A Look at How Well the Vita Works as a Portable PS2 - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 17 June 2018 / 7,219 Views
This is the second entry in a series of articles where I look at the Vita's success in providing a portable version of classic consoles. I'll look at what games are available on the handheld from the chosen platform (including PS1 & PSP versions through backwards compatibility), as well as what titles are missing that were re-released on other platforms or that were never updated beyond the original hardware. I'll be including straight ports of titles and emulated versions, as well as sequels to popular series and, in some cases, spiritual successors.
After a successful article looking at how Vita provided a surprisingly decent portable version of SEGA’s ill-fated Dreamcast, my next piece focuses on a console that had a much different fate – Sony’s PlayStation 2, which is currently pegged as the highest-selling console of all-time. While speculation was rife that the PSP was as powerful as a PS2 when it was first unveiled, it never quite managed to attain this goal. On the other hand, the Vita did have the necessary power to fully recreate home-console experiences. Sadly, Sony’s second handheld never reached the mass-market success of the PS2, but in spite of this it still managed to obtain a great number of franchises from the home console.
It’s difficult to truly describe what defined the PS2’s library – it really did receive a little bit of everything throughout its run, ranging from simple puzzle games to gigantic open-world adventures. Undoubtedly, a major factor in the console’s success was the fantastic range of Japanese-developed games, and leading this charge was Final Fantasy X - the first sixth-generation entry in the storied franchise.
The series has always seen major anticipation between mainline releases, but this was at an all-time high with X due to the shift from PS1 to PS2 and all the technological jumps that could be made with the transition. A direct sequel followed – X-2 – and both games made the leap over to the Vita in 2013 as part of the Final Fantasy X/X2 HD Remaster. Featuring a variety of new features, including trophy support and a re-arranged soundtrack, the handheld ports were a brilliant way to re-live the classic games.
Of course, it wasn’t just Final Fantasy that was flying the flag of Japanese support on PS2. Very late in the console’s life, publisher Atlus released two titles in its flagship Persona series, the latter of which was ported to Vita as Persona 4 Golden in 2012. Mixing life-sim elements with dungeon crawling and turn-based combat, the remake ended up being the highest-rated game on Metacritic for Vita, as well as topping many users' ‘best-of’ lists, cementing it as the definitive way to play the game. It’s worth noting that the previous game, Persona 3 Portable, is also available through PSP backwards-compatibility, although in a chopped-down format with some elements removed.
If there was one Japanese game which could rival Final Fantasy X in the anticipation stakes, then it would be Metal Gear Solid 2. Hideo Kojima’s long-awaited follow up to his generation-defining masterpiece Metal Gear Solid was covered endlessly by gaming magazines and he even went to great lengths to conceal the identity of the main character. Both 2 and the prequel 3 eventually came to Vita as Metal Gear Solid HD Collection in 2012, ported in style by Armature Studio who ensured smooth performance and tweaked controls. Combined with the PSP spin-offs Portable Ops and Peace Walker it made sure that Vita was the ultimate portable MGS machine.
Another popular Japanese franchise from the PS2 era was Koei-Tecmo’s Warriors, which saw multiple releases across the Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, and Warriors Orochi variants. Each of these saw eventual sequels land on Vita – Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends, Samurai Warriors 4, & Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate provided updated versions of the traditional hack ‘n’ slash gameplay, while backwards-compatible PSP games including Dynasty Warriors Vol.2, Samurai Warriors: State of War, and Warriors Orochi 1 & 2 ensured that fans would never go short of musou.
Western developers played an equally important role in helping to define the PS2 with a variety of titles. A favourite genre for them, and one that served the console very well, was the 3D platformer. Headline titles included the Ratchet & Clank series, and the Lombax’s first three adventures were handily ported over to Vita in 2014, complementing the backwards-compatible PSP games Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters and Secret Agent Clank. Handled by the team at Mass Media, the games transitioned well to the handheld, being bright, colourful, and including additional trophies, although some issues with controls existed thanks to the lack of L2/R2 buttons.
