10 Games That Best Used the Vita's Unique Inputs - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 18 November 2018 / 2,001 Views
When the PlayStation Vita hit store shelves in 2011, it contained some non-conventional design choices that made it stand out in a crowded scene. It attempted to bridge the handheld and mobile markets by having both traditional controls as well as a front touch screen, but the designers at Sony also added things like a rear touch pad, front and rear cameras, a microphone, and gyroscope. The hope was that developers would use these in unique ways to create new kinds of gaming experiences.
Things didn’t quite pan out like that as – just as with Nintendo’s Wii-U – third-parties didn’t quite know how to make the most of the hardware’s bespoke design and instead either just developed games like normal or ignored it altogether (and in some cases used it in hilarious NSFW ways that surely weren’t what Sony intended).
Yet there are examples out there of games being developed for Vita that truly make the most of its inputs, coming up with unique ways of interacting with the hardware to make for a memorable gaming experience. It’s these titles I’m looking at in this article – what they are and how they worked on Vita, both in terms of what they did right and what they could have done better.
Perhaps at the behest of Sony itself, most of the Vita’s launch titles were heavily focused around these new inputs. They saw mixed results, but one game that truly stood out was Escape Plan from Fun Bits Interactive. In it, you help two characters (Lil and Laarg) through a series of puzzle rooms, disarming the traps that threaten to end their lives along the way.
To do this, you’ll be interacting with just about everything – one minute you might be tilting the handheld left and right to move them as they float around a room, the next you might be pressing the rear touch pad to push blocks out of walls to make a platform for the duo. It basically acted as a manual for the newly-launched hardware, but thanks to the creative methods it uses for its puzzles it never gets frustrating or tiresome (although the difficulty level can be a little sharp at times!).
Mini-game collections are often a good way to show off new, unique hardware – you’ll see others in this list and plenty of companies have attempted it with other platforms (e.g. Kinect Adventures for Xbox 360 or Nintendo Land for Wii-U). Frobisher Says! is slightly different in that it seems to take its inspiration from the micro-games that were popularised by Warioware, but that's taken to new heights here.
You’ll do various things using the Vita’s inputs – smile for the front camera, use the rear touch pad to scratch Frobisher’s back, plug leaks on the touch screen with your fingers, and so on. All quirky things, but ones that are enhanced by using the console’s new control methods. And that's the most important thing – it’s easy to make a bog-standard collection of micro-games, after all, but it’s something else to make them fit so well with a unique piece of hardware.
Invizimals: The Alliance/Invizimals: The Resistance
Invizimals is one of Sony’s most unique ideas in recent years – an IP born on the PSP where you hunt invisible animals in the real world using your handheld console. Yet it felt out-of-place on the hardware it was created for, requiring a camera add-on to even function. That's where Vita comes in, with its built-in cameras, which made it feel like a natural home for the series.
Both The Alliance and The Resistance make full use of the handheld’s hardware. You start out by following a sensor that leads you around the real world (while holding up your Vita), until you find the Invizimal (which will invariably be hiding), and then play a mini-game to capture it using augmented reality features. These mini-games will usually have you pressing the front or rear touch screen, moving the console, or even blowing into the microphone to capture the creature, which you can then use to fight other Invizimals again using augmented reality effects. They’re the perfect examples of how to build games around unique hardware, although sometimes it can get a little frustrating having to bend your gaming session around what Invizimals wants you to do.
Sometimes a game doesn’t have to be built around the console it’s made for to be good, but simply needs to make smart use of inputs where it’s appropriate to do so. That’s definitely what the team at Guerrilla Cambridge did with Killzone Mercenary, a brilliant handheld FPS that managed to add a host of smart ideas into the gameplay mix without ever feeling gimmicky or too far removed from the console titles that inspired it.
Much of the Killzone series has relied on seeing actions in a first-person view to add to immersion, and that’s exactly what was taken to the next level here. Need to pull a lever up to open a door? Then you’ll have to swipe up on the touchscreen. Want to stab a Helgan in the head from above? Then you’ll need to swipe down. Other mini-games, such as matching up symbols to hack a door, are integrated in and they all manage to fully enhance the experience, rather than feeling tacked on. The best feature of all is being able to use the accelerometer to fine-tune your sniper shots, making aiming even more enjoyable than ever before!
