The PlayStation Vita was a failure. We’re using “was” because, for all intents and purposes, it’s a dead system thanks to terrible support from its creators, who recently announced that they would be ceasing all production of the handheld in 2019 after quietly distancing themselves from it over the years. The downfall of the Vita has as much to do with Sony’s reluctance to push it as hard as they should have as anything else.
However, and this might come as a surprise to you, but now is probably the best time to pick up a PlayStation Vita. It shifted enough units to ensure that there will always be plenty of options on eBay for well under $100 as well as the fact that the best PlayStation Vita games might already be sat in your library waiting for you thanks to cross-buy: a program that allows you to download a game across multiple Sony platforms for one price.
Away from those titles, the Vita also certainly isn’t lacking in quality games that you can’t find anywhere else. Sure, they may have all come in one relatively short burst, but the best PlayStation Vita games made full use of the handheld’s power, which was above and beyond its contemporaries on the market at the time.
So, if you’ve ever been curious about Sony’s forgotten child or just want to freshen up your handheld library, here are the best PS Vita games you should check out, ranging from throwback indies to the JRPG that will consume everything within your life.
2064 is a great example of some games just working better on the Vita. A point and click title with a more than steady cult following, it pits you as a journalist who is trying to do their job in a world that seems split on technology, the pros and the cons. This is all relayed through the game’s spirited humor and bloody lovely pixel visuals.
While those who are after some grand, challenging affair will be left wanting, 2064 excels in the small stories concerning the game’s many affable characters. It’s an eclectic bunch all paired wonderfully with established names in voice acting. Combine that with a good heart and some very catchy music and you have a quaint but worthwhile time waiting for you on your Vita.
19. Axiom Verge
Developer: Thomas Happ Games LLC Publisher: Thomas Happ Games LLC Cross-Buy: Yes
Completed unabashed about taking inspiration from Metroid, Axiom Verge has become a cult favourite indie not just because it’s the next best thing to a brand new 2D Samus adventure, but also because it builds and contemporises the experience while also delivering plenty of unique mechanics and innovations of its own.
Made presumably during a heavy binge on hallucinogenic drugs, Axiom Verge sees you playing as a scientist who awakens somewhere that feels entirely alien. By unlocking new abilities and even deforming the world around you, you’ll get utterly lost in this LSD nightmare that’s a total dream to play on your Vita.
Developer: Moppin Publisher: Devolver Digital Cross-Buy: Yes
If you haven’t owned Downwell on at least one platform, you really ought to fix that as it’s one of the smoothest action platformers going. You may actually be saving yourself, though: it’s so addictive despite being so basic on the eye that you will be cursing frogs and gravity before too long, completely unable to make it past the first few levels.
While Downwell is tough, it retains a pick up and play appeal that’s hard to resist. You effectively fall your way down through levels and kill enemies with your trusted Gunboots to eventually reach the end goal with plenty of power-ups along the way. Its levels are procedurally generated and the replayability infinite, so there’s a hell of a lot of bang for your buck. Technically, two: Downwell is also really on the cheap side.
Developer: Joakim Sandberg Publisher: Bifrost Entertainment Cross-Buy: Yes
A game many, many years in the making owing to just how difficult it is to make a game when you’re mostly on your lonesome, Iconoclasts feels remarkably fresh and modern despite being in the oven for so long and doffing its hat to the SNES platformers of old.
Where Iconoclasts really comes into its own is in in its mechanic, erm, mechanic. Your protagonist, Robin, has use of a wrench which can be used to attack enemies but also solve puzzles, as well as many other trinkets down the line. With an intriguing and subtly dystopian storyline as well as welcome periods of levity, Iconoclasts may be one of the last great games to release on the Vita.
16. Shovel Knight
Developer: Yacht Club Games Publisher: Yacht Club Games Cross-Buy: Yes
One of the first games to really embrace the retro revolution on modern platforms, Shovel Knight looks and plays every inch the Nintendo classic, just with a bit more welcome sillines in the fact that your protagonist has a shovel. Hey, at least nobody can say that its name is misleading as you spike downwards and dig your enemies an early grave,
For featuring a tonne of extra content and somehow still giving back to its audience so long after its release, Shovel Knight feels completely at home on the Vita. It’s a tough time, though you should come to expect that from basically any retro-styled platformer. Dig this one up in your PlayStation Store library and lose yourself for hours on end.
15. Super Meat Boy
Developer: Team Meat Publisher: Team Meat Cross-Buy: Yes
One of the most influential indie games of all-time feels right at home on the Vita, its infuriatingly tight platforming the perfect antidote for your constipation while you’re sat on the toilet. That “just one more try” appeal has made it a classic and comes with cross-save so you can continue your anguish on the go.
So why’s it so low down? It’s really not the best way to experience the game, the Vita sticks not quite fine enough to make the inch perfect leaps you’d find on a controller. Still, that’s something for you to acclimate to and overcome on your quest to beat the meat in what is one of the simplest but most devilishly addictive games ever made.
