The first in a series of retrospectives I’m aiming to start with this article, looking back at various aspects of Vita’s gaming library.
While Sony’s initial claim that Vita will have fewer home-console ports than PSP did was somewhat accurate, the console has still been home to a large amount of porting from indies to AAA publishers. These have seen vastly different levels of success, with some being fantastic conversions of beloved games onto the handheld while others have been slapped together and pushed out of the door with little love.
What I’m taking a look at here is the companies handling these outsourced Vita ports – external teams that have been hired to bring a game to the console (I won’t be looking at any companies that port their own internal games to the console in this article).
In coming to my conclusion about the studio I’ll be evaluating things like the complexity of the games they’ve been porting; the way concessions and changes were made to bring the games to Vita (i.e. if were cuts made in the right places) and the end product that was left, giving my own opinion on each studio’s ability and a mini-rating.
I’ve set a limit – companies will have to have handled at least two different games in order for me to look at them, meaning teams like Iron Galaxy are out (Borderlands 2 was their only external port, as Divekick was an internal project). With that in place, I’ve ended with 12 different studios to examine.
So, with the introduction out of the way, we can dive right in!
Undoubtedly one of the more seasoned porting studios on Vita, Abstraction Games have handled a lot of projects. They got started early – porting Knytt Underground to the Vita for Ripstone in 2012 before bringing their own Duke-Nukem inspired game to PlayStation Mobile – Gun Commando – in early 2013.
Knytt was a great start to their porting history – a solid port of an interesting 2D platformer that showed a good level of polish, but it was mid-2013 when they got their big break in the world of Vita porting.
That break was Hotline Miami – the tough-as-nails 2D twitch shooter published by Devolver Digital which had already attained rave reviews on PC. Abstraction made sure the game made use of the Vita – touch screen controls were added for panning around the screen and a useful lock-on mechanic was introduced to get over the lack of keyboard and mouse controls. On top of this, the game ran beautifully – 60 FPS without any noticeable bugs or slowdown and featured a switch of engine under Abstraction. It was a great showcase for the ability of the studio to work on the handheld.
Following Hotline Miami, their partnership with Devolver continued strong – in 2015 they helped to bring Duke Nukem 3D; Hotline Miami 2 and Titan Souls to the console. These saw various levels of success – Duke Nukem 3D and Hotline Miami launched with a number of bugs, but many of these were later patched and in spite of this the games were generally optimised well, although Duke Nukem did little to make use of the Vita’s inputs.
Abstraction also formed a partnership with Orange Pixel, bringing their games Gunslugs and Heroes of Loot to Vita. Neither were particularly taxing games to be running on the hardware, though both seemed suitably optimized for the platform with no noticeable bugs or issues.
Their most recent project was A Boy and his Blob for Majesco Entertainment which transitioned beautifully to the handheld, looking gorgeous on the OLED screen and running with no major issues – with this, Abstraction definitely seem to have gotten their Vita groove back.
Future – Abstraction’s porting abilities seem to have caught the eye of bigger publishers, meaning a shift away from handing Vita jobs, with Spike Chunsoft hand picking the studio to port DanganRonpa 1 & 2 to Steam. Their ports of Broforce and Pixel Piracy for PS4 did recently attract some flak for being full of framerate issues, which I’m unsure have been resolved – maybe they need to come back to Vita porting!
In terms of future Vita projects, they currently have the minimalistic platformer 140 scheduled for release later in 2016. They had been hired by Keiji Inafune’s studio Comcept to port the Kickstarted Mighty No. 9 to Vita, but it appears they have been pulled from that project, so their future on the handheld remains unclear at this point.
Vita porting ability – Good
If Abstraction are one of the more seasoned porting studios on Vita, then Armature would be one of the highest profile in terms of the projects they’ve handled. While they’ve dabbled in Vita development of their own with the metroidvania-esque Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate, it’s their porting abilities for which they’ll be remembered.
Like Abstraction, they got started early – while Bluepoint Games (who will be discussed later in this article) dealt with getting the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection from PS2 to Ps3, Armature were handed the reins for porting the titles to Vita. After MGS3 had already come to handhelds a few months prior in a rather sketchy 3DS port, Armature showed what playing the franchise on the go should feel like with two brilliant ports.
