A Look Back at Warner's Support for the PlayStation Vita

A Look Back at Warner's Support for the PlayStation Vita - Article

by Adam Cartwright, posted on 20 November 2017 / 1,174 Views

This is the sixth entry in a series of articles looking at the output of a number of Vita-supporting companies, from launch through to the present day. I’ll be examining the games they released, how well they sold (if there's sufficient data), how well they ran in the case of ports, and will take a brief look at games which perhaps should have come to the console, either in the west or in general.

I've managed to look at one western publisher so far in this series - Ubisoft - which provided a spree of initial support in the Vita's early years that very much tapered off over time, in contrast to most Japanese companies that generally started off slow on the platform and then built up over time. Unsurprisingly, Warner falls very much into the former camp, providing a variety of software at the beginning of the Vita's life cycle that sadly slowed to a crawl by the end.

 

Launch & 2012 - A Good Showing

Unlike many of the companies I've looked at recently, Warner actually wasn't there for the platform's launch (although who can blame them based on the amount of titles that launched with the handheld). Warner was, however, a key partner of Sony's in keeping a stream of content flowing on the handheld throughout 2012.

Kicking things off was LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7, the latest in a popular line of licenced LEGO videogames that had released on other platforms in November 2011. The game arrived shortly after launch in March and promised a full LEGO experience on the go, but frustratingly it didn't deliver on this as the Vita version was based on the earlier PSP release (which itself was based on the DS version), a cut-down game which featured the same puzzle-solving, brick-collecting levels but had a number of features stripped out. As such, it marked a rocky start for the publisher on the handheld - Warner was clearly capable of doing more than this, but this first misstep could be excused due to the rush of getting a title ready for brand new hardware.

Things improved in May with its next release - Mortal Kombat. The 2011 fighting game reboot transitioned well to the Vita, providing full 60fps combat alongside all of the content from the Komplete Edition console release, as well as some handheld-specific features like a Challenge Tower and touchscreen additions. Unfortunately, it came at the price of visual fidelity - the game took a significant hit in the porting process, but most fans seemed content with this trade-off (VGChartz figures suggest the game shifted more than 700k copies worldwide, putting it very much on the upper tier of sales on the handheld).

The rest of Warner's 2012 was as to be expected, but it did have a couple of surprises up its sleeve. Following on from Harry Potter, in June 2012 Warner released LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes for Vita simultaneously with other platforms. Despite early rumors suggesting this was a full home-console game with free-roam included, reviews quickly noted that this was yet again a bespoke handheld version that introduced some fun bite-sized mechanics (Justice League levels) but cut out a lot of the features from the main releases. A similar issue plagued LEGO Lord of the Rings, which released in October, suggesting that Vita LEGO games were only ever going to be up-ports of the DS releases; a decision which disappointed many fans.

The company had another Vita game planned for October of 2012, however - a reboot of its action-racing franchise Spy Hunter. Following the original reboot in 2001 on the PS2, hopes were high for this new take on the series to replicate that brilliance, but sadly once the title released fans were disappointed with the lack of speed, poor-quality environments, and wonky controls. This was likely due to the fact that the game was a multi-platform release with the 3DS - a much weaker piece of hardware that probably meant development had started on the 3DS and then been up-ported to Vita.

It marked a disappointing end to a somewhat disappointing year for Warner. The publisher clearly wanted to support Vita and had moments of brilliance with releases like Mortal Kombat, but it was obvious the company wasn't willing to put the effort in to fully realise the handheld's potential.

 

2013 - Warner's Best Year on Vita?

2013 was a much stronger year for Warner on Vita - the publisher definitely brought its A-game in the holiday season, although prior to this its release schedule was filled with less than stellar ports of titles from other handhelds.

The year only kicked off for Warner in June, with the release of LEGO Legends of Chima: Laval's Journey. This was the first handheld-only LEGO game on the 3DS & Vita and the title focused on the popular Legends of Chima line of toys and TV show that targeted a younger demographic than usual. It seemed to be a marked gameplay improvement over the previously released Vita games, despite the fact that a DS version also existed.

