Sony's PlayStation Vita officially launches in the United States on February 22, and the company is aiming for a big launch, with roughly 20 games available on day one. I haven't played every PlayStation Vita launch title, but I have sampled most of them. Here is a roundup, and some quick impressions.
In a bizarre take on the third-person shooter, Army Corps of Hell puts you--a fallen tyrant--in charge of a horde of goblins so you can attempt to reclaim your underworld throne. Your minions squeal with delight as you run around the battlefield, hurling them onto the enemy and allowing them to feed. Creepy as it sounds, the loyalty of your tiny demonic horde is actually kind of…endearing.
First impression: A twisted sense of humor is necessary for maximum enjoyment.
Don't let the name fool you: Asphalt Injection is essentially the same game as Asphalt 6: Adrenaline for iOS and Android, offering simple, drift-and-accelerate action with real, licensed automobiles. The Vita version has many more cars and events than the smartphone/tablet version does--but at $30, it's also 30 times more expensive.
First impression: I like it on the iPhone, but it's too pricey on the Vita.
Like an ultralight version of Diablo, Dungeon Hunter: Alliance is a simple take on the "hack, slash, and loot" genre. Although Gameloft has added some touch and gesture controls, this game is otherwise a straightforward port of the PlayStation 3 version, which launched last year. For some reason, however, it's more than three times the price of the PS3 version, at $40.
First impression: Wait for a meatier action RPG.
What this downloadable puzzler lacks in color, it makes up for in character. Players must help Lil and Laarg escape a twisted prison, using finger swipes and taps to manipulate the surroundings and provide safe passage. You can expect a decent amount of trial and error, but at least the characters' demises are comical.
First impression: It's a clever game with a slower pace.
EA Sports' first soccer title for the Vita has the features you'd expect in a full-size console game, including a career mode, online play, and lots of leagues to choose from. It also makes clever use of the Vita's touch controls, letting players aim their on-goal kicks using either the touchscreen or the rear touch panel.
First impression: This is a faithful soccer sim, but watch out for accidental taps of the rear touch panel.
The latest version of Hot Shots follows a familiar golf-game formula: Pick a club, line up your shot, adjust for the wind, and tap a button to swing, with careful timing for accuracy and distance. It's a relaxing game with lots to unlock, but not much variety.
First impression: I liked it for about an hour.
What new gaming system would be complete without a collection of minigames to show off all of the hardware's gimmicks? Little Deviants gives the Vita's touch panels and motion sensors a workout, offering shooting, racing, fighting, and more. In the screenshot here, players must roll a Deviant around obstacles by raising the surrounding terrain with the rear touch panel.
First impression: Cheap satisfaction, like fast food.
Although Lumines looks like a generic block-based, color-matching puzzle game, it's the sound that makes all the difference, with electric dance tracks and quantized sound effects driving the action. Electric Symphony introduces optional touch controls, plus an experience system that provides new abilities as you level up.
First impression: Not recommended if you hate techno.
No need to learn the King of Pop's dance moves here. As long as you have nimble fingers and fast reflexes, you'll have no trouble making a virtual Michael pull off the Thriller dance on screen. Interacting with the classics is great, but there's not much else to do, so the game artificially draws out its playing time by making you earn experience points before unlocking harder difficulty levels.
First impression: Buy some MP3s instead, and wait for a bargain-bin price.
Like the PlayStation 3 version of ModNation Racers, Road Trip doesn't offer anything special when it comes to racing. The big hook is its customization, as it lets players create their own avatars, cars, and tracks. On the Vita, laying down roads and obstacles on a course of your own design is as simple as dragging a finger along the touchscreen.
First impression: Not for those who don't like to tinker.
Another console-to-handheld port, Rayman Origins is an old-school 2D platformer with lots of lovable characters, coins to collect, and bad guys to stomp on--or punch in the face. Collecting everything within the game's 60 levels is no easy task, so buyers will get lots of mileage out of this one.
First impression: A must-buy for platformer fans.
You'd be forgiven for knowing nothing about the Shinobido series, because neither the original PlayStation 2 game nor its PSP sequel ever saw release in the United States. But if you've played the Tenchu series, you know the gist: Use ninja skills to sneak around and slay the enemy without being detected. The stealth action feels outdated in Shinobido 2, but the game adds a layer of intrigue by letting players influence a civil war, depending on which factions they decide to work with.
First impression: Despite the outdated feel, the game is still enjoyable.
The asteroid-blasting light show of Super Stardust Delta feels right at home on the Vita, showing off the handheld's gorgeous 5-inch display. Players must switch weapon types to match the color of incoming asteroids and enemies, and use special weapons in emergencies, but otherwise the action is straightforward. And when that gets old, you have a handful of minigames to unlock, all of which make use of the Vita's touch and motion controls.
First impression: A good palate-cleanser between more-substantial games.
From the moment the intro song begins, it's clear that the Katamari series hasn't lost its weirdness. But the game itself is much the same as its predecessors, with players gathering items into a sticky, rolling ball that can gobble up progressively larger items as it expands. Obligatory touch controls give you the ability to move by swiping across the screen, as well as to squeeze or flatten the ball by using the rear touch panel.
First impression: Funny as usual, but not much new for veterans.
Proving again that the Vita can handle console-quality games in a tiny package, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 makes its way from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 to Sony's new handheld. The action flows smoothly and the graphics pop, but I recommend that you avoid the single-player touch mode, which pretty much plays itself if you tap the screen furiously enough.
First impression: The console-to-handheld conversion is impressive in this fighter.
Treasure hunter Nathan Drake's portable debut is also the first Uncharted game not developed by Naughty Dog, and it shows: The dialogue isn't quite as witty compared with that of the console games, and nonstop artifact gathering distracts from the climbing and shooting action, which is still excellent. Gripes aside, Uncharted: Golden Abyss still looks and feels like a system-seller.
First impression: Fun, but not as charming as the console games.
Wipeout 2048 on the Vita can't quite keep up with the silky-smooth frame rates of its PS3 counterpart, yet the high-speed, futuristic racing is just as exciting. This is the kind of game that makes you hunch forward, eyes fixed on the screen while tuning out all distractions--as any great racing game should.
First impression: A solid buy, but serious hand-eye coordination skills are necessary.
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