Should You Buy a PlayStation Vita? Consult Our 10-Step Guide

Is $199 for Sony's flagship games handheld cheap enough?

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When I was a kid, I dreamed of a handheld like Sony‘s PlayStation Vita: a sleek, powerful, button-rich, almost pocketable micro-console that’d let you play big-system games on a visually arresting screen with virtually no control compromises — and perks to spare.

Sony hit it out of the ballpark, design-wise. There’s nothing quite like the Vita, with its brawny ARM processor bolstering a spacious 5-inch high-resolution screen bracketed by raised analog thumb-sticks and all the control toggles you’d expect from a standard console gamepad, all pretty much where you’d want them to be.

But when the Vita arrived stateside back in February 2012, it was gut-punch expensive: $249 for the system alone, just $50 shy of the price of a new PlayStation 3. And $249 only got you onto the showroom floor: To go home with a workable system, you had to buy a memory card, since the Vita ships without internal storage. Without the memory card, the Vita might as well be a car without wheels.

Instead of rallying around an industry standard like Secure Digital, which would have been the decent, consumer-friendly thing to do, Sony rolled out a line of proprietary, vaguely Memory Stick M2-like memory cards restricted to the Vita itself and priced at absurd levels. A 4GB Vita memory card cost $20 at a time when comparable 4GB memory cards could be found for a couple of bucks. At the high end, a 32GB Vita card went for $100, where comparable 32GB memory cards were available for just over $30. Nintendo’s 3DS, by comparison, takes standard SDHC memory cards, and a 32GB SDHC memory card goes for as little as $20 today.

At Gamescom in Cologne, Germany this week, after a year prevaricating about the Vita’s high price, Sony finally shaved $50 off the handheld’s sticker, dropping the Wi-Fi version to $199 and landing it in threatening distance of Nintendo’s flagship 3DS XL. Sony also promised to drop Vita memory card prices, but didn’t go into specifics, leaving it to vendors like Amazon to do the honors, thus the 4GB Vita card dropped from $20 to $14, the 8GB card from $30 to $23, the 16GB card from $60 to $48 and the 32GB card from $100 to $80.

So…time to buy a Vita? Let’s talk about it.

Why buy a Vita in the first place?

You tell me: Are you a console gamer by nature? Do you want to play games like Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid 2 and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 unadulterated? Do you think stereoscopic 3D’s mostly a gimmick? Does the prospect of playing a first-person shooter with one thumb-stick repel you? Do you hate the way smartphone ports of games nerf or fumble the controls in the transition to multitouch? Are you frustrated with multitouch’s lack of tactile finesse? Would you rather have your eyelids pinned back with barbed wire than play another second of Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, Cut the Rope or Fruit Ninja? The Vita just might be for you.

But $199 still sounds like a lot for a handheld.

$199 is a lot of money, especially with the PlayStation 4 ($399) and Xbox One ($499) threatening wallets in November, but to recapitulate: the eight-year-old PSP costs $99, the 3DS XL weighs in at $199, and even then, the Vita’s far closer — and superior, gaming-wise — to a device like Apple’s iPhone 5, a smartphone that retails, unsubsidized, for between $650 and $850. Up front, $199 for the Vita sounds more than reasonable to me.

Except I still have to buy a memory card.

There’s the rub. The real price of the Vita is $199 plus whatever you can live with, storage-wise. Since most Vita games now ship digitally, and downloading a full game like Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation takes up close to 3GB of space, the notion of buying a 4GB, 8GB or even 16GB memory card seems quaint. Even 32GB feels claustrophobic, which means you’re looking at $199 plus $79, or about $280. $280 is still in the ballpark when you consider what the Vita’s capable of, and $280′s also a lot easier to swallow than $350, which is what you would’ve paid for the same setup prior to last week. Still, $79 is a bundle for just 32GB of flash storage, thus you’ll have to get past the idea that Sony’s still gouging on that memory card purchase. And that’s a toughie; if Sony’s marking the 32GB card up $30-$40, you’re talking the cost of a full Vita game.

Are there other peripherals?

Not really, but you’ll probably want to think about a case ($10-$20), or at least a translucent screen protector, since the Vita has no lid to protect its substantial display real estate.

Okay, but hasn’t the system been selling poorly?

Very poorly, it’s true. Nintendo’s 3DS, which arrived in February 2011, has sold over 30 million units worldwide, whereas the Vita, which launched in December 2011, stands at just over five million units sold worldwide (at times, right up to now, and especially in Europe, it’s even been outsold by the PSP). It’s hard to say why, exactly, but the obvious points would be the system’s too-high price, the exorbitant memory card pricing and the lack of buzz-worthy, must-have games. System sales needn’t be the be-all, end-all when making a purchase decision, but neither should they be ignored, especially if you’re looking for something future-proof — and who isn’t?

