So we finally have a number for the amount of Vitas sold worldwide. Not that Sony were all too keen on disclosing the figure – in their initial earnings report, Vita sales were bundled in with those of the PSP. A follow-up from Sony CEO Kaz Hirai pegged the number at 1.8 million as of March 31st, a number Hirai-san described as “…a good start.”. Indeed, if you compare these figures to the number of 3DS consoles sold in the same period – at around 2 million – The Vita appears to be mostly keeping pace with its main rival.

This isn’t really a fair comparison though. The Vita figures cover its launch period, where you’d usually see impressive sales thanks to early adopters jumping on board. By March 31st 2011, the 3DS had racked up 3.6 million worldwide sales, double that of the Vita, and with a shorter time on the market, having been launched in late February in Japan and late March everywhere else.  As we all know, sales then slowed dramatically for quite some time. Sony will be hoping the opposite will be the case for the Vita.

Now, I love my Vita. Like the 3DS, I was excited about it and pre-ordered it. It’s mostly a joy to use, and is undeniably a solid and attractive piece of gaming hardware. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a few issues with it, a few of which I will comment on here.

The games line-up.
I’ve seen a significant number of people comment that nobody is interested in playing “cut-down” versions of home console experiences such as Uncharted or wipEout, as they would rather play these kinds of games on a big screen TV. I’m sure there are some people out there that feel that way, but I’m not one of them – good games are good games, and I’ll play them wherever they are. I immensely enjoyed Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and I enjoyed it as a handheld game. I loved having wipEout 2048 in the palm of my hand, and it’s the most time I’ve put into an entry in the franchise since 2097. No, the problem for me is that there just wasn’t anything we haven’t all seen before. I picked up four launch titles: The aforementioned pair, as well as Lumines and Ninja Gaiden. Anyone who’s owned a PSP has likely played a Lumines game, and Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is a port of a port of a re-release. Even the more atypical games in the Vita’s launch line-up, such as the time-sapping MotorStorm RC, will likely remind older gamers of something.

The paucity of new releases:
My next point follows on quite neatly: It doesn’t help that there hasn’t been much in the way of new releases since the initial splurge. Notably, we’ve had Disgaea 3 (a port of a four-year-old PS3 game) and Mortal Kombat, a Vita version of the recent NetherRealm reboot. Some of these titles are arguably better suited to Vita – I’d certainly rather play Disgaea on a handheld than a home console – but I’m not sure these are the titles that will grab the imagination of the public-at-large. Even less so, if there’s the perception that new games will be few and far between. Sony did a good job of getting a large selection of games out for the Vita’s launch, but I do find myself wondering if it would’ve been more beneficial for the platform if they’d have held back maybe ten-or-so of these releases and spread them out throughout April, giving the impression that a steady flow of software was coming for the machine. Dishonest? Perhaps. But perception is surely an important factor in the growth of a new platform.

Backwards compatibility:

I still can’t play my decent-sized library of PS1 games on my Vita. Sony have been ever so quiet about this feature for months now, so much so that I’ve begun to wonder (perhaps irrationally) if Sony have decided to drop it and never mention it again, in the hopes we either forget or figure it out. Sure, I can play them via Remote Play (more on that later), but that’s hardly ideal.

Playing into this is also my lingering disappointment that Sony were unable to bring the UMD Passport initiative to non-Japanese customers, and playing into that is an issue I have with the pricing on certain items (generally third-party) on the PSN. With the release of the Vita, I’d like to see all PSP games priced at no more than £10. Not only could this spark more sales, it’d also help Vita users struggling to find something new to play, as they could bolster their collections with back-catalogue PSP games they may have missed.

Sony have actually been doing a good job of this recently, bringing first party games such as the God of War and wipEout titles down to under £7. But third-party games can still be expensive. I have a limited edition physical version of Trails in the Sky on my shelf that I’ve yet to play. Until recently, it was £27.99 on the PSN, and a recent sale has knocked four quid off of that price. I bought my physical copy for £25. I could easily play my UMD on my slightly battered PSP, but if it was available to download from PSN for a tenner or less, I’d most likely download it to play on the Vita instead. It may sound crazy, but I’d be willing to spend a decent amount of money on another copy of the game for the benefits of not needing to keep an extra handheld powered up and being able to experience the game on a larger, better screen. Considering RPGs can take dozens of hours over a number of weeks to complete, I’d consider it worth it. I’d have been able to do this if the UMD Passport had made it out of Japan. It doesn’t exactly keep me up at night, but it is a niggle.

Enjoy the silence?
It’s not just Sony who’s keeping quiet about the Vita. When was the last time we heard about Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy X remaster for the Vita (ok, so it’s another re-release of a years-old game, but it’s one I’m admittedly frothing at the mouth for)? They announced it, months later they said it was a remaster, rather than a remake, and then..? There’s been no word since. There’s also been very little on the new game announcements front. Sure, we’ve had the veil torn from the gory face of Soul Sacrifice recently, and there’s also been… has there been anything else? We’ve got a new instalment of Resistance in the coming weeks, LBP Vita on the way and the fantastic-looking Gravity Rush incoming, but these were all announced before the Vita was released. Where are the new announcements? This isn’t an issue that’s got me particularly worried as yet, especially with E3 right around the corner, but the system does seem to be caught in something of a catch-22 situation – if the public don’t show interest, neither will developers and publishers, and vice versa.

Remote Play is too limited:

“This content cannot be used during Remote Play.”. We all know this one, because we’ve probably all tried to replicate the above. And we’ve all failed miserably. Yes, Remote Play is barely useful at the moment. We can play some PS1 titles and the odd mini, watch some downloaded videos, and not a lot else. Remote Play has the potential to be a huge plus for the Vita; someone wants to use the TV? Never mind, boot into Remote Play and carry on regardless. Imagine being able to sit on the throne and play Skyrim (ok, you may not want to sit on the throne for that long…).

I’ve also been thinking about Blu-rays recently. Imagine sticking a Blu-ray disc in your PS3, maybe a film, maybe a disc of Game of Thrones, and then heading off to bed to watch it there, streaming to your Vita. Am I the only one that things that would be useful? I’m sure content providers would kick up a stink about it and prevent Sony from doing so, but I can’t think why. It’s not as if you’re creating another copy of the content, or even streaming it to anyone else. You’re streaming it from one device you own to another device you own. Sadly, I’m sure it’ll end up as nothing more than a pipe-dream.

Bloody Sony and their expensive proprietary memory cards!!

Really, need I say any more?  

Aside from all of this, I often see people complain that the Vita is too expensive. Personally, I think the cost is pretty fair for what you’re getting, though I accept that not everyone will, especially in the current climate. But the price has already come down somewhat: When I first made my pre-order with ShopTo, the machine alone was going to cost me £225. Aggressive pricing from other retailers brought this down considerably, with some of them bundling in games and memory cards. My final pre-order, with Amazon, came to a total of £228 with Lumines and an 8gb card. You can now routinely pick up a WiFi Vita for under £180. That’s a fantastic price for what you’re getting.

All of this may make it seem as if I really don’t like the Vita, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I love the machine. It does a lot of things right, from having all bases covered when it comes to control methods, to fantastic graphics performance, a nice, simple user interface (including the most usable iteration of the Playstation Store to date), solid, attractive construction, a glorious OLED screen, and it’s already received impressive entries in two of Sony’s most beloved properties in Uncharted: GA and wipEout 2048. The machine has so much potential, and I really want to see it achieve it. If it can, it may end up being not just the best handheld on the market, but the best console full stop.

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