PlayStation Vita launches in Europe and North America today! Sony's feature-stuffed slab of gaming prowess is invitingly sleek, but it's not exactly straightforward. It might look like a jumbo PSP, but with its dual analogue sticks, dual touch screens, dual cameras and motion sensors - not to mention its deep online integration and extremely close relationship with PS3 - there's never been a portable games console like it. Add an absolutely bulging line-up of software at launch, and it's easy to feel a little overwhelmed.
Fortunately for you, we've been covering Vita in depth since its Japanese launch in December last year (and before), so here's a summary of everything we've learned to date to help you pick your way through it. If this doesn't sate your appetite, try hitting the PlayStation Vita filter on the left of the homepage and exploring everything we've published about this machine. Ever.
There are so many games available at launch that we've only been able to review some of them. But we've got our hands on as many as possible so we can provide you with a rough buyer's guide to the full launch line-up - or almost all of it - below.
Should I buy a Vita?
In short, if you like hardcore gaming on the move: yes. Let Tom Bramwell be your guide in our PlayStation Vita review. "The good news for hardcore gamers is that in amongst all of that functionality are a few things that could - if the software follows - make this the best gaming portable ever," Tom wrote.
"We need that second analogue stick... and it's here at last, and makes as profound a difference to handheld gameplay as anything since the original DS second screen and stylus. There is a lot to be said for simplicity in control, but core gamers need flexibility and precision, and Vita should be the most flexible and precise handheld console ever made."
He concluded: "For now then, PlayStation Vita is potentially the most powerful and flexible gaming handheld ever, but it is already a fantastic one. It has been built on old logic, and it may not be a successful commercial venture - the knives are already out for it in some quarters - but it has already yielded some brilliant titles and Sony has a history of strongly supporting its own formats with a mixture of traditional and innovative software, while Vita's functional similarity to home consoles makes it very third-party friendly, so it feels like a safe bet providing nothing catastrophic happens to Sony itself."
Not enough detail for you? Try Digital Foundry's in-depth technical analysis. "PlayStation Vita is the complete package," said the DF hive mind (in binary, probably). "From a raw processing standpoint, the hardware is capable of delivering on a graphical standard that lies somewhere between the PS2 and PS3 (although much closer to the latter), while being able to multi-task effortlessly with a range of social apps.
"Whether or not the current naysayings surrounding the Vita's mass commercial appeal have any merit, it can still stand proud as an enthusiast gamer's dream handheld... If it's a pure gaming machine you're after, and if you subscribe to Sony's vision of taking the home console experience on the go, PlayStation Vita is precisely catered towards your needs."
OK, I want one. Where should I buy it from?
As ever, Team News has your back. We'll be updating our guide to the cheapest Vita prices throughout the week. If you shop around, you should be able to get a Wi-Fi Vita for around £200.
Now for the important part. The games! The prices quoted below are for the PlayStation Store, but you may well be able to find physical copies cheaper from stores and online retailers. (Additional text by Martin Robinson.)
Uncharted: Golden Abyss (£39.99): "A cleverly constructed game that more than justifies its addition to a series already lathered in superlatives. While the absence of multiplayer means it won't last you as long as previous instalments, new control options have allowed the developers to line the seams of Drake's adventure with flashy tassels and detailing that make for a varied and entertaining outing - perhaps even more so than its big brothers," wrote Tom in our review.
MotorStorm RC (£4.79 - digital only): The cheapest Vita game is also one of the very best. An infectious return to the top-down racing days of Super Sprint, Super Off-Road, Mashed and the like, Evolution's radio-controlled racer also has superb social features and live leaderboard implementation that make it even more addictive (and a perfect complement for a 3G machine). And it's dual format, coming with a free PS3 version. Online/local multiplayer would be nice, but at less than a fiver, it's churlish to complain and rude not to buy. (Review soon.)
Please Sony, release it soon
Gravity Rush: It's a bit cheeky to include this, since it doesn't have a release date for North America or Europe yet, but it's our favourite Vita game by far - and worth considering importing the Japanese edition, called Gravity Daze. "Sure, it's a little repetitive at times, but the things it asks you to repeat are wonderful, and it's built by a design team that's in love with the simple pleasure of movement. If you're drawn to games by the satisfaction offered by their simplest mechanics, Gravity Daze is a total delight," wrote Donlan in our review.
