The debate continues to rage boringly across the internet as to whether the PlayStation Vita's Japanese release has been a disaster. Some commentators have urged patience rather than wholesale condemnation of a faltering strategy. Others, including plenty of hot-tempered Nintendo 3DS owners, have declared the whole launch a massive botch. (Perhaps their argument is that it takes one to know one.)
But while you wouldn't want to bet on the success of a new handheld in these fearsomely competitive days of App Stores, tablets and Slide Circle Pad Pros, you can always bet your house that a new console from Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft will definitely mean at least one thing: a mini-game compilation. For PlayStation Vita, Sony looked to UK-based Bigbig, an offshoot of Evolution Studios, and the result is a game called Little Deviants. As these things go, it's perfectly agreeable.
As you might imagine, Little Deviants is as much about showcasing the myriad different functions of the multi-talented Vita as it is about keeping you entertained. Most of the mini-games use the touch-screen, plenty make use of the built-in gyroscope, and the splendidly named rear touch function is a regular participant. At one stage you're even invited to sing - or at least make noises at a few different pitches.
After meeting the titular deviants - squidgy, worm-like creatures who seem to have merrily arrived on Earth and then been attacked by killer robots from outer space - you quickly settle into a rhythm of completing mini-games to unlock rocket parts, although the Japanese version has almost no English text so I may have gotten this upside down and back to front. It's unlikely that your enjoyment of the game will be significantly heightened or lowered by understanding everyone's motive, however.
When it comes to dragging your attention around the Vita's many functions, Little Deviants is a perfect tour guide. The lack of English text merely draws attention to the intuitive nature of each of the console's functions, as you can quickly decipher what you're meant to do just by glancing at two or three icons denoting control styles before you begin. Aha, this one must be gyroscope. This one's got front and rear touch so there may well be some pinching. Yup yup. A couple of the more obscure mini-games, of which there are around a dozen, took a minute or so to figure out, but the process of deduction was actually rather entertaining. (Perhaps Sony should ship the European version in Japanese as well.)
"The quality varies, but the best mini-games could be cut out and packaged up as perfectly serviceable (and perhaps even highly addictive) iPhone or Android games."
The quality varies, but the best ones could be cut out and packaged up as perfectly serviceable (and perhaps even highly addictive) iPhone or Android games. There's a recurring one where you have to tilt the Vita left and right to direct a little deviant guy past obstacles - sea mines and sunken ruins in an underwater zone, or London buses and miniature equestrian statues at sea level - while collecting stars and boost icons that allow you to maintain distance from a giant robot fish that pursues you until you've snagged on things enough times for it to gobble you up.
In another, you have to roll around countryside vistas collecting stars before tumbling into swirling green warp gates, but control is by rear touch rather than front - you move your finger around on the Vita's rear end to lift up patches of scenery as if from below, which create hills that send your circular deviant hurtling across the grass. It's not the most comfortable method of control and takes getting used to, but as a brief few minutes of gameplay every half an hour it works rather well. Meanwhile, the several gyroscope-driven rolling games that involve navigating mazes or moving across networks of platforms and ramps collecting stars and avoiding robots are well executed and extremely responsive.
Other highlights include a boxing ring where you have to use front and rear touch together to pinch the ropes and slingshot your deviant at enemies, and several variations of an augmented reality shoot-'em-up, where you need to spin around in your seat blasting flying robots or, right at the end of the game's campaign, hauling them in with a magnet and firing them at one another to make them explode. Even simple things like a Wac-A-Mole affair where you have to tap on enemies who pop up in windows of a building, using front or rear touch depending on which way they are shielded, are surprisingly moreish.
Not every game hits the mark. Some, like a hot air balloon game, try to do too many things at once and leave you grasping for front and rear touch while holding the Vita in portrait perspective - where it looks unflatteringly akin to a giant Fisher Price smartphone - and struggling to keep hold of the handheld as much as fight off birds, patch holes, fuel your balloon and avoid explosives. And the penultimate game, a sequence of puzzles where you redirect energy flow with a handful of conduits that each have different properties, is much too fiddly to be enjoyable for long.
While there are different medals to aim for by posting higher scores, it's also hard to imagine - as is so often the case with console launch mini-game compilations - of returning to Little Deviants much once you have exhausted its complement of games and their variations. This is where perhaps Bigbig Studios could have learned even more from smartphone games, by including objective-based modes, unlockable multipliers and other gameplay modifiers that keep the quest for higher scores ramping up over time and offer greater impetus to keep pecking away.
For the handful of hours that it lasts, though, Little Deviants is a pleasant companion. It's not remarkably stylish or memorable - although it never looks less than charming as it sashays in rich cartoon fashion across the Vita's luxurious high-resolution screen - 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 when more addictive smartphone games desert you.
Will you support Eurogamer?