Vita TV: A Question, A Problem, and A Lot of Potential
Sony's new "LittleBigConsole" could be great — with the right touchscreen alternative and more exclusive software
Sony’s pre-Tokyo Game Show press conference Monday offered a glimpse into the Vita’s future. We learned about new hardware with a 20 percent thinner and 15 percent lighter design, extended battery life, and six color options. We also learned about several new games in development. But the Vita TV was the biggest news by far.
After Nintendo announced it would be dropping a “D” from its latest 3DS, Sony upped the ante by unveiling a new version of its own handheld without a screen or buttons. A $100 micro-console, the Vita TV connects directly to a TV via HDMI and to a PS3 DualShock controller via Bluetooth. It plays retail and digital Vita games as well as digital PSP and PSone titles, and it will be compatible with Remote Play to stream PS4 games too.
To a player with my gaming preferences, the Vita TV may be quite tempting — depending on how Sony handles a couple of outstanding issues.
To me, the portability of a portable consoles is actually one of its least important features. I’ve owned several handhelds, but I buy them primarily so I can play their exclusive games. I don’t often encounter situations where others see the value of portability, such as extended public transportation commutes. Whenever I end up with a few minutes to kill, I’m usually satisfied entertaining myself with the iPhone I’ve already got with me. Aside from the occasional flight, I usually play my portable consoles the same way I play my traditional consoles: at home, on the couch. The only difference is I'm less comfortable, either with a cramped neck from looking down or tired arms from holding the system up.
So the ability to play Vita games the way I already prefer, with a controller, for half the cost of a regular Vita, is a big deal. And the future ability to play PS4 titles off-screen à la Wii U but with a full-size TV is quite the inviting prospect too.
That said, I see two barriers Sony will have to overcome before I'm completely sold.
1. The touchscreen question
Don't get me wrong: I'm far from crazy about touchscreen controls. Nonetheless, they're a common (and sometimes mandatory) Vita game feature.
Without a screen to touch, what's the alternative going to be? Will touchscreen-enabled games simply be incompatible? Some, probably, but I can't imagine all. Such would exclude several of the Vita's biggest titles (e.g., Uncharted: Golden Abyss). More likely they'll be patched to support a controller, but results could vary.
I recently tried the PS3 release of Dragon’s Crown, which is a bad example of how to adapt touchscreen controls. To revive a defeated ally, for example, you have to touch the character's name at the top of the screen. The Vita version handles this process smoothly: You literally touch the screen, and you're done. The PS3 release, however, requires moving a cursor with the right analog stick and pressing a button. If you don't hit exactly the right spot, nothing happens. I found it to be an obtuse alternative, my hands apparently lacking the dexterity required to save my allies without dying myself. Although I was digging the game, I was becoming increasingly frustrated until eventually I stopped, resolving to buy the Vita version instead.
2. The game problem
I said I buy handheld consoles primarily so I can play their exclusive games. The Vita is light on exclusives, and the Vita TV highlights the problem. With ports (and sometimes ports of ports) dominating the Vita's library, and their Vita-exclusive features such as portability and touchscreen controls definitely or possibly gone, why buy the Vita releases?
For example, I own the Vita version of Mortal Kombat, which I re-purchased because of the new touchscreen-centered Challenge Tower and the ability to play on the go. With the Vita TV, I would no longer have either of those benefits over the console releases; plus, the resolution and character models are worse. I'd probably never play it again instead of the original.
If Sony can address my question and my problem effectively, then I’m on board.
How about you?