We just got our hands all over the new PlayStation Vita (the handheld formerly known as NGP... we like to call it Vita, for short) and we're here to tell you what it's like. Sadly, Sony wasn't allowing any photos or video, so we're still on the hunt for those. Meanwhile, here are a few quick thoughts:

Hardware

  • It's big. Certainly not very pocket friendly, but not comical. It's a pretty reasonable size given the fully articulated analog controls and all the other wild stuff going on here. Still, it's big if you're used to doing your gaming on a phone or even a recent PSP.
  • It's light. Vita actually feels hollow. It's a little bizarre given the fact that we're looking at a seriously large display, and takes some getting used to. We're happy to report, however, that this is some seriously quality craftsmanship. The see-through plastic triggers are big, meaty, and have a whole bunch of finely crafted travel.
  • The "cheapest" feeling part is probably the back touchscreen. It kind of feels (and looks) like a plastic sticker, and it actually made some tasks requiring rear touch a little sub-par feeling. We'd prefer something a bit more like brushed glass.
  • This screen is AMAZING. Not only is it amazing in size, color, and resolution, but the games are actually pumping enough pixels to look wonderful on it. Virtua Tennis was especially spectacular, with oodles of polygons available for every nuance of Federer's face.
  • The analog sticks are good, but not DualShock or Xbox 360 controller good. We got through most gaming tasks fine, but shooting in Uncharted felt a little sloppy. Of course, there's always a bit of a learning curve with a new shooter and a new analog stick, so we're willing to give this one time.

Software

We got a glimpse of a few games, each one in four minute chunks. It's hard to get much of a feel for a game in that time, but here's what we noticed for what it's worth:

  • Little Big Planet - The code was seriously pre-alpha, and therefore not very responsive. At least the touch uses were super intuitive. We tapped some blocks from behind (using the back touchpad) to create a platform for Sackboy to traverse. In another instance we pulled on a spring-loaded catapult with the front touchscreen to launch Sackboy across the map. A final use put us in control of air hockey thingies using the front touchscreen (so weird to have to clarify which one each time) to play a super simple game of air hockey -- well, more like Pong+, really.
  • Virtua Tennis - This was a bit more innovative. You can drag around on the court to have your character follow, but the fun part is swiping to control what kind of swing. There's topspin (up swipe), backspin (down swipe), and a lob (down, then up). A two finger swipe is supposed to unleash a power shot, but we couldn't pull it off. The only disconcerting thing was that the touchscreen controls were considerably laggy compared the actual hardware controls, which messed up our timing. Hopefully that's just a software problem.
  • Little Deviants - It's a collection of mini games, and many of them seem pretty uninspired (Whack a mole? In this day and age?) but the rear-touch game that involves creating hills to steer a deviant into a portal is a nice twist on the typical tilt-a-marble gameplay.
  • Sound Shapes - This one was pretty bizarre -- in a good way. It's from the same guys who did Everyday Shooter, and it has a kind of bizarre 90s-ish aesthetic all its own. The gameplay controls don't really make much use of the Vita's powers, it's a super simple platformer, with a "sticky" mechanic. Where the touchscreen comes into play is in level creation. Level creation is basically a music sequencer, with the player unleashing certain parts of your beat depending upon which parts of the level he or she gets to. It's not like you couldn't do this with anything other than the Vita, but it still comes across really well here.
  • Uncharted - This is the flagship, no doubt, and it holds up really well. In fact, what we were scared was going to seem like a bit of dumb-people-need-touchscreens hand holding turned out to be really nice. You can draw along a crumbling bit of brick work to climb across it, but you still have to choose your path, and you end up having saving the frustration of telling Drake to go somewhere he simply can't go. It's also supremely gratifying to tap an enemy for a stealth takedown, even if tapping the appropriate face button would be just as easy. Interestingly, the automatic camera work on Uncharted is good enough that we hardly need the dual analog sticks for navigation, but obviously it's the only way to do shooting right.

We would've liked to get more time (and pictures, and video, and babies) with the Vita, obviously, but so far it's pretty promising. It's at least clear that Sony isn't cutting corners to hit that $249 pricepoint, there is some serious hardware and serious quality packed in here. We're really interested to check out the app-ey side of things, like the social networking Sony hopes to pull off, but for now it's we've got some real life working hardware and some real life working games on top of it -- never a small feat.