It’s a great time to be a handheld gamer. Right now, you have an impressive amount of options if you want to take your games on the go. For years, the Nintendo Switch provided console-quality games that can be played on a TV or in handheld mode. The Steam Deck grants that same flexibility to your PC gaming library. The Analogue Pocket breathes new life into classic Game Boy cartridges, while the Playdate offers intriguing indie games and a crank-based control scheme. Take your pick!
So why are there people in 2022 still seriously pining after the notorious flop known as the PlayStation Vita? Why is there this weird growing affection, this sense of nostalgia for nothing? Sales success, or lack thereof, absolutely does not directly determine the quality of a product. Plenty of bad things sell well, while great things languish. Still, a decade after Vita’s launch, it’s more clear than ever that the little handheld that couldn’t wasn’t hip or underrated. We must face the reality that the PlayStation Vita was simply never good.
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A Pretty Face
In 2012, there were plenty of reasons to believe the PlayStation Vita had a bright life ahead of it. Vita means life! While the PlayStation Portable didn’t topple the gargantuan Nintendo DS, Sony’s first handheld was a nifty, little machine that sold well and had plenty of great games. Remember Lumines and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker? If Sony were to learn the right lessons and build on that momentum, the next-gen PSP would fly high.
“We must face the reality that the PlayStation Vita was simply never good.”
The Vita also launched into a welcoming market. Between its high initial price and questionable 3D gimmick, the Nintendo 3DS struggled to replicate its predecessor’s record-shattering sales. And at this point, hardcore gamers knew that mobile games would never fully satisfy their portable needs. All this created ripe opportunities for the Vita, as Sony tends to do its best work by staying steady while competitors stumble.
I will never ever deny that, strictly as a piece of hardware, the PlayStation Vita is incredibly slick. Like the PSP, it had enough power to almost rival contemporary consoles, in this case the PlayStation 3. The original model included a stunning OLED display, years before similar devices adopted the gorgeous screen tech. It dropped the PSP’s fragile spinning disc drive for trusty cartridges, and it had enough high-quality buttons and analog sticks to play any modern game. If it’s cool enough for Netflix‘s House of Cards, it’s cool enough for you. In theory, the PlayStation Vita is an extremely appealing gaming platform.
Stop the Madness
The Vita hardware isn’t perfect. Annoyances big and small include its pointless, touch-sensitive back panel, a reliance on needlessly expensive proprietary memory cards, and a 3G partnership with AT&T that literally caused reporters to boo and laugh out loud(Opens in a new window). However, even the greatest hardware ever built would still be worthless without software. At the end of the day, none of that theoretical appeal mattered because the Vita’s games were also theoretical.
What on Earth is anyone (legally) playing on the PlayStation Vita? Its “console-quality” games include iffy ports or direct-to-video-style spin-offs of Call of Duty, Killzone, and Uncharted. How much life can you squeeze out of Persona 4 Golden or Gravity Rush? Tearaway is kind of neat. Playing indie games on the go rules, but they aren’t enough to sustain a system sold on raw specs. I’d argue the Vita gained its most use via Remote Play with the much more popular PlayStation 4.
This telling lack of acknowledgement for the Vita’s truly abysmal library is, to me, the main thing that separates it from other failed consoles that nonetheless receive lots of love. The Dreamcast stirs up emotions for the end of Sega’s console business, but it also has iconic games like Jet Set Radio, Rez, and Shenmue. The Wii U is a cumbersome and confusing console with a questionable control scheme, but it also has the unbelievably strong first-part lineup you expect from Nintendo.
The Vita has none of this. It’s a pretty but empty shell, and Sony is to blame. By the time the PS4 rolled out less than two years after Vita’s debut, its parent company seemed to almost instantly drop support. Denied of the shrunken-down AAA blockbusters that were its whole pitch, the Vita was left in a zombified limbo for the rest of its sad existence. It sold less than 15 million units (for comparison, that’s one tenth of the PS2’s sales) and killed Sony’s interest in future handhelds.
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Vita Means Death
No fanbase has a monopoly on brainworms. Reporting on video games teaches you that lesson super quick. But I think the reason why Sony fans have such a hard time coping with the Vita’s complete failure is because they just aren’t used to it. Even less beloved PlayStation devices, such as the PS3 and PSP, still sold very respectably. Very few Sony gaming products have completely tanked like the Vita. Meanwhile, Nintendo and Xbox fans have already accepted that sometimes their consoles are duds. The PlayStation 5’s success should assure fans that the company will be just fine. The most recent State of Play(Opens in a new window) showcased exciting upcoming games, such as Final Fantasy XVI, Resident Evil 4 Remake, and Street Fighter 6, not to mention PlayStation VR2. Sony doesn’t need zealots spinning one embarrassing blunder into something that it isn’t.
I get why the vocal Vita faithful want to keep deluding themselves into thinking a game system with no games is somehow the greatest handheld ever. The PlayStation Vita presented a powerful promise, a device that blurred the arbitrary line between handheld and console games, and let you play whatever you want wherever you want. However, that promise existed before the Vita. After all, Nintendo’s handhelds historically included ports from older consoles. In cotemporary times, the Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck play everything from epic adventures (like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt) to an indie gems (like French cheating simulator Card Shark). They are way better Vitas than the Vita.
Feel however you want about the games you play, and the ways you play them. But there comes a time when you must view history with clarity. In 2022, it’s far past time to see that the Vita, despite its fleeting initial potential, was ultimately nothing more than a bomb. It left behind a library and legacy shockingly devoid of meaning, substance, or value. Admit it was bad and move on, as Sony clearly has. Download whatever you’re nostalgic for off the store before it’s shut down. Don’t eulogize the PlayStation Vita. Bury it.
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