The 10-year-old PlayStation Vita still beats the Nintendo Switch
The PlayStation Vita is my favorite type of product: the “too good for this sinful land (opens in a new tab)“nice. Just like the iRiver H300, the Microsoft Zune or Sony’s own PlayStation Vue, the Vita was ahead of its time. The general public just wasn’t ready for what it had to offer, even if it adopted the same feature sets in arguably inferior products a few years later.
I recently had the chance to reconnect with my Vita, after having left it dormant in a drawer for the past few years. I was impressed with the system’s excellent library of games, gorgeous screen, surprisingly good speakers, intuitive interface, and most importantly, excellent battery life. I was also shocked to find that this 10-year-old system still outperforms the much newer and more sophisticated Nintendo Switch in some ways.
Maybe hindsight is 20/20, or maybe the Vita was just in the right place at the right time last week. Either way, my reunion with Sony’s latest handheld console was bittersweet. The Vita could have been so much more.
Revisiting the classics
An unusual set of circumstances convinced me to take the Vita back. My go-to game lately has been Final Fantasy XIV, which has kept me glued to my PC for the past few weeks. But I also had a series of podiatric surgeries, which meant I had to keep my foot elevated for long periods of time. I needed something I could play on the couch or in bed, but I wanted to play Final Fantasy.
While you can get plenty of Final Fantasy titles on Android, touch controls aren’t the ideal way to play them. The Switch has a handful of Final Fantasy titles, but for some reason recent Pixel Remasters of older games are missing. Surprisingly, the best way to replay some of the Final Fantasies classics is on the Sony PlayStation Portable – or better yet, the Vita, which has a bigger screen and better performance.
I could talk at length about Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, which for some unfathomable reason is still only available on PSP and Vita. The game holds up beautifully after all these years, mostly thanks to its interesting characters, fast pace, and challenging combat system. The Complete Collection is also the only place you can play the short Interlude adventure between FFIV and the substantial sequel After Years. I also think the full collection has nicer graphics than the newer ones Final Fantasy IV Pixel RemasterBut it’s a question of taste.
However, the Vita hardware is perhaps even more interesting than the game I played on it. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if modern portable systems have just gotten us used to bad design, because the Vita is both so different and so much better than anything on the market today.
PlayStation Vita vs. Nintendo Switch
What struck me the most after my week with the Vita was how much I liked it more than the Switch – and I like the Switch a lot.
First of all, the Vita is small and light. I don’t mean it’s small and light compared to a full-size console; I mean it measures 7.2 x 3.4 x 0.6 inches and weighs 7.7 ounces. It’s slightly larger than most smartphones, to be fair. But if you remember that most smartphones require an unwieldy controller dock like the Razer Kishi V2 to function as gaming consoles, the Vita still wins. Unlike the Switch (9.5 x 4.0 x 0.6 inches, 10.6 ounces), it actually fits in a pocket. And while that’s probably not ideal for the system screen, it does mean the Vita is actually portable, not just “portable, if you’ve got a big enough bag”.
It’s also worth noting that the PS Vita pulled off the “portable with an OLED screen” trick nearly a decade before Nintendo tried it. The first-generation PS Vitas all sported stunning OLED screens, which brought vibrant colors and deep blacks to its graphically demanding games. While my own Vita is a second-gen model with a standard LCD screen, I’ve seen the original in action, and it’s still a cut above just about anything but the Switch OLED.
It’s difficult to compare the game libraries of the Vita and the Switch, as the Switch always gets new titles, while the Vita doesn’t (for the majority (opens in a new tab)). But I would still give the Vita a slight nod. The system has an absolute bargain of JRPGs, from the underrated Tales of Hearts R to the aforementioned Final Fantasies. Uncharted: Golden Abyss was as good as any big-screen game in the series, and it’s a shame Gravity Rush never caught on, as it was one of the most action-packed action games around. creative for years.
The Vita also lets you buy classic games from previous generations and keep them permanently, a lesson the Switch could still learn. That’s because the Vita is backwards compatible with the PSP, which extends the library even further. The Switch isn’t backwards compatible with the Wii U – and the Wii U library is on its way out.
What I liked most about the Vita, however, was how long I could play it. While the Switch lasts between three and five hours, depending on the game, I got over six hours from my first big FF4 push. It might not seem like a huge disparity, but given that I couldn’t have easily walked to a power outlet, the few extra hours saved me a lot of pain and frustration. And, as anyone who’s ever been on a long plane trip can attest, an extra two hours of charging can make all the difference.
There’s a lot more to love about the Vita, once you’ve settled in. The interface is both intuitive and customizable; rear touch controls are handy; the PS4 remote play feature is excellent. But the bottom line is that the Vita has exactly what a handheld needs to succeed: a compact design, an excellent library and a long battery life. And yet, for some reason, the console just didn’t work.
There have been a thousand post-mortems of the Vita, and they all say the same thing: Sony overcharged for the hardware and didn’t secure enough must-have games for it. It is totally true. But there’s great material behind all the missteps, and I’m glad I still have some. Next time I take a long trip, maybe I’ll leave my Switch at home and remember when Sony almost revolutionized the portable gaming scene.