After the Vita’s virtual no-show at E3, many commentators all but wrote off the handheld’s chances of mass market adoption – after all, if Sony won’t even get behind their own platform, they argued, how could anyone expect third-party developers to do so? While I didn’t buy in to this hyperbole, Sony’s seeming lack of conviction certainly concerned me.

And so all eyes were on Cologne’s Gamescom. Would Sony repeat their E3 mistake?

The good news is that Sony did indeed give the still-fledgling platform a bit of a boost by featuring it at the very start of their 90 minutes, and actually showing some games for the device, while also finally (finally!) giving a date for PS1 Classics being playable on the handheld.

Let’s take a look at the big announcements, beginning with the one that will bring PS1 games to your Vita screens.

Firmware 1.80
PS1 Classics are nearly here! From August 28th, we’ll be able to relive our mid-to-late Nineties memories all over again! Just like we did on the PSP! Ok, so I’m being a touch facetious, but this really should have been in place at launch. Having said that, the current lack of PS1 Classics support shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for anyone considering a new console purchase, as some have painted it. It’s certainly a very welcome (and long overdue) extra for current owners, though, and means that I’ll finally be able to retire my long-in-the-tooth PSP-1000. Curiously, Sony only lists Final Fantasy VII, Resident Evil 2 and Metal Gear Solid as “confirmed so far”. I would have thought that all titles currently available on PSN would simply need to be copied across or downloaded directly to Vita consoles. Let’s hope Sony don’t make this needlessly complicated…

A big new feature is what Sony are referring to as Cross-Controller. This will allow the Vita to be used as a controller for PS3 in certain, compatible games, such as LittleBigPlanet 2, via Remote Play. Cross-Controller will be able to make use of all of the Vita’s features (front and rear touch, sixaxis motion, cameras), and seems to be Sony’s answer to Nintendo’s dual-screen challenge with the WiiU. How widespread Cross-Controller becomes will ultimately be down to two factors: the number of Vitas out there in customers’ hands, and the effort on the part of game developers to include it.

If you’re tired of using touch (and touch only) to navigate Vita’s menus and home screens, you’ll be pleased to know that one of the usability tweaks in Firmware 1.80 will allow you to control them with those lovely sticks and buttons. Touch-only navigation did mildly irritate me at first, but I’m used to it now, so it remains to be seen how much this feature will be used on my Vita. It’s nice to have the option, though.

The rear touchpad will soon be able to zoom and scroll in the browser, and though I don’t use my Vita for browsing, I’m sure this will be a welcome addition for those that do. This is one of a handful of smaller usability changes, such as the ability to import music playlists and attach images in group messaging.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified:
We’ve known a Call of Duty title was on its way to the Vita since before the machine itself was released, but thus far we hadn’t seen anything of it. It appears there’s a reason for that.

It looks at first glance like a fairly basic, watered-down CoD, but something else was bugging me. Then I realised what it was: it looks like Resistance: Burning Skies. And there’s a reason for that – Nihilistic Software, the people behind that game, are now making this one. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in isolation – as much as R:BS was critically panned, I quite enjoyed it for bringing a decent FPS with excellent controls to a handheld. But this really does strike me as more of the same, just with military types replacing the Chimera, and I really don’t want to play essentially the same game again.

A good number of people are under the impression that a Call of Duty title will push Vita sales into the stratosphere. I think this is a flawed argument to begin with – are the huge numbers of people who buy CoD titles really going to shell out over £200 for a handheld and a watered-down version? And a version that can only offer 4v4 multiplayer at that? – and my first glance at this title doesn’t fill me with confidence that it could achieve that lofty goal. Also, I couldn’t help but be amused by the trailer’s claims of “covert single player missions” followed by yet more footage of the player unloading a machine gun…

Killzone: Mercenary
Killzone is another big IP we’ve known to be making its way to our handhelds, and we finally have an all-too brief look at this new title in Dutch developer Guerrilla Games’ shooter franchise.

It’s a shame that most of the trailer is taken up by slightly hokey live-action footage, but what little we see of the game looks promising. While obviously not on par with its bigger PS3 brothers, the gameplay footage shows a pretty high level of environmental detail and smooth animation. I’d suspect the main reason behind the polished look of Killzone: Mercenary is down to that logo you see throughout the trailer: Guerrilla Games. Vita has come in for some (not entirely undeserved) criticism for seemingly playing host to cut-down installments of PS3 franchises (though Sony Bend did an admirable job with Uncharted: Golden Abyss), but this new entry into the Killzone series is being developed by the creators behind the other four installments in the franchise. I think this is a massive positive, as it allows the franchise to stay in-house and easily use existing technology – this handheld installment is reportedly built on the same engine that powers Killzone 3.

The premise of the game seems to revolve around a team of mercenaries on a mission to liberate a Vektan child from Helghan hands, and the trailer makes a few references to money, even showing kills earning the player cash. This does worry me ever so slightly; I’m hoping for Killzone: Mercenary to be a story-focussed affair rather than a mission-based score-attack game. Hopefully these fears will prove unfounded when we discover more about the game.

Tearaway
Media Molecule were also on-hand at Gamescom to show what they’ve been working on. We’ve known for a while that the LittleBigPlanet developer isn’t behind the forthcoming Vita iteration of the series (another example of ‘Vita B-team port syndrome’?), and now we know why; they’ve been working on an entirely new Vita game, Tearaway.

Tearway is a papercraft 3d adventure starring iota, a messenger with an envelope for a head. An envelope that contains a unique message for the player, and Media Molecule characterise Tearaway as a buddy movie starring you and iota. The game uses all of the Vita’s tricks to effect change on its papercraft world, from touch and sound through to motion, and you can use the rear touchpad to literally rip through the fabric of the world to directly affect both the world and iota’s journey.

It certainly looks the part, with a style similar to the LBP series, but with a papery twist, and it appears to make good use of the Vita’s hardware in ways that don’t look like gimmicks. I’ve never been the biggest fan of LittleBigPlanet (I think I’m just too impatient to put in the work necessary to create something decent), but I’m really looking forward to this. These are the kinds of games the Vita needs to play host to – something a bit different, something that takes the hardware into account, and something that can only be found on Vita.

I think it’s fair to say things are looking up somewhat for the Vita. Sony seem to be paying attention to it and some big-name titles are on the way, along with something new from Media Molecule. Sony still have an uphill battle in front of them, and there are still many unanswered questions (where the hell is Final Fantasy X HD!?), but today, I am a somewhat calmer Vita owner than I was after E3.

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