In today’s gaming market it seems that late, expanded ports are becoming an increasingly common occurrence – a title isn’t just released once, but tinkered with and re-released months or years later with extra content included to help convince people to double dip. While this brings many advantages (most notably, helping the games increase their audience with new buyers on new consoles) it also has some disadvantages (namely frustrating buyers of the original version who may feel like they’ve gotten a bad deal).
Thanks to the timing of Vita’s release and its relative power compared to home consoles at the time (PS3 & Xbox 360), it saw the benefit of a number of these late ports that included extra content that have remained arguably the ‘definitive’ versions to this day. It’s these games that I’m aiming to look at in this article – titles which have extra bells and whistles on Vita that I wouldn’t class as fully ‘exclusive’ games (as the base versions can still be played on other consoles) but offer a bespoke and expanded experience on the handheld that’s worth checking out.
Ar nosurge Plus
Japanese developer Gust, known for their prowess with turn-based RPGs, made Vita their home for seven years during which time they ported numerous titles across from PS3 to the handheld. Ar nosurge was a strange case – it was a sequel to a Vita-only title called Ciel nosurge yet only launched on Sony’s home console (where it saw particularly modest sales), but less than a year later this was rectified and the game was also brought to the portable machine.
The extra time in the oven meant that extra content was included in the Vita port (justifying the Plus subtitle) to ensure it was the definitive version (and a brilliant game in any event) – new costumes were added for all the characters, as well as new tutorials and balancing tweaks. The game also included three new characters to have ‘purification’ events with (intimate conversations in a pool of water) as well as all the DLC from the PS3 port included on the cart – meaning that if you want to visit the Surge Concerto universe, the Vita version is absolutely the best way to do it.
Civilization Revolution 2 Plus
Originally developed as a simplified version of the complex and intense 4X gameplay of Sid Meier’s Civilization series, Civilization Revolution landed on consoles in 2008 and was quickly followed by a sequel which oddly only hit mobile devices (Android/iOS) in 2014. Eventually, this sequel was brought to Vita (in an odd reversal of tradition, to Japan first followed by the west) complete with tonnes of extra bells and whistles that made it the best possible version of an already stuffed game.
New elements included three new world leaders (Himiko, Oda Nobunaga and Heihachiro Togo) along with scenarios modeled after their respective campaigns (all based at various points in Japanese history), new units and plenty of opportunities to win through diplomacy or violence. Sadly, multi-player did get cut in the conversion but this is just a small omission (that would likely be dead at the time of writing anyway) in an otherwise extremely enjoyable handheld package.
Earth Defence Force 2: Invaders from Planet Space & Earth Defence Force 2017 Portable
The Earth Defence Force games are somewhat of an acquired taste – a series of third-person shooters that has you eliminating huge swarms of giant alien bugs in a ridiculously campy and over-the-top b-movie style. Vita did very well for fans of the franchise, receiving two entries (the second and third, although technically one of them is a remake of the original) and in both cases, the handheld ports contained tonnes of extra content making them the definitive releases.
The titles are Earth Defence Force 2017, a straight port of the Xbox 360 original which includes six new missions, a handful of DLC bonus weapons as well as a brand new class – pale wing, a flying soldier who completely changes how the game is played (turning it into a fantastic classic in my eyes). This was followed by Earth Defence Force 2: Invaders from Planet Space, a more significant remake of Global Defence Force that again adds more missions and another new class – air raider, a demolitions expert who can call in massive airstrikes from above.
La Mulana EX
La Mulana is a well known Japanese indie classic that has been around in one form or another since 2005 where it received praise for being a tough-as-nails 2D platformer with a focus on exploration and mapping out an underground ruins. It received a substantial remake for PC & Wii in 2012 that helped bring it to worldwide recognition, before a further tweaked version for Vita landed in 2014 that brought even more changes (and was a big sales success, clearing more than 600k copies).
New to the Vita port is a monster bestiary to help you keep a record of every friend and foe you come across, as well as tweaks to the gameplay including better signposting to help newcomers cope with the rather daunting initial challenge and the ability to toggle off a hard mode curse. There’s also new languages added as well as improvements to the translations, meaning this is definitely the best way to play such a classic title.
When Mortal Kombat, the classic fighting franchise known as much for courting controversy as it was for its combat mechanics, was put on ice after a string of disappointing entries in the noughties, few expected the 2011 reboot to knock it out of the park quite so much. By returning to the series’ roots of gory fatalities, visual spectacle, balanced characters and addicting fighting systems alongside a story that rebooted the now-convoluted narrative, NetherRealm Studios created a modern classic that many feel is still the best entry ever made.
A year after its release on consoles, Mortal Kombat landed on Vita and despite a visual downgrade to get it running on the handheld, everything else about this port had a lot of love put into it. Aside from the fact that it included all the additions from the ‘Komplete Edition’ update released on consoles, new content ranged from exclusive challenges towers, many of which made use of the console’s touch screens and unique inputs, to additional costumes for all characters. If you ever want to replay this classic, there’s no better way than to do it on Vita.
