PlayStation Vita At A Crossroads

by Matthew Kato on Jun 18, 2013 at 11:30 AM

The PlayStation Vita has had a rough time in its year-plus in existence. Will the PlayStation 4 give the handheld a new lease on life or will it have unintended consequences for the system?

Vita gamers have been waiting for the handheld to take off in terms of must-have software as well as sales, but like the PSP before it, the handheld's success will take some time if it occurs at all. The PlayStation 4 – while by no means a guarantee – could offer the Vita a lifeline. However, it could also change the handheld's identity.

Sony's mandate that PlayStation 4 games be playable via remote play with the Vita (as long as they don't require the PlayStation camera or Move) gives the handheld a big shot in the arm. Although they won't look as good and there may be instances where the controls don't seamlessly transfer, it's undeniable that the Vita – a system that needs quality experiences – will be able to instantly benefit from the new home console's library.

However, the Vita's remote play is restricted by the PS4's connection to your Wi-Fi network, so it's not like you'll be able to play your PS4 games anywhere and everywhere. Does this relegate the Vita merely to an expensive home system add-on and not a true handheld in its own right? I think that could be a danger. Despite remote play functionality, the Vita still needs software it can call its own. At E3, Jack Tretton (above) said that 85 titles will be coming to the system by the end of this year, but what kinds of games will these be?

A cursory look at some of the upcoming games shows a mix of titles from smaller teams (Counterspy), re-releases (Final Fantasy X HD and X-2 HD), and - for lack of a better term - console-sized experiences (Killzone: Mercenary). It will be interesting to see how the Vita's mix of games evolves when the PS4 comes out and if it skews the Vita's lineup going forward.

If the handheld caters more to indie games, it could be fighting a losing war against tablet/mobile gaming that already has a massive selection of indie product, and if it tries to produce more home console-quality content, will developers take on those projects for a handheld that hasn't proven it can be a home for software hits? It's an unfair chicken-and-egg question, but one that's always relevant among companies that can ill-afford to throw away money.

If this year's E3 is any indication, the Vita seems to be leaning towards indie product, and the software on display included some promising titles. Also, let's not forget the advantage the Vita's dual analog controls can have over touchscreens. And speaking of tablets, Vita's interoperability with the PS4 is unclear – another space in which it could find competition. As more and more game companies use companion apps for games, will they make use of the Vita for these functions or simply prefer to use their own tablet-based apps that can be monetized easier?

A price cut for the system could be a good first step to reinvigorating the Vita, and currently it looks like the introduction of the PS4 is making gamers think about the handheld perhaps more than ever. But remote play is by no means a cure-all for a system that finds itself at an important crossroads in its life.