So I have an apology to make, a redaction if you will. Previously, I said that 'the Vita has all but been killed as a platform'. Well where this is true in terms of triple A development, everyone's favourite handheld is in fact alive and kicking.
Now that the press conference is over, the orchestra is staying to play music for the PS Vita funeral #PlayStationE3— CEO Kaz Hirai (@KazHiraiCEO) June 14, 2016
Despite the above, there's still every reason to go out and buy a PS Vita, if for some odd reason you don't own one already. Sure, the remote play aspect of streaming PS4 games to play away from home is a real bonus, but you have to remember that the Vita began it's life cycle before the advent of Remote Play. It may well have always had this purpose in mind, to complement your home console rather than be a stand out console in it's own right. However, there have been some remarkable things achieved on the Vita, some excellent experiences that I truly believe can rival the home console experience. Despite the Vita being an awesome handheld, I actually play a lot of my Vita titles at home, even when I have other big-screen games waiting.
I would go as far to say that the lack of triple A content on the Vita has been a driving factor in it's current line up, and what it can offer to you. Before Borderlands 2 came along, and was such a poor experience that it made developers believe that home console level games were not as possible on Vita as Sony led them to believe, there were many great games put out on the Vita platform. Combine this, with the plethora of 'Indie' titles, that perhaps I wouldn't have played if first party development hadn't ceased, and the line up of games of Vita is really something.
Here, I'm going to highlight some of the essential titles that I've played since purchasing my Vita. The titles are in no particular order of what you should play first, or even in order of preference, these are just titles that you need to play.
1. Uncharted: Golden Abyss
This should be high on your list from the get go. Launching along side the Vita, Golden Abyss was the game that would prove that console level experiences were possible on modern handhelds. Did it achieve this goal? Resoundingly.
Where not up to the standard of Naughty Dog's Uncharted entries, Golden Abyss does feel like an Uncharted game through and through. As with any launch title, it would attempt to use every feature of the new hardware, which meant that a lot of things were crowbarred in to the game. Take stone rubbings for example, totally unneeded but not doubt enforced to make use of the Vita's touch screen display. These developmental faux pas are easy to look past though, and the Uncharted adventure is one to remember, and even gets a shout out in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.
This game is perfect to cut your Vita teeth on. Graphically impressive, runs very smoothly and is really enjoyable. Other launch titles like Gravity Rush, where good, can not boast this trifecta. Here's hoping that you've been making the most of your PS Plus subscription and been downloading the Vita games as you go along too....
Developed by Drinkbox Studios, Severed is the latest release featured in this list, and it's one of the better titles. I loved Severed, it's the first game that I've played of this type, as previously I didn't think I would enjoy it. However, after reading multiple reviews, and swayed by an introductory sale, I took the plunge with Severed. As should you.
Severed is a first person dungeon crawler, with touch based controls. Yes, I hear your groans about touch based controls, normally, I wouldn't touch a game - no pun intended - with that kind of mechanic. However, Severed does it so so right, and simply wouldn't work with anything other than touch controls.
Fight you were through dungeons, severing enemies body parts to upgrade your own character. This game is satisfying, colourful and can get surprisingly challenging. Combine that with a not too taxing platinum, and the prestige of a respected developer, and Severed should not be overlooked. I played it in three big sessions. Trust me, it's tough to put down.
At E3, it was announced that Severed will be slicing it's way to 3DS and Wii U, which to me says that it will only be a matter of time before we can get our hands on an iOS port.
3. Killzone Mercenary
Kill zone Mercenary is, in my humble opinion, the best looking game of the Vita. Kill zone games have always looked the part, it's second edition on the PS3 raised the bar, and even Shadowfall on PS4 - a launched title - looks better than many of the titles that are being released now.
Not only does Mercenary look gorgeous on the Vita, but it plays incredibly smoothly, and like a console shooter. It takes advantage of the dual analogue stick functionality of the handheld, and also finds itself in a category which is sparsely populated on the Vita. I still find it very surprising that there aren't many other shooters on the Vita. There's the single Call of Duty entry, the borderline unplayable Borderlands 2, and the BioShock game that never materialised, and that's all I can think of from the top of my head.
Therefore, if it's a shooter you're after, look no further than Killzone Mercenary. It's not an authentic Killzone experience, I wasn't a great fan of the monetary points aspect that was introduced to the campaign, but it's not difficult to see past. It's the definitive online experience on the Vita, it really does feel like a console game. The campaign is well constructed, so if online isn't your thing, there's still plenty to enjoy here. A must own for any Vita owner, and again, was on PS Plus not so long ago.
