Sony’s Forgotten Handheld: 5 of the Best PlayStation Vita Games

Let's put the "Vita doesn't have any games" argument to bed, shall we.

The PlayStation Vita recently celebrated its 5th birthday (it was released on February 15th 2012 in North America) with no fanfare from Sony. In fact, on February 15th, Sony actually announced that the PlayStation Now service will soon be discontinued on Vita, along with many other platforms.

The little-handheld-that-could really hasn’t been shown much love from Sony at all in recent years and has even been classified as a “legacy platform”. It’s a true shame that Sony has all but abandoned the Vita, since it is a truly magnificent handheld with a boatload of wonderful games, many of which you can only play on Vita. Here we take a look back at five of the Vita’s best games, one for every year it’s been around.

 

Freedom Wars

In Freedom Wars you are a “Sinner” saddled with a million year prison term. What did you do to deserve such a lengthy stint in the slammer?

You were born.

Freedom Wars takes place in a dystopian future where mankind exists only in mega-cities called Panopticons. Panopticons are constantly at war with one another over resources and talented citizens. Those not considered part of the elite citizenry are considered Sinners and housed in prisons with absolutely no rights. Sinners do, however, have the opportunity to earn rights and reduce the number of years on their sentence by performing tasks assigned to them by the government.

You begin the game by customizing your Sinner and their robot companion/ overseer and then start taking on missions, either solo with the aid of AI companions or together via ad hoc or infrastructure multiplayer modes, in order to start making a better life for yourself.

If you’ve played other “hunting” style games like Monster Hunter or Soul Sacrifice (another Vita exclusive gem) then you should know what to expect from the gameplay. Hunting large creatures and killing them to scavenge materials and rescue captured Citizens. While it may sound monotonous on paper, in practice it is an absolute ton of fun. You use melee and ranged weapons and items like grenades to fight against the Sinners of other Panopticons and the large Abductor creatures, in addition to something called a “Thorn” which is used for climbing, ensnaring the large scale Abductors, and even things like defensive shielding and healing depending on what Thorn you have equipped.

Freedom Wars is a case of something that becomes more than the sum of its parts. As a solo experience Freedom Wars is a lot of fun, but teaming up online is where this game shines and it is an experience every Vita owner should have.

 

Gravity Rush

Gravity Rush is unlike any game you have ever played before. I mean, sure, you’ve probably played a heaping fistful of open-world sandbox action/adventure games before, but what sets Gravity Rush apart from the rest is the ability to manipulate gravity and use it to both traverse the gorgeous cel-shaded world around you and combat the shadowy blob-like enemies that inhabit it.

The combat is definitely fun, but the lack of any sort of lock on option can make fighting feel less than precise at times and the decision to map the dodge action to the touchscreen rather than a tactile button is an odd choice, to say the least. With that being said I was so enamored with the ability to change gravity when playing this game I found myself not giving a damn about the combats few shortcomings. Most of the time I was too concerned trying to set up long range drop kicks by changing what way was “Up” to be put off by something as relatively mundane as a dodge-roll, anyway.

Where Gravity Rush really shines is distorting gravity to navigate the charming, anime inspired setting in search of gems to upgrade your abilities. I really can’t say enough about how fun this is. I usually grow weary of collect-a-thons pretty easily but I found myself spending most of my time with Gravity Rush literally turning the world upside down in search of more gems and the cleverly hidden nooks and crannies that housed them.

The unique gameplay mechanics of Gravity Rush alone make it worth a look but combined with the beautiful, whimsical art style, the upbeat OST, and the 3D comic panel story presentation, Gravity Rush is an absolute essential title on the Vita.

 

Uncharted: Golden Abyss

Uncharted: Golden Abyss was an ideal launch title for the Vita as it showcased a lot of the handhelds bells and whistles such as the touch screen, cameras, and gyroscope used for things like puzzle solving, navigation, and aiming. The majority of these features are very intuitive and implemented extremely well. Aiming the sniper rifle by moving the Vita itself is actually the most I’ve ever enjoyed any kind of motion-based aiming. Elsewhere, the charcoal rubbing mechanic and using real-world light sources in conjunction with the Vita’s camera to reveal hidden clues in-game go a long way in making you feel like an explorer or treasure hunter rather than just a wise-cracking heartthrob who is really, really good at shooting people.

Speaking of shooting people; you do a lot of that in Golden Abyss, and it feels nearly identical to the other games in the series. Which is to say it feels great. The combat’s only stumbling point would be using the on-screen prompts and touch screen swipes to counter enemy melee attacks. It just doesn’t feel as intuitive as the other touch-based features.

The narrative and overall scale of the game may not be as large as its console bound big brothers, but Uncharted: Golden Abyss is an incredible, beautiful game. It embraces the handheld platform and uses it to expand and improve the Uncharted formula in ways that only the Vita can and absolutely deserves a spot in every Vita owner’s library.

 

Killzone: Mercenary

Running on a slimmed down version of the Killzone 3 engine, Killzone: Mercenary was the Vita’s first (and only) AAA quality FPS. It looks, sounds, and plays beautifully on the powerhouse handheld. It is just as good a Killzone game as its console-counterparts and some have argued that is indeed better than PS4’s Killzone Shadow Fall.

The core of the aptly named Killzone: Mercenary is making money. Mercenaries don’t do a damn thing without getting paid and as such you get paid for almost everything you do in the game. Across all three of its game-modes kills, headshots, explosive kills, environment kills, completing objectives and hell, even picking up ammo off an enemy’s bullet-riddled carcass rewards you with fat stacks of cash to spend on new weapons, items, and other goodies to aid you in your crusade against whoever you’re being paid to obliterate.

The campaign, while short, is able to be played in small chunks suitable for gaming on the go. The contracts mode gives you a reason to revisit and replay the campaign’s levels to complete a myriad of objectives to earn more money to buy new stuff to kill whoever is foolhardy enough to stand in front of you.

The gameplay loop (kill-earn cash-buy new stuff-repeat) is perfectly suited for portable gaming and is effective at keeping you coming back for more of the run and gun action that feels like it was ripped straight out of a console Killzone game. Killzone: Mercenary is the best FPS on the Vita, bar none.

 

Persona 4 Golden

Persona 4 Golden is one of best games on the PlayStation Vita. You play as an unnamed high school-aged protagonist who has recently moved to the small town of Inaba from the big city and after a series of events, ends up, along with his new found friends, heading up an investigation into the bizarre series of murders that have recently plagued the small town. Despite the dark nature of the story, the game itself has a very fun and upbeat tone about it, due in no small part to the fantastic jazzy OST and the game’s humour.

Persona 4 Golden’s classic jrpg battle system is focused around exploiting enemy weaknesses and is augmented by the Persona fusion system, allowing for all sorts of different strategies and “loadouts” for the Protagonist that can be swapped on the fly. The game looks great; The chibby-ish anime looks are satisfying without needing to be overly flashy, and the bright and vivid UI really pops on the Vita’s OLED screen.

Your time in Persona 4 Golden is, for the most part, split between its two main activities: dungeon crawling and socializing. P4G is paced very well, there isn’t usually too long of a gap between the ending of one dungeon and the next one becoming available; so generally you won’t find yourself becoming sick of one aspect of the game and slogging through until the next dungeon becomes available, for example.

On paper, the social aspect of the game may be off-putting to some but participating in the games social activities is essential for building stronger social links and therefore stronger Personas to use in battle. Even if that weren’t the case, the characters and their stories are compelling enough to make them enjoyable without the combat related hook.

If you have never played Persona 4 Golden, you should.

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