Sony’s Vita a dream sys­tem at a steep price

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - BY JOE SZADKOWSKI

The Franken­stein’s mon­ster of hand-held en­ter­tain­ment sys­tems has ar­rived for the hard­core gam­ing freak with money to burn. Sony’s PS (Plays­ta­tion) Vita man­ages to in­cor­po­rate about ev­ery in­no­va­tion from its com­peti­tors and PSP pre­de­ces­sors into one mo­bile de­vice that is noth­ing short of bril­liant as a niche tech gad­get.

Imag­ine a dream sys­tem with these fea­tures:

A gen­er­ously sized de­sign seem­ingly built for the older, big-handed gamer en­ter­ing the read­ing-glasses phase of life. Mea­sur­ing in at around 71/ by 31/ inches, the de­vice’s crown jewel is a 5-inch-wide dis­play screen us­ing OLED tech­nol­ogy to de­liver 16.7 mil­lion colors.

An all-en­com­pass­ing con­troller scheme of­fers an over­whelm­ing num­ber of op­tions to en­joy a game. First, it gives play­ers a tra­di­tional se­lec­tion of two ana­log sticks, di­rec­tional pad, quad-but­ton pad and shoul­der trig­gers. Next, the dis­play is a touch screen that opens up — as ipad and DS fans know — a new level of in­ter­ac­tion in games. Next, the back of the unit is also touch sen­si­tive, adding a brand-new layer of vir­tual ma­nip­u­la­tion (and the po­ten­tial for arthritic fin­gers). Con­clude with Six­axis mo­tion sens­ing for fluid tilt me­chan­ics to in­cor­po­rate into game ac­tion.

Un­der mul­ti­me­dia, let’s add a front and rear cam­era to take pho­tos and video and en­joy aug­mented gam­ing (test cards are in­cluded) and a mi­cro­phone for chat and other in­ter­ac­tions.

On­line ac­cess is avail­able via WiFi hot spots or through the 3G AT&T Net­work (250 megabytes per month for $14.99 or 3 gi­ga­bytes for $30).

The PS Vita acts as a su­per­con­troller for your Plays­ta­tion 3 sys­tem and may of­fer re­mote play (en­joy your PS3 li­brary of games on the Vita) in the fu­ture.

Ad­di­tional items in­clude on­line op­tions for man­ag­ing your Plays­ta­tion Net­work friends, a Web browser, a Party ap­pli­ca­tion to chat (text and voice) with PS Vita bud­dies, movie rentals with Net­flix, songs from Mu­sic Un­lim­ited, and app-spe­cific ac­cess to so­cial net­work­ing and me­dia tools such as Twit­ter, Face­book and Skype.

That is a pretty po­tent pack­age, but let’s look at the not-so-bril­liant pieces of the Vita puz­zle.

The pric­ing. It will choke a par­ent and col­lapse the wal­let of a col­lege stu­dent. It’s $249 for a Wi-fi -ready Vita and $299 for the 3G model — and that does not in­clude games or stor­age. Even with a bun­dle — in­clud­ing a 4GB stor­age card, Lit­tle De­viants game and case — it’s a tough num­ber to swal­low.

The Vita does not hook up to a TV. In the days of mul­ti­me­dia con­ver­sion, that’s a mis­take.

The av­er­age cost for a game is $40 — which means af­ter buy­ing a few of the bet­ter games, the av­er­age Vita owner is look­ing at $500 just to ap­pre­ci­ate the sys­tem. (The sound you hear is ipad own­ers laugh­ing in uni­son.)

Pro­tect­ing the PS Vita is very im­por­tant. It’s too big to sim­ply stick in a pocket or toss in a back­pack un­cov­ered like a cell­phone or the DS with its clamshell case. The ana­log sticks poke out, just ask­ing to be bro­ken. The beau­ti­ful screen will be smudged (no sur­prise) or, heaven for­bid, could be a scratched nightmare with­out care. You’ll need to add a min­i­mum of $20 for a case.

No on­board stor­age means own­ers must buy a pro­pri­etary PS Vita mem­ory card. That’s right, you need a unique and pricey card rang­ing in price from $10 for 4GB to $100 for 32 GB. (Just to rub salt in the wound, I’ll men­tion that a 32GB mi­cro SD card gen­er­ally runs about $30.)

Ad­di­tion­ally, the Vita’s re­lease reeks of an ob­vi­ous at­tempt by Sony to cap­ture any re­main­ing seg­ment of the mo­bile gam­ing com­mu­nity not al­ready gob­bled up by Nin­tendo, Ap­ple, Sam­sung and Ama­zon.

Let’s also re­mem­ber that any­one who owns one of Ap­ple’s de­vices has truly seen an evo­lu­tion in gam­ing, at least ca­sual gam­ing.

With the third it­er­a­tion of the ipad hit­ting in March, Sony is play­ing chicken with one of the most in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies in the world. Ap­ple def­i­nitely will keep some of the money out of Sony’s pocket as gamers de­cide which di­rec­tion to take for their mo­bile, hand­held re­quire­ments.

Of course, whether con­sumers buy into this mag­nif­i­cent mon­stros­ity will de­pend en­tirely on its de­liv­er­ing the bread and but­ter — a pi­o­neer­ing se­lec­tion of games.