Everybody's Golf (£29.99): "Conservative, but still rich and engaging, Everybody's Golf will never stand centre stage in the Vita's launch line-up. But in truth, it's one of the strongest launch titles, offering taut fun and challenge in a rapid-fire, quick-load manner that's perfectly suited to the handheld," wrote Simon in our review.
Lumines: Electronic Symphony (£29.99): We'll review it soon, but Martin's preview will tell fans all they need to know: "Lumines: Electronic Symphony is celebrating launching another of Sony's portables by trying its best to be, if not the most radically different of the various iterations, then at least the definitive one... It's well stacked in terms of rhythms, too."
Plants vs. Zombies (£8.99 - digital only): Alright, if you haven't played this in one of its 398 previous incarnations, you're crazy like Dave, and it's a lot cheaper on an iPhone if you have one of those. But what the hell, it looks simply gorgeous on Vita - and it's undoubtedly one of the best games of the last decade. "As fresh and accessible as Super Mario, and as refined and considered as Left 4 Dead," said Donlan way back when.
Rayman Origins (£29.99): The first pixel-perfect console port for the Vita? It helps that the source material is a traditional side-scrolling platformer, but what a gorgeous platformer Rayman Origins is. The beauty's intact on the Vita, and the painterly artwork of Ubisoft's original absolutely sings on the OLED display. As does the game itself, which is a jump-for-jump recreation of the home console original. All that's missing is local multiplayer - a sad omission, but the rest of the package is more than enough to put the smile back on your face. (Check out our review of the PS3 version.)
Super Stardust Delta (£6.49, or £7.99 bundled with DLC - digital only): We've yet to fully sink our teeth into this, but Housemarque's Super Stardust is a series we love and trust; HD is still one of our all-time favourite Store games on PS3. Delta looks and plays just great, it's stuffed with modes and it's a natural handheld game, so we've no hesitation in recommending it. (Review soon.)
Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 (£39.99): "How well it's all suited to a handheld port becomes an issue of irrelevance within seconds of playing. This is a pitch-perfect port... This is the most hardcore of games arriving intact on what's shaping up to be the most hardcore of handhelds and right now, it's one of the best testaments to the power and potential of the Vita," wrote Martin in our review.
Virtua Tennis 4 (£34.99): It's easy to overlook, but to Sega's credit, it's done its best to provide as thoughtful a version as possible of one of the best tennis games you can buy. The mini-games that have been the bread and butter of the series are delivered through some neat exploration of the Vita's extensive feature-set, and it even goes as far as to support two players on one unit. As for the tennis itself, it's as bright and cheerful as ever, backed up by bold and colourful visuals. (Check out our review of the 360 and PS3 versions.)
WipEout 2048 (£29.99): "Several steps down from the series' best, but is still a robust and muscular racer, and one that with its solid online and dazzling visuals, does much to recommend its host hardware," wrote Martin in our review.
Worth a Try
Army Corps of Hell (£34.99): The stand-out oddity of the line-up, Square Enix's sole offering is a sort of heavy metal Pikmin in which you command a small army of goblins in basic arena combat scenarios. It's unlike anything else, it's fun for a while and the soundtrack of homegrown Japanese thrash metal is awesome - but it's also repetitive, ugly and the production values are poor. One for the adventurous. (Review soon.)
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend (£34.99): This seems to be a good version of Arc System Works' excellent hardcore fighting game, although genre fans with anything but the most refined tastes should probably pick up Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 first. (Check out our review of the Xbox 360 version.)
Dynasty Warriors Next (£29.99): Impressions suggests it's the same old Dynasty Warriors, only with extensive touch control options. Musou fans should feel right at home. (Review soon.)
Escape Plan (£9.99 - digital only): The black-and-white visuals are stunning and this puzzle adventure has the warped, gruesome charm of a Tim Burton cartoon. But the touch controls are fussy and awkward, it's rather short, and it's hard to escape the feeling that this kind of thing is done much better by any number of indie games on iOS, Steam and the like; it feels like a poor man's Machinarium. (Review soon.)
F1 2011 (£44.99): The Codemasters racer is a more technically assured experience than its 3DS counterpart, though it seems developer Sumo has been quicker to explore the extremities of Sony's handheld than it did with Nintendo's. It's handsome enough and technically competent, providing an enjoyable facsimile of the home console experience with only a handful of its features snipped. Expensive, though.
FIFA Football (£44.99): Brammers reports that Vita FIFA offers an adequate game of football, but one that feels a little forced and out-of-date with its FIFA 11 underpinnings. If you must have football on your Vita, you won't go too far wrong, but it might be worth waiting to see what's next. (Review soon.)
