State of the systems

I’ll admit that I’m not part of the crowd that instantly buys a new videogame system when it comes out. So when the Playstation Vita was released in the USA and Europe last week, I didn’t rush out to go buy one. Instead, I used the release as a moment to gather my thoughts on all the current and upcoming gaming systems and figured I’d share those thoughts with you as well.

The Playstation Vita is essentially Sony’s follow-up to the PSP that looks remarkably similar to the 2004 handheld, and could as such be mistaken for another “PSP Go”-esque redesign. Aside from an additional thumbstick, a touchpad on the rear and two cameras, the cosmetic changes are minor. There are significant changes ‘under the hood’ though, and they make the Vita far more powerful than the PSP ever was. With a maximum resolution of 960*544 pixels and plenty of processing power, this is a handheld system that can power a console experience like Uncharted.

And that is what the PSP’s promise was as well; bringing the console experience to handheld systems. I’m actually a big fan of the PSP, even though I didn’t buy one until later. It’s probably my favorite way of spending a few hours during a long plane ride, and *almost* has me believing I’m back on my own couch playing a videogame and not in a cramped airplane seat. With a lineup that includes versions of Uncharted, Ridge Racer and Call of Duty, the Vita seems to offer the same promise. As I generally favor those titles over casual experiences (especially when I have a few hours to kill), this is a great thing.

Looking at the Vita, however, that is also where my doubts lie. The Vita comes with touch screen technology, cameras built into the front and back, a touch pad on the rear and sixaxis motion control. Noone is going to blame Sony for not putting enough features in, that much is certain. Touch pad and camera applications that I’ve seen so far are more suited to the casual experience though, which has me questioning what the Vita really wants to be. That will eventually decide whether I’ll get one, and ultimately (like with most systems) that will be down to the software lineup. At last year’s Gamescom, I was able to sample the Vita and saw Uncharted: Golden Abyss in action. It brought back memories of playing God of War on my PSP; an amazing handheld experience. If the Vita’s future is filled with clones of DS games though, it might be in trouble.

Meanwhile, Sony’s PS3 is still going strong despite the Move platform apparantly losing some momentum after its 2010 launch. The same can be said about the 360 and Kinect, with Microsoft’s motion control system also struggling to be more than just a casual gaming interface. So far, the platform has seen its fair share of casual sports games and dance games, which doesn’t set it that far apart from the Wii. I’ll reference Gamescom again and note that when I playtested “Let’s Dance with Mel B” (I’ll admit it), I didn’t quite get what I was hoping for when Kinect was announced. Upcoming releases like Star Wars Kinect and Ryse will show if that promise will ever be fulfilled during this console generation.

Which opens the door for some speculation regarding upcoming systems. We all know Nintendo’s coming out with the Wii U and will announce more details during the coming year, but what are Sony and Microsoft doing? Sony has (of course) already denied rumors it’s working on the PS4, standing by their claim that the PS3 is supposed to last gamers at least 10 years. Remember how PS2 games kept coming out for a few more years after the PS3’s launch, extending the PS2 life cycle? That’s what that reminds me of. In other words, they’ll likely announce something not long after Microsoft does.

Speculation regarding an Xbox 360 follow up has involved more detailed information, ranging from the intended graphics processor to the use of “Kinect 2”, a follow-up that incorporates voice recognition, higher resolutions and the ability to read lips. For now, these are just rumors, but they are persistent enough to hint at some news come this summer’s E3. By then, we’ll also know what the future holds for the current generation of gaming platforms. Will Kinect deliver on its promise of not just being a casual gaming instrument, or will that promise migrate to Microsoft’s next system? And will the Vita stand out as a hardcore gaming handheld, or will it be a multi-purpose device that is good at a lot of things but never gains firm ground within the gaming crowd? The Wii U is promising to bridge the gap between consoles and handhelds while changing gameplay in various innovative ways, but will it transcend the Wii’s image of a casual platform? Whatever happens, it will be an interesting year for gaming technology and I’ll be watching it closely.

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