Well in a gaming sense at least. Life has been pretty busy this year, I have a six year old son who does hockey training twice a week, as well as playing hockey games. It means I spend more time away from home at this point in my life, than I ever did before. That in turn means less time to sit down with a home console or PC.
That is the only reason my gaming time fell away. However, I found I wasn’t enjoying it as much, I was playing games out of habit more than anything, or for the purposes of review. I had a reasons to play, but none of the reasons were for fun, or because I absolutely had to play the latest and greatest. That isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed the games I have played. Far Cry 3, Trials Evolution and one or two others have really stood out and have been fine experiences. Yet still if I hadn’t had to review them, I likely wouldn’t have spend as much time with them as I did.
It’s hard to put a finger on why I have had a change of heart in 2012, I still don’t watch TV, I still have no interest in Pop Factor, Celebrity Jungle, Essex thingy or any of the other popular TV programmes that friends and family always mention. I still have plenty of time to myself, when my son is in bed and my partner is at work, I would still turn on the XBOX and play some NHL 13, Forza, Rayman Origins, etc. Again more through habit than anything else. That all changed when I finally acquired a Playstation Vita.
I couldn’t afford one upon release, much to my dismay. I wanted one, I wanted to be there day one in the queue to pick my unit up. However having a family means there are always other priorities, therefore it wasn’t to be. I kind of ignored it after that, not wanting to be green with envy. That’s not me though, ignoring it didn’t last long, so I checked various threads on forums, looked at the games, checked out the opinions of others. What I found was more negativity towards the system than I expected, lack of support, lack of games and generally not living up to expectations. I felt like I had dodged a bullet in many ways.
In November however I was given the chance to get one, as a reward for doing a bit of work for someone. It was a second hand unit, but hell, it was kind of free. It only came with Reality Fighters and Resistance, both games that didn’t exactly convince me the masses were wrong. Neither game was all that great, Reality Fighters in particular was awful. So a quick trade later and I picked up Everybody’s Golf and Wipeout 2048, because even if there was nothing else, it could at least be my Everybody’s Golf machine. It has become much, much more than that though.
Literally days after getting the machine, Sony outlined what was coming for PS+ and all of a sudden things looked bright. I was getting Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Gravity Rush, Mutant Blobs Attack and Chronovolt, all for free (well the cost of my sub, which I had anyway). For a start, Everybody’s Golf and Wipeout 2048 are fantastic games, the former being just what one would expect and the latter being stunning on that OLED screen, honestly just wonderful to see.
Uncharted was a bit of surprise too, I had heard mixed reviews about the game, yet when I finally played it, I was blown away, aside from the odd crappy QTE boss, it played so well on the Vita, it look all kinds of wonderful too. Bend (not Naughty Dog) were off to a perfect start for a launch title. It was that good in fact, that I played through every day and finished it within a few days. It wasn’t the visuals or the actual gameplay that stood out for me, it was the structure. it managed to keep the epic feel of the PS3 Uncharted games, but I found I was able to play either a few moments before setting the Vita down, or play through a few chapters. It was a lesson in how to do a handheld port of an existing major franchise.
Next was Gravity Rush, which was a brand new IP and that too really struck me in just how good it looked. It wasn’t as stand out as Uncharted, but again I was drawn in to the game and playing a bit every night. Then something hit me, I wasn’t doing this out of habit, out of some kind of obligation. I had no reason to have to play these games. I hadn’t put down any of my hard earned money, I wasn’t even having to review the games. I was playing because I wanted to, because I was having fun. Somehow this machine that is supposedly set up for failure, had given me back something that had been missing for a while.
I had my passion for gaming back. I would look forward to finishing work, so I could get some time with the games. Enjoying the time I had on my own so I could get a proper session going. My collection was growing too, having already completed Rayman Origins on the 360, I wanted it again on the Vita, so I picked up the game. Then there was Little Big Planet, which for me is the best of the franchise to far, a game that felt like it was created especially for the system. Hustle Kings, Virtua Tennis 4, Lumines and other PSN titles were added. I had promised myself that for this system I would make sure I played one, before even entertaining a new game, but a few bargains later and I have enough games to last me beyond a year already.