Most impressive is the visuals – despite being PS2 games, both MGS titles look gorgeous on the Vita and take advantage of the system’s inputs, such as having weapons anchored in the corners of the touch screen. What’s most impressive is the framerate – while it can get slightly sketchy on both games, Armature managed to push out 60 FPS during indoor sections in MGS2 (though sadly had to concede 30 FPS during outdoor sections). It’s still highly impressive and both ports remain shining examples of how to do things on Vita.
Following on from this, Armature continued to get work porting games to Vita, with their next project being Injustice: Gods Among Us. This fighter followed on from Mortal Kombat 9 which was ported by the developers themselves and while running at a smooth 60 FPS, featured significant graphical downgrades making the game look more like a PSP title. While Armature’s Injustice doesn’t hit the same framerate consistency, with framedrops being common on certain stages, the game looked a lot better than Mortal Kombat and was generally a good transition to the handheld, sacrificing in the right places to make the game run well.
The following year Armature were contracted by Sony to port The Unfinished Swan to PS4 and Vita – like with their previous two games, this remained bug-free and ran well, showing a high level of skill with the Vita porting process by the studio.
Future – As with Abstraction, Armature caught the eye of bigger publishers – they’ve assisted 2K games with their Borderlands porting, but most notably were picked by Microsoft and Keiji Inafune to handle Recore – a new IP for the XB1. In yet another interesting parallel to Abstraction Games, Armature have been hired to port Kickstarter-spiritual-successor Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night to Vita which carries with it the unenviable task of bringing the whole engine (Unreal 4) to the console. The studio certainly have it in them, so let’s hope they don’t get pulled from the project too!
Vita porting ability – Amazing
Like Abstraction, another studio with a large amount of Vita porting experience under their belt and one of the go-to teams for indie porting, they’ve handled a number of projects of various sizes throughout the console’s lifespan.
Arguably the biggest title they handled came in the first year of Vita’s life, with the team being hired by SEGA to move Jet Set Radio to Vita, a game they’d ported to PS3 earlier that year. The transition to the handheld was smooth – graphics were good; framerate remained mostly solid and little touches like making use of the Vita’s touchscreen were added. A few issues were addressed in a patch, improving the draw distance and framerate in certain areas.
Following this, Blitworks received an absolute influx of work – Spelunky; Age of Zombies; Don’t Starve and Badland followed, all being solid ports of major indie titles which made a good move to the handheld (despite a minor blip with a crash bug introduced during a patch of Spelunky). They were also hired to port the ever-popular Super Meat Boy to PS4 & Vita and despite some questionable (but necessary) soundtrack changes, the port remained another feather in Blitworks’ cap.
Two ports stood out during this time, however – Bastion and Fez, both which featured various challenges Blitworks had to overcome during development which were documented in Gamasutra articles. For Fez, they detail moving the game from C# to C++, a mammoth task in itself, but they note that this did give them some advantages when moving Bastion across (there’s a whole other can of worms involving this that I’ll open some other time). The article shows the great effort made to get Bastion running at 60 FPS and it shows – although the game seems a little blurry at times and framerate drops, they seem to have done a marvelous job getting the game onto the console.
Sadly, like with every studio, there is a blip on their radar – and this blip is Dragon Fin Soup. The studio admitted they were unhappy with how that game turned out and pointed to the struggle of porting a game which was still in development at the time, but that doesn’t really excuse the technical mess that the game is on the console at present. There are, apparently, plans to re-release the title in future – lets hope this fixes the issues the game has.
Their most recent Vita port was Crypt of the Necrodancer, thankfully another excellent job running at 60 FPS and remaining bug-free throughout (and retaining the original soundtrack this time, too!), showing the age of Blitworks on Vita is far from over.
Future – At present, Blitworks have no upcoming Vita ports listed on their website – as with many of the developers in this article, they continue to receive work porting games to other consoles such as PS4 – most recently they worked on the PS4 port of Don’t Starve: Shipwrecked. However, a recent tweet suggests they’re still being commissioned to handle Vita ports, so it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds (and given their relationship with Supergiant Games, I can only hope a port of Transistor is in the pipeline!)
