Mobile gaming is a mess, and it's our fault.
So we are winding down the year and with that comes a (thankful) slowing of Magic product. Wizards is producing more releases than ever before and it is almost too much to keep up with, so the holidays are a nice breather for all of us until we crank up the Aether Revolt in January.
Since we have a bit of time, I thought we could fall back a bit to Nomad Gamer's "Gaming. Anywhere." roots and talk a bit about mobile gaming. With the release of the Apple App Store, gamers were treated to a new breed of mobile game. Games with graphics reserved in the past for consoles, with deep strategy and complex controls. It was a huge step up from phone games of the past and the market exploded.
Unfortunately the potential to revolutionize mobile gaming was squandered. As the audience for mobile gaming grew, developers participated in "the race to the bottom" dropping prices first to ninety-nine cents and then finally to free prefering volume over price point. Over time, we players began to expect the low prices and refused to pay a "premium" of a few dollars for a great game experience. Developers started losing money and monitization of gaming went from a "flat fee" to experiences to one laced with in-app purchases, unlocks and advertising. Today all that is left in mobile gaming are the rare indie release and games from larger companies that are tie-ins to their big IP's - its the main reason Nomad Gamer stopped covering mobile so extensively. We just refuse to recommend gaming that isn't great.... and in the mobile ecosystem that is in short supply.
Last week I was so desperate to find a mobile gaming platform for my holiday travels that I took a hard look at older systems, including my trusty Playstation Portable. This "rabbit hole" led me to its successor the PSVITA, and what I found was... AMAZING.
Let's get this out of the way right now. This is the nicest portable gaming device ever made. Period. I've owned them all, from the first Game Boy up to now, and the build quality and hardware this little thing is packing is amazing. I's still not convinced that it is of this world. Every morning when I turn it on I'm just stunned that I am playing full-on Borderlands 2 on the train to work. The graphics and sound quality is ridiculous - games on the vita feel like next-gen gaming. With the little console even working with my wireless bluetooth earphones, my biggest worry is that if I'm not careful I'm going to miss my stop.
There are a bunch of fantastic AAA titles on the PSVITA. While many are a bit dated, they still provide an amazing experience. Uncharted, Little Big Planet and ModNation Racers are all Sony IP's represented on the console and their production values are solid. All three of these are well worth your time if you are "in to" their respective genres. Where the little console truly shines, however, is in its "third party" games. Borderlands 2 (despite some frame rate issues) is one of the jewels in the Vita's crown. It is the full game experience and even includes cross console saves with the PS4 so you can continue your game on the road and then sync it back when you get home. Another recent retail release, Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens is every bit as high quality as its big brother console version, with slightly shorter levels. This is far from a negative. It makes the game much easier to play on a commute and has more than enough game play for your dollar.
While retail releases in North America have been reduced to a trickle, there is still pretty robust support from developers delivering titles digitally via the Playstation Store. More important here is the fact the Vita still sees crazy popularity in Asia, clearing 10 million units in 2015. This means there is an amazing selection of JRPG's for the console - many of which are even localized in English. Titles can be imported and played on a US Vita in most cases. It seems for this console Sony has loosened the rules around region locking. I bought a new Japanese Vita this year and it plays both US and JP titles.
The point is that there is something here for everyone.
Sony has given up on the mobile gaming space and that's unfortunate. Over the last two weeks I have come to the conclusion that the PSVITA is the best mobile gaming device ever made. From its hardware all the way down to its games this little device is just perfect. Maybe if the Nintendo Switch does bonkers business Sony will consider a successor to the Vita. I'm not holding my breath.
Sony's lackluster support of the platform does have one benefit - the games are dirt cheap. With most of the titles being a year or two old now most can be had for fifteen to twenty bucks. I spent about $100.00 on games when I bought my new Vita, and I would bet I have a good year or two of play value. I snapped up the deals I could find on Amazon, figuring it was a good idea to buy while they were still available without a collector markup. I'll get around to playing them all, and the hardware is solid enough to last.
The decision to "buy in" is even easier if you own a PS4 since Sony's gaming ecosystem still supports the device. Connecting to Playstation Network on the Vita gives you access to your friends, messages and trophies. Associating the device with your PS4 allows you to remotely play its titles on the vita screen within your home wi-fi. Pretty handy for a late night gaming session from the comfort of your own bed or another room if someone is monopolizing the television. The Vita even doubles as a PS4 controller in a pinch. Not too shabby.
Even if Sony abandons the platform all together, you won't feel out in the cold. There is a great community of players that have built up around the device. On reddit, /r/vita is one of the friendliest gaming communities I have found with supportive members and little to no trolls. The Vita Lounge is an excellent source of news, keeping players aware of retail releases and sales. Their magazine "Vitamag" is second to none in quality and reminds me a lot of Nintendo Power in its heyday. If that's not enough, Limited Run Games is a company that provides limited physical releases of digital only titles (ya know..l for the collector in all of us).
My console cost $208.00 new on Amazon. It shipped in two days via Prime without import hassles, but it looks like this may be the last of the Amazon stock - so if you want one I'd pull the trigger quickly. Memory cards are ridiculously expensive, but there is no way around that cost as they are proprietary. Even with these costs the Vita is still a slam dunk.
I wish this hadn't come to the party so late in the US. The 3DS feels like a gimmicky toy with flimsy construction and smartphone games are infuriatingly "pay-to-play" or riddled with ads. I feel like if Sony gave the Vita another push it could find an audience, but they are not likely to take that risk. I wish they would though, because I think mobile gamers seem to be coming back around to premium experiences, and it doesn't get any better than this. Grab one for your plane flight home for the holidays. You deserve it.