PlayStation 4 will unite with Vita (probably)
Considering that Sony hasn't even confirmed the existence of its next generation games console, the following information has not been verified by the company in an official capacity.
The problem with developing a game for both Vita and PS3 is that studios are effectively creating completely different builds of the same game. That's a lot of additional work for a luxury feature, and enough to dissuade external publishers. PlayStation Europe chief executive Jim Ryan offered a frank response when we raised the issue with him in August.
"The development environments [of PS3 and Vita] are rather different," he said.
"PS Vita is a more PC-based environment whereas the PS3 is a more bespoke development environment. So the cross-over between both is rather limited."
However, it is understood that the PlayStation 4 will go some way in remedying such issues. It is believed that the company has undergone a fundamental, pragmatic shift in its approach to console architecture that better aligns the development environments of both systems. There will always be challenges for studios building both handheld and home console editions of the same game, but making this job as straightforward as possible is likely a priority for Sony.
There are far more great Vita games than you think
Vita is in a vicious cycle: Not enough people buy the system which means not enough talk about the games which means not enough buy the system. It's a problem that PlayStation can hardly blame anyone else for, yet it still seems unfair considering the range of great titles already available.
Those accustomed to triple-A console blockbusters should start by considering Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation; the former being a capable addition to a respected series and the latter matching the standards of its console counterpart. At times, when watching these games in action, there comes a sense of bafflement at the astounding graphical fidelity and beauty that handheld consoles can now deliver.
While we're on the subject of distractingly attractive games, other such head-turners include Virtua Tennis 4, Wipeout 2048, Need For Speed Most Wanted and Rayman Origins. They are fetching, absolutely, but also fun.
What many consider to be the handheld's best game so far is LittleBigPlanet Vita - CVG's review claimed it was "the best edition of the series on any format". There is also a selection of games for fighting fans; Street Fighter X Tekken, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, Mortal Kombat and PlayStation All Stars will each vie for your attention.
HD remakes of old classics include Jet Set Radio, Persona 4: Golden and the comprehensive Metal Gear Solid HD Collection. But there's new IP too, with the distinct and humorous adventure game Escape Plan, along with the abstract music-platformer Sound Shapes and the bizarre platform curio Gravity Rush.
The digital catalogue of PSP games shouldn't be ignored, either, as it boasts fantastic titles from key franchises such as God of War: Chains of Olympus, Gran Turismo PSP and GTA Vice City Stories. Added to that are lovable pocket games such as Everybody's Golf and LocoRoco, along with the overlooked indie title Riff Everyday Shooter.
Delving further into the PSP library, two games originating from even older consoles stand out. The first, Metal Slug, remains reliably berserk two decades since release. The second, Sega Mega Drive Collection is a fantastic assortment of 27 games that costs just £8.
Age has not been as kind to the hundred PS One games on offer, with just a handful remaining attractive options. Destruction Derby is the same carefree fun it always was, while Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill and several Final Fantasy games are classics worth considering.
Meanwhile, a growing number of acclaimed indie titles have made it to the Minis and Mobile sections of the store. Famed autorunner Canabalt joins other former iOS trailblazers such as Fieldrunners, Jetpack Joyride and Super Crate Box. There's even a game version of the brilliant Guardian football quiz You Are The Ref, as well as a free-to-play copy of Lemmings.
But Vita has no killer app
Despite the brilliant range of great new and old titles that Vita offers, none of them are certifiably essential. PlayStation may have pinned its hopes on Black Ops: Declassified solving this problem by virtue of its blockbuster appeal, but the game is a wretched mess hurried together by a studio faced with punishingly short deadlines. It didn't sell incredibly well either.
Emulating home-console standards on a handheld is a technological triumph, but the Vita needs more than a library of games that simulate life on consoles; It needs a title that defines what the console is built for, it needs something not possible to enjoy in the same way on any other system. Looking ahead there aren't any obvious candidates, perhaps aside from one relatively unknown Media Molecule game called Tearaway.
The ten best PlayStation Vita games
Hand-picked by the CVG team
Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation
- Ben Wilson, OPM: "By virtue of the Vita, Liberation's one of very few handheld titles to achieve near perfect structural parity with its big brother. You'll explore open hubs including an 18th century New Orleans and crocodile-infested bayou, fight battalions of musket-wielders using blow darts, perform acrobatics and the occasional stabby counter, and stalk targets across roofs, streets and treetops.
