Handheld gaming has been around for decades now - starting with the Gameboy in the middle of 1989. Since then, there have been many different iterations on handheld gaming by many different console manufacturers, with the most notable handhelds being made by Nintendo and Sony. Sony was originally able to flourish in the handheld console market, as the PlayStation Portable (PSP) offered a more hardcore handheld experience than their child-friendly competitor. However, Sony's next handheld line, the PlayStation Vita, was largely viewed as a failure in terms of lasting appeal in the gaming community, and it has been largely left out of Sony's marketing campaigns.
The fact that the PlayStation Vita is viewed in such a poor light is a crime to the console itself. Prior to the Nintendo Switch, the PlayStation Vita had the best specs of a handheld, and it was capable of outputting graphics that looked on par with the PlayStation 3, all while offering portability and ease of use. The Vita initially launched with some AAA titles, and eventually grew into the JRPG and Indie portable console that it's popular for these days. Regardless of current support for the PS Vita, there are plenty of classics that shouldn't be turned down simply because they were on the Vita.
Console Experience in Handheld Form
Much like the PSP before it, the PlayStation Vita prided itself on being able to deliver the experience of a traditional console in the convenience of a handheld. In order to innovate on its previous iteration, Sony gave the Vita touch-screen functionality along with a dual analog stick setup. While the touch screen had been done prior with the Nintendo DS, Sony took it a step further by adding a touch screen on the back of the console, allowing for more input options - albeit with a slight learning curve due to how foreign the concept was at the time. The second analog stick was what truly let the Vita feel more like a traditional console, as it more closely resembled the types of controllers we were use to - something which took the competition years to get down properly. These features, along with more powerful specs, allowed the Vita to push handheld gaming to an extent that was previously impossible.
One feature that has unfortunately gone to the wayside as the Vita becomes less popular is cross-functionality. Using a wi-fi connection, the PlayStation Vita was able to be transformed into a miniature version of the PlayStation 3/4, allowing you to play games such as Destiny and Batman: Arkham Knight while relaxing in bed or in another room away from your home console. The cross-functionality also allowed for other features such as sharing digital copies between the PS4 and Vita, and even let certain games be played online with both Vita and PS4 users. The cross-functionality of the Vita is often overlooked, but it is a very innovative idea for creating a more unified experience between the home and handheld consoles.
Strong Initial Support
Some of the strongest titles on the PlayStation Vita were the ones released as early as the launch of the system. The launch lineup of the Vita included games such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, which hinted at a future of AAA mainstream games being brought over to the system. Japanese titles such as Gravity Daze, - one of the Vita's most recognizable titles - Blazblue: Continuum Shift, and Dynasty Warriors also brought forth the idea that the Vita would receive plenty of support from Japanese developers.
The diversity in launch titles promised a rich future for the amount of games that would be available on the system - which made it all the more painful when much of that support dropped with the coming years. Much of the AAA support for the Vita was gone following the first year, and that was something which gamers quickly took notice of when it came to the system. Lack of more mainstream titles as time went on unfortunately meant that the core market was drying up, and gamers were purchasing the system less. However, there was still a growing market in the PS Vita in other aspects.
The Vita's Core Audience
The PlayStation Vita did not end up grasping onto the core Western market as was originally intended. Whereas the console was forgotten in the mainstream audience, there was an ever-expanding market for JRPGs and Indie titles on the Vita. The indie library for the Vita was massive, and Sony's acceptance of indie games made the Vita into the only portable platform for many of these games, outside of carrying a laptop around. The amazingly vast indie library gave the Vita more of an identity after it failed to capture AAA interest, and the Vita is certainly a console to check out because many of these amazing titles can be played on the go.
Along with the indie community, the Vita had a large amount of JRPG games associated with it, with some of the most popular ones being Persona 4 Golden and World of Final Fantasy. These games offered hundreds of hours of content and story to plow through, and a game such as Persona was a perfect fit for the portable system. Being able to complete a few side-quests or level up characters while on the train or bus was an extreme convenience, and with the growing popularity of handhelds in the Japanese market, it is no surprise that so many JRPGs made it to the console. While some may see the amount of JRPGs as a detraction from the console, it is great for any fan of the genre that also wants to take the adventure on the go.
While support for new AAA games was lacking on the Vita, there were plenty of older games that were ported to the system which gained new traction due to the portability. Many classic games were brought to the Vita, such as Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy X, allowing for fans of those series to bring them wherever they like. For many of these games, it was previously unheard of for them to be brought onto a portable system prior to the Vita. It wasn't just older games either, as the Vita eventually got more recent titles (at the time) such as Sly 4 and Borderlands 2. While not as graphically impressive as their console versions, it was fantastic to be able to explore the worlds of these games while out and about. The PlayStation Vita was the first true portable console which succeeded in bringing the AAA console experience to a handheld, an impressive feat for any gaming handheld to possess.
Along with ports, the PlayStation Vita had access to a wide selection of PlayStation One games through the PlayStation Store. Many of these classics ran perfectly on the Vita - thanks to the console having controls similar to those of a typical Dualshock controller. Once again, being able to carry around and play Tomb Raider wherever you like is a refreshing experience, with the biggest negative being that there simply weren't enough PS1 games that were released for the system. Unfortunately, some of the most renowned titles - Crash and Spyro being the most obvious - are missing from the Vita's store, and will likely not be released due to the overall lack of support from Sony. Another welcome addition would have been PlayStation 2 titles, which the Vita could run without a doubt, and would have added even more incentive for gamers to grab themselves the console.
The Vita's Folly
Despite all of the great features and how extensive the gaming library actually is, the PlayStation Vita was not without its faults. One of the most glaring problems with the console was that, while it was being touted as a AAA console in the form of a handheld, the console got very little support from Sony as the years went by. As the PlayStation 4 was nearing release, there was less advertisement for the Vita overall, with the main reason for this being the fact that cross-play made developing for the PlayStation Vita redundant. Very few games are released exclusively for the Vita, with many of the recent and upcoming notable games like Danganronpa V3 and Persona 5: Dancing Moon/Star Night also being available for the PlayStation 4. The PlayStation Vita was also more expensive to develop for than its competition - thanks in large part due to the higher specs requiring more attention and development time. Due to how profitable the PlayStation 4 is for Sony, there is very little reason for them to continue pushing the Vita considering how poorly it did financially.
The other reason why Sony refuses to develop for the Vita - as well as why they will likely not make another portable system soon - is that the market is shifting more towards mobile games on phones and less towards the traditional handhelds of the past. The biggest hope for the future of Sony's portable consoles is ironically their competitor, as Nintendo making a profit from the Switch could be the push that Sony needs to make a new handheld of their own. Considering how many classics Sony has in their library, as well as the amount of quality titles they put out on the PlayStation 4, there is potential for a hybrid console from Sony once the PlayStation 4 needs a successor.
The PlayStation Vita has largely become forgotten by the gaming world at large, which is a shame considering how neat the concept was for its time and the library that came with it. While it may not be the most impressive library for the common gamer, the Vita certainly filled a niche in audiences looking for more Japanese-developed titles or indie titles. The market may be shifting more towards phone games, but that doesn't stop us from hoping that Sony does release a new portable system that will hopefully innovate and improve on some of the problems that the Vita faced. Given Sony's track record, it's no doubt that they can at least come up with an interesting system to try and lure in the hardcore gaming audience once more.
While we may believe that the PlayStation Vita is the most underrated console, what is one console that you think is underrated these days? Be sure to leave a comment on your favorite underrated console or game for us to check out!