Speaking of games, shouldn’t they be the deciding factor?

Indeed they should, and while the Vita has its share of greats, it’s in a developmental pickle: It needs consistent, platform-exclusive triple-A games (or triple-A, word-of-mouth indies) to move hardware, but the system came out of the gate slowly, without a must-have title. And subsequent triple-A partnerships have been disastrous, like the lamentable Call of Duty: Black Ops – Declassified, a mess of a shooter masquerading as a member of a record-breaking franchise that should have sold more systems than there are stars in the sky.

That said, it’s hard to argue with stuff like Persona 4 Golden, LittleBigPlanet PS VitaGuacamelee!Rayman Origins, Hotline Miami, Velocity Ultra, PixelJunk Monsters: Ultimate HD and Sound Shapes. I’m also partial to Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Gravity Rush, Super Stardust Delta, Soul Sacrifice and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation.

But several of those games are ports, and even the ones that aren’t tend to have niche appeal. Persona 4 Golden is generally hailed as one of the best roleplaying games in gaming history, but if your definition of RPG skews more Western mainstream, say Skyrim, you’re liable to bounce off Persona 4, and alternatives are nonexistent — there’s nothing else even vaguely Skyrim-like in the Vita’s catalog. That lack of strong, multi-genre representation has definitely hurt the system.

Aren’t there better games in the hopper?

Perhaps, though you never know until they’re here. The Vita’s 2013 lineup looks a little scarce to me just now for a system that’s a year-and-a-half old, but a few look promising: Rayman Legends (Sept. 3), Killzone: Mercenary (Sept. 10), Valhalla Knights 3 (Sept. 24), FIFA 14 (Sept. 24), LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (Oct. 22), Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate (Oct. 25) and Tearaway (Nov. 22).

Further down the road, I’d just be guessing. Sony made a big deal about there being 900 games in the Vita’s catalog (including classics, which I gather comprise the lion’s share of that figure), 150 of those built from the ground up for the platform. Peering into 2014′s crystal ball, things get more interesting, with games like Borderlands 2Rogue LegacyHotline Miami 2: Wrong NumberThe Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and Wasteland Kings on the radar.

Should I buy a Vita to play older PSP and PlayStation games?

Are there PSP games you’d want to play but haven’t? That you’d want to re-play? PSOne games you’d like to walk hand-in-hand with down nostalgia lane? The Vita offers a perk here that the PSP didn’t: a much more tolerable screen when up-scaling comparably primitive graphics. Playing PSOne games on the PSP’s tiny screen could be an eye-chore; playing something like Final Fantasy VII or Xenogears on the Vita, speaking from personal experience, is far more tolerable. (If you want to know which PSP and PSOne games are available through the PlayStation Store, Sony maintains an online list of Vita, PSP and PSOne games here.)

Wishful-thinking sidebar: One way Sony could get attention, and the Vita might — I stress might – just be powerful enough to pull it off: add PlayStation 2 emulation and one of the greatest game catalogs in history. Maybe that ARM CPU doesn’t have the get-up-and-go to make it happen, but if it did, imagine the possibilities.

What about PlayStation 4 compatibility?

When the PS4 arrives, Sony says you’ll be able to play nearly all of the new console’s games on the Vita using the PS4′s Remote Play feature (restricted to your Wi-Fi network). That assumes you’re planning to buy a PS4, of course, in which case you’ll be able to pick up your Vita and keep playing a PS4 game without restarting it. There may be control-related downsides, depending on the game, since the Vita lacks the DualShock’s secondary shoulder buttons and thumb-stick triggers, but mostly it’s a question of whether having the option to play PS4 games on the Vita appeals to you.

Is Sony committed to the Vita long-term?

Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida just told CVG that the company plans to stay in the dedicated handheld gaming market, do or die, adding, “We still like PS Vita and we know people who buy it really like it.”

So Vita fans can hope, but companies have a history of dropping consumers on their heads when it suits them. Sony ticked off gamers when it yanked PlayStation 2 compatibility from the PS3 early on, then Linux compatibility later, so there’s reason to be wary. The Vita’s powerful enough to hold its own for years, but if it doesn’t start selling in high numbers and consistently, it’s hard to imagine big-name developers slaving away to make the next BioShockGrand Theft AutoBatman: Arkham City or Half-Life 2 just for it.

Where’s Sony’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf? Fire Emblem: Awakening? Luigi’s Mansion: Dark MoonEtrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan? Pushmo or CrashmoThe Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (3D or no)? That’s what the Vita’s missing — the buzzy must-haves. And that’s what it’s going to take, if Sony hopes to pull off a Nintendo 3DS-style sales turnaround.