It wasn’t just Ratchet’s adventures that made it across to Vita either. Mass Media also ported the Jak & Daxter Trilogy from PS2 to Vita in 2013, although unlike Ratchet & Clank the ports were sloppily handled with low framerates and plenty of bugs (which made them a difficult proposition for handheld players, due to the fact that the actual games themselves were so good, although luckily the PSP-native games Daxter and Jak: The Lost Frontier ran better). Thankfully, Sanzaru Games’ work on the Sly Cooper Trilogy was much smoother – aside from some compressed cutscenes, the titles worked fantastically well.
Sanzaru was also handed the reigns to the God of War series and ported over the first and second titles in the form of the God of War Collection in 2014. The franchise established itself as a technical tour-de-force on the PS2 very late in the console’s life (God of War II released in 2007), which sadly couldn’t really be replicated on Vita, but the games still provided a fun portable way to re-live the classics, particularly alongside the PSP-released prequels Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta.
The PS2 was the de-facto home for many sports franchises too, including the ever-popular FIFA and Madden series. The Vita itself received multiple FIFA releases as well as Madden ’13. These were more refined (and portable) versions of their PS2 counterparts. Sony’s own Everybody’s Golf series also came to Vita (Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational in the USA) and provided the most challenging and fun entry in the series to-date, although if you preferred them then the two PSP entries - Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee and its sequel - are also available through the PlayStation Network.
The PS2 wasn’t just home to blockbuster franchises though. Many smaller series thrived on it, and we saw a similar concentration of niche titles on the Vita throughout its life. Not least is Katamari Damacy, the bonkers ball-rolling adventure game that appeared in sequel form on Vita as Touch my Katamari – arguably the best incarnation of the franchise yet, despite a lack of innovation in the years that followed the original. Similarly, Bandai-Namco’s SD Gundam G Generation series, which had thrived on PS2, appeared on Vita as SD Gundam G Generation Genesis in 2016.
Small otaku Japanese developers always found decent audiences on PS2, including Nippon Ichi Software with its Disgaea series and this continued on Vita. Both Disgaea 3 and 4 – sequels to the original games – appeared on Vita, while ports of the first two titles were also available on PSP (and are backwards-compatible with Vita). Another company which thrived on PS2 was Gust, which released multiple Atelier games as well as the Ar Tonelico games. Both received sequels or spiritual successors on Vita (Ar no Surge for the latter), cementing its status as a home to Japanese RPGs (the PSP port of Mana Khemia: Student Alliance is also compatible with Sony’s new handheld). The PS2 cult classic Trapt also received a Vita-native sequel in the form of Deception IV: Blood Ties, which kept many of the same gameplay elements in tact.
But a special mention must go out to Vanillaware, which completely overhauled its critically beloved yet commercially ignored PS2 title Odin Sphere for Vita as Odin Sphere Leifthrasir, refining the gameplay and expanding the story significantly. It became one of the must-play games for the handheld in the process.
Backwards-Compatible PSP Games
While Japanese developers were undoubtedly at the top of their game during the PS2 era, churning out classics like Final Fantasy X and Metal Gear Solid 2, there was one key western franchise that helped define Sony’s home console like no other. That was Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto, which received two spin-off entries on PSP, both of which are fully backwards-compatible with Vita.
The games – Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories – served as prequels to the mainline games on the home console and were both brilliant in their own right, thanks to smart tweaks to make them well-suited to handheld play while still cramming in the whole of the GTA universe. On Vita, they manage to fill a well-forgotten niche of open-world shooters that sadly wasn’t serviced by any other publisher and stand tall among the best games available on the system.