It’s not all good though, Modnation Racers is a bit of a let down, something that should thrive on the Vita, just doesn’t work. Poor frame-rates, really slow loading times and a clunky UI means it does just sit there, like the ginger stepchild, unloved and unplayed, it is the one game that feels like it would be a chore to play. Maybe one day when I have absolutely nothing else to play. Which for a system that ‘has no games’ should be soon right?
Wrong, as I said above, I have a enough content to last me at least a year. Because I own Wipeout HD on the PS3, I automatically get that content for free as DLC in Wipeout 2048, I have all my PSP and PSOne titles that I can play, then there are the Cross-Buy titles that already exist and that are also coming. Playstation All Stars Battle Royale, which allows not only Cross-Buy, but also Cross-Play. I can play on my Vita, against my partner or son who are on the PS3, it works amazingly well too. Games like Motorstorm RC and Hustle Kings, also add to my PS3 library thanks to Cross-Buy, there is so much to be happy with.
How can I forget to mention Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed, a lesson in how to port a full console title to a handheld. It is identical, every level and character is reproduced to perfection, with only the slightest trade off in graphics. It’s a shame there is no Cross-Save with the main game, but it is that good, I don’t mind playing twice over. Need For Speed: Most Wanted too, I only have that for the Vita, purely because it is better than the console versions. It plays like a full blown home release, but here it is in the palm of my hand. There are also some fine free to play games too, with the absolute stand out being Treasures Of Montezuma, which is essentially a clone of Bejewelled, however is a clone that is more than welcome and if I am being honest, has a levelling up system that makes it more enjoyable than PopCap’s effort. Honestly, if you have a Vita, try it.
Another let down though is Call Of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, it’s not awful as such, but it feel like a missed opportunity, released more to have the brand on the console, rather than for a great gaming experience. As I mentioned in my review, it felt like the team who made it, were doing so based on old ideals of handheld ports, rather than trying to bring something that was designed for the Vita itself. However on the whole there are more excellent games, than there are let downs.
Even moving forward, my most anticipated title of 2013 is Persona 4 Golden, a Vita title. P3P on the PSP was probably my favourite game of the system and hearing other’s experiences with P4G has more then whetted my appetite. I could of course get it on import, but I have enough to get through as it is, that I can wait until my will power fails me, upon seeing it on a shop shelf. The naysayers will continue to predict the death of the Vita, however, should Sony decide to kill the system early, I will feel I have more than had my monies worth, just based on everything available already.
I have barely scratched the surface, I am yet to play Virtue’s Last Reward, WRC 3, Assassin’s Creed III, Disgaea 3, Escape Plan, FIFA, Frobisher Says, Jet Set Radio, MGS HD Collection, Ratchet & Clank, Mortal Kombat, New Little King’s Story, Pinball Arcade, Sound Shapes and more. Those are just the released games, there are bound to be some that will come that are yet to be announced, plus as previously mentioned a whole load of classic PSOne and PSP titles. Who can tell which of those will also see PS+ releases.
Let us not forget too, that the Vita isn’t even a year old yet. For my money it has the strongest one year catalogue of any system before it. Sure the hardware has lacked the sales Sony had hoped, but I honestly believe that is mainly down to some awful marketing more than anything. With PS+ onboard, Sony should really be pushing the system now, creating bundles which include a subscription and making sure the world knows about it. It needs to show off the potential of the system, show it isn’t just another PSP, that it is now a whole lot more. Show off the games properly, shout from the rooftops… THIS IS THE VITA!
Up until November, I was considering how much longer I can continue gaming for, it is an expensive hobby when you just aren’t feeling it anymore. Now though, I feel I am back, I look forward to new releases, I look forward to playing games again. It is all down to my Vita.