Sony found success in the handheld console space when it launched the PlayStation Portable (PSP) back in 2005 (2004 in Japan). It was a huge win for the company, with Nintendo finally getting a formidable and worthy contender after years of dominance thanks to the Game Boy family.
Though the PSP failed to match the innovative Nintendo DS, its rival at the time, in terms overall sales, it did more than enough to make a name for itself. The PSP was home to many notable titles such as Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Persona 3 Portable, and Monster Hunter Freedom Unite.
The PSP officially ended its run in 2014 after a decade, selling more than 80 million units in a 10-year span. It was officially succeeded by the beefier PlayStation Vita in 2012 (2011 in Japan). The Vita featured a touchscreen, an extra analog stick, and an overall advantage in hardware. With the success and popularity of the PSP, many held high hopes for the Vita.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go Sony’s way. The Vita ended up being a disappointment, with only 15 million units sold so far. A lot of factors contributed to its less-than-stellar performance compared to the PSP. Too expensive for casuals. Not enough first-party support. The unprecedented rise of mobile gaming. These are just some of the things that affected Vita sales.
The Vita is now basically dead outside of Japan, though indie titles continue to keep things afloat until Sony officially pulls the plug and discontinues production. Sony has made no indication to make another handheld console to succeed the Vita in the future. Though the company stirred up the speculation pot earlier this year when news of it filing a patent for a Nintendo Switch-like device surfaced.
It’s hard to see Sony actually pushing through with another dedicated handheld console in the near future. Sony currently has its hands full with virtual reality technology (PlayStation VR) and cloud gaming (PlayStation Now). Plus, the arrival of the powerful Xbox One X later this year means Sony will have to double its efforts in making sure the PS4 always stays in competitive shape.
But one can still dream, right? Call it summer dreaming, if you will. Let’s pretend the big bosses at Sony are currently cooking up plans for another dedicated handheld console. For this article, we’ll call it Vita 2.0 because we’re not in the mood to think of more creative names.
What features should Sony add or change? What features should Sony keep from the current Vita? And what features should Sony permanently forget about? Here’s our take.
1. Cut the crap with proprietary memory cards
Unlike the 3DS, the Vita isn’t compatible with third-party memory cards. You can only use memory cards that Sony produces. Nothing really wrong with that, actually. Sony has every right to monopolize the market for Vita accessories. The problem is that Vita memory cards are goddamn expensive.
If you mainly buy physical copies of games, an 8GB or 16GB memory card – officially priced at $20 and $40, respectively – should be enough. But if you buy a lot of digital games, be prepared to cough up $80 for 32GB. That’s right. $80 just for a Vita memory card. For comparison, a 32GB memory card for a 3DS costs less than $20. With games becoming larger and larger these days, 32GB won’t be enough to accommodate digital goods.
Sony should allow cheaper, third-party memory cards to be compatible with the Vita 2.0. If not, at least cut the prices of the proprietary memory cards into much friendlier numbers. There is no way around this. It’s either one of the two or both, period. The expensive Vita memory cards are a huge turn-off, especially for casuals.
2. Keep cartridge format and offer Vita backward compatibility
The Vita is more than capable of running PSP games, allowing players still left with backlogs to catch up. However, the Vita can’t run physical copies of PSP games simply because it uses a different medium (cartridges) to store games. Players who previously owned a PSP need to re-buy PSP games in digital format from the PlayStation Store in order to play them on Vita.
Sony should give the Vita 2.0 full backward compatibility for both physical and digital Vita games. The former can be done in two ways. First: Don’t change the current Vita cartridge format and allow physical copies of Vita games to directly plug into the cartridge port of the Vita 2.0. And second: Include a separate port for Vita games similar to the Game Boy Advance port on the DS.
Another option is to allow players to convert physical Vita games into digital format, which can then be played on Vita 2.0. Actually, this sounds like the best option, though if Sony rolls with this one, it will probably charge a fee for the conversion, which is a very Sony thing to do. Of course, to prevent piracy, Sony can put some kind of lock to the converted digital game so that only the original owner can play the game on Vita 2.0.
3. Keep the Vita 2.0 completely region-free
One of the biggest turn-offs about the 3DS is that it is region-locked. This means the 3DS can only run games from a matching region. Sony made the correct decision by not doing the same thing with the Vita. The Vita can run any game from any region. For example, a Japanese Vita can still run games released in the United States and Europe and vice versa.
It only applies to physical copies of games, though. Both digital games and downloadable content, free or otherwise, are region-locked. For example, players can use a US PSN account on an Asian Vita and play Asian releases of Vita games. But they can’t use DLC packs downloaded using the US PSN account on the Asian-version game. In short, all digital goods are region-locked.
