This week right here could prove to be a very important one in the PS Vita's fight to establish itself. Since its launch it’s well-known that units haven't exactly flown off the shelves; similar in many ways to the struggles the Nintendo 3DS encountered in its first few months on sale, but all is far from lost. Sony has a plan, it would seem, and it's quite an intriguing one at that.
A few months back I gave my thoughts on the early days of the PS Vita, and the major thing that stood out to most early adopters, myself included, was the lack of must have AAA games. That problem has been significantly addressed in the last month, with games from household names like Assassins Creed, Call of Duty and Need for Speed all arriving on the system; the latter of which I'm lead to believe is an almost perfect copy of the console version. Couple that with what was already one of the most critically impressive launch line ups of recent times (check this out - I took the combined average Metacritic scores for the top 10 games at launch on the PS3, Xbox 360, PSP, 3DS and the original DS, and only the Xbox 360 came out with a better average score). So, from a games perspective, while we had a pretty barren summer, it's hard to argue with the strength of the catalogue after just nine months.
Sony has taken yet more steps to improve the appeal of the PS Vita though. Today sees the long awaited launch of PlayStation Plus on the handheld, complete with a PS Vita specific 'Instant Game Collection' to compliment the PlayStation 3's already highly successful equivalent. The line-up for the first offering of free games makes for impressive reading; Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Gravity Rush represent two of the best top tier games on the system, and they're joined by two smaller but equally appealing titles in Chronovolt and Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack. US subscribers even get WipEout 2048 and Jet Set Radio thrown in on top, which is partly the reason I'll be switching my PSN account to a US one later this week (more on that in a minute). Considering that none of these games are more than nine months old, and they're really bloody good by all accounts too, it's a line up which both surprises and delights. Most importantly, it seems to successfully pull off the delicate balancing act of rewarding early adopters and also providing Sony with a fantastic way to entice those on the fence about how good an investment the PS Vita is now starting to become. Compare it to Nintendo's solution; a radical price cut and a smattering of classic Nintendo games given free to early adopters who'd shelled out over £200 when the 3DS first came out. It shows that Sony has really put some thought into how to make the PS Vita more appealing, beyond just hitting the panic button and slashing the console price.
Pricing is still an issue with the AAA games though, which many feel could really do with being £10 or so cheaper than their console equivalents to encourage more sales. Similarly, the Crossbuy initiative, whereby users buying a PS3 copy of a game will get the PS Vita version free, is currently underused. PlayStation All Stars: Battle Royale is the only released title I'm aware of that uses it so far, and it is a shame that EA couldn't be persuaded to use it for Need for Speed: Most Wanted, but it is still early days on that front.
There is still one more ace up the sleeve of the PS Vita, at least for those living in the US. The game I've been looking forward to most for the Vita, Persona 4: Golden, launched in the States today (the other major reason I'm switching to a US account - I can't physically wait another four months to play it). The third Persona game was ported to the PSP with great success in the form of P3P. The conversion of the fourth game looks even better; with nothing scaled back in terms of the world map or gameplay (although P3P's cutbacks were carefully implemented to take advantage of the portable nature of the system) and even more content packed on top. It should be so much more than just a HD upgrade, and it's based on one of the greatest JRPGs ever.
When you add all of the new releases and enhancements to the PS Vita that have come about over the last month or so, it points to one thing; Sony are throwing the kitchen sink at making the PS Vita's first Christmas a happy one. It's a console that needs a bigger user base, and everybody knows that. It's going to be fighting in a very competitive market this Christmas with the iPad Mini and Wii U set to challenge heavily for consumer's cash. It's a console that's on one hand in danger of slipping into obscurity and yet on the other it's one that's showing enormous promise. Whatever happens, I'm not regretting my purchase, and I can't see why many hardcore gamers would. In the meantime, minus my well documented frustrations with the limitations of Remote Play, it's hard to see how Sony could have made it a more inviting proposition so far.