PS Vita for serious gamers on the go

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Entertainment,Ryan Vogt

In the age of "Angry Birds," how can a hand-held device devoted entirely to gaming justify its existence?

In the case of the PlayStation Vita, by taking the opposite tack of smartphones.

Sony's new hand-held system is a little bit like a Game Boy and a little bit like an iPhone, but isn't trying to be either one. Instead of offering cheap games controlled only by touch, the Vita does its best to re-create the home gaming experience, with a piece of hardware that's pretty much a console controller with a screen. The result isn't so much a portable gaming system, as it is a home gaming system made portable.

Like a smartphone, the Vita has a giant, 5-inch touchscreen, but what sets it apart is the pair of analog sticks, or thumbsticks, that flank it. Though they're a little small, the thumbsticks, along with the standard complement of six buttons on the Vita's face and shoulders, offer a level of control that has never been seen on a mobile device.

What does this mean for you? Well, the Vita might kick Nintendo's 3DS out of your pocket, but not your iPhone. Though it's a groundbreaking piece of hardware, the Vita may find its appeal limited for one reason: price. People used to paying a few bucks for high-quality smartphone games are likely to blanch at paying up to 50 bucks for blockbusters like "Uncharted: Golden Abyss." Then there's the system itself. A regular, WiFi-enabled model costs $250, and it's $300, plus a monthly fee, for the 3G model, which seems pointless given that the Vita isn't a phone. Most annoyingly, you have to buy a memory card. This means spending at least 20 bucks, for 4 gigabytes, on up to $100, for 32 gigs.

If you're a serious gamer, though, there's no product on the market, and Sony is trying to prove that with a huge lineup of games right out of the gate. How do they fare? Read on.

'Uncharted: Golden Abyss'

Price: $49.99

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

There has never been a hand-held game quite like "Golden Abyss," the Vita's raison d'etre The action-adventure looks almost as good as its PlayStation 3 predecessors, and controls just like them, with the left stick moving your character and the right stick used for aiming.

'Little Deviants'

Price: $29.99

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Less a game than an all-around showcase of what the Vita can do, "Little Deviants" uses the system's cameras to turn your living room into the setting of a "Star Wars"-style space shooter; another minigame has you slide your fingers across the Vita's rear touchpanel to slide a ball through a maze.

'ModNation Racers: Road Trip'

Price: $29.99

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

What a missed opportunity. This hand-held version of Sony's very appealing "Mario Kart" rip-off has a brilliant course creator but is sidelined by graphical glitches, unresponsive touch controls and, incredibly, a total lack of online multiplayer modes.

'Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational'

Price: $39.99

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Among the first wave of Vita games, "World Invitational" is the best reason to find a WiFi access point. The easy-breezy golf action is a simple pleasure, and online tournaments let you test your skills against players around the world.

'Escape Plan'

Price: $14.99

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This side-scrolling adventure sports beautiful black-and-white graphics, but the Vita is too large for the simultaneous front-and-back touchscreen controls the game requires.

'Super StarDust Delta'

Price: $9.99

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This downloadable shooter is like "Asteroids" on a-steroids. The chaotic action may be shallow, but like the best shooters, it's very efficient at wasting your time.

'Michael Jackson The Experience'

Price: $39.99

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

A morbid oddity among rhythm games, "MJTE" has you swiping the touchscreen to score points as a computer-generated King of Pop dances in the background. Who would rather play this game than watch one of his music videos?

'WipEout 2048'

Price: $39.99

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

"2048" is just like all the other racers in this series. Narrow tracks create a remarkable sense of speed, but oversensitive controls have you running into the wall all too often.

'FIFA Soccer'

Price: $39.99

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Can we believe our eyes? This futbol simulator looks better than its home-console big brothers, and the game's touch controls are surprisingly useful -- on offense, for passing the ball, and on defense, for switching who you control.

'Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3'

Price: $39.99

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Hand-held systems have always had a tough time with fighting games, and the Vita is sadly no different. Most vexingly on this system, the right thumbstick gets in the way of the kind of finger gymnastics "UMVC3" required. But the underlying game is so good, it almost doesn't matter.

'Touch My Katamari'

Price: $29.99

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The most consistently entertaining of all the Vita launch titles, "Katamari" turns ordinary environments -- a child's playroom, a zoo -- into video game wonderlands, where the object is to roll everyday items into a larger and larger ball, until you can pick up humans.

'Lumines Electronic Symphony'

Price: $39.99

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Pretty much "Eurotrash: The Game," this music-based puzzler pulses with tracks from Tiesto to Pet Shop Boys. "Lumines," with its club look and feel, offers a refreshing take on the classic dropping-block formula, but doesn't get inside your head like "Tetris" or "Meteos."

'Rayman Origins'

Price: $39.99

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Though highly derivative of other 2-D side-scrollers -- paging Mario and Sonic -- "Origins" might be worth playing just for its insanely smooth hand-drawn animation.

'Hustle Kings'

Price: $9.99

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This pool simulator lets you put (virtual) money where your mouth is in online matches, but gets hung up on stupid stuff like trick shots and putting chalk on your cue stick.

'Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus'

Price: $39.99

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This hand-held version of the notoriously hard beat-em-up looks great -- and gets an easier difficulty option! -- but still suffers from an odd camera system.

'Army Corps of Hell'

Price: $39.99

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Is it really a strategy game if you're holding down the attack button the whole time? Deliver yourself from this hellish slog.

'Asphalt Injection'

Price: $29.99

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The makers of "Asphalt Injection" rip off "Ridge Racer" so bad, it sounds like they even hired away that series' announcer. Is this game better? It's a wash. "Asphalt Injection" litters its courses with exciting jumps and shortcuts, but can't match "Ridge Racer's" smooth controls.

'Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen'

Price: $39.99

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Considering it's about the 10th stealth-assassination game these people have made, "Shinobido 2" is shockingly incompetent. Cool ideas on paper, like a wind-up mouse to distract guards, are marred by poor controls.

'Dungeon Hunter Alliance'

Price: $39.99

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This medieval hack-and-slash is more visually imaginative than its many peers, but remains a thoroughly mindless button-masher.

rvogt@dcexaminer.com

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Author:

Ryan Vogt

Examiner Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner