Playstation Vita - Overview

Ok so some of you may remember my "first impressions" review of the Vita from about half a year ago, but that wasn't really the full story. Back then the Vita had just came out, and all I could really do was check out the demo Vitas set up in a few different stores. Although the Vita has been out for quite some time now, that doesn't change the fact that not everyone has actually gotten a chance to play it, or really know what it is like. So anyway if you're one of them people who doesn't know much about the Vita/you bash it because it's a Sony system without knowing about it/you're someone who want's to get one but haven't yet, then I hope this post will help you make up your mind about it and fully understand it's features.

The System's Build:

The first thing everyone will notice about the Vita is how it's actually built. The PSV is in fact a lot like a PSP, but there are a few major differences that can easily be seen. First of all, all of the buttons are built a bit differently, a PS button has been added below the left analog stick, a right analog stick has been added, the screen is larger and is now in fact a touch screen, the L/R buttons are rounder and easier to press, the d-pad is more of a rolling d-pad like you would see on older video game systems, the face buttons are smaller and more spread apart, the start and select buttons are under the right analog stick, the volume controls and power button are on the top of the system, and a back touch panel has been added. Really all of the buttons are placed in a very nice position making all of them very easy to use, and it just feels natural; however there are two major improvements I would like to point out about the system's buttons. The analog sticks, and the d-pad.

One of the biggest complaints about the original PSP was how it's analog stick, or nub, and d-pad were set up. The analog stick was a little nub with a plastic grip and strong spring to keep it in place. The thing was very small, you had to reach your hand down in a funny position to use it, and it just flat out could make some games hard to play. Although over time you do in fact get used to it, a lot of people would actually pop off the top plastic part and use the little stick instead simply because it worked better; however that is NOT a problem with the Vita! The Analog sticks on the vita are in fact analog sticks and they are in a good position/very easy to use. Movement feels natural, they are very sensitive to give you that 1:1 control you would expect from a console game, and they have a nice rubber grip to make moving them nice and easy. Now don't get me wrong, it might still take a bit of getting used to due to the fact they are so small and you really don't have to push them that far, but that doesn't change the fact that they work great, and they're a major improvement over the PSP's nub.

The D-pad is also another major improvement Sony made for the Vita. If you have ever played using a PSP D-pad or even a PS1-PS3 D-pad, you would know that it's kind of trapped under a plastic shell. The actual D-pad is a type of rolling D-pad with the four edges of it sticking up through the slits in the plastic cover of the controller, and when you push down on them your thumb basically pushes till it's touching the plastic case. Well that's not the case at all with the Vita D-pad! Just like on older game systems such as the SNES, the Vita's D-pad is a solid piece made out of hard plastic which sits on top of the system's plastic casing. The D-pad is VERY easy to use, it stays mostly flat instead of rolling over the top of a ball, and it is very accurate (which is VERY nice when it comes to playing fighting games with it). In short the D-pad is one of the best D-pads you'll find on a video game console in a long time.

Although the Vita does have a very nice build, there is one problem that I can't help but point out, and that's the back touch panel. The thing about the back touch panel is that it basically takes up the entire back of the system, and that really leaves little to no room for your hands. Sure there is in fact two little oval shaped spaces on the back for your fingers to go, but they are so close to the edge of the system that you actually have to try to get all of your fingers in it. Now if a child is playing the system, ok it's fine, but since the main audience of this system is in fact teens and adults, there's a little bit of a problem. The good news is that not all games make use of the back touch panel, and games that do use it aren't so touchy that pressing it will mess things up, but it can be a bit of a pain.

The LiveArea:

When you first turn on your Vita or wake it up out of sleep mode the first thing you'll see is the date and time on what seems to be a type of sticker covering up your system. If you have ever used a tablet or smart phone before, this is something you should be used to seeing, and it works like you would expect. At the top right of the "sticker" you can tell that it is ready to be pealed off, and that's exactly what you need to do. Just peel it off with the touch screen, and you'll then find yourself looking at the Vita's LiveArea.