Of course, with GTA‘s massive success, other franchises attempted to fill the same part of the market. Ubisoft’s Driver series transformed from a stunt-based city driver to full-on clone with Driv3r on PS2 and eventually received a PSP-exclusive prequel named Driver ’76 in 2007 which featured much of the same gameplay. Indeed, Rockstar’s own Midnight Club series had all the same open-world exploration except solely by car rather on foot. It received two entries on PSP which are playable on Vita – Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition and Midnight Club LA Remix. The PSP would actually be a favourite console for Rockstar – the developer also brought its controversial action game Manhunt 2 to both PS2 and PSP, as well as the licenced brawler The Warriors.
Another company (much like Rockstar) that seemed to love the PSP was EA, which released a variety of franchises for the handheld. Leading the charge was Medal of Honor, which received an exclusive Heroes game designed around handheld play yet had all the hallmarks of the home console entries, providing one of the most robust online FPS experiences available on the go at the time. The title was successful enough to spawn a sequel a year later in 2008. Both games are currently playable on Vita in North America and thanks to the addition of an offline bot mode are still well worth buying today.
EA experimented with other franchises on Sony’s home console, releasing multiple Sims games, including The Sims 2, Pets, and Castaway. These often provided bespoke experiences different from the home console versions and had you controlling one Sim through a more adventure-style game but still allowed free-form content creation. EA also saw fit to port SSX On Tour to the PSP, which to this day remains the best way to play the series in handheld format, even if the game itself isn’t the franchise’s high point. While all are now removed from the PlayStation Store, if you grabbed them while they were available they can be fully transferred to Vita.
Another area that EA excelled with on PS2 was racing games, with some of its biggest selling titles on the console being in this genre. Thankfully the majority of these were also available on PSP. Criterion’s iconic Burnout series is available across two different entries – Legends was a compilation title that combined many tracks and modes from previous entries in one package, while Dominator was a brand-new title built specifically for Sony’s handheld. In addition, the long-running Need for Speed series has multiple entries available through backwards-compatibility – Carbon: Own the City, ProStreet, Shift, and Underground Rivals, which cover a wide range of different types of street racing from night-time drag racing to team-based take-downs.
Just like EA and Rockstar, Ubisoft was a big supporter of the PS2 and provided many portable versions of its key franchises. Ubisoft had seen big success on PS2 with Splinter Cell and in 2006 released Splinter Cell Essentials, which included a selection of missions and content from previous games in a single package. In addition to Tom Clancy games, the company also repackaged two PS2 Prince of Persia titles as Revelations and Rival Swords, which acted as direct ports of the home console versions (a strategy that was repeated with Brothers in Arms D-Day, which translated the content of Road to Hill 30 and Earned in Blood into one portable package).
Lara Croft had arguably been the face of the PS1, but sadly her star faded on the PS2 after a string of poor-quality entries. That was rectified somewhat with the release of Tomb Raider Legend, which also came to Sony’s handheld in 2006. This was followed by a remake of the original title as Tomb Raider Anniversary in 2007. Both games looked surprisingly beautiful on the PSP and played well, giving gamers a good way to take the PS2 experience with them on the go. A similar superstar from the PS1 era who faded was Crash Bandicoot, who received a reboot on the PS2 in Crash of the Titans and its sequel Crash: Mind over Mutant. These games, along with Crash Tag Team Racing, were all released for the PSP and are Vita-compatible in the USA.
Conversely, a franchise that flourished on the PS2 was Star Wars, which was able to produce much more detailed worlds with the more powerful hardware. Arguably the best sub-series spawned during this time was Battlefront and the PSP received a number of these entries – a chopped down port of II, as well as Elite Squadron and Renegade Squadron. In addition, LucasArts ported its long-anticipated Force Unleashed in 2008 and a PSP version (based on the PS2 version) was released and ended up being one of the best-reviewed versions.