10 comments
uberhero1234
uberhero1234

as from what i heard so far the vita is around................60%. I'm not sure if it's recommended to buy it. Some old psp games on the vita like PATAPON 3 are said to be laggy, even online causing to disconnect from players. If u r in a situation like mine right now, 3ds or ps vita? i would recommend 3ds, but if u want to go to higher heights i'd recommend 3ds xl which has more possitives than negatives.

jordan_lund
jordan_lund

I am a Vita owner and I have to say, even at $200 it's not worth it.


Here's my experience... I bought the machine on a bundle deal, got Uncharted for free, got a heavy discount on Gravity Rush, both of which are VERY good games. Picked up Wipeout for $20 which was a steal at the time... then, having exhausted the quality games at the time, proceeded to sit on my hands while I waited for another high quality game to come out.


Months later, I picked up LittleBigPlanet and finished it in short order and then only had to wait a month or so for Assassin's Creed. The problem with Assassin's Creed is that it had a game breaking bug that wasn't fixed for 2 months. It would corrupt your saved game and prevent you from going forward, all you could do was start over. I ended up shelving that game for 2 months before I could actually play it.


And then, having finished all the worthwhile games, I got desperate enough to get a digital title, Escape Plan, which pretty much stunk up the place. I then began a serious wait. My next game purchase wouldn't be until this month when Dragon's Crown came out. It doesn't look like there's anything else until Killzone in October and Tearaway in November.


I don't want to tear down these games, most of them are great, some of them (Dragon's Crown, Escape Plan) are not. But I shouldn't go through a 9 month waiting process to find a game I want to buy and I've done that twice now.

Add to that the fact that there's nothing on the horizon past Tearaway and you have a very, very sad situation for the Vita. Oh, I know, I know... "PS4 Remote Play". But you know what? I didn't spend $250 on a portable monitor, OK? If the only use for the Vita beyond November is as a PS4 controller then that's fine, but the price needs to be $99 for that.

ardescos
ardescos

Missing some important facts here.

Minecraft comes to the Vita , that will be quite a triple-A title with a great user-base. 

Besides that the 199€ PS Vita package comes with the "Mega Pack" included: an 8 GB memory card and 10 games ( with two triple-A titles: WipeOut and LittleBigPlanet) . 

If people buy the Vita with Mega Pack bundle they will be busy quite a while.

drevil@msn.com
drevil@msn.com

This is a very one sided view!! sony comfirm you can use internet or 3g to remote play!!!

harrylncstr
harrylncstr

does this mean that if I buy a vita game I will be able to play it on the ps4? Without owning a vita?

JackieDebs
JackieDebs

I have always had problems with my handhelds previously. I would buy them, and then they would collect dust because frankly, I don't travel that much but I love the IDEA of a handheld. 


Well that all changed when I got my vita. I had no clue how great it was until I actually got to use it for myself. I figured it would just be a more juiced up PSP, but the feature set on it is just amazing, the UI is way better than anything on the ps3, and it does so much, and runs so fluidly and looks so great. 

I have already put so many hours into this console, just playing it at home even. I was never a JRPG fan and have distain for weeaboos, but after reading all the reviews for persona 4, I tried it, and 63 gaming hours later, it is now, without a doubt, my favorite game of all time. 


Other great games like littlebigplanet vita, the MGS collection, the rayman games, uncharted, wipeout, gravity rush (all 3 free with ps+) older psp games like persona 3, etc have made this system one of the best purchased i've made in a very very long time. 


If you are on the fence about it, pull the trigger. The games library is much better than it is made out to be, more games on the horizon, and if you are getting a ps4, it is a no brainer, the controls on it are smooth enough to where playing any ps4 game on it should be very feasible and fun. With the price of memory cards going down, there is no reason not to jump on this.

NinKenDo79
NinKenDo79

I snagged a Vita during a black Friday deal on Amazon last year for $179 and don't regret it a bit.  The memory cards are still horribly priced, but I got a 16GB card and it has served me well.  Rayman: Origins, Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Little Big Planet, and Gravity Rush are all fantastic and worth the price of admission.  I'm most interested about the PS4 functionality right now and if that is implemented well, could really be the killer feature this system needs. Also, the prospect of playing Borderlands 2 on the go is pretty exciting.  If you are on the fence, I would say it is worth the plunge, but it also wouldn't hurt to wait a little longer as there are some great games on the horizon, and bundle deals around the holidays to look forward to.

atlamazoglouconstantine
atlamazoglouconstantine

With the recent price drop I am contemplating of buying a Vita. Yet there are only three games I am interested in from the system's catalog.

immanuel.alston
immanuel.alston

That isnt one sided. And 3g won't be very helpful, it'll just be incredibly laggy unless you maintain perfect service. And he brought up good points for both sides, but until they start making consistant vita titles, I'm going to stay back. Plus to use 3g id have to leave my ps4 on, burning up power, while I leave the house