GamesCom 2011 – Hands on with the PS Vita

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It may sound like a health snack with added benefits, but the PS Vita is actually an impressive piece of hardware from Sony, and a much anticipated contender for the crown in the market of handheld devices. I managed to get some hands on time with several of the devices at last weeks Sony Press event at GamesCom, and trying to work in some of the six-axis support play without accidently judo-throwing the beautiful models that were attached to each of the handhelds.

The Hardware

The first thing a person is obviously going to notice, is how very little has changed in the design of the console. All the standard face buttons are there, D-Pad and the signature Playstation face buttons, but other buttons such as the start and select buttons have been moved to the lower right side of the console.

The device also feels more natural this time, with subtle shaping on it producing a more comfortable position with which to hold it in your hands, instead of the mind-numbing cramps that its predecessor left gamers with after a robust session of play.

The face buttons are in their usual layout formation, but are slightly smaller, and protrude further as well, which means that extended play over weeks and months wont leave the buttons buried in the body of the device, another drawback from the first PSP handheld.

The new analogue sticks feel sturdy and responsive, with the design of making them more traditional feel more intuitive when playing games, a definite bonus that has been carried over from the current console generation, which will allow players to get into PS Vita games far more easily.

The sticks are smooth on top, but the material and shape is solid enough to ensure that your thumbs won’t constantly slipping off them during hectic gameplay sessions. The new front facing touch screen is big and bright, while the touch sensitive back section of the PS Vita feels oddly safe, and secure from any accidental rubbing during gameplay.

Resistance: Burning Skies

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With the device thoroughly analysed, I checked out some of the games on offer. First up was the new Resistance game, an FPS that puts players in the shoes of a new character while fighting through an alien invasion. Finally a FPS game on a handheld that doesn’t feel like it was designed by meth lab monkeys with balancing disorders, resulting in a FPS game that moves as fluidly as its big screen counterpart.

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Hot-swapping between weapons by tapping the front screen allowed for some more dynamic combat that shifted according to the pace, while using the screen to trace the path of grenades into enemy encampments was also a satisfying experience. When in cover, I could even use the six-axis built into the handheld to lean forward and jump over obstacles, making the game feel fluid and exciting.

Despite some poor graphics at certain parts, Resistance: Burning Skies on the Vita feels like a great launch title that plays to the strength of the device, fully incorporating its new features for an exciting game.

Frobisher Says

frobisher

Next up, I had a look at Frobisher Says. One of the more casual games for the device, Frobisher Says uses every single function on the device, as the game asks players to complete certain sections, such as scratching the back of an elongated man with the rear touch screen, or using the front touch screen to cause as much of a racket as possible by hitting everything on the screen. Its a cute and simple game with addictive puzzle elements, and will no doubt appeal to the kids who own this device.

Escape Plan

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After that, the next Vita model that I saw was holding a console with Escape Plan, a quirky puzzle game that is absolutely charming. Escape Plan feels like a spiritual successor to puzzle platform games such as Abe’s Odyssey and The Neverhood. Players take control of Lil and Laarg, two rubber-suited individuals who are being trying to escape from an unseen villain who wants to drain the ink from their body.

Lil is the smaller part of the duo, a little person who can inflate her suit to float around when necessary, while Laarg is the rotund half of the pair who can butt-smash his way through obstacles, despite having trouble getting through them. Players will have to use the duo in tandem, figuring out the best way to get past obstacles in the industrial themed prison that they find themselves in.

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The game has a very monochrome visual style, but despite this, it still manages to stand out beautifully, and the animation of the characters is akin to a high end CG film. Failure to beat one of the deadly puzzles results in a horrible, but hilarious, death, which sees the precious inky insides of our protagonists splattered across the screen. The use of the touch pad as a means of interaction, once again solidifies the old school origins of this upcoming game, and it looks like it will be a fantastic stand out title on the PS Vita.

Other Games

With the floor fast reaching New Delhi congestion levels, time was running out, and I got some quick time with other games such as F1 2011 and Little Big Planet for the device, which again make full use of the built-in technology for the game, while utilising the impressive graphical engine of the Vita. Suffice to say, Sony is making sure that come launch day, the Vita will have a solid library of games from which players can choose, instead of letting the handheld languish in its own hype, much like the mistake Nintendo made when they launched the 3DS.

Sony aren’t reinventing the PSP wheel here, but dammit, with the Vita Sony has perfected what they set out to create several years ago. Its familiar, yet new, and its going to be a strong launch for Sony when the Vita finally arrives.

PS: Special thanks to the models who helped demo the device to me, despite my enthusiastic use of Six-Axis technology almost resulted in several of their shoulders being dislocated, as the device was attached to them by a very short leash.

Last Updated: August 23, 2011

Darryn Bonthuys

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