My PlayStation Vita – Top 13 Games in 13 Months (Part 1)

I was rummaging through some of my old papers while cleaning up before Christmas when an Amazon receipt found its way into my hands. The receipt was from November 23rd and the only item on it was a PlayStation Vita console I had ordered taking advantage of one of the blitz deals Amazon Germany had to offer several days earlier. I had been wondering if the Vita was worth getting but being able to buy one for 25% less was a deal I couldn’t have refused. It’s now been over a year since I got it and I have to say it had been a very good choice. I already put up a post explaining why I think the Vita is worth having but for those who still say that there are no games to play on Sony’s handheld, let’s have a look back at the last 13 months and see what titles I got to enjoy on PlayStation Vita. I’ve been jumping from game to game, especially for the first couple of months when I wanted to try everything out, but I decided to pick one title for each month I had my Vita starting from November 2012.

November – Gravity Rush

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Even though the Vita I got from Amazon came bundled with Little Big Planet, it wasn’t the first ‘big’ game that I decided to focus on on the handheld. I decided to quickly grab the free PlayStation Plus titles, which were Gravity Rush and Uncharted. I knew what to expect from the latter and that’s probably why I went with Kat first, choosing her over Drake. I had heard about Gravity Rush in PlayStation podcasts and it got good reviews so why not give it a try?

The gravity shifting mechanic and the tilt controls took some time getting used to but after a while it was smooth sailing. It feels much longer now but I got the Platinum trophy in just 10 days. The game wasn’t especially difficult but some of the challenges, especially the ones involving throwing objects, weren’t something I completed on my first try. Also, I had to look online for help to find all the rare Nevi that had to be defeated for three of the trophies.

I liked the comic book style of the cut scenes in the game and the graphics and audio quality were amazing. I did not expect that a handheld machine was able to produce such images and sounds. There were some frame drops when Kat used her ultimate attacks and there were many enemies on the screen but that was expected and didn’t take away from the experience much.

As a first experience with a complete system that is only slightly bigger than a DualShock 3 controller, playing Gravity Rush was really something else. Having completed Kat’s adventure, I had no doubt that buying a Vita was a good choice and it would bring me many hours of fun and entertainment for months, and hopefully years, to come.

December – Uncharted: Golden Abyss

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It didn’t take me long to jump from one blockbuster to another. The Vita version of Uncharted, although not developed by Naughty Dog but rather Sony Bend Studio, didn’t disappoint either. I had previously played the two PS3 Uncharted games and Golden Abyss certainly brought more of what I loved in the big screen adventures. Treasures, artifacts, mystery, betrayal and quite a lot of jumping around and shooting bad guys. Simply more Nathan Drake, this time in pocket form.

Uncharted, more than Gravity Rush, made use of Vita’s peripherals, including the touchscreen and the rear touchpad as well as the camera. And even though some of the interactions could have been executed using standard controls too (jumping, climbing), others had to use the Vita-specific ones. Unfortunately, removing dirt from objects using the touchscreen gets tedious after a while and let’s not even mention the invisible ink that was only revealed with the Vita held directly to a light source. On the plus side, the combat and the platforming elements were executed very well.

What was also obligatory in an Uncharted games were treasures that Drake could find scattered around the environment. On top of that, downed enemies left behind bounties which formed sets and which could be exchanged using Vita’s Near functionality, although that never really worked that well (and still doesn’t). One final cool thing is that progress in Golden Abyss influenced another Uncharted game released on the Vita – the card game Fight for Fortune. Collecting entire treasure and bounty sets in Golden Abyss made some of the cards stronger. Still, Fight for Fortune was mostly ignored by gamers, even though it was a fun take on the Uncharted franchise. Not including real-time multiplayer, opting for asynchronous gameplay instead, was a bad choice which ultimately played a huge part in the game’s death.

January – LittleBigPlanet

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It took me over two months to really get into LittleBigPlanet on the Vita. I like platformer games but somehow the PS3 installments of the series didn’t really grab me that much and I never finished either of them. The Vita version was also never the main game I played on the handheld but I ultimately did finish the story mode and also checked out some of the community levels. I liked how LBP used Vita’s touchscreen, touchpad and tilt functionalities, which felt much less gimmicky than was the case with Uncharted.

Similarly to what Drake’s adventure was, Sackboy on Vita was simply more Sackboy. Colorful and crazy worlds, lots and lots of customization and user-generated content are at the heart of the game. LBP Vita also included a series of minigames and an engine that allowed user to create their own, which they obviously did. To be honest, for fans of the series, there is enough content for LBP that could last for an entire year of gaming and such community support is the biggest praise a game can get.

