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FEBRUARY FEATURE

Play it forward

Sony's Playstation Vita launches on February 15, bringing big games to small hardware

As the first new console launch of 2012, the PlayStation Vita is the most technically advanced portable gaming console ever devised.

The Vita is a rather amazing piece of hardware, with a quad-core processor powering nearly PS3-level graphics on a 5-inch AMOLED touchscreen. The interactive options are many: Two analog sticks, a touch-sensitive back panel, a D-pad, accelerometer-based motion controls, and the traditional set of buttons provide an array of input options. A microphone, front- and back-facing cameras, Bluetooth support, and a smartphone-style OS means it’s capable of more than just gaming (including support for movie and TV downloads via PSN and Netflix, among others).

Sony’s Vita comes in two variants, depending on your online needs: one with 3G and Wi-Fi support, and one Wi-Fi only. It’s clear that Sony has included nearly every conceivably significant feature, and the system feels capable of handling virtually anything developers can think to throw at it.

Though it takes its design cues from the original PSP, the $250 Vita ditches the UMD disc format in favor of flash-based memory storage (which, incidentally, you’ll need a proprietary memory card for, ranging from 4 – 32 GB). When it arrives stateside on February 22nd, an impressive 25 U.S. launch titles will be available in either memory card or downloadable form, with several dozen more hitting the “launch window” of the Vita’s first several months on the market.

We’ve put together a list of the most inspired and alluring.

Unit 13

Sony’s big Vita shooter out of the gate comes from the folks behind the popular “SOCOM” franchise. It’s a third-person affair, but it’s not simply run-and-gun.

Instead, the co-op focused game requires tactics to get through its 36 stand-alone missions. To make use of the Vita hardware, the game lets you tap the touchscreen when zooming in on enemies to switch between a zoom and a scope view, or swipe the back panel to adjust which shoulder you’re looking over (reloading weapons, tossing grenades, and gathering intelligence is all managed via the touchscreen as well).

You earn points for each action you complete during the mission, and your final score is compared against your friends and other players via online leaderboards. The developer promotes competition between friends by broadcasting notifications when someone tops your high score or unlocks a new weapon. All 36 missions are playable either solo or with another person via the online co-op mode, provided you’re using a Wi-Fi connection.

 

Uncharted: Golden Abyss

Bringing top-tier console experiences to handhelds has been one of Sony’s big pushes with Vita, and perhaps no title better embodies this than “Golden Abyss.”

 

The core gameplay remains faithful to its PS3 brethren; the dual analog sticks make control intuitive, and the third-person shooting is tight and precise. The transition to Vita brings with it a host of other controls as well, ranging from dragging your finger across a sequence of ledges for Drake to then scramble across, or stealth takedowns and melee fights, which are performed with a touchscreen tap.

 

wipEout 2048

The “wipEout” series has long been a flagship title for new Sony hardware, and 2048 brings back the signature high-speed hovercraft racing and electronic beats. In addition to its 10 brand new tracks for Vita, the game also includes all of those found in the PS3 iteration of the series, “wipEout HD” and “Fury.”

It makes use of the Vita’s new input methods, with the touch-sensitive screen used for firing and absorbing weapons, and the rear touchpad for acceleration. Optional tilt control uses the accelerometers and gyroscopes for steering, and the microphone can even be used for voice-activated weapons.

The game’s soundtrack includes tracks from the likes of Noisia, Orbital, Deadmau5 and Underworld to increase the intensity of your anti-gravity racing. Oh, and perhaps the coolest feature is cross-platform multiplayer: Players on PS Vita and PS3 will now be able to race together in realtime.

Gravity Rush

One of the early Vita surprises, “Gravity Rush” brings a shift in perspective to the standard third-person adventure game. Taking place in the dirty industrial city of Hekseville, you’re given control over the gravity of your situation—and we don’t mean metaphorically. You can run up walls and leap from one building to the next, all achieved with the help touchscreen controls and motion control via the internal gyroscope. The sci-fi story is told through a mix of cut-scenes and comic-book styles panels.

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3

An impressive redux of its console cousin, this is portable fighting at some of its absolute finest. The Vita version features all the same characters, levels, moves and features as the console version, along with touch-aided controls, the ability to trade costumes, and a new announcer voice. It looks beautiful on the Vita’s crisp display, and animation is ultra smooth with nary a hint of slowdown.

 

Escape Plan

A Vita original, this thoughtful side-scrolling platform game is one to watch. The black-and-white visuals and rather gory death animations are reminiscent of both the XBLA title “Limbo” and the work of Tim Burton, but feel original nonetheless.

You’re asked to guide two heroes through various obstacles using touch controls, using both the front touchscreen and rear touchpads. This eccentric title is definitely geared more towards thinkers than mashers, and thereby expands the Vita gaming palette.

Super Stardust Delta

If you’ve played the PS3 original, you know just how insanely fun and addictive “Super Stardust” can be. The handheld iteration of this twin-stick shooter makes use of the Vita’s long-awaited second analog stick, and the rear touchscreen is used to deploy miniature black holes precisely.

Motion controls have been implemented as well: The player can move the camera by tilting the console (without losing control of the ship), and shaking the Vita unleashes a screen-clearing Shockwave attack.

 

Rayman Origins

One of the most spectacular 2D side-scrollers this side of two Italian plumbers, “Origins” was criminally overlooked during 2011’s holiday season. The game is a treat for both the eyes and hands with its spectacularly lush environments, buttery-smooth character animation, and refined platforming gameplay.

The Vita version is essentially identical to its console cousin—which is not a bad thing, in our opinion. It looks fantastic on the Vita’s OLED screen, with stunning colors and defined lines, and a manual camera-zoom feature lets you zoom in close by pinching the touchscreen.

 

Sound Shapes

Easily one of the Vita’s most intriguing titles, “Sound Shapes” is a music-based 2D platformer.

What does that mean? Well, you play music through the platforming, by moving a rather abstract suction-ball dude through the environment. The manner in which you traverse the levels essentially rewrites the score in realtime, encouraging experimentation.

A built-in level editor allows you to create your own songs as well, which can then be shared online: Simply choose what you intend to place in a level—be it a note or a platforming object—and place it where desired simply by tapping the Vita’s touchscreen on the spot you want the object. An interactive vinyl record acts as the hub from which you select levels, with each groove in the record representing a level. It sounds really out there, but in practice it’s incredibly intuitive and, most importantly, musical.

 

Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus

 

As diehard fans of the series are certainly well aware, Tecmo-Bandai has been hard at work on the next game in the series. The deft swordplay returns, but with some new combat mechanics to boot.

The Kunai Climb lets Ryu climb onto certain walls (using his kunai), and he can attack enemies from above. Some situations will call for a more stealthy approach than Ryu has shown in titles past; he can now creep up on enemies and kill them with a single strike, and the slide maneuver lets him attack enemies down low.

The Vita version will incorporate new gameplay mechanics that make use of the machine's hardware features, including the touchscreen, gyro sensor, and the rear touchpad.

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