Bumped from its original planned “holiday 2011″ release window, Sony’s PlayStation Vita will finally hit the U.S. (and pretty much everywhere else, worldwide) on February 22, 2012, roughly two months after Sony’s powerhouse gaming portable goes on sale in Japan.
Sony president and CEO Jack Tretton broke the news at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco yesterday, then followed up with a post on Sony’s official PlayStation blog. The Vita will ship simultaneously in the United States, Canada, Latin America and Europe, says Tretton. And while we’ve long known this next bit, it’ll sell in two flavors: one for $299 with Wi-Fi and 3G, another for $249 that’ll be Wi-Fi only.
The Vita’s claim to fame includes its twin analog thumbsticks, 5-inch multitouch OLED screen, rear-facing touchpad, and powerful quad-core ARM Cortex CPU and PowerVR-based graphics chips. It’s supposed to be comparable to the PlayStation 3 visually, and indeed, Sony’s talked up development tools that allow porting of existing PS3 games to the handheld with minimal effort.
Tretton says the system has “more than 100 games currently in development globally that span many different genres,” though note the “globally” part means he’s counting games in all regions, several of which probably won’t crossover, say, from Japan to the U.S. (or vice versa).
And yet the Vita’s ballyhooed arrival comes in the wake of declining dedicated gaming handheld sales, as well as surging competition from smartphones and tablets, whether iOS-based devices like the iPhone and iPad or Google’s flourishing fleet of Android-based phones. While Nintendo’s 3DS has rebounded somewhat in recent monthly sales, following the company’s unprecedented price cut in August to counter plummeting sales, the PlayStation Portable didn’t even register on NPD’s September 2011 sales charts. What used to be a Pokemon and New Super Mario Bros. world has seen gaming shift toward an Angry Birds one.
A pivotal question: whether game-savvy consumers want a second handheld in addition to a smartphone. When you’re home, you’re more likely playing on a set-top box connected to a big-screen, or on your PC. On the go, having a smartphone and something like Sony’s Vita means dragging around two devices, with two completely separate social gaming (in terms of friends and achievements) systems.
True, no smartphone’s going to deliver a satisfying first-person shooter (not without twin thumbsticks), or at this point pack the kind of power under the Vita’s hood. And for all the gyro-bells and accelerometer-whistles in something like Apple’s iPhone, that stuff’s really second-rate tech compared to the touch- and 3D-based extras adorning the PS Vita and 3DS respectively. But all the high-powered processing bravado in the world won’t win converts or move units. Sony’s learned that the hard way with its PlayStation 3—still holding its own in the PS3 vs. Xbox 360 wars, but a shadow of the sales heights achieved by the legendary PS2.