Many PS Vita owners have spent the holidays playing Tearaway, enjoying some of the best gameplay Sony's handheld has to offer. For readers yet to play it, the demo comes highly recommended, as does the full game. Hopefully, the critical success of Media Molecule’s latest serves as a call to action to other PS Vita developers—if the system is going to realize its potential, it needs more games that make use of its unique capabilities. This is not to see more games need be like Tearaway, necessarily—simply that more games should be idiomatic to PS Vita as opposed to other consoles.
PS Vita is an extremely powerful system, but it is never going to replace home consoles, nor should it be trying to do so. Though many are looking forward to seeing how Borderlands 2 runs on a portable system, a port of a 2012 console shooter is unlikely to inspire many people to take PS Vita any more or less seriously as a competitor to Nintendo 3DS. Yes, PS Vita is vastly more powerful, but putting a console title on a portable system doesn’t convey anything that the majority of gamers don’t already know.
In addition, gamers who want to play console-grade titles on PS Vita can do just that via PlayStation 4’s Remote Play. The connection isn’t ideal outside of the house, but for many genres of games, streaming lag doesn't diminish the experience. Cross-Play and Cross-Buy are wonderful features, as well, but like Remote Play, they push PS Vita away from its identity as an independent console; instead, these features move the system closer to being an expensive accessory for PS4. While it indeed functions well in that role, it's capable of a lot more.
Tearaway sends a different message. As one of the year's best games, it declares very competently that PS Vita has unique experiences—things that no one can find on PlayStation 4, and perhaps more importantly, things that no one can find on 3DS. It offers justification for the rear touchpad as more than a substitute for missing shoulder buttons.
It should come as no surprise that when many people talk about PS Vita, a system-defining game often mentioned is Gravity Rush, which makes extensive use of both the gyroscope and the touchscreen without sacrificing difficulty or immersion. Making it free via PlayStation Plus was a masterstroke on Sony’s part, giving a sizable percentage of PS Vita owners a game that neatly demonstrates system capabilities that might otherwise be dismissed as casual gimmicks.
Games like Rayman Origins (recently free on PlayStation Plus) have more function on PS Vita than they do on home consoles. Changing the camera’s zoom and using the touchscreen to grab distant Lums make the game feel much more at home on the portable system than on PS3. Similarly, Killzone: Mercenary, an FPS game that requires less latency than distant Remote Play allows, has a feature that allows players to use PS Vita’s gyroscope for fine adjustments when aiming down sight. The result is more precise aim than what an analog stick allows for, and the game is much better for it.
The announcement of a sequel to Gravity Rush is a good sign that Sony understands the kind of games that PS Vita needs: games that leverage the system's unique hardware to improve the experiences we're familiar with, while also inventing new ones. Sony’s aggressive courting of independent developers also points toward a platform with new experiences. Hopefully, some of the more established studios with greater financial resources follow suit and set out to create titles that proudly bear the PS Vita moniker. We've seen enough ports of games that function in other gaming spaces.