Developer: DrinkBox Studios Publisher: DrinkBox Studios Cross-Buy: No
You may be more familiar with DrinkBox’s Severed as a Nintendo title after seeing it pop up on the 3DS, Wii U and later the Switch, but it actually began life as a Vita exclusive. As with so many games that were originally only available on the handheld, however, it had to find a new home to reach the audience it deserved.
Beautiful to look at and with a heart that cannot be denied, Severed pits you as a a warrior lost in an unusual world. You must use the touchscreen to attack your enemies and sever their limbs, which gives the game a strange but entirely welcome vibe of Fruit Ninja meets Dead Space. A really underrated dungeon crawler from a studio who always delivers.
13. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Developer: Capcom Publisher: Capcom Cross-Buy: No
Really, the ability to pit Deadpool against Viewtiful Joe from the palm of your hands should be enough to sell you on picking up Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 for your Vita, not even considering the fact that many believe it be the best Marvel vs. Capcom game on the market. Well, it’s certainly better than Infinite, but that’s a low bar indeed.
The gameplay transfers wonderfully to the Vita, the cel-shaded visuals make everything pop just as much on the small screen as it would the big. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 also makes good use of the Vita’s touch-screen, though nothing can match the “conventional” controls. Whether you’re a casual player or diehard fighting game fanatic, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 should be your first port of call on the Vita.
The cult classic Metroidvania suplexed its way on to the Vita and then promptly into our hearts. While its sequel may mechanically be a better game, there’s no faulting the original Guacamelee!’s goofy humour and downplayed but stunning visuals. Guacamelee! is the perfect game for a train ride, hitting that perfect spot between being long enough to last and not so short that it ends so soon — the perfect pick me up.
There’s also a lot of replayability with Guacamelee! thanks to just how damn endearing it is to play. The protagonist, Juan, a terribly out of shape luchador, is a likeable protagonist, but a lot of the fun from the game comes from the interactions with the hilarious bad guys and even chickens. Bursting with secrets and tidy combat, Guacamelee! is yours for a pittance and worth every penny.
Developer: Tarsier Studios & Double 11 Publisher: SCEE Cross-Buy: No
Poor LittleBigPlanet. After initially setting the imaginations of gamers — young and old — alight when it first landed on the PlayStation 3, it eventually sputtered towards relative obscurity by the time LittleBigPlanet 3 came around. It’s a shame because the experience is like a shot of joy straight to the heart, seen perfectly with its Vita version.
LittleBigPlanet on the Vita (or LittleBigPlanet PS Vita to give it its official name) took what had made the series so charming and minimised it for a handheld. Almost boundless creativity awaits you with touch controls spicing up the formula, as well as the fact that it’s a potentially bottomless well of content and possibilities. Now where is LittleBigPlanet 4, Sony?
10. Hotline Miami
Developer: Dennaton Games Publisher: Devolver Digital Cross-Buy: Yes
Do you like hurting people while straining one out? Then allow us to introduce you to Hotline Miami: an effortlessly stylish top-down shooter that rewards patience because, let’s be real here, it’s an absolute son of a bitch in terms of difficulty thanks to its one-hit kill mechanics and fast as hell pace.
Like many indie games on this list of the best PS Vita games, Hotline Miami is irresistible because it’s not only pick up and play but also impossible to put down once you get going. Bolstered by a synthwave soundtrack that is the stuff of legend and a gloriously eighties aesthetic, this is one murder puzzler (no, really) that should be ticked off your list.
9. Killzone: Mercenary
Developer: Guerrilla Cambridge Publisher: SCE Cross-Buy: No
Unfairly overlooked by critics at launch for not moving the dial enough, Killzone: Mercenary may lack the bombast of its PlayStation 3 brethren, but it’s quite easily the best FPS game on the Vita. The controls transfer well to the small screen and it makes inventive uses of the handheld’s gimmicks to make something that feels as exciting as playing a shooter on your TV.
The story is an oddity in the Killzone timeline, pitting you as a mercenary during key moments of the conflict with the Helghast. Killzone: Mercenary also has great multiplayer and you will surprisingly still be able to find some (admittedly half-empty) matches this far down the line. The sound of a confirmed kill is also worth the price of admission, that weird little jingle feeling as rewarding as opening a chest in Zelda.
8. Gravity Rush
Developer: SIE JAPAN Studio Publisher: SCEE Cross-Buy: No
Here’s another worthwhile game on the Vita that didn’t find the audience it deserved, so much so that its sequel actually went on to become a PS4 exclusive. It’s a shame because Gravity Rush arguably suits the Vita more than its bigger and more successful brother, allowing you to mess with gravity and kick some ass from the palm of your hand.