Vita porting ability – Good
Highly-sought-after porting wizards Bluepoint Games sneak into this article thanks to having handled exactly two Vita ports, both of which turned out extremely well. While they also ported both the God of War and Metal Gear Solid HD Collections to PS3, they were not retained for the Vita versions of these games and as such we only have the two titles to judge their ability.
But what an ability it is. No game better shows this off than PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale – no matter what you feel about the quality of the game itself, the quality of the port is sublime. Looking easily comparable to its PS3 counterpart despite all the mayhem happening on-screen, the title also maintains a surprisingly steady 60 FPS – which is important in a fast-paced fighting game. The Vita version is also optimized for the handheld’s inputs, with buttons mapping well and menus redesigned for a handheld screen, making a great package overall.
The following year, Bluepoint were again hired by Sony to port Thatgamecompany’s serene Flower to the Vita. Again this is a well-handled port – the game runs well; looks beautiful on the Vita’s screen (if a little jaggy) and uses the console’s abilities to its advantage. While the tilt and touch controls can feel a bit awkward at times, the experience was brought across in a great manner to the handheld and shows a fantastic level of porting skill from Bluepoint.
Future – Bluepoint really seemed to hit the big time after 2012, gaining various high-profile projects such as moving Gravity Rush from Vita to PS4; moving the Uncharted games from PS3 to PS4 and handling the Xbox 360 version of Titanfall. The team currently have no upcoming Vita ports announced and it seems unlikely that any more will happen, given their last dabble with the handheld was in 2013. With Sony all but abandoning the handheld outside of Gio’s team, Bluepoint’s mastery of the console seems to have come to an end.
Vita porting ability – Amazing
Probably one of the most under-rated studios in terms of their Vita support, Climax haven’t developed a tonne of Vita games – but they’ve been a constant presence on the console since its first year, developing both original content and ports.
Climax started their experience on Vita by developing the exclusive brain-training game Smart As. It ran on Unreal Engine – an engine with little documentation available for Vita. Despite this, the title looked good and ran well and laid the foundation for the studio’s later work on Vita – Assassin’s Creed Chronicles Trilogy, a 2D sidescroller which again used Unreal. Things were a little more tricky for AC with the game sometimes looking washed-out, but in general was a good attempt.
Smart As was developed under Sony’s XDev European studio and it was this partnership that would lead to their porting work. Climax were handed the reins to two of Housemarque’s titles in 2014 – the first being Dead Nation, the PS3 twin-stick shooter which they were tasked with bringing to PS4 & Vita. The Vita version is a solid port with some issues – most notably frame-rate drops and audio loss, meaning the experience isn’t optimal but remains a good way to play the game.
Climax were also given the much more daunting task of bringing Housemarque’s voxel-based shooter Resogun from PS4 to PS3 & Vita that same year. Surprisingly the game appears to be a much more solid port – although choosing to drop the framerate from 60 to 30 FPS, it stays locked at this and looks a treat on the console too, full of explosions and colour on the screen at all times. It was with this game that Climax proved themselves a worthy porting studio – clearly having a level of understanding for the console.
Future – At present it’s unclear whether Climax are going to work on any further Vita ports – the studio has only just finished shipping Assassin’s Creed Chronicles for consoles with no new projects announced. With Sony pulling away from Vita support it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to team up with XDev again – although Housemarque do have a new twin-stick shooter available on PS4 that’s just itching for a Vita outing (Alienation).
Vita porting ability – Solid
A studio with a vast history of retro-game porting that’s relatively new to the Vita scene, Code Mystics have already begun to impress thanks to the care they’ve taken updating a number of titles from the SNK back catalogue – a job it looks like they’re going to continue doing into the future.
Their first project for the handheld was Nidhogg, the odd retro-inspired indie duelling game. While hardly a taxing title to be running on Vita, Code Mystics added a number of cool features, such as the ability for two people to play on the same Vita, as well as ad-hoc and PSTV support. It’s a level of care that few developers extend to their Vita games and feels right at home with Nidhogg.
Following on from this, Code Mystics got to try their hand at their first SNK port – Metal Slug 3. As a Neo Geo game, there’s nothing that should be too troubling for the Vita here (the game was already available on PSP), but it’s still ported with a level of care – for example adding two player support on PSTV. The game runs well enough and highlights the skill with which the team handle retro game ports.
