Contributed by Steven Williamson and Thez Zwetsloot.
With the festive season rapidly approaching and the barrage of AAA titles finally fading out, we’re heading out the back door of 2011 with fond memories of a great year for PlayStation. With little cash left in our pockets and our social lives having become a distant memory - thanks to long evening sessions on Uncharted 3 - our thoughts are now shifting to the New Year and, in particular, to PlayStation Vita.
Sony’s new handheld is all set and ready to launch in February, and it certainly looks the part with its sleek design and impressive 5" OLED screen. Under its glossy exterior too, the powerful ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor tells us that it has the ability to create a serious impact over the coming years. Our only concern is the games; will they deliver the experience that Vita deserves and can they take advantage of its unquestionable potential?
At a PlayStation Vita event held in London recently, we went hands-on with host of games that will be available on launch day, and we think the answer to that question is a resounding “Yes!” If these launch games are a signal of what’s to come, then we’re chomping at the bit to see how things progress throughout 2012 and beyond, not just from Sony either, but also from third-party developers who have stepped forward to embrace Vita.
To give you a little taster of some of PS Vita’s launch games, we’ve written 10 short previews of titles that we played at the event to help you come to a decision about what title you might buy when Vita launches. Because, come February 2012, it looks like we’re going to be spoilt for choice…
With miniature versions of the class-based vehicles from previous MotorStorm games whizzing at break-neck speed around its tiny tracks, MotorStorm RC exudes pick-up-and-play appeal. Throw into the mix a competitive arena bursting with social connectivity options, and you’ve got the makings of one of Vita’s most addictive launch titles.
While some tracks are inspired by other games in the MotorStorm series, including Pacific Rift and Apocalypse, we’re promised 16 new ones and more content via DLC. Miniature buggies, monster trucks and super cars glide around the track as if on ice skates, and driving around these tight tracks doesn’t at all feel like the rough and tumble racing experienced in the main MotorStorm titles. In fact, MotorStorm RC resembles, both in look and sensation, the classic Micro Machine games of the ‘90s, which were known for their accessibility, fun and mainstream appeal.
On the track, there are a variety of control schemes to test out. We tested out the dual analog stick controls, moving the RC car with the left stick and the camera with the right. Within a couple of laps we’d established our race-lines effectively, drifting around corners and hurtling around the tracks intuitively. It all feels very retro and arcadey, but pleasingly familiar and very addictive.
MotorStorm RC looks set to offer instant pick-up-and-play appeal and trigger fierce competition among its fans, so it should be ideal for short bursts of gameplay and perfectly suited to gaming on the go, but also deep enough for gamers who are serious about nudging up the leaderboards. With the chance to use the Pitwall feature to share stats, compete and make new friends too, the social aspect of MotorStorm RC should lead to some exciting and competitive races. Did we mention that you get both PS3 and PS Vita versions for one price?
The FIFA series has come on leaps and bounds over the years on PlayStation 3, and we have every faith that Electronic Arts will continue the good work with its new handheld iteration, which looks fantastic and implements Vita's touchscreen controls impressively.
FIFA Football showcases Vita’s graphical power and processing capability superbly, with finely rendered player models, great looking stadiums, and animation that is just as slick as FIFA 12 on PS3. The dual analog sticks totally transform the game that we remember from the PSP versions of FIFA, allowing you to exercise precise control over player movement, pass accurately and pull off tricks intuitively.
The option to use the touch-screen works surprisingly well too and is actually more tempting than we imagined, especially for curling free-kicks into the top corner, or pin-pointing players with a cleverly executed corner. Gameplay runs really smoothly, and you’re able to execute many of the same manoeuvres from the console version, such as pass-and-run tactics or intricate turns.
Many of the major game modes from the FIFA series make an appearance too, including Career, Be a Pro and Tournament modes, as well as the option to go head-to-head online. Officially licensed clubs and stadiums once again help to make FIFA an authentic football experience, and matches flow with all the smoothness of their superb PS3 counterpart. FIFA Football looks set to be another top-notch outing of footy from the boys at EA. Let's hope there are some social features planned between the two platforms.
Super StarDust Delta
Fans of the Super StarDust series will already know about the joys of its hypnotic pace, foot-tapping electronic beats and explosive visuals. Though the concept of this twin-stick shooter is simple – destroy asteroids and waves of enemies – slick manoeuvres such as boosting, a variety of weapons and bombs, and numerous upgrades, should make this an essential purchase for gamers who like their shooters fast and furious.
Housemarque’s latest effort has been optimised specifically for Vita, so not only does it look great, it implements SixAxis motion control superbly and takes advantage of the front and rear touchscreens. As waves of enemies attack, you can use analog stick controls to move your craft swiftly around the screen, tilt to survey the surroundings and adjust the range of your fire with a swipe of your finger. The combination of all three isn't as complicated as it sounds and it actually turns out to be an immersive experience that draws you right into the action.
