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My name is Wayne Chamberlain and I'm a geek daddy who is into Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, books, movies, video games and talking to creative people about their work in these mediums. And that's what you'll find here, along with news, previews and reviews. I'm a journalist, an editor and co-host of the Star Wars Book Report podcast. So come on in and feel free to geek out in a fun, friendly environment.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Vita pricey, but mana for hardcore gamers

Being a single dad, I appreciate a good bargain. And let’s face it, in these days when salaries for most of us tend to be stagnant or falling behind the pace of the cost of living, bargains are important.
But as most shoppers realize, there’s a difference between buying product at your local dollar store or discount joint versus going to a store that sells quality goods.
Sadly, affordability and quality don’t always square in the early days of a product’s life cycle.
Which brings me to Sony’s handheld console, the Vita. At $250 before taxes (for the WiFi unit … there’s a more expensive device that has 3G connectivity), this piece of tech is pricy, no doubt about it. And it requires a memory card, which is sold separately.
But it also the most well-rounded, fully functional and gorgeous handheld created to date.
Launched in February, Vita sports a five-inch OLED touch screen that is brilliant and sharp, as well as a rear touchpad, front and rear cameras, a powerful engine that truly makes this a portable console and, for those of us who have long complained about the PlayStation Portable, the Vita sports dual analog sticks.
In short, Vita is not something you’re going to put into the hands of a seven year old, unless you are a member of the 1%. This is a hardcore gamer’s machine, with a price to match.
Bigger and heavier than a PSP, the Vita looks sharp and has power to burn. I like the solid feel. This unit fits well in your mitts and the front and rear touch sensitivity works well. I worry about people bouncing it off surfaces or dropping it and the long-term effects those will have, especially on the rear pad.
The graphics are stunning. It’s close to high-def, featuring bright colours, excellent contrast and a wide viewing spectrum, so you don’t have to worry about the angle at which you hold it.
The graphics and power do tend to be hard on the battery. Most people report they get about four hours of gameplay on a charge. I was averaging closer to five. But, again, this isn’t a casual gaming device. So, if you’re going on a long trip, be aware you’re not likely to play in fits and starts, so keep the battery life in mind.
Unfortunately, those who have loads of PSP games will find the Vita doesn’t support the format. Unless you have downloadable PSP titles, which it will play. Vita game cartridges are small. I get the feeling Sony would prefer gamers download titles from their online store. And that’s not a bad option if you’re into that (and have the memory card space to do it).
The games play extremely well on Vita. The dual sticks give this a true portable console feel. The front touch screen has excellent response and the rear screen, which isn’t required to use, can be used if you don’t want to block your view of the action. Just remember the rear screen does work on touch, so inadvertent touches do translate into in-game movement, which can be a real pain.
Tech geeks who want more from Vita than gaming will find a web browser and other apps that are built-in, as well as a host of downloadable do-dads. It’s not as user-friendly as an iPod or iPhone though.
All in all, Vita is a powerful piece of tech. It’s not as sleek as Nintendo’s 3DS, but it outperforms that unit in every way. You’ll be reminded of that when paying at the register.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
Here’s a quick look at what I consider to be the best games for the Vita at the moment:
* Rayman Origins (Ubisoft): A 2D platformer, this game showcases the graphics power of the Vita. It’s a great, fun pick-up-and-play title The score: 5 stars. Rated E-10+
* MLB 12 The Show (Sony): Love the graphics and the ability to continue my console seasons and modes by transferring files back and forth with the PS3. The score: 5 stars. Rated E.
* Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Sony): Proof that Vita is a portable console, Nathan Drake’s latest treasure hunting game is a visual treat and makes great use of the dual sticks and touch screens. Indy, eat your heart out. The score: 4.5 stars. Rated T.
* Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3(Capcom): Pit a roster of 50 gaming and super hero legends against one another in a martial arts showdown. The score 3.5 stars. Rated T.
* Hot Shots Golf World Invitational (Sony): Makes good use of the rear touch screen for a unique golf experience. The score: 3.5 stars. Rated E.
* Unit 13 (Sony): You wanted dual analog sticks for a shooter … well, Sony says play this. It’s a solid shooter, letting you blast baddies across 45 levels. The score: 3.5 stars. Rated T.

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