Their expertise was once again put to good use on a port of the SNES sidescroller Super Star Wars, sadly the only game Vita got from the Star Wars push Sony orchestrated at the end of 2015. Once again a solid effort with no major issues, at this point Code Mystics were beginning to show just how worthy they are among the Vita porting elite.
But it’s not just retro games that they’re asked to handle. Earlier this year they were chosen to bring the PC roguelike Risk of Rain to PS4 & Vita, a job they handled extremely well. While the game can sometimes have performance issues when there’s too much happening on screen, overall it’s a good port of a great game and well suited to blasts of play on the handheld.
Their most recent Vita project has been The Last Blade 2, the samurai fighting game from SNK. In some ways this version was better than its PS4 brother – solid 60 FPS, stable netcode and less input lag, a rare feat among games on the handheld and a testiment to just how well the team understand the Vita.
Future – The team is continuing its retro porting, bringing Atari Vault to Steam in March of this year. Gio Corsi also recently announced that Code Mystics will be handling the PS4 & Vita versions of Garou: Mark of the Wolves – another SNK game and semingly fan-favourite among fighting fans. With Gio seemingly planning further Neo Geo game updates (and being the only person left at Sony allowed to support the Vita), it seems likely we’ll be seeing further Code Mystics ports on the handheld in future.
Vita porting ability – Amazing
Curve Digital (previously Curve Studios)
Curve specialize in helping indie developers bring their games to console and in doing so have handled their fair share of ports to Vita from very early in the console’s life. While they seem to be shifting away from this, they’ve still provided a vast array of games for the handheld.
Not least, Curve have ported their own titles across – Stealth Inc. 1 & 2, a pair of punishing stealth platformers that were well received and felt right at home on the handheld.
In early 2013, they brought their first external port to the platform – Proteus, an open-world exploration game with an interesting pixel art aesthetic. Despite opinions on the game itself, it’s hard to deny it looked gorgeous on the OLED screen and performed well, marking a great start to their history on the console.
They followed Proteus with a number of other titles – the survival horror game Lone Survivor; quirky puzzle game Mousetrap; narrative-based platformer Thomas was Alone and 2D puzzle-exploration game The Swapper. All of these looked great and ran well on Vita, ushering in a great period of independent games on the console.
The support continued well into 2015, but quality of porting took a little bit of a hit. Nova-111 launched to some rather odd stuttering and framerate issues which were similar to those seen in later levels of The Swindle. While nothing gamebreaking, it was a bit of a shame to see after the brilliance of their previous ports. They capped off the year with Pumped BMX+, another great port that really popped with colour on the Vita’s screen and seemed to run extremely well, suggesting the previous two games had just been exceptions.
So far in 2016, Curve have only worked on one Vita game – the lightning-fast platformer 10 Second Ninja X. The title is another great porting job – although graphically simple, it looks great and runs well, which is essential when playing a precision-based game like this.
Future – The future of Curve’s games on Vita remains unclear – previously well committed to the platform, they seem to have taken a shift in their approach. Games which were previously listed as coming to Vita such as Hue are seemingly now PS4/XB1 only; games which were supposed to come to Vita later like Action Henk are stuck in limbo and new projects such as Manuel Samuel were never even planned for it. Despite this, they still seem committed to bringing indies to consoles and have a whole lineup of games planned for PS4, XB1 and in some cases PC.
Vita porting ability – Good
Frima is a team that has worked on more Vita projects than you might have realised; the Canadian-based developer has attempted to run a business making games across a whole range of platforms – from consoles to mobile to web-based games. They got off to a flying start on Vita, bringing a sequel to their quirky PlayStation mini RTS Zombie Tycoon to the console in 2012, before bringing the side-scrolling brawler Nun Attack across in 2013.
Undoubtedly the game they’re most notorious for on the console, for better or worse, is Resident Evil Revelations 2. The team were handed this job after PlayStation Experience 2014, where Gio Corsi officially announced the port was being handled by his Third-Party-Productions team, their third larger scale project after Borderlands 2 and Ultra Street Fighter IV. As with those previous two games, Resident Evil was sadly plagued with issues – muddy graphics; graphical bugs; inconsistent framerate; long loading times etc. It was far from an optimal porting job and although bigger in scale than most of the games in this article, clearly needed longer in the oven to finish up.
