Gamescom – Hands on with the Playstation Vita

2011-08-22 by . 1 comments

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Sony's newest toy, the PlayStation Vita

Late Saturday evening at Gamescom, I decided to see if I could brave the line to demo the Playstation Vita. It was nearing 19:00, so I figured the line may be more manageable at that point. Luckily, I was right, and we only ended up waiting around 15 minutes.

While we were standing in-line, someone came out to explain how the process went. The names of the games that they had offered were on cards, and we had to pull a card randomly while they were face down. They had several games I was interested in, including ModNation Racers, LittleBigPlanet, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and the one I’m most interested in and maaaybe possibly considering getting a Vita for, Sound Shapes (I have a music game obsession, so sue me). I eagerly drew my card, turn it over and it was…

Hustle Kings. Damn. Not that I don’t enjoy pool, I do, and I even enjoy pool games, but I’d just really hoped for a game that would show off the Vita’s capabilities more and that I found more interesting. I looked to Jochem, hoping he’d drawn something slightly more appealing.

Virtua Tennis 4. Damn again. Well, Hustle Kings it is.

Our turn comes up. They let people in in small groups so you can demo for 20  minutes. It was a completely walled off area, so you couldn’t see into it very well from the outside. There were sitting areas along the walls, and next to each Vita sat someone to help explain the controls of whatever game you were playing. After repeating “Ich spreche kein Deutsch” for the 50th time that weekend, the woman explained how the touchscreen and accelerometer affected the game. Unfortunately, Hustle Kings didn’t use the back touchscreen at all, which was something else I’d been looking forward to trying. So, let’s look at 2 things.

The hardware

I’m not sure how I feel about the size. While it’s definitely bigger than the PSP-2000 model I have, it still doesn’t feel much sturdier. One thing I always noticed in the difference between my Nintendo DS and my PSP was how sturdy they felt. I’m pretty paranoid about potentially dropping my PSP, while I’m fairly confident I could probably have a burglar interrupt my Picross 3D playing session, brain him over the head with my DS before calling the cops, then continue chipping away at hidden block-art dogs with nary a care.

I’m still not entirely convinced that it’s pocket-friendly, given its length, seeing as I think it would stick out of most back pants pockets and would be too obnoxiously uncomfortable in front pants pockets. Despite this though, it didn’t feel outright awkward.

The joysticks felt fairly comfortable, though I imagine users with larger hands might think the heads are a bit small. They were definitely an improvement over the PSP’s clunky joystick though in feel and in range of motion. Instead of the PSP’s strange little half-joystick that you scootched about, they were actual sticks, like mini-versions of what you’d find on the PS3 controller. The face buttons seem outright tiny, only half the size or so of the buttons on the PSP. It seemed like an odd decision to me, as in studying the design, I’m fairly sure they could’ve kept the same button size without them taking up more space than they already do. I didn’t really like that.

The Start and Select buttons are also very small and flush to the body of the device. I have long fingernails, so I didn’t have too much trouble hitting them, but for someone with meatier thumbs, I could see this being a problem.

I can’t comment much on the sound quality, as even though I was wearing headphones, it was still difficult to hear the game over the ambient noise of the hall. I can’t leverage any criticism at it that would be fair under those circumstances.

It’s a bit difficult to describe the touchscreen experience, as I’m not sure if it was the hardware or the game that was the biggest culprit of the slight lag I felt. On one hand, it was very responsive in the regard that if I had my finger pressed to the screen, even leaning it a little bit to the right by less than a millimeter or so was enough to make it react. On the other hand, there was the slightest delay I could feel in that reaction. But again, I don’t know if that’s the hardware or the (lack of) optimization of Hustle King‘s coding.

Don’t get me wrong though, the delay was not severe by any means, and may even be unnoticeable to other users, but I’m very sensitive to input lag, so your mileage may vary. It was very responsive to pressure, and you didn’t have to press hard at all to get it to respond.

The software

I would have much rather messed around with the menu of the PSVita than the game, to be honest. I’ve never played any Hustle Kings before, having passed over its PSN versions, but you didn’t seem to be able to just exit the game to check out the rest of the software. The graphics were very good (for a pool game), and there were almost no jaggies visible on the round pool balls at all. Using the right shoulder button, you could change the camera view, and in one of them you could tilt the PSVita to change the viewing angle. In practice, this wasn’t very handy as in order to get it to completely 180, I would’ve had to turn the PSVita to face away from me. Seems kind of silly.

The power meter took a minute for me to get used to, but again, I’ve never played this game before, so that was probably my fault in misunderstanding. Though there did seem to be an option to chalk your cue, but I wasn’t exactly sure how. The chalk floated there in the air, and I tried dragging it, but it didn’t do anything. I was likely just doing it wrong. The pool ball physics seemed very accurate, as did the bumper physics, which is something I’m pretty picky about when it comes to pool games. I can’t stand poorly coded physics. The AI seemed pretty challenging, but didn’t pull off any super-obnoxious moves and even missed a lot with the 8-ball.

In summary

Ultimately, while it was a decent demo, I wasn’t really wowed, and I’m going to need either more hands-on experience or more compelling titles to really push me to get one of these anywhere close to release. Not being able to check out the system’s UI was a real downer, and I’m still a bit puzzled by how small the face buttons were. The joysticks were definitely a major improvement over the PSP’s, but I’m still on the fence about the touchscreen itself. I really wish I had had a title that took advantage of the back touchscreen because I’m really curious as to how comfortable that’s going to feel. If you’re still waffling on whether or not to get one, I’d say see if you can get your hands on one first, as some of the niggling points I’ve made could be a deal breaker for you, especially when it comes to how comfortable it is in your hands.

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  • Dave DuPlantis says:

    lol, if I were there I would probably have to ask for English as well. “Ich spreche nur ein bisschen Deutsch” (I speak only a little German) and “Sprechen Sie bitte ein bisschen langsamer” (Please, speak a little more slowly) are the phrases I’d be repeating.

    Thanks for the info on the PSVita. I’m pretty much out of the handheld market (I’ve found that I’m rarely someplace where I want to game and have neither a console nor a laptop with me), but it’s always good to know what’s new.

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