Welcome to GamesBeat’s PlayStation Vita launch awards. Released on February 22 in North America, the Vita has already had a steady blend of critical acclaim and controversy, but who cares about all that? This feature is (mostly) about the games! Plus, we didn’t want to wait until December to hold our next awards ceremony.
We’ve broken the Vita awards up into the Best Of and Worst Of honors. Feel free to jump in the comments and let us know what your own love/hate experiences have been like with the Vita so far.
The 5” 960×544 OLED display is no longer cutting edge by today’s standards, and it doesn’t rival the iPhone’s hefty Retina Display specs, but it’s big and beautiful nonetheless. After days of endless Vita gaming, you’ll immediately realize just how dull and small the Nintendo 3DS display truly is. Size does matter, as does color vibrancy and image sharpness, all of which the Vita has plenty of.
Click here to see the Worst Vita Hardware Feature.
To most gamers, golf has to be the most boring “sport” imaginable. You’d expect more of the same with a game like Hot Shots Golf, but you’d be wrong. The Hot Shots franchise has continually breathed some much-needed life into the virtual iteration of the sport with a cartoonish cast, exciting presentation, and rock-solid gameplay. As noted in our review, we were surprised at just how much fun we were having with a golf game, and you will be too.
Click here to see the Game you thought would be awesome but actually sucks.
One of the ways to pad a new system’s launch is to port over games from previous systems. The Vita includes a handful of such titles of varying degrees of quality, though BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend is arguably the best of the bunch. The high-res, hand-drawn graphics pop off the Vita’s beautiful screen, and years of refinements have allowed developer Aksys to hone BlazBlue into a fighting-game masterpiece.
There is so much content in this game, it almost doesn’t fit on the main menu. Best of all, Aksys has chosen to reward its fans by including all previous add-on characters instead of withholding them as Capcom did with Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
Click here to see the Worst Port.
Eight years after being released for the original Xbox, Ninja Gaiden still has some serious teeth. It’s not as polished or robust as Ninja Gaiden II was, but if you’re looking for an exciting hack-and-slash, Sigma Plus delivers. While the occasionally frustrating camera hasn’t been fixed, the new Hero mode drastically reduces the notorious difficulty to give new players a fighting chance. The added Trials provide plenty of bite-sized missions for quick, portable sessions.
We would have liked to have seen an HD collection-type package that included Sigma 2, especially with Ninja Gaiden III right around the corner, but as is, Ryu Hyabusa is still the baddest non-cyborg ninja on the block.
Click here to see the Worst Ninja Game.
Another pleasant surprise in the Vita launch lineup, Michael Jackson: The Experience HD successfully ports rhythm-based dancing to a touchscreen. All the craziness aside, Jackson made some excellent music in his time, and his greatest hits are faithfully represented in The Experience in a superior version here than we saw on the Kinect. The visuals are nothing to be proud of (especially those Sega CD-era CG cinematics), but the intuitive controls, diverse in-game challenges, and moving soundtrack give Dance Central a run for its money. Best of all, you don’t even have to stand up. Take that, health!
Asphalt Injection is a port of a Gameloft iOS game. We won’t lie; that immediately made it suspect in our eyes. It’s obvious Gameloft has been building up the Asphalt series for a while now, with 45 licensed cars, tons of customization options and parts to unlock, and 20 different tracks across 15 real-world cities. The simple iPhone motion controls are ported over to Vita’s analog setup with no issues, and although this is as far as you can get from the simulated physics of F1 2011, the arcade driving manages to be refreshing to play.
It’s hard to believe Asphalt Injection beat Wipeout 2048 for this award, but the fact of the matter is that Asphalt packs more content and value at a lower price point. That said, you wouldn’t be faulted for picking up both games.
Click here to see the Worst Racing Game.
The Vita is already renowned for its bold and beautiful OLED screen. By default, many Vita launch titles look great because of it, so to claim the throne of Best Visuals is quite an honor amongst the 20+ available games. Lumines Electronic Symphony and BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend both achieve significant aesthetic excellence but for different reasons.
Lumines has always been known for its elegant simplicity, in both gameplay and visual design. The same is true of Electronic Symphony, only more so, thanks to the dynamic and imaginative skins. BlazBlue, on the other hand, overwhelms the viewer with voluptuous hand-drawn art and hybrid 3D environments. With Capcom and every other fighting-game developer having already bought a ticket for the 3D graphics train, BlazBlue is truly in a class of its own.