Sony doesn’t really need to change anything with the Vita 2.0 when it comes to region-locking. The region-free feature of the Vita for physical copies should be carried over to the Vita 2.0. As for the digital goods? It isn’t really a deal-breaker to keep them region-locked as long as Sony will still allow multiple PSN accounts to be used on a single unit. Still, it would be nice if DLC is region-free as well.
Sony should also include the option for players to easily switch between different accounts without the need to reformat the memory card or buy another one. This will allow players to simply buy games regardless of the region without being hassled with going through a 10-minute process to reformat and switch accounts to match the region of the game for DLC purposes. Not all players have access to games that match the region of their units.
4. Offer two screen options – LCD and OLED
The Vita originally launched with an OLED screen, which made games look a lot more colorful and vibrant. The trade-off was that it drained the battery faster. Sony decided to go for a redesign by releasing a slimmer model, unofficially called Vita Slim, in 2014 (2013 in Japan).
The biggest change came in the form of the new screen. The Vita Slim featured an LCD screen, basically sacrificing image quality in exchange for better battery life. The decision to switch from OLED to LCD received mixed responses from fans and critics alike. Some didn’t make a big deal out of the “lower” image quality and welcomed the increased battery life. Others preferred the OLED screen because of, well, the higher image quality.
A debate on which Vita version is better won’t produce any clear-cut results. Everyone has preferences. In order to satisfy both parties, Sony should just release two versions of the Vita 2.0. One has an OLED screen while the other has an LCD screen. If Sony can come up with something that represents the best of both worlds, then the better. Nintendo certainly has no problems rolling out a new design for its line of handheld consoles every other Wednesday. Sony should do the same thing and offer options for players as well.
5. Slightly redesign the buttons and analog sticks
Let’s start by saying that the Vita has one of the best d-pads ever. Not just among handheld consoles, but among all other gaming systems in the history of gaming. Yes, it’s that good. Many fighting game enthusiasts love the Vita d-pad, which is a huge testament to how good it is. It has the right amount of clicky-ness and responsiveness and is quite sturdy.
Perhaps the only issue with the Vita d-pad is that it’s too small, especially for people who have particularly large thumbs. Sony should make the Vita 2.0 d-pad slightly bigger. It should also be positioned a bit farther away from the left analog stick, which sometimes gets in the way when executing painfully long combos in fighting games. But other than the size and positioning, Sony should keep the Vita d-pad intact.
The sizes of the action buttons are okay. They are very clicky when pressed. But like the d-pad, they are positioned unfavorably too close to the right analog stick. Sony should address this issue as well, along with the shoulder buttons, which don’t feel quite right when pressed.
The Vita 2.0 should also feature analog sticks with slightly bigger heads for a better grip. But in terms of responsiveness, the analog sticks on the Vita are spot on, so Sony should keep them that way for Vita 2.0. It would be nice if the analog sticks also function as L3 and R3 buttons through clicking, though. The Vita is already shorthanded due to the lack of the L2 and R2 triggers.
6. Remove the rear touchpad
The Vita not only has a touchscreen out front, it also features a rear touchpad. Basically, the rear touchpad acts as a sort of substitute to the missing L2 and R2 triggers. At first, the new feature seemed like an innovative way to interact with games much like the touch-sensitive second screen of the DS, which carried over to the 3DS.
The rear touchpad didn’t catch on, however. It proved too awkward to use. Some games put the rear touchpad to great use such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Tearaway. But the majority of the developers completely ignored its presence. Sony should also follow suit and forget about its existence. It feels more gimmicky than useful. The front touchscreen and the motion sensor feature are more than enough for more interactive inputs.
7. More first-party support for Vita 2.0
One of the biggest reasons why the Vita struggled was because Sony didn’t give it enough first-party support. The Vita roster of first-party titles is alarmingly thin, which is totally unacceptable. Among the most notable titles in the lineup include PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, Soul Sacrifice Delta, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and Gravity Rush.
Sony should develop more first-party games for the Vita 2.0. Not only to show consumers that the company is truly committed to making the new system a better place. But to also lead the way and encourage third-party developers to create games after Sony left them to carry the Vita load largely by themselves. The Vita never really had a so-called killer app, though Persona 4 Golden makes a really good case.
Sony can’t repeat the same mistake by not showing enough support for the Vita successor. It needs to be fully committed to the cause if it wants disappointed consumers to forget about the shortcomings of the Vita. And the best way to do that is to develop an excellent lineup of first-party titles, preferably at launch.
It’s going to take a lot for Sony to convince people to buy the Vita successor, especially casuals who are already hip-deep in mobile gaming. Almost everything needs to go right for Sony. The timing of the release. The features of the device. The price. The launch games lineup.
Sony can improve its chances by considering the things we listed in this article – most especially the first (memory card issue) and last (first-party support) points. Oh yeah, the PS4 Remote Play feature should also carry over to Vita 2.0 if Sony really wants to go up against the Nintendo Switch.