Sony's PlayStation Vita launched in Japan a few days ago (review here) with well over 20 games in tow. We haven't had time to evaluate all of them, try as we might, but here are six of the best. Well, maybe not best, but certainly a veritable mix of high-profile and personal favorites... You'll see! Remember that we've only had the system since Saturday, so none of these should be taken as full reviews.
For potential importers, know that while the Vita supports multiple languages, whether or not a game does is case-by-case. Of the titles we tested, Uncharted offers full options for English or Japanese voiceover and subtitles, Everybody’s Golf 6 and Little Deviants are completely in Japanese, Ridge Racer is mostly in Japanese but has semi-English menus, and Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and BlazBlue offer English menus with Japanese subtitles.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Conspicuous by its relative lack of publicity before launch, Uncharted: Golden Abyss (or "Uncharted: The Mapless Adventure Begins!", as I prefer to translate the Japanese title) is nevertheless the banner title for Vita's launch by association with Naughty Dog's superlative globetrotting action series on PS3. While developer Sony Bend's side story has been released in the shadows of the amazing Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, Golden Abyss still manages to impress in its own right with fantastic visuals that far surpass any 3D action game yet seen on a handheld. The game plays much the same as its console counterparts, offering up the same mix of gunplay, platforming and puzzle-solving. So far it’s been set entirely in a jungle, like the first game in the Uncharted series, and I'd say the visuals are very much comparable — the lighting in particular is stunning. One compromise is in the landscapes, with distant objects rendered as flat skybox textures rather than full 3D models, but everything Nathan Drake can get close to looks great.
The biggest changes are in the controls. Sony Bend has tried to make the most of the Vita's inputs, with mixed results. The best addition is to the climbing sections. You can now trace your route across surfaces with your finger, letting Drake traverse cliffs and ruins in smooth motions. This sounds like dumbing down, but really isn't — the Uncharted games' platforming sections have never been about the physical challenge of making particular jumps, and this simply streamlines the process. You can also silently take down enemies by tapping on them (assuming you're in the right position, of course,) and the fighting controls now use swipe gestures. Less successful is motion-sensor-powered balancing on logs, which wasn't much fun with Sixaxis on the first Uncharted, and hasn't gotten any better here. Another addition is related to new portions of the game where you examine objects for clues — an early example has you rotating a helmet with the rear touchpad while scrubbing off dirt with the touch screen to find the insignia. These sections work well enough, but come off a little forced.
The vast majority of new controls are optional, but unfortunately there's no way around the fact that the shooting portion of the game doesn't play quite as well on the Vita's sticks as a PS3 controller. It's hard to put my finger on why, and it's possible that I need more time to get used to it, but aiming feels a little clunky. I feel like this is a software issue, though — the Uncharted series has never been known for fantastic aiming controls, with the latest game requiring a patch to fix its own issues, and maybe the same could happen here. You can use motion sensing to fine-tune your aiming by shifting the system, which works well enough, but personally I’d rather the game got the basics right on the sticks so that I don’t have to wave my Vita around on the train. Overall, though, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is an impressive showcase for Vita, and is probably the title to get if you're only going for one.
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Another excellent choice would be Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which is one of the most impressive ports to a handheld device I've ever seen. The comic book crossover fighter is incredibly close to its console counterpart, with some extra features including touch controls and the ability to use your Vita as a controller for the PS3 version. Unfortunately I wasn't able to test that particular feature, but I didn't feel the touch controls were much of an addition. Unlike Super Street Fighter IV on 3DS, which assigns difficult-to-execute combos to panels on the touch screen, UMvC3 on Vita has you frantically tapping and stabbing at your character to unleash a fairly random barrage of special attacks. SSFIV's approach opened up strategic potential for new players, but I don't see the advantage here beyond a bit of throwaway fun. The game itself is fantastic, though, looking and playing great on Vita both online and off. Capcom has been known to make sacrifices in squeezing fighters down to portable formats before — witness Super Street Fighter IV on 3DS and, more drastically, Street Fighter IV on iPhone — but this is the real deal.