February – Wipeout 2048

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What I associate Wipeout with is the 2011 PSN outage and the ‘Welcome Back’ program that Sony launched afterwards. Wipeout HD was one of the two games I got out of it but it proved too difficult to me so I didn’t put too many hours into it. The other one was Dead Nation, one of my favorite PS3 games of all time, but that’s a topic for another day (PS Vita version – fingers crossed). As was the case with the PS3 Wipeout title, I also got the Vita game for free, thanks to PlayStation Plus.

Wipeout 2048 is stunningly beautiful on Vita’s OLED screen. It’s futuristic look and all the vibrant colors of the tracks and the vehicles are amazing. The soundtrack, although consisting of songs that I would not usually listen to outside of the game, includes titles by famous artists such as The Prodigy and Kraftwerk, and works very well with the high-tempo style of aggressive racing of Wipeout.

The game offers a wide variety of ships, tracks and modes, including straightforward racing, combat, time trials and zone events, which require the player to complete a certain amount of laps without destroying the vehicle. I played through the single player campaign, finishing it with some problems. The handling of the ships didn’t feel natural to me, and I constantly kept bumping into other racers and walls. Completing events earns the player experience points which unlocks new ships and additional races, including the A+ challenges, the fastest in the game. I tried winning one of them over and over again but this is something that I feel is beyond my reach. The opponents make no mistakes and slightly missing a turn instantly caused me to drop to 8th place time and time again. Even though I like challenges in games, I truly feel like the game was cheating here which made it very frustrating to me. Winning at least one of those races is worth a gold trophy, though, so I might come back to it some day again.

There’s also a multiplayer component to the game, in which the players choose between race and combat events. Based on my limited experience with it, the choice is almost always the latter, which ultimately results in the contestants going back and forth over the offensive upgrade pads and shooting each other with no strategy or planning. It’s hardly very exciting overall but I can’t deny that blowing up several online enemies feels good.

March – Zen Pinball 2 / Pinball Arcade

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March was pinball month on my Vita, especially thanks to the Star Wars Pinball tables for Zen Pinball 2. If I had to, I would certainly choose Zen Studios’ pinball simulation over FarSight’s title. I guess it’s just because pinball culture is not really developed in Poland that much and even though I played some tables when I was younger I never really knew ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not!’ or ‘Medieval Madness’ so being able to play those tables over made up Star Wars ones wasn’t that big of a deal. The one table I vividly remember playing was Terminator 2 but it got released on Pinball Arcade just recently. On top of that, the physics and visual effects of Zen Pinball 2 make the game somehow more fun than Pinball Arcade, although I switch between them regularly.

A pinball simulator is exactly the kind of game I welcome on my Vita. It’s not something I play a lot on my PS3 or PS4, since I’d rather play something that I couldn’t play on the handheld. Also, it can be played in short bursts, a ball here, another one there, and the games don’t usually last that long, although some of the high-score runs can and that’s when the Start button comes in handy.

I only bought several tables for Zen Pinball 2, namely the Avengers Chronicles pack and the Star Wars pack. All of the tables look and play great, fit well with the theme and are challenging. So far, I haven’t been able to complete all the missions in most of them, even though I give it a try from time to time. As far as Pinball Arcade goes, I stuck to the tables that came with the game and I completely obliterated the Black Hole one. I appreciate that FarSight studios want to give the players a choice and also a trip down memory lane with old table such as this one, but I won’t be convinced that they are more fun than what Zen Studios have to offer. I have to admit though, playing Terminator 2 brought back some memories, although it quickly turned out that the table is much less complex and demanding than I remembered it to be. I think I’d rather have a go at the Infinity Gems and try to beat Thanos next time.

April – Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward

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This game took me completely by surprise. A fully voice-acted Japanese adventure mystery game? Count me in. Even though the visual side of Virtue’s Last Reward is lacking, and could easily have made it a mobile game, the depth of the story and the challenge of the many puzzles is what this title is really about. It’s really tough to discuss what the game is about without spoiling it. The premise is that a group of nine people (possibly including one or more robots) is kidnapped and forced to play a game of life and death based on the prisoner’s dilemma. Each round, the character controlled by the player has the option to betray or ally with the other members of the team, each choice introducing an alternative timeline. The player can freely jump between the timelines which is part of the mechanic of the game and allows the player to gather important information in one of them to use in another. This is a very interesting concept and it is executed really well.

The story slowly reveals that most of the people involved are not really who they claim they are and their motives and involvement in the game are not coincidental. The intrigue is very deep and the consequences are dire and it’s up to the player’s character, Sigma, to solve the mystery.

Virtue’s Last Reward can’t really be compared to any other game that is available on the PlayStation Vita or even any other console, at least those available on non-Japanese markets. Obviously, it has a lot in common with its prequel, 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, but it was only released on Nintendo DS and iOS. I highly recommend this title to everyone who is a little bored with the constant shooting and jumping that most games offer and who doesn’t mind a slightly less dynamic visual design in favor of a very deep and enticing storyline.

part 2 coming soon…

All game images sourced from http://psnprofiles.com

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