Well, last Friday SONY rocked up to GAME HQ with cases more of them for us to play with, so that we're ready to help you when the PS Vita goes on sale on 22nd February. While we were having fun, we thought we'd share with you some of our first-hand experiences of this nifty new handheld.
Double the touchscreens, double the possibilities
At the front, a five inch OLED touchscreen. Bright, clear, crisp (the graphics were described as 'lush' by one staff member) and very responsive. Then there's the unique rear touch pad, and that's the real game-changer. You interact with games in ways you've never done so before, and the multi-touch feature means you can use multiple fingers on both pads at the same time.
In Little Deviants we poked the back of the PS Vita, to physically lift the world that we saw in the game and have our Deviant roll around in response. It felt like we were literally poking into the game itself and it's a refreshingly, immersive experience.
It's also put to good use in Escape Plan. As well as moving characters and obstacles with the front screen, you can use the rear pad to push objects towards (or away from) you and complete paths. Plus there are some moves that can only be done by 'pinching' both screens at once. Again, it's an incredible experience that needs to be enjoyed first hand!
Motion - captured!
The PS Vita comes armed with inbuilt motion sensors and gyroscopic controls, so the game will move in reaction to the way the PS Vita is being moved. We saw this highlighted in a few different games.
WipEout 2048 gives you the choice to play it safe and use the buttons and control sticks, or use the motion controls. Choose the latter - you'll tilt the PS Vita in your hands to steer your ship, slingshot around bends and overtake your rivals! Once you get used to it, you won't want to go back to using the control stick!
In Gravity Rush, after you stumble across a strange cat who (for some reason) grants you the ability to manipulate gravity, a whole realm of possibilities for a whole new type of platforming game are opened up. Specifically, moving your console around in 3D space to aim where your character will shift gravity to.
Both Little Deviants and Reality Fighters use the motion controls together with the rear camera, superimposing the action onto whatever you're pointing at and following the action around. It's real 360-degree gameplay that became less self-conscious the more we got into the games!
Two analogue sticks are better than one!
Successfully bridging the gap between the PS3 and PSP are the dual analogue sticks, giving a greater freedom - and variety - of control in all manner of games.
The forthcoming Super Stardust evolves the controls of the PSP version to something more akin to Smash TV (for you old school gamers!). The left stick moves your ship around, and the right stick is used to aim and fire your guns. This may sound simple, but the screen soon fills with tons of enemies and coordination between movement and aiming becomes crucial. On the PSP this was a tricky task; the Vita pulls it off beautifully.
Then there's the remote control carnage of Motorstorm RC. The steering, using the left stick, is responsive and quiet nippy, as you'd expect from a remote control car, with the cars being able to turn at extreme angles. Using the right analogue stick for acceleration and braking works like a dream as you can determine how much you brake or accelerate by how far you push the stick forward or pull it back.
ModNation Racers uses the second analogue in two very different ways - if you're lucky enough to be leading the pack you can see who's chasing after you, and by flicking the stick left or right you can bump into other players to knock them away.
Possibly the most visually appealing title so far shown off is Uncharted: Golden Abyss. PSP players have for a long time wanted to hold drake in their hands whilst on the move. As the Vita packs that second analogue that dream is now a reality as now you can aim and look around like you would on the PS3 versions. It handles like the PS3 version, too!
All together now...
Of all the games we played, there was one that proved to be surprisingly fun, and enjoyably addictive - Frobisher Says. Much like Wario Ware, Frobisher Says is a collection of mini games that use every feature of the PS Vita, whether it's to fan a lady using the motion controls, split clouds using the touch screen or even have your picture taken by the Vita's camera. It may not be at the top of everyone's list, but if you want a party piece to show the Vita's extra features off, look no further than Frobisher.
One thing that really stood out was how well-designed the PS Vita is for connecting with others, from online chat and 'Parties', to social networking through Facebook and Twitter, and, of course, PlayStation Network.
Thanks to the Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity of the PS Vita, mobile PSN Messaging from wherever you are is now possible. You also have access to over 300 PS1, PS Minis and PSP Essential games available to download at launch - and if you've already bought it, you can download it again no extra cost. You can even play music and rent movies.
For more social gaming, there's NEAR. If you're sat in, say, a coffee shop or restaurant that has Wi-Fi then you can turn on to NEAR that will show you all Vita players that are 'NEAR' to you. You'll be able to see what they are playing, and join them for a game. And with Crossplay, you can even play against PS3 players on certain games, with full compatibility.
There's also the trophies. For some, collecting trophies is an obsession and to know you can collect them on the go is brilliant. Much like the PS3 system, whenever you do something that is deemed worthy, like complete a level, come first in a race, set the fastest lap etc, you'll be awarded a trophy that your friends can see and become jealous of. And by connecting your PS Vita to Facebook, you'll be able to post a status showing off the trophies you have just collected. Your friends now have no escape from your trophy collecting skills!
With all these social and mobile features, plus the selection of mini-games, movies and music, the PS Vita appears to be the missing link between the PlayStation and modern smartphones.
Anything else we need to know?
The PS Vita is easy to use and to set-up. It comes with all the leads you need to power and charge it, and to connect to a PC to help manage your content. There's even a 'Welcome Park' to guide you through how to use it. It also comes with an Augmented Reality card to get you going with the AR features.
But the real treat is how you can personalise it. You can have up to 100 applications, and even have different applications running at once. You can move and customise your icons, menus and backgrounds, including taking your own screenshots from within the games you play. It really is your PS Vita, your way.
We had a great day enjoying everything the Vita had to offer. There really seems to be something for everyone, from the most casual of gamers to the most devoted PlayStation player, and SONY really seem to understand what modern, mobile gamers want.
We've got a PS Vita in every GAME store - with a lucky 150 stores having a nifty pod - so why not pop in and try one out yourself!