PlayStation Vita/PSP Retrospective – Sony’s Fighter Entering the Handheld Ring

The PlayStation brand has been famous for being home to a series of great and successful consoles. Many cite the PS2 and recently the PS4 to be strong examples of Sony success in the console market and they are right to do so; both are great systems. But they also put their hat into the handheld ring and it all started with the Sony Walkman from the 90’s.

This device allowed you to listen to music using cassettes and later audio CD’s to play music. These were the precursor to the iPod and Sony being the first one to take that step should be noted.

They also tried having memory cards with LED screens, which would allow you to play mini games and offer interaction based on the different games. However, this was exclusive to Japan PlayStation Ones and the Sega Dreamcast took this concept to its logical  conclusion.

Now fast forward to 2004 and Sony is on stage, announcing something called ‘PlayStation Portable’. This blew everyone’s mind, as it was a pocket PlayStation. It would house console experiences and be a multimedia monster. The device had a lot of features that would make it more then just a games system; web browser support, music and video player, support for UMD Disks that house movies and TV shows, support with PS1 Classics on the PlayStation Store, and the ability to play digital versions of PSP games on the PlayStation Store.

This continued with the other revisions of the PSP, with the PSP 2000 having a faster CPU to offer games a graphical boost. Titles like Mega Man Maverick Hunter X and the GTA titles benefited from this addition with less slowdown and more stable frame rates.

We also got something called the PSP Go and this was ahead of its time. The device had no ability to play UMD Disks, the retail format for PSP games. So, you had to buy every PSP game digital going forward. But the device had 32GB built into the system’s memory so you would not have to run out and get a Memory Stick DUO just to play some games. This version of the PSP looked more like a phone, with the ability to slide is controller out and fit nicely into your pocket. Many loved this in hindsight but it did not do well during its launch. It stands as a case of technology being far advanced but the mass market not grabbing on to it.

Lets talk about the games on the PSP now, as they come from all places. The system got a lot of western third party support, and this is major. Many cases, the handheld systems get support from Japan and not the west. What does this man? It means we saw games like Grand Theft Auto, Need for Speed, Star Wars Battlefront and in the future Assassins Creed land on the system.

This continued with smaller western studios putting out games like Dead Head Fred and even major western Sony studios putting out games like Daxter and God of War: Ghost of Sparta on the platform. I loved this about the PSP and one element it will be remembered for; its strong western support.

The system got a lot of Japanse support too, with that being some of the best of any handheld ever made. Role Playing Games flooded the system, new and old, from developer/publisher large and small. We also got some of the best games from Square Enix like Crisis Core and KH Birth By Sleep on the system because of that strong support.

Lets move on to the PlayStation Vita next, as this will likely be Sony’s final fighter in the handheld ring. The system was announced under a code name but it blew people away with its announcement in 2011. Games like Metal Gear Solid 4 were shown running on dev kits of the hardware and titles from western studios like 2K were promised, showing that it would have great support at launch.

Fast forward to Fall 2011 in Japan and Early 2012 in US/EU, the system launched with a massive line up of games. High rated titles like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Rayman Origins joined the likes of Uncharted Golden Abyss and Wipeout for the systems big opening day. People loved the system and this launch showed promise of games like the PSP game across JP and Western releases.

But, things did not go that way for the system. After the launch, some ugly truths were shown about the Vita. It would need Memory Cards to hold digital games, not carrying over the built in space that the PSP Go had. In addition to this, the launch blew Sony’s load, with the system having game droughts across 2012. This was fixed toward the end of the year with first and third party support, but the message was sent; ‘Vita had no games’. That statement never left the Vita despite 2013 onward forever shattering that statement and people started not buying the system.

Sony did try in 2012 and 2013 to sell the system, with some strong first party support all around and getting some big names like Assassins Creed and Call of Duty on the Vita. But that wasn’t enough. The system still has under 12 million units solid as of 2016.

But the system is still going strong, and that is due to the games. The Vita has many, many games.

Lets start from the beginning, as we have a lot to cover here. Sony offered strong first party support from 2012 too 2014 for the platform and these games are some of the best in Sony’s history.

At launch we got a solid Uncharted adventure that looked great and the story was enjoyable. In addition, we got as of this article’s release, final Wipeout game and its amazing. It has tons of content across new content built for the Vita and support for every stage and craft that the PS3 Wipeout HD and DLC pack Furry has. Meaning, you walk away with a content rich racer that will offer hours of fun.