Despite the mess that was Resident Evil, Frima continued to work with Third Party Productions, taking on a port of Hitman Go as their next project for both Vita and PS4 earlier this year. A much more straightforward game, the project turned out a lot better, with no major issues in either performance or graphics.
Future – Interestingly, there’s two potential areas where we could see Frima continue to port to the console in future. The first is with Square-Enix’s ‘Go’ series – after Hitman Go, the company followed up with two sequels on mobiles – Lara Croft Go and Deus Ex Go. Depending on how well Hitman did on consoles, we could well see Frima transitioning the latter two games across at a later date.
In addition, Frima recently announced a partnership with Oddworld Inhabitants to work on Oddworld: Soulstorm, a re-imagining of the PS1 title Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus. They take over this duty from a studio I’ll be looking at in a few seconds – Just Add Water – who previously handled the porting of three other Oddworld games onto Vita. Whether Soulstorm comes to the console is up in the air, but it’s certainly possible based on what we’ve seen so far.
Vita porting ability – Solid
Just Add Water
Probably most well known for their partnership with Oddworld Inhabitants, JAW started life developing the PSP/PS3 title Gravity Crash – a game they later ported to Vita in an expanded release. Despite this, they have done a fair amount of other Vita porting in their time despite being relatively unknown.
Their first release for the console slinked out just before the end of 2012 in the form of Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD. Despite looking slightly less sharp and running at a more variable framerate than its PS3 counterpart, the game was still an impressive feat on the handheld. JAW subsequently worked on a further Oddworld port for Vita – Munch’s Oddysee HD in December 2014 which was similar to Stranger in its execution – slightly graphically and performance inferior, but a generally solid effort that is well worth owning on the console. I’m informed that Just Add Water were not involved with New ‘n’ Tasty on Vita, signaling the end of their partnership with the historic franchise on the handheld.
It seems 2016 has been a very Vita-busy year for JAW, as they released Volume for the console in January – a port of Mike Bithell’s Metal Gear Solid VR-Missions inspired stealth game. Generally, the game performed well aside from a few minor issues, and looked delightful on the Vita’s OLED screen. It had been delayed from a previous August 2015 launch date seemingly to tune the game up – a wise decision judging by the end product.
JAW also handled the Vita port of Lumo this year, which sadly hasn’t been as impressive a job as their other projects. The game has a stutters when entering rooms, poorly scaled text and generally seems like a lower effort job, although the team have been making efforts to improve this by patching the title following launch.
Future – As previously mentioned, JAW are no longer assisting with Oddworld development – a job handed to Frima Studio instead. The team are continuing to get porting work, handling Cities: Skylines for XB1 and Volume Coda for PSVR. It seemed likely they working on the Vita port of Poncho, it being published by Rising Star Games (Lumo) and still scheduled to release on the console, but I’m informed that’s not the case either, meaning it’s unclear what the future holds for the team with Vita.
Vita porting ability – Good
Mass Media Inc.
Mass Media were prominent in the early PS3 days in helping studios struggling to get a handle on the console port their games across – in particular they were a favourite of the late THQ. In 2012 Sony gave them the task of bringing the Jak & Daxter trilogy to the HD era and they had a well-documented struggling porting the three titles to PS3 thanks to Naughty Dog’s technical wizardry on the PS2. So while nobody should’ve been surprised when they were asked to also bring the games to Vita, it was a feat of porting work that would end up too much for them.
Put simply, the Jak & Daxter Trilogy is a mess. Framerates are all over the place (particularly in the first and third games); there’s input lag making platforming harder than it needs to be; visuals are no-where near as sharp as they should be and to top it all off, the games are really buggy. There’s a general lack of care shown in the release too, for example the memory card icon still displaying when the game saves and there’s even the option for controller vibration in the menus.
Personally, I’m just glad these games came to Vita since having my favourite trilogy from the PS2 era on the go is a joy. With that said, the game really shouldn’t have released in the state it did and while I can give Mass Media sympathy for the daunting task of porting three almost-coded-to-the-metal PS2 games, they should have done a better job than this at the very least in testing and bug-fixing.
