Opinion: PS Vita's big room experiences at odds with portable play's new wave
"I'm away when it comes out, so I'll have it delivered to your place. You keep it until something big or interesting comes out."
As I type this 12 months on, Jon's Vita remains in my apartment, often decorated by a layer of dust and, despite the beauty of its design, rarely touched.
In truth, there have been plenty of 'big' games out on Sony's handheld since launch, but they've been big in the traditional sense.
While a large number of mobile users would cite the likes of Angry Birds: Star Wars, Joe Danger Touch or Temple Run 2 as some of the key releases during the last few months, PS Vita has attempted to build buzz around big console IP: Uncharted, Assassin's Creed, and Call of Duty some of handheld's key releases.
But are these big blockbusters what consumers want on handhelds anymore?
Right device, wrong market
When I first played with a PS Vita incidentally, at a pre-launch party in Manchester what struck me was how similar the device was to a tablet.
What Sony had delivered was a device with a silky smooth screen, sharp design, and with a collection of social apps Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare - all on board from day one.
(Interestingly, Sony has since added a competent email app to the mix, too.)
But, though recent months have played host to the launch of PlayStation Mobile Sony's attempt to deliver the kind of mobile content iPhone and Android users have been enjoying for the last few years the Japanese giant is yet to play to the device's real strengths.
Assassin's Creed III: Liberation was one of Vita's big winter releases
In the UK, for instance, PS Vita's official retail partner was Game. Aside from the chain's own financial difficulties at the time (Vita's launch coming just weeks before Game went into administration), it has proven to be entirely the wrong strategy to sell Vita as a 'portable PS3'.
For one, Vita is actually more expensive than Sony's home console. Pitched in this light, it appears as if users are being asked to pay a premium for what are often cut down versions of the games they already own on a cheaper console.
Most importantly, however, while someone at the heart of Vita's development saw where the market was going and planned accordingly its OS far more akin to iOS and Android than it is the XrossMediaBar sported by PS3 and PSP those actually selling it have instead relied on models fast becoming archaic.
So, instead of launching with a host of digestible mobile-esque games that would have benefited from the addition of Vita's buttons and trigger controls, Sony instead thrust a £40 Uncharted: Golden Abyss into the limelight.
Perhaps it's no surprise. Consoles traditionally launch with big first-party releases as a way to trigger early excitment. You can bet that when PS4 and the next Xbox hit the shelves, they too will have key franchises ready to go from day one.
But the portable market has changed since PSP launched. Smartphones have ensured that the prospect of stumping up hundreds of pounds to play console-sized games on handheld devices is no longer quite so appealing.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss was pitched as Vita's first big 'killer-app'
Yes, the big games need to be there let's be honest, the power PS Vita packs in would be wasted without them but simply bringing across franchises designed for the living room and expecting them to fly on Vita just won't wash.
Uncharted, for instance, is something of a mess. It looks sublime, but it's a clunky experience that requires hours of dedicated play at a time to play through.
As a friend recently pointed out to me, the fact the same moves can be triggered by using the device's physical buttons, the touchscreen on and front and even the touchpad on the back is an utter nonsense.
Taking advantage of the hardware does not mean utilising each feature it presents without cause or reason. Indeed, few players are going to set aside the time needed to master each and every control set up Uncharted presents.
People sitting on the bus, in bed, or even on the sofa taking on a handheld game have made their choice as to the kind of game they want to play. By and large, if they wanted a big console-like blockbuster, they'd have turned on their console.
There's absolutely no advantage to playing a hacked-up take on the Uncharted franchise on your Vita when you could and probably already have played the real versions on PS3.
Take on the tablet
But old habits die hard. In my view, the bare bones of PS Vita still offer much promise. It's fortunes to date, however, have simply been hampered by a platform holder that knows not just what it has on its hands.
PS Vita needs to put aspirations to take on traditional handhelds and home consoles aside - what it needs to do is square up to tablets, offering a comparable software lineup in the process.
Like tablets, Vita is not a mobile phone, and while its screen isn't as big as your average 10-inch slate, the hardware behind it is just as glorious, if not more so.
Compared to most tablets, actually looks rather cheap, and if Sony had worked on getting mobile developers on board at an earlier stage, the device could have launched with a PlayStation Mobile store better equipped to deal with the App Store and Google Play.
Strike off partnering with a traditional games retailer snap up a deal with an electronics store, or - hell - maybe even a supermarket. Pitch this device at the kind of people who, post smartphone, are actually looking to play games on the go.
For far too long Sony has seen its handhelds as an extension of it home consoles. That's a fallacy that needs to be put to bed now - mobile has proved that there are consumers enough interested in portable play out for PS Vita to stand on its own feet.
Call of Duty: Black Ops - Declassified was critically panned
If anything, it's Vita that should be defining Sony's games division, not PS3.
The portable market has never been as big as it is now. People playing games on the go is not a rarity travel on the tube in London for even 5 minutes, and you'll see multiple people tapping and swiping away on their smartphones. This is the market Sony should be talking to.
As such, it's daft to write PS Vita off it's utterly saveable, even if its sales are lower than even the most pessimistic of commentators projected pre-launch.
The device itself is not the problem. The company behind it is.