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Friday, December 06, 2013

Review: Amazon Playstation Vita Holiday Bundle

It's not a secret that in recent years, the iPad and other tablets have become the most ubiquitous video game platform. However, the games for the platform are pretty sad. Much of this has to do with the touch interface: there are precious few games that can do it justice.  So far, Space Station Frontier and Strikefleet Omega are the only two games that I think use the touch interface for maximum effect and fun game play. Most of the other games are either marred by extensive in-app purchasing business models or just absolutely terrible UI. For instance, The Dark Knight Rises uses a touch-based joystick and it's pathetically unplayable. Even Clash of Heroes, which is a port from the Nintendo DS suffers from playability problems due to the touch interface.  One would think that the tower-defense genre would be perfect for the touch interface, but even then, none of the games I've tried come close to Defense Grid.

The net result is that for an immersive experience, I have to play on a PC or game console. Yet both of these are relatively heavyweight operations. For instance, the PS3 lives in the living room, and the gorgeous experience does mean that it takes up everyone's attention while it's on. The PC obviously requires boot up time, and while it provides a nice interface, it's still a little less satisfying than the dedicated game consoles. And the biggest defect is that when on the PC, I feel guilty about doing anything other than working on the next book!

Amazon has an exclusive holiday bundle for the PS Vita bundled with a small memory card and 3 games, so I picked it up. One reason to pick up a PS Vita this year as opposed to waiting for yet another price drop is that next year, the Vita will lose its OLED screen and switch to an LCD screen instead.

After unboxing the unit, I downloaded Uncharted Golden Abyss, and started playing. It's a beautiful experience. The screen disappears from the unit, and the controls are responsive and quick. While not a full-screen movie experience Drake's Deception is on the PS3, it's was for me an incredible hook and motivated me to download Drake's Deception on the living room console after getting started on Golden Abyss. If you're used to tablet games, the games on the PS Vita are a revelation. For one thing, there's no in-app purchasing, in-game advertising, cross-promotions for other products, etc. You paid for the game, you get to play. It's great. And unlike even PS3 games, there's no constant need to download patches, new content, etc. (I was shocked that Drake's Deception after a 40GB download, required another 500MB patch to start) The interface is intuitive, though some are gimmicky (in particular, melee combat using the touch screen is as pathetic as it would be on a tablet).

One of the best deals in gaming is the Playstation Plus membership. If you get in on the holiday deals, this is about $30/year for effectively 2-3 free games every month on all your platforms (PS 3, PS 4 -- currently out of stock online, PS Vita).  During the holiday season, Sony's promising a free game a week. For a  light gamer, this is more games than you'll use, and is an outstanding deal, even if many of the games would not be to your taste.

The PS Vita can also act as a remote gaming console for your PS3. I tried this on Shadow of the Colossus, and it's an impressive piece of work, streaming audio/video to the Vita from the PS3. There aren't that many games that support PS Vita remote play for the PS 3, but if you do upgrade to the PS 4, the story is that Sony has required that all games on that platform support the Vita.

The best way for me to describe the Vita is that it's like a Kindle for video games. Video games are a lot like books in that the time it takes to finish reading one is substantial, and for adults with children, the only way to consume them is in sips rather than binges. In that sense, an instant-on, always available device that lets you get in a few minutes here and there makes it well worth the entry price. Recommended.

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