"Liberation, however, doesn't succeed by mimicking Connor Kenway's adventure, but by standing for itself. How many games are brave enough to cast you as a black woman? No box-ticking exercise, the decision makes respectful sense both historically and mechanically: one minute you'll trace the development of your slave mother's writing skills through heartfelt diary entries, and the next don frilly dresses to fool guards.
"Liberation takes you to a place and time you've never been before, does so from a perspective you've never had, and sits entirely in the palms of your hands."
Full verdict: Assassin's Creed 3: Liberation review
Andy Robinson, CVG: "Here's all you need to know about this: it's proper FIFA, in your hands. Unfortunately the 'proper' FIFA EA's delivered is secretly the two-year-old FIFA 11 with new kits lobbed on, but that doesn't make playing FIFA on Vita any less of an impressive experience.
"Thanks to the unmatched power of Sony's handheld, FIFA runs the same engine as the big series on PS3, so as soon as you pick it up the timing, momentum and physics all feel familiar.
"A serious attempt has been made to use the Vita's touch controls, with the front screen used for passing and the rear pad allowing fingerprint shooting, but ultimately it's the ability to use familiar stick and button inputs on the bus that carries most appeal.
"Touch screen menus, PS3 Cross-Save and new game features could've strengthened this into one of the absolute best versions of FIFA anywhere, but sadly the recent FIFA 13 - which is near-on exactly the same game as the first - suggests EA might have given up on the platform."
Full verdict: FIFA Vita review
Tamoor Hussain, CVG: "Gravity Rush is a quintessentially Japanese take on the third-person action formula. Along with the usual anime stylings, quirky characters and fantastical story, the game turns gameplay on its head - quite literally. At the tap of a button its heroine, Kat, can detach herself from the ground, shift gravity, and fling herself around the game and world to land on any flat surface, regardless of orientation.
"It might sound like a throw-away gimmick, but exploring the cel-shaded art nouveau environments by leaping rooftops, bouncing from ground to ceiling and scaling towers by simply walking up the side is exhilarating. For those who need a little more action and purpose there's a handy stick-your-foot-out ability (also known as a 'kick'), which you'll need to use liberally to figure out where Kat came from, the origins of her gravity-altering powers and her purpose."
Andy Robinson, CVG: "While not quite worth purchasing a whole new system for, LittleBigPlanet Vita surely should be the first game on any self-respecting PS Vita owner's to-buy list.
"The Vita instalment squeezes PS3's much-loved DIY platformer on to Sony's handheld - and the transition is better than alright. The imaginative 7-hour platforming campaign looks gorgeous, while the brilliantly implemented physics system simulates your every interaction.
"This time players can manipulate levels by hand using the touch screen, dragging special blocks to cross large chasms and even 'pushing' useful objects in to view using the rear touch pad. It's a great implementation of the Vita's unique control propositions - and it works even better in level create mode where shaping and sharing worlds is much more intuitive."
Full verdict: LittleBigPlanet Vita review
Lumines: Electronic Symphony
Andy Robinson, CVG: "Lumines was one of the absolute best games on PSP, so it was a very pleasant surprise to see Q Entertainment's judicious update, Electronic Symphony, in the list of Vita launch titles.
"Gameplay is pretty much as fans will remember; Tetsuya Mizuguchi's psychedelic puzzler sees two-coloured square blocks fall from the top of the screen, and you have to arrange them so that square blocks of a single colour build up. So far, so Tetris.
"When a timeline reaches them, they and any other touching blocks of the same colour disappear, causing the blocks on top of them to fall downwards.
"It sounds simple, but the physics-based puzzles are actually more complex than Tetris and thanks to the fact that Lumines was conceived by Mizuguchi, a man who likes to go clubbing a lot, it's also guaranteed to deliver a soothing and psychedelic experience.
"The welcome addition of a new XP system, strong soundtrack and pleasing visuals results in a familiar yet attractive update to one of our favourite puzzlers."
Full verdict: Lumines: Electronic Symphony review
Metal Gear Solid HD
Rob Crossley, CVG: "A dazzling package of about sixty hours of triple-A gaming on the go, HD Collection's centrepieces may be old on paper but they feel completely fresh when playing in your hands. The two main courses here are Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3 - a duo of perversely cinematic thrills made unique/crap via their Kojima-style stupefying plots of conspiracy theories, triple-crosses and a million proper nouns.
"The high(er) definition visuals make a good impression, and it's hard to overstate how incredibly well MGS2 has aged since it was released eleven years ago. Not so spruce these days is Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2, which are both bundled in for good measure.