The LiveArea works just like the desktop of a computer, home screen of a tablet, or home screen of a smart phone. It's got a background wallpaper/theme, it has icons for your apps spread out across a few different "pages," and it is COMPLETELY touch controlled (yep that's right, no using buttons). By sliding your finger up and down you can shift through the "pages" of apps that you have installed on your system, and by sliding left/right you can switch between the LiveArea and the apps that you actually have up and running; this is another major improvement from not only the Vita, but the PS3 as well.

On most other game systems you can only have a few things open at a time, and that's normally the game you're playing and your messages/friends list. For example, if you're checking the PSN shop on your PS3 and you want to play a game, you'll actually have to back out of that shop, wait for it to close down, scroll over to your "play game" icon on the menu, and then start up the game. Well on the Vita, that is no longer the case!

Since the Vita is like a mix between a smart phone/tablet and a video game system, it barrows a lot of features from smart phones/tablets. Every app/game you open can actually STAY open and can be switched to on the fly. For example you could open up your friends list to see who is online, then open up the voice chat party app and open up a room so people can join you, then you could open up your "group messages" text chat room to see if you have any new messages, then you could open up your trophy list to see what trophies, and finally you could then open up your game and start playing. Everything you opened will STAY open, and can easily be switched to by tapping the PS button, and swiping your finger left and right to switch between the tabs. This set up is fast and easy, and saves a LOT of time since you don't always have to close every single app just to open a new one to check something. When you're actually ready to close an app, it is just as easy as opening them, all you have to do is peel the edge of the "sticker" or "page" down and off the screen.

Really I would LOVE to see a system like this being used in the next major console releases, but only time will tell if it'll really happen. Then again Sony already did it, and Microsoft has Windows Phones out there now, so who knows, maybe more of that will carry over!

The Apps:

Before I really get into how games work, including the "Welcome Park" which comes preloaded on all Vitas, I would like to take the time to talk about the apps due to the fact that they play a MAJOR role in making up what the Vita is. All Vita systems come with quite a few preloaded apps, but there are also quite a few free ones up for download as well. Either way every single program on the Vita, including the games, actually run in an app like form, so they are very important to the system. Since the screen can be customized, you can move apps where you want, make as many pages as you want, and even change the background for each page, I'll be going through each of these apps in the order I have them on my system. Although I mostly left the layout unchanged, some things have been moved around. But anyway...

Content Manager -

The Content Manager is a lot like the USB mode the original PSP had. By using the Content Manager you can connect your PS Vita to either your PC or PS3, and well, manage your content! From dlc, to pictures, to music, to full games, this basically allows you to transfer files from system to system and keep things in order. Although it is a great tool, the only downside to it is that it does NOT run off of the Media Go PC program which was a major part of the PSP and PSP Go. If you want to back up your game saves/move files around on the PC, you'll actually have to download a brand new program...

Party -

The party app is what one might call one of the best apps on the Vita. As a lot of you may know, the Xbox 360 has been using a party system for years now which allows you to create a room, have friends join, and then you can use voice chat to talk to each other no matter what games you are playing or what apps you have running. While a lot of people use this system simply to just talk, it could also be used to actually FORM a party to play games with. Want to be on the same team as all your friends in a first person shooter? Simply form a party, invite them, and start the game! The thing is although this party system was a great set up, Sony announced that because the way the PS3 was built, they could not do anything like it. They could use a text chat room, but that's about it.

Well the Vita is brand new and things have changed! Just like on the Xbox 360, the party app on the Vita allows you to create a party room, invite players to your room, or join others so you can either talk or play games together. Since the Vita also has a built in mic, everyone who owns a Vita can actually use this party system, and the app is very simple and easy to use. Simply click on it, either click to create a new party (after you give it a name that is), or click and join one of the parties on your list.

PS Store -

The PS Store is what you would expect it to be. It's the PS Store! Basically here you can buy full games, buy PSP games, buy PSN only games, download DLC, download movies, and even download music. Basically everything PSN offers on the PS3/PSP/PC can be accessed right here. The only problem is that not all features were up and running during it's first few months of launch, so a lot of people actually had to use their PS3s to download what they actually wanted.

near -

near is a little app which basically tracks everything you do and your friends do, think of it like the Twitter/Facebook of the Vita. Whenever you walk by someone who also has a PS Vita near will pick that up and actually add them to your friends list, and sometimes even add bonuses. These bonuses can range from free gifts in games like Uncharted, to exp bonuses in games like Resistance. It's a really nice gift feature, and it also works with your online friends as well (so fear not if you're someone like me who lives in the middle of nowhere where NO ONE owns the systems you own). You can also check what your friends have been doing on their Vitas (game progress, online progress, friends they've added, achievements they've earned, comments on progress they've made, what they've downloaded, etc), and you can also check/rate games that you and your friends have played.

near flat out tracks everything that goes on, on your system and your friends systems as well. It records levels you've completed, time attacks you've beaten, and well... It just records everything! Just like with Twitter or Facebook you can also comment on other peoples progress as well, and even hold a full conversation in each post. It's a really nice feature, and it's the perfect way to stalk your friends!
(Note: near's community feature can also be accessed on each app its self. By scrolling down on the "start" screen of each app you can actually read each update for that app. While near throws everything into one, this allows you to see what's going on ONLY in that app/game, and makes it easy to sort through the 100s of posts that will soon build up.)

Friends -

Friends is simply your friends list which is in fact connected to PSN. Since the firends list uses PSN instead of a friends list made for the Vita, this allows you to view what ALL of your friends are doing on both the PS3 and Vita. Although the firends list is only there to view your friends/add and accept new ones, it is closely tied to the next two apps I'm going to talk about, and it'll even open them for you.

Group Messaging -

This is basically the standard chat system from the PS3. Basically you can open up a text chat room, and then talk to your friend or friends using it. The layout works a LOT like smart phones, which use a bubble like chat system, and all messages are saved. In short you can open up a chat room, send a message to someone, and come back later to see what they replied. Its a nice simple little message system, and it works well.

Trophies -

Just like on the PS3, the Vita uses Trophies and is tied to your PSN account! In short, not only does the Trophy app allow you to check your Vita Trophies, it allows you to check all the trophies you've earned in your life time. You can check progress from your PS3 games, your Vita games, and you can compare trophies to your friends. Although every time you earn a new trophy the Vita still has to upload it to the server, it is actually MUCH faster than the sync operation on the PS3 and only takes a few seconds.

Remote Play -

Remote Play is the basic Remote Play most of us have become used to with the PSP. In short this allows you to connect your Vita to your PS3 to control different features of it, and interact with different games. Each game and app actually uses this feature differently, and it can range from using your Vita as a controller, to actually controlling the system by turning it on/off.

Settings -

The settings app is just what it says it is. By opening the settings you'll be able to change different settings such as wi-fi settings, 3G settings (if you have the 3G model), display settings, and so on. This is just a general tool that allows you to customize/set different features on the Vita.

Browser -

The Web Browser is just what it says it is, and is closely tied to many other apps on the Vita. Anything that opens up a website, most apps have a tutorial/manual that's actually online, will actually launch this app for you and load the page. The web browser uses fast and and each touch controls, and it also allows you to have quite a few webpages open at the same time (which was a problem the original PSP struggled with). The browser is easy to use, it loads fast, and it is a nice addition.

Videos -

The Video app allows you to access/watch videos that you have downloaded on either the Vita or PS3 (which can either be free, bought, or even rented).

Photos -

The Photo app is just what you would expect it to be, a camera. The Vita has the ability to take high res photos with both the front and back camera, and you can take in game screen shots by pressing the PS button and start button at the same time. Either way, this app allows you to both take pictures and view pictures you have taken already, and it also allows you to sort them out as well. There are also a few quality/picture size settings as well, but nothing too fancy.

Music -

The Music app is what allows you to play songs on your Vita. Just like with the PS3 you can actually play a song, open up another game/app, and keep the song playing. Songs can be either downloaded from the PS Store, or you can put them on the system yourself.

Maps -

Although it simply says "maps," it is in fact Google Maps. Basically all the features of Google Maps is just a touch away to help you find your way, or just to simply play around with.

Other Apps:

As I said before there are also quite a few other apps out there as well, and most of them are free! Here's a quick overview of a few of the apps I've downloaded/most popular ones out there.

