It has been about a month since Sony's new portable, the PlayStation Vita, launched in the West. Considering the dramatic changes which have taken place within the handheld landscape as of late - most importantly, the smartphone/tablet revolution lead by Apple's iOS platforms - there's been a lot of talk amongst gaming enthusiasts about the fate of Vita and Nintendo's 3DS. With that in mind, the initial commercial and critical reception to Vita will be very important in shaping this industry-wide discussion going forward.
How has the Vita done up until this point? While the handheld's story is just beginning to be written, we're going to take stock of the best and worst of its software, sales and a few thoughts on the future.
In terms of software, Vita's software lineup to date is a bit tricky to praise or write-off entirely. On the one hand, Sony impressively managed to string together 25 titles at launch, comprising a wide variety of genres, established franchises and original properties. That in and of itself is an accomplishment worth cheering, as most hardware debuts cannot claim to have done the same. However, Vita likely suffered from the lack of a standout, 'killer-app' title for early-adopters to rally around and generate positive word-of-mouth. Uncharted: Golden Abyss, arguably the closest to triple-A status, simply can't carry a hardware launch on its own.
Having said that, here's a brief overview of our highs and lows from the Vita's software catalogue.
Games We Liked:
-Lumines: Electronic Symphony
Lumines was a stand-out title for the PlayStation Portable, and Ubisoft has managed to do the same thing again for the Vita. Here's what the developers had to say about their latest project. "When we first began work on Lumines Electronic Symphony, we envisioned a game that would take Lumines players through a diverse but unified sampling of electronic music. This would allow us to entertain players and expose them to some amazing music. With that in mind, we gathered together a diverse array of artists who would collectively compose our 'electronic symphony.'"
As its title suggests, Rayman Origins will take place way back when in the Glade of Dreams. It will focus on how Rayman and his sidekick Globox become the heroes of the future titles. Havoc ensues in the Glade of Dreams, when the world's creator, Bubble Dreamer, becomes cursed by endless nightmares. By having these nightmares, Bubble Dreamer transforms the good Electoons into frightening Darktoons destroying the Glade of Dreams. It's up to Rayman and his friends to stop the nightmares and save the world. This game has performed exceedingly well on every platform, it's like gold dust at the moment.
-Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Spearheaded by Uncharted: Golden Abyss, it's really quite difficult to pass the [Vita] off as another PSP. Uncharted is a series that has grown to be associated with amazing visuals, great gameplay and, of course, a well told story. I can't say too much about that last aspect, but at the very least fans can expect Golden Abyss to be yet another great entry into the PlayStation portfolio when it leads the launch of the Vita.
Games We Didn't:
Little Deviants is a game that had good intentions behind its development, but fails to deliver a quality experience. It attempts to use almost all of the new technical capabilities of the PlayStation Vita through an array of mini-games, but the execution just isn't very good. Only a handful of the vast selection of games are any good and that's just not good enough.
-ModNation Racers: Road Trip
In the end, Modnation Racers: Road Trip is a fun kart racing game that will challenge fans of Mario Kart to possibly stray from Nintendo. It's a good game for the Vita and will provide fun for any who play it. However, since the game is remarkably similar to its older brothers, you're not going to get much in they way of new content if you played the previous versions. Factor in the lack of online multiplayer, and you can see how this game isn't quite up to par.
-Dynasty Warriors Next
If you've never played a Dynasty Warriors game, this shouldn't be your starting point. It's not a terrible game at all, but it is one that new players to the franchise should put on the backburner until they know if Dynasty Warriors is their cup of tea. After all, it features some pretty poor draw distances, some stodgy motion controls and a mode called Coalition which is ad-hoc only.
Regardless of which title piques your interest, how these initial offerings translate into commercial sales will be an important factor in determining the Vita's momentum going forward. Contrary to the doom-and-gloom surrounding the sharp drop-off in Japanese sales following launch in the Land of the Rising Sun, Sony recently revealed Vita outperformed their internal expectations for the global launch. 1.2 million Vita units have been sold worldwide as of Feb 28th, 2012, an impressive figure considering roughly half of those sales (600,000) represent the first week on store shelves outside Japan.
On the software side, we don't know a whole lot about the hard numbers, but we do know Golden Abyss currently leads the pack with over 430,000 units sold - an extremely high sell-through rate relative to the install base. These initial figures bode well for Vita heading into the crucial holiday season, backed up by Sony's claim of dozens of titles currently in development alongside a mysterious Call of Duty iteration.
While it's far too early to make any concrete predictions on the eventual fate of the PlayStation Vita or dedicated portable gaming devices in general, the initial software lineup and commercial reception paint a bright picture for the future of Sony's latest handheld.