With around two dozen ti­tles ready at launch, it’s a solid lineup, but can it be sub­stan­tially em­bel­lished to sus­tain player in­ter­est through­out the year? Here’s what I con­sider the best of the cur­rent

crop:

Un­charted: Golden Abyss (Sony Com­puter En­ter­tain­ment, rated T for teen, $49.99) — Join Nathan Drake in a gor­geous ad­ven­ture in Cen­tral Amer­ica that re­ally gives the PS Vita a work­out.

Use a fin­ger to draw routes on-screen for the hero to fol­low as he climbs up de­te­ri­o­rat­ing an­cient ru­ins, use shoul­der trig­gers to tar­get and shoot en­e­mies, wipe the screen to cre­ate a rub­bing of an an­cient relic to use to find clues, ma­nip­u­late puz­zle pieces us­ing mul­ti­ple fin­gers, swipe the screen to de­liver final blows in a fist­fight, and even use the back of the Vita to zoom and tilt con­trols to cen­ter pho­tos of some beau­ti­ful panora­mas.

It’s a gim­micky treat star­ring Sony’s leg­endary fran­chise.

Touch My Kata­mari (Namco Bandai Games, rated E10+ for play­ers 10 and older, $29.99) — De­spite the hu­mor­ously un­com­fort­able name, this odd, psy­che­delic puz­zler that has a player roll a gi­ant ball around, col­lect­ing the stuff that sticks to it, is re­ally ad­dic­tive. Of course, use the Vita’s touch screens and touchy back lib­er­ally and pre­pare to bow be­fore the King of All Cos­mos.

Es­cape Plan (Sony Com­puter En­ter­tain­ment, rated T for teen, $14.99)— The de­vel­op­ers of Fat Princess present this daz­zling blackand-white col­lec­tion of sin­gle-screen minipuz­zles show­cas­ing the har­mo­nious in­ter­ac­tion of the PS Vita’s touch pads. A player helps cof­fee-crav­ing Lil and his girthy com­pan­ion Laarg es­cape a gant­let of booby-trapped rooms. It mixes the vibes of Tim Bur­ton char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment and Charles Ad­dams’ charm with an ear-bud-war­ranted mu­si­cal score. It’s the best down­load­able game for the sys­tem thus far.

Ul­ti­mate Mar­vel vs. Cap­com 3 (Cap­com, rated T for teen, $39.99)— The premier side-scrolling fight game brings an all-star cast of up to 50 char­ac­ters to the PS Vita, com­fort­ably con­trolled through its dual ana­log sticks, buttons and even the touch screen. The high-speed, ex­plo­sive ac­tion shines as comic-book le­gends in­clud­ing Cap­tain Amer­ica, the In­cred­i­ble Hulk and Dead­pool duke it out in 3-vs.3 matches against Cap­com stars in­clud­ing Viewti­ful Joe, Devil May Cry’s Dante and Res­i­dent Evil’s Chris Red­field. Su­per Star­dust Delta (Sony Com­puter En­ter­tain­ment, rated E for ev­ery­one, $9.99) — Take a nostal­gia trip to the days of Amiga PC gam­ing with the stun­ning re­turn of this clas­sic space shooter. A player con­trols a star­ship in or­bit around a planet and takes on mis­sions to de­stroy ce­les­tial masses and en­emy air­craft while col­lect­ing as many points as pos­si­ble. It’s a beau­ti­fully ad­dic­tive As­ter­oids homage that of­fers two con­trol schemes (ei­ther the ana­log sticks and buttons or touch­screen and mo­tion-sens­ing con­trol) and 11 modes of ac­tion.

Ray­man Ori­gins (Ubisoft, rated E10+ for play­ers 10 and older, $39.99)— Our bizarre friend (think Pogo with no neck, arms or legs, but with hands and feet) de­liv­ers more than 60 lev­els of side-scrolling plat­form­ing ac­tion that would make a great Car­toon Net­work show. Tra­di­tional an­i­ma­tion mixes with an en­er­getic lu­nacy set in the Glade of Dreams as Ray­man and his pals must quell an up­ris­ing from the Land of the Liv­ing Dead and stop the Bub­ble Dreamer’s night­mares.

Tales From Space: Mu­tant Blobs At­tack (Drinkbox Stu­dios, rated E10+ for play­ers 10 and older, $7.99)— With ac­tion plucked from a 1950s sci-fi mon­ster movie and a cutout an­i­ma­tion style, this side-scrolling puz­zler stars an ever-grow­ing, ornery ge­lati­nous glob that seeks re­venge by ab­sorb­ing ev­ery­thing on Earth in its path to free­dom. Play­ers will see a bit of Kata­mari in the fun which fea­tures more than two dozen lev­els, some “tilt-a-blob” mazes (us­ing the Vita’s gy­ro­scopic con­trol), and lo­ca­tions such as a me­trop­o­lis and an army base.

Modnation Rac­ers Road­trip (Sony Com­puter En­ter­tain­ment, rated E for ev­ery­one, $29.99) —I men­tion this uber-cus­tom­iz­a­ble kart rac­ing game only be­cause it kept my 12-year-old tester en­tranced for days. Un­for­tu­nately, that doesn’t make up for a lack of on­line mul­ti­player ac­tion, even with a gen­er­ous track builder and ac­cess to 500,000 user-gen­er­ated cour­ses.

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