Tanzina Vega, of the New York Times, recently posted an article with John Koller, the senior director for PlayStation hand-held consoles, in which he reported that Sony would be spending $50 million on their newest handheld, the Playstation Vita.  One of Sony’s tag lines is “Never Stop Playing” claiming that you’ll never have to stop playing when you’re getting PS3 quality games built into a handheld.  They seriously stand by their claim with the Twitter hashtag #GameChanger implying that the Playstation Vita will be the “game changer” in the brutal battle going on right now in the handheld market.

Sony is hoping to make a huge splash in North America where they’ll compete against Nintendo’s 3DS along with the new players to the space, the mobile phones.  It’s no secret that the Android, iPhone, and iPad devices are the “go-to” device for gaming, however the majority of the games are designed for casual gamers to pick up and play every once in a while, but nothing has REALLY come out that combines great graphics with an enthralling story.

Does the Playstation Vita finally prove that quality gaming is back on a dedicated device?  If Sony plays their cards right I think they will, but first let’s look at how Sony has mis-stepped so far.  Before the device rolled out Sony held everything very close to their chest.  They weren’t letting out many details and then when they did it was met with harsh criticism.  Case in point is with their proprietary memory solution.  Sony developed special memory cards (which are mandatory to run the system) that are insanely priced.  The largest of them at 32 GB was originally going to cost $120 each, which they later adjusted to $100 each.  During a day and age where you can buy a 32 GB SDHC card for your camera for $30 this is highly unacceptable, however in some ways the “fans” of Sony’s original handheld pushed them to this.  Sony states that piracy was a rampant problem with the PSP and people easily accessed the Memory Stick Duo card loading the pirated game onto it.  If you were to go onto the street and ask people if they’ve ever heard of the Playstation Vita many of them would probably reply with an unsurprising “No.”  This goes back to Sony’s almost non-existent marketing campaign leading up to the launch.  Granted Sony may be spending $50 million in advertising and marketing, however when did the majority of this start happening?  February.  Most of their ads starting releasing the week before the early edition bundle came out.  They’re also doing a promotion with Taco Bell where you can win a Vita every 15 minutes, but you have to purchase their $5 box first to obtain the code.  If they really wanted to get the word out they should’ve been releasing commercials and ads much sooner.  I’m almost depressed that I don’t think I’ve seen a single Kevin Butler commercial for the Vita.

What has Sony done right?  This, I feel, outweighs the “bad” that they’ve done so far.  First let’s start with the tech.  They learned from the PSP and they included a second analog stick on the right making this a formidable gaming system.  The “guts” of this system is nothing to scoff at either.  It has double the amount of RAM than the PS3 which is absolutely astounding (I know, I know, the V-RAM is half of the PS3, but still it can process more at once than the PS3).  After having mine for less than 24 hours and playing some of the best from the launch lineup (Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Rayman Origins, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, and Tales from Space: About a Blob) I can honestly say the colors and frame rate of these games is amazing. Ubisoft’s Rayman Origins is a colorful, vibrant, fun game that shows you don’t need a hulking console to show off just how good it looks.  Bend Studios’ Uncharted: Golden Abyss is undoubtedly one of Sony’s flag ship games for this launch and it looks amazing, however I will say it suffers from some jagged edges and aliasing.  That being said you really only see it while standing still and taking pictures.  This brings me to my next point.  Have you ever wanted to convey how cool a level was or what amazing scenery was in a game you were playing?  Well Mr. ShakyCam with your cell phone in hand you no longer need to worry.  The PS Vita can take pictures while in-game and save them to the photo album on the system.  The touch screen is also amazingly responsive.  Finally, the rear touch also detects how hard you hit it which I’m sure will factor into games over time as well.

I’m still playing through all of the games so I’ll give you my reviews of them over the coming weeks.  The big question is what next!?  Well as with any game system its success is built into what games are going to be supporting the system as the years go on.  Sony developers, first and third-party, have hinted or announced games that will be coming out.  Ubisoft has hinted at an Assassin’s Creed, Activision has announced a Call of Duty, Zipper has Unit 13 and that’s just some of them.  Sony has stated that they will be having all of their first party developers make a Vita game.  What ‘s that you say!?  Well that means we might be seeing Naughty Dog work on another Uncharted or maybe a Last of Us game, or maybe another Jak / Daxter game.  That also means that Sony Santa Monica might also be working on a God of War game (one can only hope!).

Only time will tell if Sony has struck gold with the Vita or if this will be just another handheld barely hanging on.  Stayed tuned for my reviews and thoughts on some of the games.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Bend Studios)

If you look closely at the straps of their bags you'll see the minor aliasing occurring.

Rayman Origins (Ubisoft)