Last night, we were invited to the local launch of Sony’s next-gen handheld, the PlayStation Vita. Held at the deliciously swanky Randlords, a partial open venue 22 stories high in the centre of Braamfontein, it was an opportunity for PlayStation Distributor to show off Sony’s sleek new handheld to media and retail partners – it was also a great opportunity to drink free beer and eat little hors d’oeuvres, springrolls and delicious bits of golden fried chicken on sticks.
Hosted by The Verge’s Pippa Tshabalala and Verge newcomer and apparent local hip-hop giant AKA, who I can’t say I’ve ever heard of before – but I’m a grumpy old person so that stands to reason, really.It was an interesting evening – even if the torrential rain and biting cold did put a bit of a damper on things.
In a darkened, chilled nightclub-like atmosphere with music so loud that we had to talk over, we were given plenty of unsupervised time with the device – and impressions are more than a little positive. The most striking thing about the Vita when you first see it is the gorgeous crisp visuals courtesy of the 5 inch, OLED screen. It really is something to behold, giving even the iPhone 4’s Retina display a run for its money. The new interface that displaces the worn (and in many ways backwards) XMB is slick, intuitive and incredibly responsive – as are its front and rear touch panels. Well, they were except on one of the units in the corner – which was decidedly broken – the touch screens weren’t working at all, and the unit seemed to have a life of its own – not a good thing to see at a product launch, but probably an issue that’s just down to it being a demo unit with older firmware.
As you all likely already know, the Vita eschews the analogue nub of its predecessor, replacing it with genuine, albeit small mushroom analogue sticks on either side. I must admit, I did struggle a little with the right analogue; it seems to be a little too close to the face buttons – but it’s something that I’ll get over with a bit of use. I also admit I’m not entirely enamoured wit the trigger buttons, which are larger and more rounded than the ones seen on the PSP – but again, something I’ll get over. Everything else about the device pretty much made me wallpaper the inside of my underwear with sticky stuff.
There were numerous game demos available on each demo unit – including heavy hitters in established franchises like, as Gavin mentioned, FIFA, Everybody’s Golf, Wipeout and Ridge Racer (my beloved Lumines seems to have been missing) – but the ones that really grabbed my attention were the downloadable titles; like the beautiful, greyscale puzzle platformer Escape Plan – which cohesively and cleverly utilises the Vita’s new input methods, probably better than any other Vita game; the intriguing Gravity Rush which has players manipulate gravity utilising the system’s gyroscope, allowing unique movements and navigation and Super Stardust Delta – a mobile version of one of my very favourite PSN games.
Sure, the Vita allows for real console-like experiences on a handheld – which it does beautifully – but it also offers an array of unique and interesting ways of playing games, which is what really makes it appealing. My desire for the Vita has grown exponentially now that I’ve had some time with it – and it’s going to be quite difficult not rushing out and getting one today.
The evening was rounded out with some bizarre entertainment – which included beatboxing – making me wonder if I hadn’t gone ten years back in time, flourescent dancers and a lovely presentation by Pippa Tshabalala that wasn’t actually hooked up to the PA system so we couldn’t actually hear a thing she said. Good times. I think my favourite part of the evening though was when a waiter approached us with a tray full of springrolls, I looked at him sternly and questioned “Is it because I’m Asian?” and – confusion apparent on his face – he answered “No, they’re for everybody…” Oh, and those chicken kebabs.
The PlayStation Vita is available in stores now, and is available in two configurations; a Wi-Fi only model for R2999 and a 3G enabled one for R3599. It’s an expensive bit of kit – but it’s packed with interesting tech that should, should provide for some incredible gaming experiences.
Oh, in case you’re wondering who the ugly people in the header image are; they would be Garth Holden, Me, Gavin and Martin, who you might know as Lazygamer reader and all around awesome guy, D4RKL1NG.
Photos by Garth.
Last Updated: February 22, 2012