Playstation Vita launch titles preview: Are all of the flagship titles ‘clunky, bland, and generic’?

Jack Bromley previews the launch line up Sony's upcoming handheld console, the Playstation Vita - concluding that they're a 'mixed bag'

PS Vita Games

The past weekend, I had the opportunity to get hands-on with Sony’s upcoming Playstation Vita. In a pair of preview articles, I’ll be covering the hardware itself, as well as the games available at the preview event. This piece will focus on five of the available titles, and while only a portion of the launch releases, they are some of the most promoted and should provide an accurate impression of the full lineup.

The games I played at the event were: Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Little Deviants, Wipeout 2048, ModNation Racers: Road Trip, and Gravity Rush; all of which will be covered in this article. I instinctively opened with Uncharted: Golden Abyss, what might be considered the platform’s flagship release. I was ultimately disappointed.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss

Uncharted: Golden Abyss: Amazon: £38

I’ll confess, I’m not the biggest fan of Uncharted, but I’ve wanted to ‘get into’ the series for a while. But, Golden Abyss has left a bad taste in my mouth with its clunky controls, and rather bland, generic gameplay; enough to make me avoid the console series.

The first section of the demo took place in a burning building, with Drake needing to escape, naturally. The small area in which the level was set was pretty poorly designed.  The claustrophobic area only emphasized the game’s poor controls and wild camera angles, all quickly became a hindrance to Drake’s escape, and an annoyance for me, the player. Even in design, this section lacked. To escape the building, you needed to tap on the touchscreen to draw your machete, something that wasn’t at all hinted at.

Moving on to the second available section of the demo, this was more of an action-oriented sequence, still confined to a significantly small area. The objective: protect Drake’s companion from within a sniper camp. Again, the controls were clunky, but this time the forced gyro implementation constantly interfered. Aiming using the tiny sticks wasn’t to problematic, it was actually fluent for a handheld console, but attempting to navigate Drake’s little camp proved challenging. I found myself being rolled into walls, manically spinning the camera, but when finally positioning in a suitable sniping spot, my companion had already been culled; little niggles like that can spoil a game.

Finally aiming down the sniper’s scope, I’d position myself ready to headshot my companion’s captor. Satisfyingly slamming the trigger, I’d constantly miss by the smallest inch, as a result of unknowingly slightly tilting the console. I don’t particularly enjoy gyro controls in anything, they’re more of an inconvenience than a feature; a bad gimmick. They didn’t work well with the 3DS, and the PS3′s six-axis wasn’t exactly a game-breaking factor. When they start being forced upon me, ruining my game, I begin to lose respect and patience.

Whilst the most graphically advanced title in the launch lineup, the controls clearly aren’t polished, and level design, even if just in the demo levels, is fairly bad. So, after multiple attempts and gyro interferences, I quit Uncharted; frustrated.

Little Deviants

Little Deviants: Amazon: £18

With each new console launch, it’s almost a requirement for it to be accompanied by a minigame based ‘casual’ title; for the Vita, that was Little Deviants. This lighthearted title from recently suspended studio ‘BigBig‘ was not disappointing, because I never expected it to be that good; but for a casual game it’s considerably entertaining.

The demo consisted of a small selection of the game’s minigames, most of them I tried. Each individual minigame offered a vastly different approach, and I didn’t come across any repeated themes; something that is commonplace in many casual games. However, the short burst of fun lasts only a minute or so, which becomes a pain when having to wait forty-five second load screens before each one. What is extremely impressive about Deviants, is that all of the minigames make great use of the Vita’s features, mostly redundant in other games. One minigame might use the back touchpad to manipulate the landscape, whilst another might use the front touchpad to flick creatures. And surprisingly, it also well integrates the gyro controls, allowing for flowing movements in some of the games, with no jagged interferences like Uncharted.

While a fun title, it simply won’t last. After a few minigames, it became a little tedious, and the initial feeling of surprise and freshness faded. Its near innovation is overshadowed by lack of substance, as with all minigame based titles. Although it will make a great distraction for kids, and despite it being a budget title, don’t expect it to remain at full price long after launch. ‘Potential wasted’ is a bit too bold of a statement for Deviants, but it’s a shame it is just ‘one of those’ titles.

Wipeout 2048

Wipeout 2048: Amazon: £30

As much as I dislike being negative towards new releases, the disappointment re-emerged with ‘Wipeout 2048′. Playing alike to Blur with antigravity vehicles, 2048 was promoted as a high-octane, combat-racing experience; and with no gyro or touchscreen controls to get in the way, I expected a solid racer. But it isn’t like that at all, and is instead a repetitive, tiring chore.

As the name suggests, Wipeout 2048 is set in, well, 2048, the futuristic theme is shown throughout course design, one aspect Wipeout succeeds in. Racing through each course, it’s hard not to admire the epic, futuristic city landscapes, or the detail in the other racer’s vehicles. The lively aesthetic isn’t representative of the core gameplay, though. Speeding through each stage without pause can be exhilarating, but there’s always the need for something more. With racing titles, that’s often the soundtrack and combat (should it have it), and Wipeout lacks in both departments. Instead of reinforcing the adrenaline, Wipeout’s faint, simplistic ‘noises’ more detract from the experience. Vehicles are practically silent, track music is awfully asynchronous and boring, and the only sound you can be aware of is the missiles, and gunshots.

Which brings me on to the combat of this combat racer. It simply isn’t satisfying, or engaging. Powerups last a mere second, leaving your vehicle before you, or the enemy, even has chance to notice. But when you eventually manage to hit an enemy with your peashooter, it barely even scrapes their paint. Whilst combat shouldn’t be a game deciding feature like Mario Kart‘s God-awful blue shell, it should at least have some noticeable impact, making it a viable, worthwhile interaction.