"With Kojima Productions ready to shake up the Metal Gear timeline with at least two new games, this portable collection is the perfect chance to go back through the key events within this flawed yet utterly inimitable series. Returning to Tanker Incident is an experience akin to playing Mario World; you realise that the most perfect accomplishments of an entire genre were achieved years ago.
"And HD Collection on PS Vita only enhances the sensations and sense of secrecy. A classified mission is no longer blaring out from your TV, but instead being whispered through a device for your eyes only."
Full verdict: review
Tamoor Hussain, CVG: "Traditionally fighting games don't fare all that well on portables; Mortal Kombat is an exception. Undemanding inputs and lenient timings let even the greenest of kombatants break ribs, puncture spleens and shatter bones with ease. Uncompromised gameplay aside, Mortal Kombat is crammed with content; between the extra characters, the Challenge Tower and online modes, few games can match its bang for buck.
"Story, rarely something to brag about in fighting games, is an uncommon highlight. The lengthy story campaign takes the convoluted mess of Mortal Kombat universes and weaves them all neatly into single narrative densely packed with barmy MK mythos. Even if Mortal Kombat lore isn't your cup of tea the melodrama, cheese and humour will keep you hooked. Did we mention it looks really nice too?"
Rob Crossley, CVG: "One cannot love Rayman. He's whacky and French like Napoleon. Ubisoft has nevertheless made him beautiful with its underused UbiArt design tools that transform a regular frame of animation into what appears to be a lush and authentic hand drawing.
"This isn't just a gorgeous looking game, but the sense that you're playing something that wouldn't be out of place in a Disney animated movie does give it an undeniable allure.
"Cynics suspecting that such good looks carry the whole experience would be wrong. Ubisoft Montpellier has paid reverence to the laws of 2D platforming that were carved in stone back in the late '80s. Jumping is fun. Running is fun. Enemies appear to have emerged from explosions of imagination, and the world is laced with secrets and gorgeous gold collectables.
"Origins is handsome and satisfyingly hard to beat. Nothing like Napoleon."
Full verdict: review
Tamoor Hussain, CVG: "Part platformer, part music sequencer, Sound Shapes is a simple concept brilliantly executed. Players control a little gobstopper-sized ball and must make their way to the end of the stage by rolling and bouncing from platform to platform. Placed throughout levels are orbs, each which play a musical note that's layered onto the background track.
"While there's certainly depth to its gameplay the draw of Sound Shapes is its music, created by an all-star collective of artists including Beck, Deadmau5 and Jim Guthrie. What starts off as a few disparate bars and beats converge into an expertly crafted crescendo.
"Outside of the main game, Sound Shape features a robust newbie-friendly music creation tool that doubles up as a level editor. Creating a bespoke tune is a simple matter of selecting an instrument, tapping the screen and arranging the sounds. Simply throw in some platforms, place orbs and you've got your very own Sound Shapes stage."
Rob Crossley, CVG: "Describing this twitch platformer as "Donkey Kong with guns" is unfair but accurate. Set inside a single-screen cage, a random cycle of germ-looking foes continually pour out from the top of the screen and must be shot before they reach the bottom; otherwise they'll respawn at the summit and rush out all crazed and speedy.
"Adding to the complexity are the titular crate boxes, which are placed randomly across the level and must be picked up to score points. Further unpredictability ensues as crates are collected, with each one randomly swapping the player's weapon over; switching from machine gun to rocket launcher to proximity mine to samurai sword back to machine gun and on to a trusty shotgun etcetera.
"So; very random. Super Crate Box is stressfully difficult and barmy, but it's certainly not brainless. The drawbacks of each weapon, and indeed the distance to the next crate, means that players will need to change their strategy on a second-by-second basis. This is a brutal and everlasting test of thinking on your feet, seizing the moment and shooting enemies in the face. Donkey Kong with guns, then."
Tamoor Hussain, CVG: "WipEout games never fail to impress, which is reassuring when picking between launch games of unknown quality. The beauty of WipEout is that even when you spend three laps helplessly ping-ponging off the walls, screwing up every turn and getting routinely nailed by enemy weapons, it's still fun.
"Unlike the previous games, which ran at solid 60 frames per second, the Vita version runs at half. Despite this, 2048's futuristic spacecrafts glide along the contorting tracks as gracefully as ever, inviting the player to revel in the game's blistering sense of speed and marvel at the pristine visuals. With Nintendo's F-Zero franchise missing-in-action few games offer WipEout's unique flavour of racing or look and play as good while doing it."
Full verdict: review