Honorable mention goes to Rayman Origins, which rivals BlazBlue’s masterful art style. It’s nice to see that 2D graphics in mainstream games aren’t dead just yet.
You’ve read what we think about the best the Vita has to offer, now how about the worst? As with almost any launch, the Vita had a ton of games on offer, but not all of them were good….
We knew something was rotten in Denmark the moment Sony demoed this feature during the Vita’s unveiling at the 2011 Electronic Enterainment Expo. While using the rear touchpad to make Uncharted: Golden Abyss’ Nathan Drake climb up a vine, Sony made it seem like it was the second coming of Riiiiidge Racer. We gamers knew better. It didn’t look intuitive or fun at all, and in reality, it’s not. When active, the rear touchpad is, at best, a nuisance. Just by trying to hold the Vita, you’ll accidentally waste a blackhole in Super Stardust Delta or perform the wrong Freestyle move in Michael Jackson: The Experience HD. As stated in our staff impressions, our hope is that developers forget the rear touchpad even exists, rather than trying to force their games to work with Sony’s ill-designed idea.
Click here to see Best Hardware Feature.
We have no issues with memory cards. They’ve been an accepted mainstay of console gaming since the PlayStation 1 days. No, our complaints lie specifically with Sony’s mandatory Vita memory cards, which inexplicably cost two to three times as much as the competition’s. And they’re not really “optional” if there’s no internal storage whatsoever. The majority of Vita games do not pack their own memory, and if you want to play a PSP or downloadable title, you’ll be required to pony up for an overly expensive card.
Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is a one-year-old PSN game and more recently, a Mac app that was available for $1. The Vita version is essentially the same exact game. Only it’s on the Vita. And it’s considerably more expensive ($40).
Worse yet, Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is not even a good game. It’s an overly simplistic Diablo clone with no originality or compelling additions to the genre. The PlayStation Portable boasted a similar game during its launch as well. We’re not sure why each handheld Sony device needs to be accompanied by a slipshod dungeon crawler, but the blatant price-gouging certainly doesn’t help its case.
Click here to see the Best Port.
How hard is it to make a good ninja game? Seriously. Developer Acquire has been making Tenchu games for over a decade now, and they somehow manage to get worse with each iteration. Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen plays very much like the dated Tenchu series, which wasn’t even good in its heyday. While it does bring some interesting elements inspired by the Way of the Samurai franchise, the dumb-as-a-rock A.I., god-awful script, and unpolished gameplay left us wanting to commit seppuku shortly after leaving the main menu.
Click here to see the Best Ninja Game.
ModNation Racers: Road Trip brings a mere fraction of the franchise’s potential to Sony’s handheld. Should a game be smaller just because it’s not on a console? Absolutely not, and plenty of Vita launch titles provide an experience rivaling that of the console equivalent (or in some cases, surpassed it). In addition to featuring muddy visuals, ModNation throws out much of its online functionality with little explanation. Other games such as Wipeout 2048 and Asphalt Injection featured full multiplayer options, pointing to ModNation simply being a rushed product.
Click here to see Best Racing Game.
It’s a rare occurrence for Square Enix to support an original intellectual property, but that’s just what they did with Army Corps of Hell for the Vita. A little bit Overlord, a lot of bit Pikmin, and plenty of heavy metal, Army Corps was a promising title, but all of that was immediately washed away the moment the game starts. The graphics are PS1-era garbage, and the extremely barren levels get repetitive fast. We could rattle off a dozen indie iPhone games made by some guy in a basement that look infinitely better than this game.
Since Mass Effect 3 isn’t available for the Vita, this dubious honor goes to Capcom once again for Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. UMVC3 for the Vita openly touts 50 combatants, but when you start it up you’ll notice that two of those slots are unfilled. They belong to Jill Valentine and Shuma Gorath, DLC characters from the original Marvel vs. Capcom 3 game. When Ultimate was released nine months later and fans had to buy essentially a slightly upgraded version of the same game all over again, there was a bit of a public outrage to find that Jill and Shuma still required an additional purchase. Does Capcom not read the Internet? That’s really the only way we can see them thinking making that decision yet again would be a good idea.
If you’ve already bought the DLC for the PlayStation 3 version, it will be unlocked in the Vita, but what about those consumers who don’t just want to throw their wallets at Capcom, as the company clearly expects them to? In comparison, Aksys’ BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend not only includes all previous Continuum Shift console DLC characters for free (three in total) but also throws another one on top.
Award images by Samir Torres