A decade ago today, the last Sony dedicated gaming handheld, the PlayStation Vita. It wasn’t quite as popular as its predecessor, the PlayStation Portable (or its main competitor) der Nintendo 3DS), and Sony is still trying to bring your gaming experience to your mobile phone, but the Vita still has a special place in the hearts of those who have one. At Engadget, that’s Nathan Ingraham and Devindra Hardawar, who have both extolled the virtues of the system in our internal slack over the years (yes, I checked). For Vita’s 10th birthday, we asked our experts what their favorite games are for the system and inspired them to get the shiny little handheld out of their closets for one more try. – Kris Naudus, Editor of the Buyer’s Guide
The freedom of Gravity‘S The acrobatic gameplay, where you can fall through the air in all directions, and walk the sides and floors of buildings, went hand in hand with the portability of the Vita. That made it a game that, despite its frustrations, I couldn’t help but love it. Gravity took full advantage of the system’s motion controls – you had to tilt the Vita to control your flight impulse – and the watercolor anime aesthetic looked amazing on the Vita screen. Few games have captured the magic of the system’s hardware so well.
Sure, the fight was easy and the story didn’t make much sense. But the visceral feel of flight was hard to beat, especially on a portable console. I never got around to playing that Playstation 4 Gravity remastern, especially because my memories of the game are so closely linked to my résumé. However, I suppose it is time to finally overcome this hangup. The Vita is really dead, and if I wanted to play the sequel I had no choice but to switch to my PS4. – Devindra Hardawar, Senior Editor
Lumines: Electric Symphony
Every portable console needs a good puzzle game. For the PS Vita it was Lumines: Electric Symphony. The first Lumines game was a starting title for the predecessor of the Vita, the PlayStation Portable, and Electric symphony came when the Vita went on sale. The basic gameplay has stayed the same: you manipulate 2 by 2 squares of different colors together and match those colors to sort things out. If your screen is getting overloaded, this is it.
What does Lumines: Electric Symphony so captivating is the way gameplay is tuned to the beat of a long selection of classic electronic tunes from artists such as LCD Soundsystem, Aphex Twin, The Chemical Brothers, and about 30 more. Each song has a different speed, and that speed is reflected in the gameplay; it’s not like Tetris where things keep getting faster and faster. It’s actually more like Tetris-Effekt, that was the first Tetris game that made music and sounds a crucial part of the gaming experience.
Lumines: Electric Symphony does not reach the lofty heights of Tetris as a puzzle, but that’s not a huge blow. It’s hard to compete one of the most popular video games of all time, but Electric symphony is still a great way to pass the time, either with a short session or a long play through the 30+ tracks the game has to offer. – Nathan Ingraham, assistant editor
Modnation Racer: Roadtrip
Since Super Mario Kart Released in 1992, game developers have tried with little success to emulate its appeal. For my money Modnation Racer: Roadtrip got pretty close. The PS Vita title was a new version of a PS3 game that came out in 2010. Both parts pretty much follow the Mario Kart script: crazy tracks with weapons and items that you can use to level the odds against your competition.
What made the Modnation Racers games different was the endless customization – your kart, racing driver and especially the tracks themselves. Even with the slightly reduced Vita game you could download all sorts of creations from the Modnation community, which would give the game life for years existed until Sony inevitably shut down the servers.
But even without all community content Modnation Racer: Roadtrip is still great fun to play. The 30 tracks in career mode are extremely well designed and the driving mechanics just feel great. After nearly 10 years, this game is showing its age, but it’s a great example of Sony’s promise to bring console-quality games to the Vita. The graphics don’t look as sharp as they used to, but the racing experience remains a blast. – NI
Sony originally envisioned the PS Vita as a way to play console-quality games on the go, but their legacy revolves just as much around the smaller indie games that hit handhelds. OlliOlli and its continuation OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood are two games that I played for hours, although they weren’t as flashy and high-profile as games from larger studios.
OlliOlli is a masterful side scrolling skateboarding game that combines lo-fi music and graphics with gameplay that was easy to learn but incredible to master. And let me make it clear, “insane” is an addition. After figuring out how to do more advanced moves and do longer combos to increase my score, I became addicted to the challenge of mastering each level.
And there is one your to master here; Both games had five worlds to conquer, each with five “amateur” and “professional” levels. And each level has five goals that you need to achieve if you really want to be a Completor. I don’t usually try to score 100 percent of all goals in a game, but here I was forced to keep pushing myself to meet as many challenges as possible.
Both games have held up over the years, with the sequel adding crucial new mechanics like manuals so you can skate through levels without stopping your combo. I repeated both recently and I still enjoy making a level as clean as possible – if you like chasing high scores, OlliOlli is a great option. And if you’ve never tried these games, I have good news: both are available for current PlayStation consoles, and a new game, OlliOlli world, is will be released on February 8th. — NI
Persona 4 Golden
I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the world of Persona than this title on the Vita. Persona 4 Goldens a bold and colorful aesthetic that practically emerged from the system’s OLED display. (I can’t say whether the later LCD Vita could handle it worse.) It also contained one of the most memorable JRPG soundtracks I’ve ever come across. Best of all, the Vita’s portability is perfectly matched P4Ggrind it. Being able to get the game outside, on the subway, and all over my apartment made leveling up more like a real adventure than a typical JRPG chore.
For me who grew up with every version of Game Boy Persona 4 Golden also proved that portable systems can finally deliver a premium experience that resembles home consoles. Sure, there were limitations on battery life and screen size, but in 2012 play a deep and visually rich RPG on the vita felt like a miracle. And frankly it still does. Time to dig up my vita. – DH
I know this is a bit of a cheat. But the vita is one of the last systems i own that can still work Xenogears, Square is brilliant and enigmatic Neon Genesis Evangelion-esque role play. As someone who was fundamentally shaped by both Chrono trigger and Evangelion in the 90s, Xenogears is that rare piece of culture that has always felt special to geek like me. I love everything: the unique fights, the eclectic Yasunori Mitsuda scores, and the huge mech fights. Damn it, I even think the exposure-heavy final act is great. As soon as the vita has arrived, you can play Xenogears on the way I fell for it again and again. – DH
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