In summary, Wipeout 2048 doesn’t feel good to play. Wipeout makes its powerups obsolete, and its soundtrack might has well of been left out. Since its racing experience can’t stand on its own, Wipeout is a unsatisfying, unenjoyable racer. Stick to Mario Kart.

ModNation Racers

ModNation Racers: Road Trip: Amazon: £30

This is where things started to pick up.

If you’ve played the original ModNation on PS3, you’ll know it’s Sony’s answer to the highly successful Mario Kart. You’ll also know that it was plagued with awful load times, and harboured a few bugs. Whilst the former still remains, it is a much smoother experience than its predecessor, and feels like a perfect fit for the platform.

The focus is quick races across wacky tracks scattered with ramps, rings, and various other obstacles. Not only is it appropriately challenging for an innocent looking racer, but each race is so packed full of excitement, you can’t not have fun. When coupled with the game’s over-the-top, comical combat, which is significantly more satisfying than Wipeout’s, it’s a cartoon thrill-ride of bitesize proportions.

ModNation is a vibrant, fast-paced racer that can be enjoyed by gamers of any generation. It is immediately accessible, and can be picked up, put down, and restarted at any time without the worry of progression loss. Whilst the demo only offered races on a few tracks, ModNation’s real features are buried within the full game. ModNation boasts very deep customisation of karts, characters, and a robust, touchscreen enhanced track creator; something many casual racers can’t boast. The replay value of ModNation could be unending, particularly when taking LittleBigPlanet‘s approach of downloading community tracks / characters, and sharing your own online.

ModNation may not be a major competitor to Nintendo’s Mario Kart, it is certainly impressive for a third-party launch title, and one of few that stand out in the current lineup.

Gravity Rush

Gravity Rush / Gravity Daze: Amazon: Coincidentally not stocked.

In the current market, it’s hard to find a game that demonstrates something completely new; an original idea that hasn’t been seen, or brought into mainstream attention before. Gravity Rush does exactly that, and its beatiful art style compliments innovative, amazing features. I unknowingly saved the best game till last.

Gravity Rush is a game based on the manipulation of gravity, and opts to use beautifully cell-shaded graphics. The opens with immediate gameplay, and before even touching the sticks, radiates beauty and elegance. No hints are initially given at the unusual gameplay features, with the unbeknowing player exploring a small town-like area, centred around a glorious fountain. After a few minutes of admiring the fluent animations, the game suddenly revolutionises itself. You discover that the character has the ability to alter gravity, twisting the world to her every whim. After a basic tutorial on the controls, you have completely free reign over the power.

A simple tap of a button sends her hovering in the air, then allowing direction of a cursor, determining the flow of gravity. Tap again, and the character is launched to where the cursor previously pointed. You must direct her as she flies, using the gyro controls, unfortunately. As she soars, defying gravity, you guide her to a destination via titlting the console. Whilst not as problematic as its implementation in other titles, it still remains clunky, pointless, and difficult to use.

During the demo,  you become engaged in a fast-pace chase, throwing gravity around in your wake. The enemy, whom you do not know, has the same power, and so you need to be quick witted to catch her. Twisting and turning in quick sucession can be confusing, but the sequence makes for a great challenge, with very exciting gameplay. If somewhat puzzling sequences like this are the main focus of Gravity Rush, then it certainly has promise. What challenges could be created with the innovative mechanic is endless, and if the developers work it to its full potential, Gravity Rush looks set to be one of the most incredible handheld titles of recent times.

Whilst other games, like Dead Space, feature gravity changing elements, none rely on it quite as much as Gravity Rush. From its art style, its seamless animations, to its near genius gameplay, Gravity Rush is sure to be a gorgeous, intelligent, and very unique game that shouldn’t be missed.

Conclusion:

The Vita looks to continue the handheld trend of weak launch line ups, holding only a couple of decent, well-made titles, and the rest being mediocre, and somewhat generic. This is the same across most past handheld launches, however each did have atleast one special, system-selling launch release; like the PSP had Twisted Metal, like the DS had three Mario titles, and like the 3DS had… the Vita’s has Gravity Rush. The game has already had a stellar review of 10/9/9/10 from the renowned Japanese Famitsu magazine, but having not seen any marketing near the scale of the others, could Gravity Rush be the underestimated, unknown title with the wasted potential of making a great deal of money, similar to Rayman Origins? The game is stocked barely anywhere, which just proves Sony’s underestimation of such a unique, innovative release.

Overall, I think that the Vita’s launch lineup is a rather mixed bag of both good and bad, if these five titles are representative of it. Some of the flaws in titles are down to the Vita’s controls, and unnecessarily forced use of gyro, but this gimmick will likely fade over time just like the PS3′s six-axis, or even the 3DS’ exact same gyro, which they’re still dumping upon us. The best titles, it seems, aren’t the most promoted ones, and the system’s flagship release, while it will sell solely because of its reliance on the reputation of the previous games, isn’t particularly great. But as time progresses and more games are released, hopefully they begin to improve, making a console purchase warranted. The Vita’s launch lineup is remarkably similar to the 3DS’, but will it take the same path, improving in both sales and quality of games with time?

If you’ve had the chance to play any of these games, what are your thoughts on them? Do you think gamers just aren’t open to innovative releases, or is it the marketing letting down games like Rayman Origins and Gravity Rush? Are the Vita’s games, as well as the console, overpriced at £30 – £40 each? Would you be willing to buy any of the aforementioned titles at that price?

Jack Bromley is an avid gamer, spending most of his time wrapped up in virtual worlds. You can follow him on Twitter @JackBrommers, and indulge in his slurry of complaints and unpopular opinions.