Yet for all the steps forward the company took with Laval's Journey, it took a number of steps backwards with the next LEGO game on the handheld - Marvel's Super Heroes. Based on the film world's hottest property, Vita received a spin-off to the home console version, entitled Universe in Peril. This title bizarrely changed the gameplay perspective from the usual third-person view to an isometic camera angle. It also shortened the length of every level and added time-based challenges to the fray. While still a fun game in its own right, it was worlds apart from the 'console quality on the go' mantra that Vita had initially pushed and was a stark shift from what had made previous LEGO titles fun. Despite these flaws it went on to become the highest-selling entry in the series on Vita, with more than 500k copies sold according to VGChartz, suggesting fans really didn't mind too much.

This wasn't all Warner had planned for Vita in 2013, however, as the company also leveraged the DC licence to great effect in two further title. Leading the charge was Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, a spin-off of the home console title Batman Arkham Origins - one that focused on a metroidvania-style exploration experience rather than an open-world combat experience. Reviews were polarised on whether this was successful, with many suggesting that the Vita could handle better (and was held back by the existence of a 3DS version yet again), while others thought it was a great way to distil the core experience into a handheld format.

To complement its Batman game, the company also released Injustice: Gods Among Us on Vita in November, in the form of an Ultimate Edition bundle including all of the previously released DLC from the PS360 versions. The port was handled by Armature, the development studio behind Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, as well as Batman. It turned out pretty well, targeting 60fps and cramming all of the content from the home console version in. Sadly, visual fidelity took a hit in the process, but otherwise it was a solid game.

While 2013 had its ups and downs for Warner on Vita, it would mark the final year the company experimented with games outside of the LEGO franchise, which is a real shame because 2013 showed the publisher had some interesting ideas for what constituted a portable game (as demonstrated by Batman and Spy Hunter) and that it had the capability to produce great ports of home console games (Injustice and Mortal Kombat).

 

2014 - A Disappointing LEGO Year With a Glimmer of Hope

While it had been clear in previous years that Warner's intentions for Vita were mainly LEGO-focused, that point was really hammered home in 2014, during which the company only released LEGO titles for the handheld. With that said, it was a quiet year for the publisher in general, with very few titles released even on home consoles.

Starting the year was The LEGO Movie Videogame in February, based on the popular animated film from the same month. While the home console game focused on hub-world based collecting, the Vita iteration again opted for an isometric viewpoint (as first seen in LEGO Marvel's Super Heroes), which still irritated some gamers but at least provided a bespoke experience for the handheld and added unique features such as driving levels, showing that the team at TT Fusion had some ambition to improve its products. This approach was again seen in April's LEGO The Hobbit, which was somewhat surprising given there was no DS release this time around (and therefore no seventh-generation hardware to hold the title back).

During this time, Warner-owned studio TT Fusion commissioned Hellbent Games to create its second handheld-only eighth-generation LEGO title in LEGO Ninjago Nindroids, a sequel to the DS-only release LEGO Battles Ninjago. Based on the popular LEGO Ninjago line of toys and TV series (much like LEGO Legends of Chima), the title again picked an isometric perspective for its gameplay and introduced a number of touch-screen mechanics too, showing the studio was experimenting with its LEGO games even if it wasn't necessarily pushing them forward.

Yet with the release of LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham in December, the unthinkable happened - Warner's LEGO releases on Vita took a massive step closer to their home console versions in terms of quality. Featuring a return to the third-person, shifting-camera perspective of previous games and including a sea of content and characters (despite some things still being missing such as the Lantern Worlds), it marked the most competently made handheld LEGO release since the PSP days and was also a vast improvement over the preceding LEGO Batman 2.

And Warner would stick to this new design philosophy going forwards, with all remaining Vita LEGO games exhibiting an increase in quality and content. With that said, LEGO was all the publisher would release from here on out and it's difficult not to lament the missed opportunities to bring additional titles to the handheld.

 

2015 - A Year of Missed Opportunities

Overall, 2015 continued what we all knew about Warner and Vita at this point - that future games would only be LEGO, despite the potential to bring other fitting titles to the handheld. Still, after the success of LEGO Batman 3 at the end of 2014, it appeared that at least this core franchise would be making big steps forward on the handheld.

