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PlayStation Vita: Hands-on

At TGS 2011, Sony presented the PlayStation Vita with over 10 playable games. To try out the PS Vita, I chose to play Ridge Racer (working title). Why Ridge Racer? Simply because the line was short. When I got in line, there was a 30 minute wait, compared to other lines which were about 40 to 50 minutes long.

To Sony’s credit, they did a good job of making the wait feel shorter. Their system was, while we waited in line, they would bring us to a corner where a Sony representative showed us the touch screen feature of the PS Vita by way of letting us to play a simple tech demo together with other people in the line. It was an excellent demonstration and that let us briefly feel the PS Vita in our hands and experience the responsiveness of the touch screen (which was excellent, by the way).

Size-wise, the PS Vita seems about as long as the original PSP model, but a tad bit higher. It’s also slightly thinner than the PSP, which is probably partly because of the removal of the UMD reader. I didn’t really pay attention to the weight, but I don’t recall thinking it was too heavy (or too light). Overall it felt very good in my hands. I didn’t have any problems reaching any of the buttons.

The most positive impression it left me were the dual analog sticks. Not only is it great that the system now has two sticks, but Sony has finally gotten the feel of the sticks right. I really do not like the PSP’s analog “nub”. The nub feels uncomfortable on my thumb, I feel they are not accurate, and I have difficulty keeping them steady when pushing them slightly in one direction. The PS Vita’s sticks however were the complete opposite. It’s like Sony read my mind and fixed everything I didn’t like about the PSP’s analog stick. Well, at least for the Ridge Racer they were great.

In some sense I thought they were even better than the PS3’s sticks. In general, I cannot play racing games with the analog stick. I cannot make the turns I want to make, so I tend to rely on the directional pad for steering. Yet with the PS Vita, I could control my vehicle extremely well. I think it has something to do with the reduced size. They’re a lot smaller in terms of diameter, almost half the size of the PSP’s nubs. This, I believe makes the analog controls feel more like a stick rather than a nub.

Unfortunately, Ridge Racer did not use the gyroscope function of the PS Vita, and so I was not able to get a feel for this new feature of the device. It’s worth noting though that Ridge Racer was, at the time I played it, only 30% complete. Quite possibly we can expect Namco adding a gyroscope function to the finalized game.

I’m excited about the PS Vita even if simply for the sticks. Analog sticks have become an essential part of gaming today, making properly designed, accurate sticks a must for any game device (even the 3DS has them). The games available by release day are also quite promising… much more interesting than what the 3DS has now even after having been released several months ago.

The PS Vita will be released in Japan on December 17 this year. North America and Europe will get the PS Vita shortly thereafter.

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