Known for their beautiful hand-drawn graphics, famed Japanese developer Vanillaware seemed to hit the big time when they released Muramasa: The Demon Blade on the Wii, where it became a bit of a cult classic with a strong reputation (often seen among ‘hidden gem’ lists for the console). It led to a lot of further work for Vanillaware including their next project shifting to PSP (Grand Knights History), which was followed by an updated port of Muramasa on Vita to make the most of the gorgeous OLED screen.
While the base game stayed largely the same, aside from a much better localization (courtesy of Aksys Games) and the much-needed addition of the ability to rebind controls plus a jump button, it was the inclusion of four DLC packs that really elevated Rebirth. These were Fishy Tales of the Nekomata, A Cause to Daikon For, A Spirited Seven Nights’ Haunting and Hell is Where the Heart is, each one adding a new playable character, new bosses and tonnes of enjoyable new content.
New Little King’s Story
Little King’s Story is one of those titles that was initially ignored upon release despite glowing reviews, but has since become regarded as a modern classic thanks to its simple mix of city-building gameplay and strategy mechanics which still make it a rather unique proposition in the market. Following its initial Wii-only release (much like Murasmasa), it has subsequently been ported to PC but it also received a much more substantial overhaul on Vita, which I was a big fan of.
While the base of the game stayed the same – you venture out from your castle with your loyal followers to collect resources to expand your kingdom – a lot of the peripheral elements have been tweaked. There’s now a more conventional story following Corobo’s efforts to defeat the Devil King, alongside a host of new princesses for you to rescue, each with their own powers which can be utilized in battle. While the port introduced some unfortunate slowdown issues towards endgame, it’s still a unique experience on Vita.
Persona 4 Golden
At this point, Persona 4 Golden is well established as the poster child for Vita – a sweeping JRPG that offers dozens of hours of gameplay with a beautiful story that received rave reviews and tight turn-based gameplay. Golden sold incredibly well and despite being a game originally developed for home consoles (specifically the PS2), it felt like a natural fit in its expanded form on Vita that soon became famous for being a very special title in the handheld’s library.
The list of additional content compared to the original is extensive and far too much to write down here (you’d be better looking up the well-maintained list here) but just to provide a small flavour – there are two brand new social links with Marie and Adachi, new areas to explore and personas to unlock to use in combat, new cutscenes and voice acting for the expanded story and a load of new events. It turned an already-beloved game into an even better classic, one which is truly seen as the best title on Vita.
While Sony withdrew their Vita support far quicker than many had hoped, there are still some gems from those early years – Tearaway was pegged to be one of the big titles for the holiday season of 2013 and received rave reviews but sadly didn’t fare well in sales thanks to its experimental nature. Eventually, a port appeared for PS4 that included more content and tweaked controls, that sadly fared even worse than first time around.
Possibly the most controversial selection on this list given the fact that objectively, the Vita version has less content than its PS4 counterpart, I would still suggest that Tearaway is a vastly better experience on the handheld. Namely because it’s one of the few games out there that feels specifically crafted for the hardware – making use of every input from rear touch to the front camera and as such, it’s a much more personal experience that’s very much enhanced by playing on Vita.
Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition
Tennis games are few and far between these days (well, good ones at least) and it feels like the last major studio effort was SEGA’s Virtua Tennis 4 which hit PC, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360 in early 2011, where it received positive if unremarkable reviews. Later that same year, it received an expanded port for Vita which reviewed much better and became a must-own title for early adopters of the handheld.
In terms of new features that were added, the most substantial is the addition of an extra season to the excellent world tour mode, but things like Vita-specific mini-games using the gyroscope and touch features were appreciated too (they work far better than the majority of titles shoe-horning them in). There’s also the ability to take a picture with the front camera and scan it in to create a player based on your face – all these little touches that make it a fantastic port that’s well worth hunting down if you’re checking out Virtua Tennis for the first time.
There was a period in Vita’s life where it seemed like Plus ports were all the rage and we were seeing all sorts of games make their way across to the handheld – whether it be any of Gust’s RPG’s like Atelier to other Koei-Tecmo titles like the action series Ninja Gaiden to something more experimental that hadn’t really been on handhelds before like Civilization or a fully-fledged Mortal Kombat.
While many people bemoaned at the time that the console was effectively becoming a ‘portstation’, it has led to a number of versions of games that are still the best way to play – the expanded content in things like Ar no Surge and Persona 4 Golden still can’t be found anywhere else meaning that if you’re interested in playing these titles, I would urge that you go for the Vita versions over any of the others.
They might not be the killer software the machine desperately needed, but if you are looking for reasons to buy a Vita, consider the games in this list – they’re all classic and enjoyable titles and they’re all best played on the handheld.