Everybody's Golf 6
Everybody's Golf 6 is the latest entry in Sony's evergreen golf series, and is largely indistinguishable from its predecessor on PS3. Everybody's Golf was a great launch title for the PSP, with a ton of content to unlock, and nothing's changed here in the core game. This version has some cool additions, though, including AR modes and asynchronous online multiplayer, which I haven’t managed to try out yet but sounds perfect for the series.
The biggest issue with this game are the visuals. The assets are fine, with attractive character models and courses, but the image quality has taken a big hit — the game is clearly running at sub-native resolution on Vita, and the scaling effect is really jarring. The series features a clean, minimal graphical style, but this has been undermined by some nasty aliasing and an overall blurry look to the picture. Uncharted also appears to be rendered at a lower resolution than the Vita's screen, with significant aliasing, but the overall busier, effects-laden nature of that game's visuals means it's much easier to ignore. Everybody's Golf, on the other hand, can't even output its menu screens at optimal quality. It's disappointing, especially in such a relatively simple game, but it's a launch title and these things happen. The most important thing is that the game remains a lot of fun, and is just as likely to hook you as the previous portable entries.
Ridge Racer, on the other hand, is less easily forgivable. Namco’s venerable arcade racing series seems to have a version out for every new system launch, but this is by far the slightest entry yet. When Ridge Racer 3D was released at the same time as the 3DS, it came packed with a huge number of tracks and cars, with a career mode that made it one of the most content-heavy launch titles. Ridge Racer on Vita? Three tracks, five cars. This in a game with a retail price of 3,580 yen on the PSN store, "on sale" for 2,980 yen until the end of March, with currently unavailable premium downloadable content to make up more of the content list. It's the first portable Ridge Racer to feature online play, which is a great addition and works fine, but you'll exhaust the content in a few races. At least your opponents won't be able to claim that they don't know the level.
Does it at least play well? Not exactly. The game is visually pretty nice, barring a bizarre depth-of-field effect that makes everything look like an Instagram photo, but the framerate doesn't hold up at all — the game chugs under the stress of most powerslides and nitro boosts. Powersliding and smooth gameplay are two of the cornerstones of the Ridge Racer series, and having one of them nullify the other is a not insignificant problem. The most interesting thing about this release (apart from the sheer audacity of its existence) is the main menu screen, which is as slickly beautiful as it is impossible to navigate.
This minigame collection uses the Vita’s non-button input methods as a starting point for its design, with various scenarios involving the ongoing fight between amorphous blobs, zombies and robots, and I found it mostly pretty uninspired. The main offenders were a soporifically easy skydiving game that I felt the need to end early after reaching the target score by missing all my hoops, and yet another camera-based "augmented reality" shooter that has you moving your system around to target flying enemies set against the backdrop of wherever you happen to be — I’ve really had enough of these on 3DS and iPhone. The game I liked most of the bunch is a simple 3D puzzler where you press on the rear touchpad to make hills rise out of the ground for your "ball" (a curled-up Deviant of the title) to roll down. It’s frustratingly difficult to get the hang of, but that’s why I liked it — one of the few things I played on Vita that made my hands move in new ways.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend
This version of Arc System Works' 2D fighter is one of the most visually arresting games on the Vita. There have been previous portable versions of BlazBlue on PSP and 3DS before, but the high-resolution sprites and detailed animation just look amazing on this screen, doing full justice to Arc's uniquely unhinged character designs. I played the game both online and in local multiplayer, and the performance was very good in both, with no perceptible lag to speak of. Setting up a game in either mode is simple enough, with a basic lobby system and no network handshakes to deal with. I had no problems with the Vita's D-pad, either, which performed admirably under trying circumstances. The game also comes with a soundtrack CD, sweetening the deal for fans of operatic Japanese metal.