designed. Time was obviously spent working out the ergonomic issues that come from adding an extra stick and touch surfaces, and the result is that all of the controls work together to provide a potentially seamless experience. The new analog sticks (notice I said “sticks” not “nubs” or “circle pads”) nestled into the base of my thumbprint quite naturally, and the D-pad and buttons were placed just within reach, making it easy to jump back and forth between control schemes. The front screen is sized and positioned such that my thumbs could touch in the center, meaning I could give touch commands at any point of the screen without adjusting my hands or pulling out a stylus. Those all seem like small details, but they make a huge difference and open up a world of possibilities for potential developers.
The games I played showed a wide range of graphical chops, but the takeaway was that the Vita is perfectly capable of providing an HD console experience comparable to the games that released around the PS3 launch. Between the pristine screen, the comfortable controls and what is shaping out to be a strong launch lineup, the Vita might be the first real handheld contender to give Nintendo a run for their money – let’s just hope the dedicated handheld market is still around when it launches this holiday season.