Of course, Japanese developers were still active on PSP, although seemingly less likely to port their PS2 games across. A major exception came in the form of From Software, which actively ported its Armored Core games from home console to handheld, including 3, Silent Line, and Last Raven. Namco-Bandai also ported Tekken 5 from PS2 to PSP in the form of an expanded release (Dark Resurrection), but it was that game’s sequel that is currently available on Vita (Tekken 6). The latter largely features the same gameplay systems but is based on a PS3 release rather than a PS2 one. The company also released Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny, which was a spin-off to its popular PS2 fighter series.
Sony itself was obviously a big part of both the PSP’s success as well as the PS2’s. IPs such as Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank, Syphon Filter, and WipEout appeared on both consoles (the latter receiving a Vita-exclusive entry, 2048, that felt closest to the PS2 entry Fusion). A big part of the PS2’s success, however, came from the ‘real driving simulator’ – Gran Turismo. This was one of the tentpole franchises on the home console across the 3rd and 4th entries. A PSP version had originally been pegged for release in 2005 as Gran Turismo 4 Mobile but only actually arrived in 2009 as Gran Turismo, touted as a fully-featured handheld spin-off featuring impressive graphics as well as 60fps gameplay, however the removal of the career mode left a bitter taste in some fans' mouths.
Similarly, Sony’s SOCOM franchise had flourished on PS2, introducing online play in style thanks to its tactical, team-focused gameplay. Developer Zipper Interactive quickly shifted focus over to the PSP, releasing SOCOM Fireteam Bravo 1 & 2 early in the handheld’s life and both are available on Vita. Although online play is no longer available, they still provide a good dose of tactical action; something that was also seen in Zipper’s Vita-native game Unit 13 too.
A smattering of other PS2 titles are available on Sony’s second handheld through backwards-compatibility. Multiple Disney/Pixar games including Cars, Ratatouille, and Wall-E have PSP versions based on the PS2 release, for example, and there are multiple LEGO games including LEGO Batman and LEGO Indiana Jones. All of THQ’s Smackdown vs. Raw games are also playable on Vita from 2006 to 2011, although they got quietly yanked from the store a while ago, meaning you can only get them if you purchased them beforehand.
It’s likely impossible to create a handheld machine that would successfully provide a portable PS2 experience, due to the breadth of software that was available on it. No other console really managed to capture such mass-market appeal and obtain a variety of releases from top western publishers and tiny Japanese developers alike, in genres ranging from small-scale tactical RPGs to sweeping cinematic first-person shooters. As such, comparing the Vita’s library to the PS2’s seems like an almost mean-spirited thing to do.
With that said, thanks to the PSP releasing at the height of Sony’s dominance of the gaming market (leading to many publishers attempting to cram their PS2 games onto the handheld) and the Vita releasing during a period where many studios were creating HD Collections for the current generation, the Vita puts up a damn good fight. It has access to a mix of cut-down spin-offs to PS2 games through PSP backwards-compatibility and fully ported versions of the original games, which is something no other handheld console really has (although as games like the Jak & Daxter Collection demonstrated, performance could sometimes be an issue).
Still, there are a number of glaring omissions that aren’t playable on Vita. Key franchises like James Bond 007, Kingdom Hearts, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater aren’t available at all (despite each having PSP versions which aren’t available through backwards-compatibility) and others like Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Quest are only available on Vita in the form of spin-offs. Plenty of other PS2 mainstays are missing altogether (Dark Cloud, Deus Ex and Timesplitters), while others received HD remasters which somehow managed to skip Vita (Devil May Cry, Hitman and Okami spring to mind).
I’m sure that in future, a portable emulator machine will be able to run PCSX2 extremely well and will act as the ultimate portable PS2, but until that point the Vita comes damn close. Its ability to play key franchises that defined the PS2’s life from Final Fantasy to God of War to Metal Gear Solid to Ratchet & Clank makes it a brilliant device, and the addition of the PSP’s library available through PSN just makes it all the better, meaning all-time classics like Grand Theft Auto and Tekken are accessible. Such variety in classic games is one of the reasons it’s my current favourite console and will likely be one that I keep hold of for a long, long time.