Modes from previous Super StarDust games will make an appearance, including Endless and Bomber mode, but we’re also promised new modes and some casual mini-games specifically designed to showcase the touchscreen controls- asteroid popping, anyone? Weapon variety also looks to be impressive too. We particularly enjoyed the Ice Splitter, which sends out a host of missile-seeking projectiles that create a colourful explosion on impact.
If priced correctly, Super StarDust Delta has all the ingredients to become another strong entry in the series, and with the power of Vita behind it and the silky implementation of touchscreen controls, it could well turn out to be the greatest iteration in the series so far. Just don't play it for too long, those crazy visuals make you cross-eyed!
YouTube is full of videos of pool and snooker trick-shots that players of Hustle Kings on PSN have uploaded. Since its launch in 2010, competition has been fierce amongst its loyal following, and we’ve got plenty of reason to believe the Vita version is about to attract a brand new audience ready to take them on!
We played a multiplayer game of Hustle Kings on Vita against a PS3 player, with the action taking place in real-time. The transition between each player's turn was fluid and there looked to be no difference graphically between each version, with both featuring impressive ultra-realistic locations, shiny balls and silky-smooth cloths.
Controls feel slicker than the PSN version thanks to the addition of front and rear touchscreen control. It feels quite natural to move the cue back and forward with your finger and shift viewing angles with a quick swipe. You can spend a long time agonising over whether to take the shot, making sure your angles are correct for getting into a good position for your next effort, while physics - the way the balls interact with each other - seems spot-on.
Hustle Kings looks to be one of most accessible launch titles, perfect for casual gaming, but crafted specifically to bring multiplayer competitiveness onto the small screen. The fact you can queue up players in multiplayer mode, so you can shoot at your leisure and receive push notifications when it’s your turn, means that there's no hanging around either. We also hear that the Snooker mode will be available as DLC following launch!
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
The pint-sized version of Naughty Dog’s outstanding Uncharted series has the greatest graphics we’ve ever seen on a handheld, boasting the same high production values as its console counterpart. Based on the fact that we’re massive fans of the series, it’s a day one purchase for us, but as it takes place before the events in the first game, Drake’s Fortune, newcomers are also well catered for.
Based on first impressions, Golden Abyss is the game that will set the standard for other action-adventures on Vita. The attention to detail is outstanding, with lush jungle foliage, lighting and fire effects combining to create an environment fitting for the intrepid explorer. Drake’s platform-hopping skills are easy to get to grips with thanks to the dual analog sticks, which give you intuitive control over Drake's movement and camera angles. Tapping on the screen to climb up a ledge, using the gyroscope function to swing from a rope, or tilting the screen to climb across a log, all add to the experience and make it feel like developer Sony Bend has spent time to really try and take advantage of Vita’s hardware. Impressively, it feels just like playing a big-budget Uncharted game and comes complete with the solid third-person mechanics we’ve come to expect from the franchise.
Cut-scenes are impressively rendered and cover-based gunplay is tight. The section we played was full of those moments we’ve come to expect from Drake’s adventures, where a platform crumbles under your feet, or a huge explosion takes you by surprise. Whether Sony Bend has any major tricks up its sleeve, like the unforgettable cargo plane battle in Drake’s Deception, remains to be seen, but we can’t wait to find out!
We can only speculate about the storyline, which precedes events in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, but if it’s on par with the rest of the series we’ll be happy. We’ve already seen many examples of Drake’s character coming through on Vita and been immersed in dialogue during some of the cut-scenes, so we’ve every confidence that Uncharted: Golden Abyss will be yet another enthralling story-driven adventure.
From Sony Santa Monica studios comes the monochrome puzzling oddity known as Escape Plan. Without using any of the physical buttons, you need to get main characters Lil and Laarg to the closest exit in their quest to escape their hellish imprisonment. We did a big old preview from a presentation back at Gamescom which you can read here.
Now we've managed to get our grubby mitts on this most intriguing of titles. Our first impression? Polished. This game isn't even supposed to be out at launch, but the demo we played had incredibly precise and intuitive controls. Not only that, but all the little visual ques like white and black lines to denote if you swiped on the touch screen or back pad were immediately understandable. It's quite the feat to have this level of quality in a product despite the fact it hasn’t even got a release date yet.
The puzzles themselves can get quite devious and clever. As well as basic things like timing movement between hazards, Escape Plan relies on a lot of interactivity. Objects in your path can be moved into the background or foreground using front and back taps respectively, but tapping on objects throughout the environment using the two touch inputs will cause different affects as well. A memorable puzzle had you distracting a guard by tapping on the back pad, and pushing him on the touch screen. This eventually led to his untimely demise being squashed, allowing Laarg to proceed without being shot.
On the note of being squashed, it's quite the gory and sadistic game. The dreary greyscale colour scheme combined with the simple designs make the gruesome death scenes all the more morbid. And it doesn't let you forget when you've become a big blob of black ink either, putting the individual characters death counts on their stomach. It all really adds to its overall charm though, and come 2012 we'll be very interested to see how the final product turns out.
Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3
Fighting games on handhelds have never really been a thing. Sure, they've certainly existed, but no one would really hold up Street Fighter II on the original Game Boy as a testament to their quality. However, the PSP has in all fairness gone a long way to break this trend. And not just with great re-releases of Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Power Stone either, but also with original titles like Dissidia: Final Fantasy and decent ports such as Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection.
I can honestly say that the Vita version of Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 played exactly like its console big brother -- especially if you're used to the PlayStation 3 version, with the same type of D-pad and button layout. Of course, it lacks two shoulder buttons, but as a six button game anyway the Vita easily gives you all the control you need. The most surprising thing was I hadn't registered that I was playing the game on a different system until after I had linked Viewtiful Joe's Red Hot Kick into a Mach Speed, finally launching my opponent into the air to meet the powerful wrath of the Sensational She-Hulk.
Graphically, the most noticeable difference in quality was when everything was standing still. Characters looked a little fuzzy on the team selection screen, however once the game was going at its usual hyper speed it was looking great. With a fluid frame rate and no sign of hitching, Capcom seem to have balanced graphical quality to near perfection here.
It's an oddly great package, both proving that the Vita can be a viable platform for fighters, and also that they can look as good as their console counterparts. At least, for the next few years. Either way, for the first time, it will be you taking Marvel vs Capcom for a ride. J-Jazz completely optional.
Remember that time in The Simpsons where Bart wanted to be reincarnated as a butterfly? "Because no one suspects the butterfly..." he menacingly says, showing in his imagination Principal Skinner struggling with the Police and blaming a butterfly for the school burning down. Now, developer Honeyslug has sort of an in-joke like this - if anything goes wrong, well "Frobisher told me to!".
Frobisher Says is a quick fire mini-game collection where you must do what Frobisher Says. Given a very limited time, you need to figure out how the goal relates to the madness on screen. You have to survive the ever crazy challenges, taking between 5 and 30 seconds to do. If you're wondering where you may have heard of this kind of game before, then yes, this is very similar to the Wario Ware series.
Like the role Wario Ware games have taken, Frobisher Says makes use of all the functions of the Vita. This is quite good at giving you a fun look into what the Vita can do, and its limits. One game wanted you to stay as still as possible so not to wake Frobisher, while another asked you to look away, using the front camera to detect if you were or not. Frobisher would give you the dirtiest look if you didn't pay attention and looked back at the screen.
It's an incredibly quirky game as well, with an amazing mixture of crazy art styles. There's a lot of charm and humor derived from this, and along with the bizarre tasks had me giggling like a school girl. At the time of writing, we believe it's a download only title, and will not be full priced. One to keep an eye on.
While technically a mini-game collection, Little Deviants is a little more than that. The games usually last a little longer than your standard mini-games, but they're all played using a control theme. One has a type of shooting gallery, where you have to poke some robots from the front or back depending on where they have a forcefield. Another has you using the gyro features to locate flying enemies in your surrounding before shooting at them, the screen acting like your goggles. On that last one, you have to wipe gunk off the goggles with your finger if you get shot at.
There's quite the variety of games to play, most with a unique mixture of specific Vita controls. Unlike the quickfire nature of the aforementioned Frobisher Says, Little Deviants feels like a fully-fledged title. This is largely due to the performance-based medals and challenges tied to each game, with a friends leaderboard to compare who's top dog.
Graphically, while it may not be the best looking Vita title, it's very slick. One mini game needed you to pinch one of the deviants using the front and back touch, which was not only fairly precise, but also morphed the environment as you pulled it back. This caused no slow down whatsoever, and the speed kept up when the creature was flinging around a wrestling ring knocking out dudes like bowling pins.
With all the rest on offer, this isn't the most exciting of the Vita launch titles. It does, however, act as a great guide to all the ways you can control things on the system. Sony would be smart to make this a pack in game with the Vita.
Touch my Katamari
Did you read the name of this game? I could really just stop typing right there, because the game’s name is Touch my Katamari. What more do you want? Such a perfectly constructed play on words could only be possible with a series like this. And trust me when I say you’re really going to want to Touch this Katamari in the most inappropriate of ways.
First of all, the King of the Cosmos has gained weight, and you need to help the most fabulous character in video games to lose some. The game takes place on his head. Just sit back a moment, take that in. You’re playing Katamari on the King of the Cosmos. All the missions and options and such are located all over the cylindrical ear things on the side of his head, which you spin around with a finger swipe.
I hate to start being serious again in the face of the Kings gyrating pelvis, but the touch controls work really well. With a load of smart gestures for moving and resizing your Katamari, you have as much control as you would with the twin sticks. The new feature this time is stretching your Katamari, to be tall and thin or short and wide. This is used to get through tight spots or scoop up as much material as possible. While you may be more comfortable with the stick to start off with, the touch controls feel like they would greatly reward a bit of practice. Your significant other definitely won’t complain once you’ve mastered the controls.
It’s hard not to love Katamari, and there’s plenty of the good stuff in this iteration. Even if you’re not a fan of the touch controls, with the twin stick offering it works as well as the console counterparts. Also, you know, it’s called Touch my Katamari.
PlayStation Vita launches in Europe and North America on February 22, 2012.