The Life and Death of Vita
Earlier this month, news broke that Sony was finally discontinuing production of the Vita. This got me thinking a lot about the machine. Considering my enthusiasm for handheld gaming, I’ve always viewed the Vita a bit regretfully. As a platform, it never really sparked much passion in me. It’s an amazing piece of hardware: a big colorful screen, a nice d-pad and buttons, very ergonomic compared to other handhelds, and, of course, it has two analog sticks, an addition that its predecessor sorely needed. As a machine, it’s also just very slick looking from an aesthetic standpoint. In comparison, I’ve always thought the various versions of the 3DS looked very toy-like, especially considering the classy, minimalist shapes of the DS Lite and DSi. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I always feel a bit more self-conscious when other adults see me playing a 3DS than I do when I’m playing a Vita.
The problem that I’ve always had with the Vita is the games. On the one hand, it’s unfair and inaccurate to say that the Vita doesn’t have a decently-sized library of games. The problem is it doesn’t have a lot of games unique to the system. Sony put a lot of effort into supporting the PSP with great games. They developed new series like LocoRoco and Patapon, and they had great entries of their other big series on the machine, like Killzone, Syphon Filter, Resistance, MotorStorm, and Little Big Planet. The big video game publishers in Japan were also big supporters of the PSP, but that support didn’t materialize the same way for the Vita. Square-Enix, for instance, launched huge titles for the PSP like Final Fantasy Type-0, The Third Birthday, and Crisis Core, but the only major game for the Vita from them that I can think of was the FFX/FFX-2 collection.
It seems like most of these publishers very early on decided that mobile and 3DS were simply better investments. The worst loss for the Vita was when Capcom decided to move the Monster Hunter series from PSP to 3DS, instead of Vita. Monster Hunter was a hugely successful series in Japan and was the driving force behind the PSP’s long-tail popularity over there. Worst of all, Sony, themselves, gave up on making games for the Vita pretty quickly. Going by Wikipedia, the last major release from them seems to have come out and 2013.
Regardless, the Vita still managed to cultivate a fair number of games for itself. The Vita library was heavily filled out with indie games. I like indie games, and I play a ton of them, but I was never really drawn to play these games on the Vita. This was mainly, I think, for two reasons. First, these games often released long after their original release on either Steam or PS4, and I had often already played them on these other platforms by the time they came to Vita. There were a few times when I made a conscious effort to wait for the Vita release of a specific game, but this frequently ended in the Vita version being cancelled or the wait ending up being so long that I just lost interest. The second issue I had with these games was that they were often markedly inferior versions, either running poorly on the Vita or simply not being scaled correctly to the handheld’s screen size and resolution. Stuff like uncomfortably tiny text or fuzzy image quality were recurring flaws in these ports.
I know that in addition to indie games, there was also a large contingent of Japanese visual novels released for the system. And while I recognize there is a niche for these sorts of games, the genre doesn’t really appeal to me outside of a few of the higher profile games like Danganronpa or Steins;Gate.
I know that I’m not alone in feeling, simply but sadly, that the glory days of handheld gaming are long behind us. The Vita didn’t really come close to living up to the PSP, and while the 3DS faired better, it’s library wasn’t quite as expansive and vibrant as the DS before it. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of great games for the 3DS, but they were mostly from Nintendo, while other game makers provided much less support. Almost certainly, a combination of mobile phone gaming and the extensive piracy on both the PSP and DS has lured support away from dedicated handhelds. From that perspective, I think the Switch is probably a very smartly formulated device, as it keeps Nintendo’s handheld legacy alive, while also being a platform that attracts console game makers.
All of this said, I’m not really in a rush to bury my Vita in a drawer and forget about it. The recent production news has really been a reminder to me that there’s still a handful of games that I want to go back and play. Particularly, the higher profile visual novels, namely Danganronpa, Steins;Gate, and Virtue’s Last Reward. I also recently became interested in playing Death Mark, a more obscure title from last fall. Perhaps it will be a Halloween game this year. Beyond that, I think the machine is still the best way of playing PS1 and PSP games. It’s too bad that most of my PSP collection is on UMD and not PSN, or else I could probably permanently retire my PSP.