Sony has officially launched the PS Vita, or PlayStation Vita, as it’s also known at E3 in Los Angeles, and Pocket-lint was on hand for a brief hands-on.
Sadly the Sony gods weren’t allowing photos or video, but did let us play five games for 4 minutes a piece. Yes that's 20 minutes, yes that’s only a chance to play a level or swipe at a couple of balls, which is why you should take this as a very early first impression and nothing more.
In fact from a device point of view we didn’t actually see a unit that wasn’t pre-loaded with a game, so we’ve got no comments on the menu systems, the interface, and how it all comes together.
While we only had 20 minutes in total with the PS Vita, it’s long enough to get some thoughts on the hardware. The first and foremost thing to mention is that the 5-inch screen is bright, it’s crisp, and it’s big. It dominates the front and glows out at you like you're a moth to a flame.
It’s so wide in fact that it actually makes the PlaySation Vita considerably large, large enough that we couldn’t join our thumbs together holding it by the edge and large enough to make it a device that you’re going to struggle putting in your pocket. If you thought the PSP was large, this is decidedly gigantic.
Still, that super-sized screen doesn’t make for a heavy device. It’s very light, making us wonder if it’s actually hollow inside. Strange when you consider how much is packed in.
There’s the fast processor that made the games we played zip along, the 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, a six-axis motion sensor, and the two analogue sticks, d-pad, PlayStation buttons, and the black touch panel that works like the Motorola Backflip and ultimately looks like a big sticker on the back.
We have no idea about battery life, about Wi-Fi performance, about sound - it sounded okay with big headphones on - or about memory, storage, cloud support, or many other things, sorry.
We played five games in our mini test - Uncharted, Little Big Planet, Virtua Tennis 4, Little Deviants, and a music game called Sound Stage.
Here we played a single level doing our best to get through it in the time allotted to us. There was plenty of jumping around a chance to look at the stunning graphics. It’s not PS3 class just yet, but Sony has done a fantastic job in giving it enough umph so developers can create something very pretty indeed. Think Dreamcast or first Xbox and you’re on the right lines.
The gameplay works, although our level had a little too much jumping for our liking, however this did serve to show us that you can control the gameplay via the buttons or by simply tapping on the screen.
A swipe on the screen, for example, will send Drake whizzing across a series of ledges, but it can get frustrating if you get it wrong.
Little Big Planet 2
Virtually identical in looks to the PS3 version of the game this looks to be great fun as you use the PS Vita’s multiple control methods to move your character through the level. The level we played involved buttons, swaying the PS Vita to activate the six axis motion sensor, and touching the screen to interact with elements in the level. It’s cute, fun, and going to be a big hit.
Virtua Tennis 4
Probably the most graphically tasty of the games we saw the experience is akin to Virtua Tennis on the Dreamcast all those years ago.
You can, like other games we played, choose an either or policy with the controls and while it was initially easier to revert to the analogue stick the touchscreen tapping method seemed to give us more control over the shot we played. Swipe up and you get top spin, down and its back spin, and up down movement gave you a lob. Do enough good shots and you get to give your opponent two fingers - that's a power move. The graphics are what will make this game stand out though - stunning.
This a game made up of different levels that show off different skills of the PS Vita. There was a level that was controlled by moving the device around utilising the motion sensor, another insisted we only use the back touch panel, while a third was buttons only. Aimed as snack gaming, you could easily see any of these becoming iPhone games for 59p. We doubt however, that Sony will opt for that metric.
A crazy little game that sees you play a sticky ball that can stick to black ink, but dies when it touches red. If that’s not mad-capped enough for you you’ve got to collect notes that provide the soundtrack to the game. The more notes the better the music gets. Our demo dude said there would be over 30 different levels to get you going and like Little Big Planet the chance to make your own using the back panel as a way of making objects bigger.
Pretty mad stuff, but will no doubt get a huge cult following when it’s released. The Japanese will love it.
It’s very early days, but it’s clear that Sony have a device that is miles better than the PSP and the Nintendo 3DS - it plays the grown-up card again.
Aggressively priced it’s likely to appeal to the gamer looking for something considerably more powerful than the current crop of Android or iOS tablets and phones, however whether it will be able to succeed is a different matter.
Ultimately though the biggest loser here isn't the PS Vita, but the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, that frankly looks rather pathetic against this new monster from Sony.
I am sure we'll have plenty of chances before Christmas 2011 to get a better understanding of the console. Something that we are already looking forward to.
UPDATE: We've now managed to get some hands-on photos of the PS Vita, which we've added to the gallery.