Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Is this the end for the Vita?

Let's be honest, as console launches go the Vita has suffered more than most. Seeing dramatically low sales, even in Japan which has seen the Vita regularly outsold by the PSP and nowhere close to the 3DS. This possibly due to the initial high price point (3G RRP was £279.99) compared to other portable devices at launch. The consoles price has dropped to a very reasonable level. Then the software line up has not been tremendous, with long gaps between releases, which is not very unusual for a new console. In the UK there has been, up until very recently, little to no marketing of the Vita via mainstream outlets. Supermarkets that initially stocked the console and software have mostly stopped selling it altogether.

Sony themselves seemed to have given up on the Vita at E3 this year where they barely mentioned the console at all during their presentation, much to the dismay of Vita owners, who had pinned their hopes on catching a glimpse of the next wave of Vita titles in action. All we saw was a logo for Call of Duty and a brief trailer of Assassins Creed III: Liberation. 
Now it hasn't been all doom and gloom. In fact, as a Vita owner myself, it has defined my gaming since the day I owned it. The Vita has given me the chance to play my first Uncharted game, play almost perfect renditions of console fighters Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom and Mortal Kombat and Play the finest Wipeout experience this generation. Then there's the PSP back catalogue available on the PlayStation store. Finally in summer the PlayStation One compatibility was launched and another catalogue of games were added.

Now here we are at the end of the year and the four most anticipated titles for the system are here. LittleBigplanet Vita, Assassins Creed III: Liberation, Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified. If these games are done right then they are the system sellers the Vita desparately needs for the Christmas gaming chaos. Sony have even ramped the marketing and now TV adverts for each of these titles are to be seen regularly. 
A quick glance at Metacritic paints a different picture mixed reviews for Assassins Creed: Liberation and Need for Speed and an absolute panning for Black Ops: Declassified. Along with the critical mauling, there seem to be some very unhappy and vocal Vita owners out there. Then over this side of the pond, the lack of updates as to why Retro City Rampage to arrive on the EU store has seen plenty of further disgruntled comments on the PlayStation blog.

What are Sony doing wrong? How can they save the Vita from an early grave. 

Firstly, Sony are paying the price for their own marketing hype. The Vita was set to bring PS3 quality gaming  in to the palm of your hand. That is what some Vita owners expect and they don't like it when the get dodgy ports of inferior versions (Yes Lego games, you know what you did) on their new wonder machine. Very few games have been able to get up to that level with Uncharted and Wipeout being the only early examples of Sony's claim. Gravity Rush has a certain charm about it, but didn't appeal to mainstream gamers.
With publishers tightening the purse strings, developers have also been unable to dedicate development of the titles to yet another console. This can be seen with Fifa 13, which was pretty much a roster update with a few tweaks to the previous game (which itself was based on the older Fifa 11). Criterion are the only developer to develop a specific Vita version alongside the development of home console versions. The results are astounding. A perfect replication of the open world environment with a slight loss of graphic fidelity and traffic density. Proving that the Vita is more than up to the task of running the title we play at home.

Call of Duty Black Ops Declassified has thrown a doubt in the hopes of the Vita's continued success. Instead of being the glorious defining moment of the Vita so far, it has caused the community to bicker. You can see my first impressions here. It has brought to head the argument of the pricing structure for Vita titles. With some games being retailed for the same amount as its home counter parts many people are not happy. A lot of reviewers are saying that for £40, Call of Duty does not offer enough to warrant that price. The blame is being laid at Sony's doorstep, which is odd because Activision would of set the price for it. If it is one thing Activision are good at it is milking the cash cow.

Sony are hitting back though and hopefully the Christmas marketing offensive along with a special edition Call of Duty Vita will boost sales. The main weapon Sony have up their sleeve is Playstation Plus. Next week, the very successful PS3 subscription service, PlayStation Plus launches on the Vita. It features all of the components of the PS3 service, 1gb of online storage, discounts on the playstation store and exclusive offers. Finally the all important instant game collection comes to the Vita. Offering subscribers access to a number of free titles every month for as long as they are a Plus subscriber. As of next week Vita owners will be able to sign up to Plus and get Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Gravity Rush, new game Chronovolt and digital download hit Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack for free. The best thing is if your own a PS3 and already signed up member of Plus, all of the Vita content is yours as well, at no extra charge.

Next week also sees the first major title to utilise Sony's Cross-Buy scheme. Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale is available on PS3 and Vita. Buy the game on the PS3 though, and you will get a code for the digital download of the Vita game at no extra cost again. Other games to support this currently are Ratchet & Clank: Q Force and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. Hopefully this scheme will include more titles into 2013.

There is one title yet to hit European shores that will hopefully sell units to quite a few people. Persona 4 Golden comes out in Europe next spring and seeing as the series has a huge following amongst gamers all over the world, there are high hopes for its success. The US version (out next week) is currently the highest rated Vita game so far, scoring a 96 on Metacritic. Following a group of High School students, who team up to solve a series of supernatural murders. Persona 4 Golden upgrades the original PlayStation version and expands on it, adding new features and story elements to the game. The game supports the wireless networking features of the Vita, allowing a player to call in help from other players to help in dungeon battles. We will have to wait until February 2013 to play it though. The Persona series has been hugely successful on the PSP and that hardcore market will definitely want a piece of this on the Vita.

Appealing to the Hardcore JRPG player and Retro gaming enthusiast is commendable thing to do and really does show the flexibility of the platform Sony has created. The PSP survived on this kind of feature set for many years. Is it enough though for a handheld with the power and potential of the Vita to be in the shadow of the 3DS. The system needs more than a Call of Duty game to get people to notice it. The Vita needs one thing... Rockstar.

With several very successful GTA games on the PSP and with the fifth installment due early spring 2013. The time is right for Rockstar to do something very special. As suggested last week by wojciechmusialkiewi (lets call him Jeff) on the Eurogamer Forums, What if GTA: San Andreas was given the HD treatment and launched on the Vita. I know it is a pipe dream at the moment, but just imagine it!

At the moment, the next few months are hugely important for the Vita's future. Currently the 2013 release schedule on the console is looking sparse. Third support is crucial for the long term survival of any system. Hopefully, this time next year I will be able to write about the Vita and its success.

It deserves to succeed, simply because Sony have made a great piece of hardware that is capable of so much and we have only just seen the beginning. Lets hope that Father Christmas can bring the Vita what wants for Christmas... a future.

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