A little after launch we got a game called ‘Gravity Rush’ developed by Studio Japan’s Siren team. This was originally a PS3 game but they put it on Vita to take advantage of the system’s gyro controls. The end result is one of the best new IP’s to come out of Sony in some time and it is getting a PS4 sequel in 2016.

In 2013, Sony released a game called Tearaway, developed by Media Molecule. They made the LittleBigPlanet series and Tearaway is a masterpiece in many respects. I wrote about this title in the past, so will just past a quote I wrote about the title here:

“Tearaway in many aspects, feels like a great Nintendo game to me. The world, the character designs, the music, and the creative elements; it screams Nintendo. And that must be a factor to why I love the game so much, as I grew up playing Mario and Kirby. Going into the gameplay, it is a mixture of LBP creative elements but also more in line with a game like Banjo Kazooie or Mario 64. Its core gameplay mirrors those 3D platformers; you run around, jump around and collect everything in sight. The difference is that unlike those great platformers, platforming isn’t the major focus. Like how LBP has the skeleton of a 2D platformer but it was more of a creative tool set, Tearaway has the skin of a 3D platformer but its core mirrors adventure games. You complete simple tasks, take pictures, draw objects and more to solve the NPC’s problems and that is what pushes the game forward. The game does have platforming and by the final world things kick into high gear with more challenging level designs but that isn’t the focus with Tearaway. Its about interacting with the paper world around you and to be honest, I’m glad the game focuses on its strongest aspect.”

We also got a game called ‘Soul Sacrifice’ released on the Vita in 2013 as well, with it being a co-developed title with Studio Japan and Inafune’s Concept studio. It was a Monster Hunter-like game where you explore different locations killing X amount of things but the core gameplay is different and the story is very strong. Very strong game that got stronger with its Delta release in Early 2014.

Next up is the Japan developed titles from third party studios, as they took the torch from Sony in some respects in 2014. In 2013, we got the release of Persona 4 Golden by Atlus and P-Studio. They originally wanted to release this on the PSP but the constrants they faced with bringing Persona 3 to PSP pushed them to work with stronger hardware. It was an expanded remake of the PS2 Classic and to this day, many consider it one of the strongest releases on the PS Vita.

This strong JP support continued in 2014 with many interesting titles. We got the Danganronpa series coming out, with the first game releasing early in the year and its sequel coming out Fall of 2014. It was a puzzle/visual novel title that had a warped sense of humor, some strong characters and some great music. The series found its home in the west on Vita and two more games, one released and the third mainline game coming out in Japan 2016, on the way to Vita in the future.

Then we got a game called Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment released on the Vita. This game is based on the anime and light novel of the same name, but it does a lot more then expected. It is a honest attempt at making a role playing game with MMO elements, not unlike Final Fantasy XII or Xenoblade Chronicles. For a licensed title based on an anime, that should be noted.

The game started life on the PSP under the title ‘Infinity Moment’ in Japan and when they wanted to make a PS Vita title in the series, they decided to take the PSP game and build a whole new game around that. The end result? We get two games in one with Hollow Fragment in many respects; the main story of Infinity Moment with the Alicard portions of the game and the Hollow Area section being built for the ground up with Vita hardware in mind.

I really enjoyed this game and while the story is infamous for its poor translation, I liked how they continued the story from the anime at arguably its strongest point. Was a real surprise for me and one of my first JRPG’s on the system for me.

This strong JP support continued into 2015 and 2016 with many developers throwing their hat into the Vita ring. Atlus continued supporting with Persona 4 Dancing All Night, Bandai Namco supported the Vita after the strong success of Hollow Fragment with many titles, other JP studios like Gust and NISA put games out on the system and more. The Vita lacked major support from Square Enix, but that wasn’t needed; other studios took the role they had on the Vita.

Lastly is the indie support the Vita has gotten since 2013 and it has helped form an identity for the system as the best way to play many indie titles.

Early indie games on the system include titles like Guacamelee and Mutant Blobs Attack by studio DrinkBox but more indie developers released their games on the Vita due to the audience buying many indie games in droves.

Sony not releasing many first party titles and the long software droughts left empty places where indie developers and JP studios could put out their games for Vita owners to buy and that is exactly what happened.

From ports of older titles like Limbo, Splunky, and Fez too original recent titles like Steamworld Dig and Severed; the indie scene continues on the Vita and with movements like Cross-Buy making indie titles even more attractive, we have a large collection of games many can love and enjoy.

Sony’s run through handhelds has been interesting to say the least. From the humble origins of the Walkman too the PlayStation Vita, the Sony brand of handhelds have been all over the place.

While we may not see another handheld by Sony in the future, the ones we did get are fantastic pieces of hardware that many love and enjoy.


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