An out and out wacky time, Gravity Rush sees you playing as a young girl aided by a cat made of galaxies (bear with us here) to stop the destruction of a mysterious world. Thanks to its gorgeous cel-shading and unique gravity shifting mechanics, Gravity Rush really deserved to shift more copies than it did as a game that’s closely associated with the underrated nature of the Vita as a whole.
Developer: Media Molecule Publisher: SCEE Cross-Buy: No
Another innovative game that had to leave its home to find the players the Vita couldn’t provide, Tearaway is a charming platformer from the pioneers of the LittleBigPlanet franchise. Media Molecule certainly know how to create gorgeous and cute games with an undeniable charm, and Tearaway certainly fits that bill.
Just like their marquee franchise, Media Molecule reward the player for their experimentation and creativity in Tearaway, making the game feel like a toybox just begging to be played with. Tearaway even makes the touch-screen feel more than a gimmick, asking players to peel back its paper world and dive right in.
An indisputable indie classic, Spelunky is a lo-fi whale of a time that feels custom-made for the Vita. Many modern games owe a debt to Spelunky, the work of mainly one guy, for reinvigorating and redefining the platformer by introducing old school elements to a new school experience, which include randomised levels and, erm, eggplants.
Spelunky just keeps on giving, offering new challenges and quirks that you weren’t previously aware of the deeper into it you go. That’s apt, because you spend your time in the game travelling deep underground on the hunt for treasure and crying with shameful remorse when you attack a shopkeeper and find that the rest of your game is utterly ruined. Seriously, don’t mess with them — it’s hard being a small business.
5. Darkest Dungeon
Developer: Red Hook Studios Publisher: Red Hook Studios Cross-Buy: Yes
Every found RPGs stressful? That you aren’t quite powerful enough to beat a boss, or that you don’t have the items you need? You should probably approach Darkest Dungeon with some caution then as it puts the “end” in friendship with alarming regularity, ridding you of your favourite party members over and over again.
Anyone who’s played XCOM will recognise the jarring permadeath in Darkest Dungeon, but when paired with the game’s strict insanity mechanics, the task becomes even greater. Allow one of your party members to descend too deeply into darkness and they will be lost, which makes every action and tough decision in Darkest Dungeon feel far weightier. Is glory worth death?
4. Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Developer: SIE Bend Publisher: SCEE Cross-Buy: No
While it’s true that Golden Abyss may try to use too many of the Vita’s unique features all at once, the fact remains the same that it’s the perfect pocket-sized adventure for Nathan Drake. It only minimally downsizes the scale of the Uncharted console adventures to create something that feels like a technical marvel.
A lot of simple joy can be had from drawing the destination for Drake as he’s climbing or swiping to leap across a gap. The controls are also tight and the combat just as fun as its bigger peers. The story is also great, even if takes a little while to really get going. Don’t overlook this underrated gem in the franchise.
An acclaimed but not wildly commercially successful hybrid of ship-based gameplay and side-scrolling, Velocity 2X might actually best be first discovered on the Vita. It’s a game that you constantly dip in and out of, the experience constantly refreshing thanks to its inventive mechanics that never allow you to rest on one aspect of it for too long.
The origins of Velocity 2X actually run deep in the PlayStation brand with a PlayStation Mini (remember those) game by the name of Velocity. Since then, FuturLab have updated and refined the experience until they arrived at 2X, which is one of the smoothest and most downright beautiful games you’re ever likely to play on a handheld. Check your PlayStation Store purchases on your Vita: it might have sneaked its way in their at some point, like it did for us.
2. Rogue Legacy
Developer: Cellar Door Games Publisher: Cellar Door Games Cross-Buy: Yes
Rogue Legacy is the epitome of portable gaming, an insanely addictive side-scroller that is as hard to put down as it is irreverent. You play as a knight storming a mysterious castle housing plenty of bad things for you to slay, and then you die. On your next run, you play as a descendant of your previous character who has their own powers and drawbacks.
This constantly maintains a feeling of freshness to Rogue Legacy so that even if you’re entering the castle for the 500th time (and you probably will), the wonders that await you never get any less intriguing. It’s an understated and underrated gem that will have you utterly hooked even when the cards are against you.
1. Person 4: Golden
Developer: Atlus Publisher: Atlus Cross-Buy: No
The aforementioned JRPG Vita game that will completely consume your being, Person 4: Golden isn’t something that you can play: you have to open it up and climb right inside. When a body turns up in an otherwise quiet town, you must discover the truth by diving into televisions and taking on enemies with your high school friends.
Weird? You’re damn right, and it’s all the better for it. Persona is a franchise that’s all about the creeping slow-burn, you going from being vaguely interested in its story and characters and then suddenly being captivated and unable to shake it — game like Persona 4 were made for duvet days. There’s at least a hundred hours of content here in a game that just grows the more you play it, so bear with its methodical pacing at the beginning and you will be trying to climb inside your 4K TV before you even realise what’s happening.