Hustle Kings (£6.49 - digital only): A port of the relatively well-regarded PS3 pool game, this seems to be very faithful and make good use of the Vita's features - including the welcome option to play against PS3 owners via Cross Play. It's a natural fit for handheld play, too. A shame some modes are being held back as DLC.
Little Deviants (£19.99): "For the handful of hours that it lasts, Little Deviants is a pleasant companion. It's not remarkably stylish or memorable... but it's a splendid ambassador for the console's many functions, and among its better mini-games has the potential to save you from a boring train journey every once in a while," wrote Tom in our review.
ModNation Racers: Road Trip (£29.99): "It's always worth remembering that ModNation Racers is one of the few user-generated content offerings that lets even the least creative of its users generate content... As for the wider game, this isn't the most charismatic racing series around, perhaps, but Road Trip is a surprisingly enjoyable instalment nonetheless," wrote Chris in our review.
Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus (£29.99): A port of a port, and a relatively straight one at that, this adds a few touch controls to the PS3 adaptation of the original Xbox Ninja Gaiden. Offers little new if you've played it before, but it's a good version of a great game, and undoubtedly one of the better action experiences on Vita. (Review soon.)
Top Darts (£6.49 - digital only): Another solid bar sports conversion of a PS Store stalwart. You have to care about darts, of course, but good multiplayer options and touch controls make this an appealing prospect, and once again it's a nice fit for a portable console.
Touch My Katamari (£24.99): "Touch My Katamari is an enjoyable enough diversion for a few hours and nobody comes away shamed, as every box is checked for expected series and console functionality. On the other hand though, this approach also epitomises the series' greatest and most repeated failing in the years since Takahashi left: where once Katamari Damacy was an inventive and playful form of subversion, nowadays it's just a half-decent video game. Expect them to make another half dozen," wrote Tom in our review.
Reality Fighters (£19.99): "A lightweight launch experience that will be enjoyed least by serious fighting game fans and most, I suspect, by families, where everyone can get their face in the game and have a right old hoot over it for 10 minutes here and there... If the engaging novelty of the experience appeals, there are laughs to be had if you're prepared to tolerate the technical eccentricities," wrote Johnny in our review.
Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen (£34.99): Our review of this entry in Acquire's long-running ninja stealth series (it's a Tenchu spin-off) is in the works, but here's an exclusive preview: "Shinobido 2 is an honest stealth-action game that sticks rigidly to the ninja code set by its predecessors, but in a way that offers well over 10 hours of sabotage missions, assassination attempts and general sneaking," says Matt Edwards. One for the fans. (Review soon.)
Asphalt: Injection (£19.99): Asphalt is the game that's launched a thousand systems, although Gameloft's limp racing series is the equivalent of wetting the bow of a new console not with champagne but with a mug of lukewarm, stale tea. Injection continues the miserable tradition, and although it trumps last year's 3DS offering by providing a stable framerate it's still far from enjoyable and shows a spiteful disregard for anything approaching fun. Featuring overlong races around uninspired locations in cars that fail utterly to engage, it's another disappointment in a series that, against any common sense, continues to survive.
Michael Jackson The Experience HD (£19.99): Although the price tag might lead you to expect otherwise, this smooth criminal is a port of the miserable iPad rhythm game, and has little to do with the marginally more enjoyable dance games for the home consoles. "It's all just a bit sad really, and while devoted Jackson fans will find more reason than most to gloss over the practical shortcomings of the game, they run the risk of being left even sadder," said John Bedford in our review of the iPad version.
Ridge Racer (£16.99): "Ridge Racer's overarching structure lacks urgency, coherency and elegance. It is, in short, a mess. It's a desperate shame as the car handling is as exhilarating as ever. Indeed, you'll be able to happily play the game for a couple of hours before the reality of the derelict superstructure becomes fully evident. This is one of the biggest disappointments of the system, and the year," wrote Simon in our review.
Dungeon Hunter: Alliance (£29.99): Gameloft's other launch offering is typically poor, although at least Dungeon Hunter finds new ways to offend. A port of an iPhone series and existing PSN game, this is a slog through an admittedly mildly diverting loot-heavy action RPG. It comes fully featured with four-player online co-op and a fair amount of content, but falls short when it comes to offering any charm - and it does nothing to justify its newly acquired full-fat price point.
We don't know yet!
We haven't yet had a chance to try the digital-only launch games A-Men and Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack. We'll update this piece with impressions as soon as we can.