Netflix -

Netflix is a great video/movie service which allows you to watch 10,000s of videos just for 8 bucks a month. It can be accessed on your computer, tv, your Wii, your 360, your PS3, your 3DS, your Smart Phones, your Tablets, and now it can also be accessed on your Vita and it looks great! Although I actually haven't gotten around to watching too much on the Vita myself, I did check out a few shows and they looked great. Since I did a review of it not too long ago, I'll actually use El Cazador for an example. Despite the fact that El Cazador is animated, the Vita's screen made it look flat out amazing! The picture was very clear, the screen never blurred, all of the colors were nice and bright, the HD sound was nice, and the video opened up and loaded in a matter of seconds. In other words, it couldn't have looked/been any better, and that was for something that was animated! Just think about how great a live action movie looks!

niconico -

Yep niconico which has been famous for bringing us a lot of crazy Japanese videos is on the Vita with both the US and Japanese library of videos and live streams! Since niconico requires you to have an account to actually fully use it, the app WILL take you to the website to sign up (luckily I had a Japanese account from years ago so I was able to avoid this step), but it really doesn't take too long (however it would go much faster if you simply signed up on your PC). The only down side to niconico is that since it's a live stream the quality isn't always the best, and unless you use the paid for service you'll always get the shaft. If a room is full or there is high traffic, you'll be either kicked out of the room or be forced to watch the lower quality. Still the paid for service isn't really needed, and the app works well.

Paint Park -

Paint Park is just what it says, a drawing tool which allows you to draw either alone or with your near by friends.

LiveTweet/Facebook -

LiveTweet and the Facebook apps work just how you would expect. They allow you to access your Twitter/Facebook, read the latest posts, and talk to your friends. Sure you could also access these features with the web browser, but these are built in easy to use apps that I'd strongly recommend using if you're into the whole social network thing.

Others -

There are also other free apps for download such as Skype and Foursquare (which is basically a location updater), but they really aren't apps that I've used so I can't really comment on them. Either way they are out there for you to download, and they are all nice additions to the PS Vita!

Welcome Park:

Welcome Park is a free mini game like game that comes preloaded on all Vitas and is there to help you get used to how the Vita Works. When you first load up the game you'll find yourself looking at a screen with a few balls floating around and the game telling you to start a "tutorial." Each tutorial is a mini game which focuses on different new features the Vita uses, and each mini game also has a target time/trophy to go along with it! Although for the most part these trophies are easy to get, there are quite a few that WILL give you a challenge, and the mini games can be quite fun as well.

Although some mini games are basic such as "touch the numbers," they really do show off the Vita's features quite well. Since the Vita can track more than one finger at a time, some mini games require you to actually tap two different locations on the screen, while others require you to tap the back touch pad at different times to send a ball flying. There's also a mini game which uses the tilt censor to dodge balls on a skate board and jump, actually reminded me a lot of them old Game Boy games such as Kirby Tilt 'n Tumble, and there's also the picture square sliding puzzle mini game. The last two mini games aren't really much of mini games though, one brings objects in the world that look like a face to life and the other just has you recording sounds that play when a circle touches it, but they are there for you to mess around with.

Really I wouldn't call Welcome Park a great game, but it is a good way to get started and it does give you a few easy trophies. Still if you're looking for some real games to play, I recommend downloading other free games such as MOTOSTORM RC, or Table Soccer which actually uses the AR cards to create a virtual soccer field to play on.

In the end, the PS Vita is a great solid system which has the power to play "console" quality games. There are a lot of cross PS3/Vita games out there, there's great games like Uncharted Golden Abyss and Gravity Rush, and the system has made a lot of improvements, not only over just the PSP, but over the PS3 as well. Although it's a bit too bad that the system doesn't play VMUs, you can still download PSP games from the shop, and other games as well.

The Vita is a great piece of hardware, and is a major step forward for portable games. Even so due to it's price tag and it's current game library, I can only recommend it to those who are either interested in the games, interested in the PSP games/PS1 classics that are up on the shop, or those who do not have a PS3 but would like to play great games like BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend, Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, and WipEout. The only real downside to the system is it's few hour long battery life, however by lowering the screen brightness and turning off the wi-fi you can greatly increase your battery life so it really isn't that big of a problem. (Besides the thing charges fast!)

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