- The Washington Times - Friday, February 24, 2012

The Frankenstein’s monster of handheld entertainment systems has arrived for the hard-core gaming freak with money to burn.

Sony’s PS (PlayStation) Vita manages to incorporate about every innovation from its competitors and PSP predecessors into one mobile device that is nothing short of brilliant as a niche tech gadget.

Imagine a dream system with these features:

  • * A generously sized design seemingly built for the older, big-handed gamer entering the reading-glasses phase of life. Measuring in at around 7 by 3 inches, the device’s crown jewel is a 5-inch-wide display screen using OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) technology to deliver 16.7 million colors.
  • * An all-encompassing controller scheme offers an overwhelming number of options to enjoy a game. First, it gives players a traditional selection of two analog sticks, directional pad, quad-button pad and shoulder triggers. Next, the display is a touch screen that opens up — as iPad and DS fans know — a new level of interaction in games. Next, the back of the unit is also touch sensitive, adding a brand new layer of virtual manipulation (and the potential for arthritic fingers). Conclude with Sixaxis motion sensing for fluid tilt mechanics to incorporate into game action.
  • * Under multimedia, let’s add a front and rear camera to take photos, video and enjoy augmented gaming (test cards are included) and a microphone for chat and other interactions.
  • * Online access is available via Wi-Fi hot spots or through the 3G AT&T Network (250 megabytes per month for $14.99 or 3 gigabytes for $30).
  • * The PS Vita acts as a super controller for your PlayStation 3 system and may offer remote play (enjoy your PS3 library of games on the Vita) in the future.
  • * Additional items include online options for managing your PlayStation Network friends, a web browser, a Party application to chat (text and voice) with PS Vita buddies, movie rentals with Netflix, songs from Music Unlimited, and app-specific access to social networking and media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and Skype.

That is a pretty potent package, but let’s look at the not-so-brilliant pieces of the Vita puzzle.

  • * The pricing. It will choke a parent and collapse the wallet of a college student. It’s $249 for a Wi-Fi ready Vita and $299 for the 3G model — and that does not include games or storage. Even with a bundle — including a 4GB storage card, Little Deviants game and case ($349.99) — it’s a tough number to swallow.
  • * The Vita does not hook up to a TV. In the days of multimedia conversion, that’s a mistake.
  • * The average cost for a game is $40 — which means after buying a few of the better games, the average Vita owner is looking at $500 just to appreciate the system. (The sound you hear is iPad owners laughing in unison.)
  • * Protecting the PS Vita is very important. It’s too big to simply stick in a pocket or toss in a backpack uncovered like a cellphone or the DS with its clamshell case. The analog sticks poke out, just asking to be broken. The beautiful screen will be smudged (no surprise) or, heaven forbid, could be a scratched nightmare without care. You’ll need to add a minimum of $20 for a case.
  • * No onboard memory storage means owners must buy a proprietary PS Vita memory card for downloads. That’s right, you need a unique and pricey card ranging in price from $20 for 4GB to $100 for 32 GB. (Just to rub salt in the wound, I’ll mention that a 32GB micro SD card generally runs about $30.)

Additionally, the Vita’s release reeks of an obvious attempt by Sony to capture any remaining segment of the mobile gaming community not already gobbled up by Nintendo, Apple, Samsung and Amazon.

Let’s also remember that anyone who owns one of Apple’s devices has truly seen an evolution in gaming, at least casual gaming.

With the third iteration of the iPad hitting in March, Sony is playing chicken with one of the most innovative companies in the world. Apple definitely will keep some of the money out of Sony’s pocket as gamers decide which direction to go for their mobile, handheld requirements.

Of course, whether consumers buy into this magnificent monstrosity will depend entirely on its delivering the bread and butter — a pioneering selection of games.

With around two dozen titles ready at launch, it’s a solid lineup, but can it be substantially embellished to sustain player interest throughout the year?

Here’s what I consider the best of the current crop:

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Sony Computer Entertainment, rated T for teen, $49.99)  Join Nathan Drake in a gorgeous adventure in Central America that really gives the PS Vita a workout.

Use a finger to draw routes on-screen for the hero to follow as he climbs up deteriorating ancient ruins, use shoulder triggers to target and shoot enemies, wipe the screen to create a rubbing of an ancient relic to use to find clues, manipulate puzzle pieces using multiple fingers, swipe the screen to deliver final blows in a fistfight, and even use the back of the Vita to zoom and tilt controls to center photos of some beautiful panoramas.

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