PS Vita: Hands-on with Sony’s new portable
The PlayStation Vita has hit Japan! Are you importing? Are you waiting for the American February release? Either way, you probably want to know what kind of games will be available during our launch window. There were many games for the Vita on hand at Sony’s holiday showcase last week. Here’s a preview for a few:
Among them was Escape Plan, a chiaroscuro puzzle platformer in the vein of Limbo and The Lost Vikings that introduced all the multi-touch capabilities of the Vita through logical, enjoyable mind-benders. I played as, or rather, I guided Lil, a black-and-white little critter who resembles the lithe and creepy Inque from Batman Beyond. Too tired to move on his own, I tapped Lil to get him to move forward and tapped him again to make him stop. To avoid pitfalls I poked the Vita’s rear touch panel to make bridges in the background extend to the foreground allowing Lil to cross safely to the other side. From room to dangerous room, I poked, squeezed both front and back touch pads in tandem and prodded Lil to safety.
What I liked about my time with Escape Plan was how it didn’t explain its concepts through dialogue or cutscenes. It opened up with fragile, skinny Lil groggily waking up in a threatening environment and then the game waited for me, for my input on what to do next. Everything unfolded from there without interruption, except of course, for when I got poor l’il Lil killed. Each time that happened my death tally went up, marked with by number on Lil’s body. Dark! But also kind of cute. I also found it interesting that Lil and Laarg were not my avatars. I didn’t control them outright, I was an outside force like the mouse cursor in Lemmings or the rainbow slide in Kirby Canvas Curse. For a while those games legitimized their respective platforms. I can see Escape Plan doing the same for Vita.
Gravity Rush was another promising Vita title, though the combat was a bit shallow as it consisted solely of kicking things. But I was kicking things from very high distances, so that was pretty cool. The main conceit in Gravity Rush is, fittingly, gravity. As female protagonist Kat, I was able to float up in the air and by using the Vita’s motion sensing I could aim where I wanted to land — buildings, hovering platforms in the sky, anywhere there was a solid surface. Once I slammed into my destination the camera re-oriented itself, so if I was on the face of a tower, the town square was far below me to my left. It was sort of like that scene in Inception when Leo and Juno walked “up” the folded street.
To my surprise the motion control worked really well, to the point that I preferred using it instead of the right analog stick, which could also control aiming. It was pretty absorbing, like I really was Kat trying to get a bead on a good place to land, or risk falling upwards into the sky for a Game Over. (I think I had a nightmares like that once.) Gloopy, jellyfish-like monsters were the other threat, though that’s putting it mildly. Simple button-mashing kicking put an end to them and their simplistic designs didn’t impress me much either. Everything else, rendered in a clean, cel-shaded manga style, looked great. The town I kicked, hovered and gravity-rushed in had a great, old Europe feel to it and though Kat looks like she’s wearing a magical bathing suit or something she wasn’t overly sexualized or embarrassing to deal with. Hopefully the story, told through in-game and comic book-style cutscenes, will be as tasteful. Decent Japanese action games that aren’t Sonic or Mario seem to be getting rarer and rarer, so it would be great if Gravity Rush did its part to fill that void on the Vita.
TOUCH MY KATAMARI
Now here’s what we could use less of. When Katamari first came out in 2004 it was a phenomenon, a budget-priced critical darling that became a rebellious symbol of cool, “expanding” innovation. It expanded its scope from the miniature to the massive as the Prince rolled his way from a pea-sized peon to a universe-conquering titan, and it expanded our preconceptions of what makes a video game fun — who knew collecting stuff into a ball could be so damn energizing? It showed that new, bizarre ideas can not only be successful, but affecting as well. We loved the Prince, we loved the King of All Cosmos and we loved the bizarre music and wacky side characters. We especially loved it when the original designer Keita Takahashi called it quits after two titles and cleaned his hands of the series altogether.
Of course, now that that’s happened Katamari is just another franchise to be milked. It feels like the new Silent Hill games or the last decade of The Simpsons. It exists just for the sake of squeezing more blood from the stone and besides being tiresome it’s just getting crass. The Vita version, titled Touch My Katamari (groan), concerns the King of the Cosmos and his worry that no one on Earth cares about him anymore, so he sets the Prince out to do his bidding once more. I’m not sure if this game will make anyone care about him again (someone’s bought enough of these games to justify yet another sequel) but at least the controls are sound. The Vita’s dual analog sticks mean a portable Katamari is finally a viable, playable thing. Using the back touch panel let me squash and stretch the katamari to give it more surface area or let it pass through narrow spaces. The level I played was very similar to the introductory levels of previous games. It was just a room in a house with lots of weird and common low-poly items to roll up. The graphics looked very familiar as well, and the soundtrack even sounded Katamari-ish. I mean, these guys got it down to a science by now. And, y’know, it probably won’t be a bad game, just a very, very, very familiar one.. ..On the Vita this time.