In case you didn't know, the Vita features Instant On gaming. Meaning just like your iPhone, if you lock the screen mid game, when you unlock the screen you'll be ready to resume again. Think of a quicker version of the PS4's rest mode. Volume takes full advantage of this feature, and it what I would describe as the perfect 'pick-up and play' title.
In Volume, it's your job to stealth your way through 100 levels or simulations. It's not a game that you would play in one sitting, in truth it's a six hour platinum, but for those looking to kill time on the bus to work, or to make use of their bathroom breaks, Volume should really be considered.
It's not a Vita exclusive, it's cross play and cross save with PS4, but the Vita was where it was meant to be played. It looks great, and there's a lot of attention to detail considering that the environments are closed and small. Above all else, it's enjoyable and makes you think about the solution to each room.
If you're looking for a little title to keep you ticking over, then Volume is the perfect solution.
5. Final Fantasy X HD Remaster
Again, this one isn't a Vita exclusive. But you know, who cares, it's arguably Square Enix's best work to date. Controversial I know, but too many people say that VII was the best just because they are expected to do so. It's the same reason why so many people say that The Shawshank Redemption is their favourite film - have an original opinion for once in your life.
Not only is FFX HD in the upper echelon of Final Fantasy games, if you're gunning for the platinum it's easily an 80-100 hour experience. Let's do a little math. If you pick up a vita second hand, say for around £80, and a copy of FFX HD for £15, and it takes you 100 hours to get your platinum - if you beat Penance the proper way, not of that Yojimbo cheating - you're looking at paying a massive 95p per hour of gameplay. Now that's just the cost of playing FFX on your vita, if you play all of the other titles in this list, I think you'll be looking at a grand total of roughly 39p per hour of Vita enjoyment. It's a purchase that makes sense.
But enough of that, why should you play FFX? Well, like I've said, it's up there with the best of the final fantasy titles, its before they moved away from turn based battles - please go back to this Square - and looks wonderful on the Vita. Environments are expansive and vibrant, the soundtrack was rerecorded and it's again, one of the best. Nostalgia is ripe, considering that this title originally game near the start of the PS2s life cycle. If you enjoy a JRPG, or are a fan of the Final Fantasy series, this is a must for you.
6. Axiom Verge
Perhaps the most Indie title in the list, developed single handedly for PS4 and PS Vita (and steam but let's not go there) by Thomas Happ. By single handedly, I mean single handedly. Thomas wrote the code, he wrote the story, designed the art and composed the music - making Axiom Verge even more of a triumph.
Axiom is a game in the metroidnavia style, by which I mean it's 8 bit graphical style is not the only characterising feature. The game is based around you finding the next power up or item, that will give you the ability to traverse the area of the map that you couldn't access a few hours ago.
Unique and with an intensely challenging hard mode, Axiom Verge is no mean undertaking. If you're aiming for the platinum you'll not only have to conquer the game without dying, but also finish it on speed run mode in under four hours will collecting a maximum of 39% of the upgrades. If you've read any of the other posts on this blog, you'll know that I love a challenge, and if you do too then be sure to grab yourself a copy of Axiom Verge from the PS Store.
7. Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed
Perhaps a little bit of a surprise entry here. I'm of the view - and I'm not the only one (shout out to @Chrissoi & @Jonnoy) - that Sonic Racing is one of the most underrated, under appreciate PlayStation titles of the modern era.
Not only was the first entry on PS3 fantastic, but the second edition to the series Transformed built on everything that was right about the first game, but adding a fresh twist with transforming vehicles within race. Anyone remember Modnation Racers? LittleBigPlanet Karting? Remember that time we had a race on F1 All Stars? Of course you don't. All of them were terrible.
Sonic Racing however, now that's different kettle of fish. It was the PlayStations answer to Mario Kart, and in many ways it was more enjoyable. I'm sure everyone will agree that Mario Kart is fantastic. However, I'm off the view that it has become a little restricted by what it can do now. For decades now, it's followed the same format, 50cc then 100cc then 150cc then Mirror Mode, followed up by some solid online play. Sonic Racing goes further, with Grand Prix, Multiplayer, but then Challenges. What's odd in a game of this type, is that finishing all of Challenge Mode is actually challenging.
I don't want to write in depth reviews here, but all I will say is that Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed was so good, that I platinum it twice. Once on Vita, once on PS3. It's fantastic, you need it.
These are just a few titles of many that could have made the list. Quality titles like Guacamelee, Tearaway, Hitman Go and a select few Telltale Games titles haven't been mentioned here where arguable they should have been. Perhaps this a post that needs a volume two...
From the surface, the Vita ecosystem may look like it is floundering, decaying, doesn't have a lot to offer. But if you delve a little deeper, look for the hidden gems and you'll see that the Vita is a goldmine of great games, that are enough to keep you on your handheld even when you're at home. The Vita is alive people. Get involved!