Like the contrite parent of a neglected child, I’ve missed the PlayStation Vita’s 10th Birthday in February, and now I’m trying to make it up to it. Though, in my defense, it’s not like Sony tried to remind me or anything…
I’m still fascinated by this handheld’s turbulent history. It was hyped up as a slick next-gen handheld capable of HD console experiences. It launched with an impressive variety of games. From Sony blockbuster exclusives like Uncharted: Golden Abyss, to cross-platform releases like Need for Speed: Most Wanted, the Vita promised AAA games on the go. But it just… it didn’t take off. It became Sony’s biggest financial loss ever since the company entered the video game industry. A lot of factors influenced that, many of them from Sony’s own hand. But the interesting twist is that once Sony gave up on its lofty ambitions, this misfit console became a haven for many misfit games. Once Sony stopped trying to make the Vita grow up to become a rich businessman, it became an incredible punk rocker. It’s a rare case study where a console became more defined by its fans than by the company that made it in the first place.
Unfortunately I wasn’t around during the PlayStation Vita’s time in the spotlight, though “spotlight” may not be the correct term — more like its time as a movie extra. I adopted a PlayStation Vita in 2019, and it was just in time. I bought the system itself as well as a modest collection of physical games for an astoundingly cheap price, right before the Vita became a “collector’s item” and shot up in value. I’ve been unable to acquire more physical games since then. However, thanks to Sony changing their mind and keeping the Vita’s digital store open, I’ve been slowly downloading digital exclusives and going through the rest of its library that way. Yes, that’s right, the PlayStation Vita is going to have its digital store online for longer than its more successful competitor, the Nintendo 3DS. What a cruel irony.
After an extended period of time with the system, I gotta say, I think the Vita has some excellent hardware features that still keep it relevant today. The controls make it the most comfortable and versatile handheld I’ve ever owned. It feels snug, light, and clicky. The D-Pad is especially ideal for 2D games. I don’t care much for the back touchscreen, but I appreciate the gyroscope and how most games support gyro aiming. The OLED screen is, of course, beautiful, and thankfully there are several games that use this screen to its full potential — from the psychedelic opening movie of Persona 4 Golden, to the papercraft worlds of Tearaway, the Vita still boasts some of the most photogenic games on the market.
Overall the Vita has an excellent library, better than most people give it credit for. This past year my Vita was a valuable resource for helping me play through almost all of the Metal Gear Solid games. It’s also been my gateway to Sony IPs that I’ve missed like LittleBigPlanet, Killzone, and Sly Cooper. The console is a neat time machine for landmark indie games of the 2010’s like Fez, Super Meat Boy, and Papers, Please. In fact, I actually prefer to play a lot of indie games on the Vita thanks to its OLED screen, dual analog sticks, and D-Pad.
For me, though, the games that have truly defined my time on the PlayStation Vita have been the weird games, the misfit games, the niche games that don’t get much press. Gravity Rush is a perspective-bending open world experience. Vanillaware’s 2D masterpieces Muramasa Rebirth and Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir made me a fast fan of this underrated studio. I’m so happy that I can soon play their newest game 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim on the Nintendo Switch. Wipeout 2048 introduced me to a highly-specific subgenre, Futuristic Racing, that I had no idea I’d love. I still have many more games to try, too, like the generation-spanning JRPG Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines as well as a massive backlog of classic Persona and Ys games.
The PlayStation Vita earned a small yet dedicated fanbase, and while I may not consider myself the most hardcore of this bunch, I can’t help but love this little console. I love its niche library, I love its comfortable hardware, and I love its strange history. I’ve seen a lot of anniversary posts that talk about “Why the Vita Died,” or “The Missed Potential of the PlayStation Vita,” and I feel like these journalists are missing the point. It doesn’t matter if the Vita sold poorly — it formed its own definition of success, and it stuck to it. If you take any lesson from the PlayStation Vita, it’s this: don’t put on any other person’s definition of success. Make it yourself. Be the weird person you want to be. Dive into those niche topics. Make what speaks to you. It’s better to shine bright for a few than flicker dully for many.