Over the course of its slightly rocky lifespan, the Vita has settled comfortably into a number of different roles – home to a great number of quirky Japanese games; part of an ongoing cross-buy scheme for indies with PS3/4 etc. Another area it arguably shines is as a home to play classic games, whether that be from PS1 classics; digital PSP games or Vita-native HD Collections and as such the console can pretty much be a portable home for decades of gaming history.
Yet it could be better. There are a few small tweaks that could’ve made the experience a whole even more impressive and although it’s a little late in the day for any changes to be made in this department, I thought I would write an article that would examine the things that hold back the Vita from being a mind-blowing portable PlayStation legacy system.
Let me preface this by saying that I still think the console does a fantastic job with it – both of my 64GB memory cards are filled with games that I played growing up and am happy to be able to take on the go with me. I still find it thrilling to be able to choose between the Spyro trilogy and the first three Metal Gear Solid games on the train and no amount of pointing out flaws will diminish that.
Disparity between stores
By far the biggest frustration in having the Vita as a portable legacy games device is the differences between each region’s PSN stores. As a European gamer I’ve always felt like we got the bum deal – things like the PS1 Megaman games are completely missing from the store, along with classic JRPG’s like Breath of Fire IV and Legend of Dragoon.
Yet things are arguably better on the EU store as a number of classic games are compatible which aren’t in the NA store – primarily the Crash and Spyro games which many people would consider the best PS1 classics to actually own on Vita in the first place.
The real reason for this frustration, of course, is because account-switching isn’t possible on the handheld. You can go through the awkward method of switching memory cards and reformatting, but this is fiddly and not really a practical solution. I’ve gotten around it by owning two consoles, one for each account, but this is a luxury not available to most.
The situation is aggravated by the existence of the Japanese store – filled to the brim with even more classics like my favourite PS1 fighting series Battle Arena Toshinden, yet these aren’t available in the west at all. I assume the reasoning for all of these discrepancies is ‘licencing issues’, but that’s a disappointing excuse for so many games to be locked to the region.
And on the topic of licencing issues, it’s particularly annoying to see games actually on PSN that are compatible with Vita but unable to be transferred to it. Thanks to the great glitch of 2014 users were able to confirm that pretty much every PS1 and PSP game on the store will run on Vita, but for some reason a number just can’t be transferred to it. Great games like Twisted Metal: Head On are listed but not transferable in both stores whereas some games are specific to a certain region – the Burnout titles work in NA but not EU. Hilariously, a great number of the incompatible-in-both games are actually Sony’s own releases.
Thankfully, Vita has done a great job of collecting the majority of the ‘highlights’ of each PlayStation era – from Crash on the PS1 and Patapon on the PSP through God of War on the PS2 and Littlebigplanet on the PS3. It’s perhaps because of this that the titles that aren’t there are more glaringly obvious and are mostly things that should have been addressed.
Some of these have been explained at various points in the past – Kingdom Hearts has had a history of not getting digital releases presumably due to the nature of the contracts signed at the time, while Tekken 3 features a licenced guest character in Gon. But others make little sense and gaps are there in every era – for example, the first WipEout game from PS1 is available, but the vastly superior 2097 is missing along with its successor Wip3out. The brilliantly weird Metal Gear Ac!d games from the PSP – which took the stealth-action gameplay and made it turn-based – are nowhere to be found.
Frustratingly, Vita released during a period when PS2 HD Collections were all the rage on PS3 and did a very good job of getting an initial few – Final Fantasy; Metal Gear Solid; Sly Cooper etc., yet it missed out on a whole bunch of others. Chief among them are things like Hitman and Splinter Cell – annoyingly Prince of Persia didn’t make the jump either, perhaps because ports of the second and third games exist on the PSP (which meant we missed out on the brilliant Sands of Time). The biggest offender among these is Zone of the Enders, which was actually announced for the console yet never materialized due to poor sales of the PS360 versions.
There’s a whole heap of other stuff – particularly from the PS1 era – that helped shape the console and is sadly missing from the store. There was a time I thought these gaps would have been slowly filled over time – Capcom in particular made a big effort to get their classic games on the store – but sadly other publishers didn’t make the same effort so we can only lament what could have been.
Even with the missing titles and incompatible games, Vita has access to a veritable goldmine of classic titles spanning five different PlayStation consoles. But if you like having them all with you at the same time, you may find yourself struggling without access to an internet connection. Sony – in their infinite wisdom – decided to focus on stopping piracy by using proprietary memory cards, yet never provided anything bigger than 64GB.
This means that – if you like collecting multiple different franchises in the same place, you’re limited to this (by modern standards) fairly small memory size. Considering Vita native games can regularly exceed 3GB; PSP games are pushing 1.8GB and PS1 games can be bigger than 1.5GB, it can fill up relatively quickly. This means you’re either forced to delete and re-download based on what you want to play, or take the hit on multiple cards.
And there’s no future proofing. Nintendo’s recently revealed Switch uses industry-standard micro SD cards which will be manufactured well after the console ceases production. Vita is left at the mercy of Sony continuing production which doesn’t seem likely given their lack of shipments of consoles to the west in recent months. Better hope that your 64GB card doesn’t fall fowl to the reportedly high failure rates.
There’s something bittersweet about the Nintendo Switch being announced and seemingly continuing Vita’s legacy of being a high-end portable with negligible western support but a sea of quirky Japanese games. I’m so happy it looks like I’m going to be able to play the games I love in the form factor I enjoy for at least another generation and that’s something to be excited about.
But as cool as that may be, it’ll never compare to the experience I’ve had on Vita largely due to the fact that I grew up on PlayStation. Playing N64 or Gamecube classics on Switch I’m sure will be neat – if they materialize – but for me nothing will beat having a portable way to play all the best Final Fantasies; Metal Gears and Tomb Raiders, or modern classics like Legend of Heroes and Persona alongside all these great new games.
Yet – as with everything Sony have done with Vita – it’s been half-hearted. The PSP games available consist of those which they bothered to get up on the store when PSP Go released and little else; PS1 classics appeared after a long wait with glaring gaps in availability and few additions have been added over the course of the console’s life. It would’ve been a simple way to add further value to a purchase, but seemingly Sony’s priorities were elsewhere.
And it’s only going to get worse.
If you’re reading this and thinking “you’re right Kresnik, the console is a great legacy gaming system, I’m going to dig mine out and play the classics” – my advice would be to act sooner rather than later. One of the important points of the almighty all-digital future is that licences can expire at any time, without warning, so games can disappear from the store in the space of an update.
Luckily we haven’t had too many casualties from this yet, but we’ve still seen games like Duke Nukem 3D; Midnight Club 3 and The Sims 2 removed from all regions, meaning if you didn’t grab them while you could, they’re gone forever (unless you’re into homebrew, but that’s a whole other conversation I won’t get into here).