Sony Unveils December 17 Release Date for PlayStation Vita… in Japan

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The Tokyo Game Show is home turf for Sony and Nintendo, the Japanese companies still regarded as heavyweights in the video game business. While Nintendo held their own 3DS-centric event just preceding the annual game gathering, Sony’s press conference marked the official kick-off of TGS and details about the new Vita handheld took center stage at the PlayStation presser.

When the new portable Playstation hits on 12/17/2011, there’ll be a launch library of 26 games accompanying it. Among the most notable new announcements are HD remakes of Metal Gear Sold and Final Fantasy X (marking its 10th anniversary), a Vita version of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and an all-new Katamari Damacy game. As previously reported, Japanese cellular provider NTT Docomo will be providing 3G wireless connectivity for the Vita; its tiered pricing plans were detailed last night as well.

(MORE: NGP vs. 3DS vs. iOS vs. Android: Which Gaming Platform Will Earn Your Love?)

A 20-hour plan for ¥980 ($13) offers 20 hours of gaming and, at ¥4,980 ($65) the 100-hour plan will offer 100 hours of gaming as a little extra bonus. There doesn’t appear to be any rollover and you’ll lose whatever hours you don’t use during the 30-day or 180-day windows, for the 20- and 100-hour plans, respectively. Whether this price structure and plan is indicative of what AT&T will do when Vita launches in U.S. wasn’t elaborated on.

Sony also introduced a place-shifting feature called “Transfarring” with some of the HD remakes, where you’ll be able to start playing Metal Gear Solid and Zone of the Enders on the PS3 and continue those games on the Vita. So far, only those two games are confirmed to use the terribly-named gimmick.

While Vita will use a new proprietary storage format for games, most of the downloadable PSP catalog will work on the device, with certain titles making use of the dual analog sticks. The big question for backwards compatibility, though, is UMD support since the last specialized media used for the previous Sony gaming handheld won’t be supported by Vita. All that Sony’s announced has been that they’re thinking on ways to have UMD-based games be playable on the PlayStation Vita, but nothing further was divulged.

Despite the fact that the competing Nintendo 3DS dropped in price from $250 to $170, Sony didn’t offer up any sign of changing the Vita’s previously stated $250 launch price to a lower number. The American launch of Vita was pushed back to 2012 earlier this year but it’s still going to face stiff competition from the next waves of Droids and iPhones that will debut in the coming months. More info’s sure to come on Vita and the games that will support the newest PS-branded hardware, but one thing’s for sure: It’s going to need several killer apps to keep the multipurpose smartphone hordes at bay.

MORE: E3 2011: Sony’s New 3D Monitor, $249 ‘Vita’ Handheld, ‘Uncharted 3′ Gameplay

Evan Narcisse is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @EvNarc or on Facebook at Facebook/Evan.Narcisse. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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