Kicking things off was LEGO Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin, a sequel to 2014's Nindroids, based on the popular Ninjago line of toys. Rather than the isometric viewpoint seen in the prequel, Shadow of Ronin went for a traditional 3D perspective and - rather interestingly - introduced the first fully explorable hub world on Vita, making it a huge improvement over its predecessors. The game itself also included a number of gameplay tweaks, including a buffed combat system that made it arguably the most enjoyable title in the franchise to-date, especially if you were a fan of the source material.

This was followed up with LEGO Jurassic World in June of the same year. Although a briefer experience than the console version, missing some of the more intricate levels, it still managed to be a more complete handheld LEGO experience than anything since the PSP days and received great reviews, with many particularly noting the inclusion of content from all four films in the franchise. Certainly, it was a great time to be a LEGO fan if you owned a Vita.

2015 also saw Bastion come to Vita - Warner was the original publisher of the game on Steam and Xbox 360, but the title was self-published by developers Supergiant Games for the handheld, which was a bit of a missed opportunity for the company. Speaking of missed opportunities, a number of titles throughout the year released on other platforms that would've been perfect on Vita, but were skipped as it became clear that Warner wasn't interested in tackling projects outside of LEGO on the platform.

The main game this applies to was Mortal Kombat X, the successor to 2012's Mortal Kombat. Although that game took a bit of a graphical beating in coming to the platform, it remained a fan-favourite and sold reasonably well. Given that the company got MKX running on mobiles, a Vita side-port shouldn't have been too difficult. Also missing was Gauntlet, Arrowhead's reboot of the classic dungeon-crawler that came to PS4 in August. Given the console's complete lack of isometric games in this style, it would've filled a nice niche in the market, especially since Arrowhead had experience on the handheld with Helldivers.

Other titles like LEGO Dimensions could've potentially made the leap (although issues with the toys-to-life portal would've existed), but others like Mad Max would likely have been too much for a 2011 handheld. Although as a fan I was just happy that the quality of the LEGO games was bumped up in 2015, it's still a massive shame that Warner wasn't willing to bring more of its other titles to Vita.

 

2016 - The Last of the LEGO?

Much like the previous year, 2016 was punctuated solely by LEGO - in fact, just two titles in total, which was a disappointing showing. Still, they managed to be arguably the best LEGO games released on the handheld ever, making great strides towards being true console quality, as well as experimenting with new ideas and gameplay.

The first of these was LEGO Marvel's Avengers, based on the mega-popular super-hero film series. For the first time in a PlayStation handheld LEGO title, the game featured a fully open-world which could be explored at any time. This was a brilliant addition, adding a great sense of exploration and plenty of side quests. Although the narrative was fractured and the draw distance kind of poor, it was still a really fun handheld game (why not check my review?).

This was followed up in June by LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the long-awaited newest LEGO Star Wars title (it being the sub-series that really propelled the IP into the gaming stratosphere). Absent since 2011's LEGO Star Wars III, the title introduced a number of changes to the series' core gameplay, including third-person cover-shooter elements, multi-builds, and a story spanning the events of the seventh film. It was hands-down the best in the series on Vita and reviews loved it. It marked an extremely high point in the franchise on the handheld and was a sign that things were very going very well at developer Traveller's Tales.

Predictably, this was all Warner Bros. had for Vita, with no other releases in 2016. To be fair, it was a quiet year for the publisher in general, with few other releases which would have transitioned well to the handheld. Possibly their HD port of the LEGO Harry Potter games would have worked, but otherwise it was slim pickings. With that said, slim pickings was very much the theme of Warner's support going forward, with 2016 seemingly marking its final year of releases on Sony's portable hardware.

 

2017 & 2018 - The End of the Warner?

As of the date of publication of this article, Warner have yet to release a game on Vita in 2017. Given its previous track record, this wasn't particularly surprising, and by now it has become pretty clear the company is done with the platform.

Things begun to look iffy from the start of the year when LEGO Worlds released on PC, PS4, and XB1 in March but completely swerved Vita, although as a fairly ambitious Minecraft clone with a lot going on it was possible the game just wouldn't run on the handheld. The same thing happened with LEGO City Undercover - a port of the 2013-released open-world Wii U game which came to PC, PS4, XB1, and Switch in April and again skipped Vita. This may have been a technical decision, but I'm sure fans would have at least appreciated an up-port of the 3DS version The Chase Begins.