So when Mass Media were also tasked with bringing the Ratchet & Clank Trilogy to Vita, fans were understandably worried. Thankfully, the games are ported with a bit more care – framerates are generally solid for starters – but the package is still littered with issues. There’s input lag; audio issues as well as a game-breaking crash bug on the retail version of the second title. Again, the trilogy seems like a rush job with little care put into it.
Future – It seems unlikely Mass Media will be contracted to work on Vita again, with no more HD Collections planned for Vita and Sony well and truly pulling the plug on this type of game. The company seem to have moved on to home console porting (helping with Evolve on PS4 last year) which looks like it’ll be their focus going forward.
Vita porting ability – Poor
An interesting little team, Sanzaru’s porting history goes back to the end of the PS2’s lifespan, when there were tasked with bringing the then-PSP-exclusive Secret Agent Clank to the aging console. Presumably this opened the door into a longer-standing relationship with Sony, because the very next year they were handed the reins to the Sly Cooper franchise, bringing the Sly Collection to PS3 in 2010. But it didn’t stop there – Sanzaru begun developing their own Sly sequel, Thieves in Time, which ended up releasing on both PS3 and Vita – being their first taste of handheld development.
In an odd move, despite the fourth game in the series releasing on Vita in 2013, a year later Sanzaru were tasked with going back and porting the first three games to the handheld in the form of the Sly Trilogy. Obviously used to Vita development after their experience with Thieves in Time, the Sly Trilogy is a port which seems to get everything right – touch controls are there but not intrusive; visuals look sharp on the Vita’s screen and the framerate is consistent. There’s little niggles such as extremely compressed cutscenes, but generally it’s an example of a good port.
Sadly the same cannot be said for their handling of the God of War Collection, which is a fairly sloppy job. The game was handled by the aforementioned Bluepoint Games on PS3, who did a stand up job improving the visuals and framerate. Sadly, on Vita the visuals are undoubtedly worse and framerate is dropped even from the PS2 originals – and on top of this, is incredibly inconsistent too. At least Sanzaru put the effort into incorporating Vita’s inputs rather un-intrusively, but it’s not enough to save a fairly lacklustre porting job.
Future – Sanzaru have recently handled two games in the Sonic the Hedgehog spinoff franchise Sonic Boom – amusingly receiving more acclaim for their handheld side-project than the main home console version. On top of this the team seem to be experimenting with VR through Oculus Rift and their relationship with Sony seems to be at a dead end, so future Vita porting seems highly unlikely.
Vita porting ability – Solid
As with Code Mystics, a team that are relatively new to the Vita porting scene yet have already made a good impression thanks to some solid jobs and some interesting behind-the-scenes engine work on Monogame too.
Their first project on the console only arrived in summer of last year, with Sickhead handling Octodad: Dadliest Catch, the silly physics-based adventure game from Young Horses. While the port has a fair few things stripped out and graphical fidelity leaves something to be desired, generally the port runs well and is a great first outing onto the console, showing they do know where to make cuts to get a game running well.
Following on from this and having already brought the game to PS4, Sickhead were tasked with bringing the once-Ouya-exclusive Towerfall Ascension to Vita. The team showed a lot of love for the game, bringing across ad-hoc and PSTV local multi-player support – essential for a competitive game like this, while maintaining performance. Not the most taxing of Vita ports, but still a solid effort nonetheless.
The studio was also involved with bringing Axiom Verge to the Vita, although my understanding is the developer actually finished the project himself, so I’m unsure just how much they were involved in that particular game.
Future – Sickhead are currently working on the port of Darkest Dungeon for both PS4 & Vita, as well as the XB1 version of Axiom Verge. They’re also porting Stardew Valley to PS4/WiiU/XB1. Although there’s no Vita port announced, their familiarity with the platform and experience with Monogame means it’s more than just a possibility, so let’s hope that one becomes a reality in the near future.
Vita porting ability – Good
Despite the belief that Vita ports are often an afterthought, there are a lot of studios out there that have put a lot of love and attention into getting the games they’re tasked with porting running well on the handheld. There certainly are rush jobs out there, but there are an incredible network of developers working hard on bringing quality Vita content to the handheld.
How far into the future this will continue remains unclear as developers shift priorities with Vita reaching its twilight years, but there’s certainly enough to look forward to in the hands of developers that can be relied on that Vita fans should be more than happy for the foreseeable future.