Tucked away in a small corner on Union St. is San Francisco’s version of the Vita Hill Social Club where Sony has done an amazing job converting the space into the perfect lounge for Vita gamers. Becoming a member of the club requires only the time it takes to fill out a simple form, and you’re immediately rewarded with a free drink and opportunities to win prizes.
As you can see, the Vita was under lock & key, but that did not hinder the gaming experience one bit. Once I was in, my first game of choice was ModNation Racers: Road Trip. If you’re familiar with the Mario Kart series, then you’ll feel right at home with this game. My first impression of the system was that the screen was HUGE, and absolutely beautiful. The analog sticks were responsive, and all the buttons were easy to press. As for the game itself, it was the standard kart-n-shoot racer with the ability to mod your kart and customize tracks. The track builder was mildly entertaining, but after the first screen where you draw the path of your race track with your finger, the user interface got confusing quickly. One annoying issue that I noticed was the long loading times between the menu screen an the actual gameplay. This was something I’d expect only from optical media, so I was surprised to experience this on the Vita.
After a few laps with the AI, including one on my custom track, I quickly moved on to Little Big Planet. This game, which consisted of about 5 mini games, made better use of the Vita’s features, and was pleasantly entertaining. The first mini-game was called Puppet Circus, and was your standard side-scrolling platformer. The opening level was essentially an orientation for the various controls you may encounter throughout the game, which included dragging and interacting with onscreen objects via the front and rear touch sensors, and tilting the system to affect the environment.
One of my favorite parts was an area where you constructed steps for Sackboy to climb by using the rear touch panel to push blocks out of the wall (a blue fingerprint cursor displays when you do this), and the front touch display to push them back in. I completed the demo level with ease, and was then redirected back to the menu screen.
King of the Rink is basically 2-player pong with an air hockey theme. While moving the paddles around with the touchscreen works, the responsiveness of the controls just wasn’t there (maybe due to the extra finger it had to track?). Oddball Factory also utilizes the touchscreen, enabling you to drag a bubble through a windy underwater cave without popping it on dangerous obstacles. This was about as fun as it sounds, and I’ll leave it at that.
Collision Course is a top down racer where the goal is to weave your way through fast and slow moving cars with the analog stick. This game was meant to be played while holding the Vita vertically (with the right analog stick on the bottom). While graphics were reminiscent of the movie Tron, the excitement was not, so I adverted my attention towards the other portrait-oriented mini-game: Squid Sorter.
This sorting game had some addictive elements, where your reflexes are put to the test as you frantically redirect dropping colored squids into their respective buckets by tapping on switch gates. I played a couple rounds of this before calling it quits.
Time flies when you’re at Vita Hill, and after about an hour of gaming, I emerged back onto the streets of San Francisco. The experience has definitely made me more excited about getting my Vita, but I’m still conflicted as to which game to buy first. While I’m convinced the hardware features are worth raving about, I don’t have the same sentiments towards the launch titles. Do you think most of Vita’s features are just gimmicks, or will it change the gaming experience entirely?