In May, Injustice 2's release came and went across PS4 and XB1 but not Vita, despite an iOS/Android version existing that could have surely been used as a base for a Vita release (although given the company skipped Mortal Kombat X in 2015, this wasn't a major surprise). What was a shock was Cars 3: Driven to Win missing eighth-generation handhelds altogether, with no release on either 3DS or Vita - a strange move considering the title would obviously appeal to the generally younger audience found on 3DS. Given the PSP managed to get solid ports of Cars and Race-o-Rama (as well as a questionable port of Cars 2)it was a shame the series couldn't continue on Vita, even if the game itself wasn't particularly up to snuff.

Warner's strangest decision came at the tail-end of the year though, with the announcement of its LEGO releases The LEGO Ninjago Movie Game and LEGO Marvel's Super Heroes 2. Both chose the now-common combination of PS4/XB1/PC/Switch as their platforms, suggesting this will be the company's focus going forwards, despite the fact that the previous Ninjago games were handheld-only on Vita & 3DS and Marvel's Avengers on Vita had been a great technical step forward. Although it's understandable that the Vita is a failed handheld on the whole, it's very surprising there is no 3DS version given the large userbase of younger gamers on it.

As such, with the advent of LEGO leaving the platform, it became clear that Warner is done with Vita - perhaps not such a surprise given the handheld's weak western userbase, but more of one for the fact that it also dropped 3DS support in the process. Nintendo's child-friendly handheld seemed a perfect fit for its adventure-platforming series and I can't help but feel that Warner is leaving a lot of sales on the table by dropping both handhelds.

 

Conclusion

Through its LEGO brand, Warner Bros. has actually managed to be one of the most prosperous publishers on Vita, with multiple releases each year spanning from 2012 to 2016, putting it far ahead of the majority of western third-parties. Yet beyond this the company's output has been sparse - focused mainly on the early years of the console, with precious little released in its twilight years.

To be fair, this isn't far removed from Warner's PSP support, which started strong with titles like Justice League Heroes yet fizzled out to ports of LEGO games by the end. In the PSP years Warner started with fully-featured down-ports of its home console LEGO games, which became up-ports of DS titles by the end, rarely making full use of the hardware they were running on. This was a mantra which continued throughout its time on Vita, with very little made that wasn't shared with the 3DS.

Yet in spite of this, the company did improve its efforts rapidly towards the end, with titles like LEGO Marvel's Avengers and LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens becoming bespoke versions that fully resembled their home console counterparts, just with a few cut corners. Combined with its early successes with things like Injustice, I'm happy that Warner did support the handheld and a number of its titles will remain a staple of my Vita library for years to come - it's just a shame Warner didn't support it a little better towards the very end.


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4 Comments

Mr.Playstation (on 20 November 2017)

Great Article!


Kresnik (on 20 November 2017)

Thanks :)


  • +1
COKTOE (on 20 November 2017)

So much Lego..ha. I have a few of them myself, but have only played the Avengers one on Vita since the few I've tried all felt a bit too similar. MK was tight on the Vita.


fielding88 (on 20 November 2017)

I picked up Lego Avengers at Toys R Us for $8. Money well spent. It was sad to see nothing but Lego games in physical stores but at least Warner showed it some lasting support even in the later years.


Kresnik (on 20 November 2017)

LEGO Marvel's Avengers is definitely my favourite of the series on Vita. Star Wars was really good too. I'm sad we only got those two as sort of "end in life" LEGO games, because they were really starting to improve on the handheld.


  • +1
Ggordon (on 20 November 2017)

"vita means life"


Bristow9091 (on 20 November 2017)

It may have been shortlived, but the Vita had a good life if you're a fan of JRPGs lol :P


  • +1
Ggordon (on 20 November 2017)

Its a japanese gamer’s dream come true


  • 0
Bristow9091 (on 20 November 2017)

Yeah, shame they didn't call it the Playstation Seimei, which is the Japanese word for life, lol :P


  • +2
Ggordon (on 20 November 2017)

That sounds better than vita


  • 0