Since it first appeared on PS3, LittleBigPlanet has been the Sony franchise that best demonstrates creativity and zaniness, casting you as a customisable sack-person who must save his arts-and-crafts inspired world from invaders and collect materials along the way - materials which can then be used in the robust editor to make new levels to share with other users online.
While the series always worked well on home consoles, it feels like it found a true home on Vita, where the creativity could be combined with unique inputs to make something truly special. Lots of new mechanics were introduced – guiding missiles with the front touch screen, pushing platforms with the back touch screen, etc. Best of all is the ability to create levels with the touch screen, which allows you to build things so much faster and more smoothly than ever before (something that was also included in the Vita version of Modnation Racers, although it wasn't half as well implemented as here).
Another member of the Vita launch line-up that managed to be a showcase for all the new hardware inputs that were made for the console, Little Deviants is a mini-game collection that’s far from the best title available on the platform, but still offers a bespoke experience that shouldn’t be missed if you want to show off everything your newly bought handheld can do.
In fact, traditional controls aren’t used at all. To complete the mini-games you’ll need to do things like press the rear touch pad to create hills to roll a ball around a maze, move the Vita console to aim a hose and put out fires, and use the microphone to pick up certain sounds to sing with the characters. Of course, some ideas work better than others and there are times when the game teeters on the wrong side of annoying, but overall Little Deviants provides a great demonstration of what the Vita can do.
The majority of the games on this list are published by Sony, which makes sense given that the company created the hardware and wanted to use every aspect of it to show other publishers what was possible. Murasaki Baby is another example of a game built specifically around the console and, much like Escape Plan before it, it feels like a unique adventure where you’re literally interacting with the game by touching the screens of the handheld.
In Murasaki Baby you interact with a little girl who possesses a balloon that represents her life. You’ll need to hold her hand by grabbing the touch screen and lead her on her journey, avoiding obstacles on the way. You can also interact with the backgrounds by swiping the rear touchpad, which can change the weather or general mood of the level and will affect how the little girl reacts. It doesn’t all work, but what is here definitely feels creative and fun.
Releasing a Vita exclusive in 2018 is a very risky choice and to succeed you’ll definitely need to have some kind of unique selling point for your game, which is exactly what Behind the Stone did with Sir Eatsalot, a 2D adventure/puzzle-platformer starring a gluttonous Knight who has to save the kingdom of Gluttington from the evil witch Hysterica.
To do so, you’ll interact with the Vita in incredibly smart ways. For example, you may need to tap the rear touch pad to knock a log off a wall to make a path forward, or trigger a bear trap by touching the front screen. Later areas will have you tracing the outlines of stickers or rubbing the screen to remove sticky cheese from your character – the ideas here nearly all work extremely well, the only mis-fire being a level that requires you to hold a carrot up to a (real world) light source using the rear camera, which feels clunky and unreliable.
It would have to be Media Molecule, creators of LittleBigPlanet and the upcoming PS4-exclusive Dreams, that would come up with the smartest use of Vita’s inputs while still developing a game that was a tonne of fun to play and incredibly smart too. That game was Tearaway and despite being ported to PS4 it remains an experience you’re going to want to have on the hardware it was originally developed for.
Media Molecule did this by thinking outside of the box and creating a world that exists inside the Vita. Tearaway takes place in a papery dimension that you can literally reach inside of when you press the rear touchpad (which shows a human finger poking through into the world). This is used to solve puzzles, move platforms, and push enemies out of the way of Iota, whose mission is to deliver a message to the sun – which just so happens to be your face, taken using the front camera when you first start playing. The game is filled with clever and memorable ideas like this, making it an essential Vita purchase.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
A handheld version of Sony’s premier franchise was the flagship title of Vita’s launch line-up, therefore it’s unsurprising that the team at Sony Bend added lots of features to Uncharted: Golden Abyss to make the most of all the bells and whistles the Vita had.
Plenty of these ideas worked really well. For example, swiping the rear touchpad to row a canoe feels natural, while tracing your finger along a ledge to have Nate move in that direction makes climbing and traversal easy. Just as with Killzone you can move the Vita to fine-tune your aim down a scope too, which is very handy. Unfortunately not all of the input methods work, as swipe-based QTE fights and holding the Vita up to a light source are awkward (this idea has never really worked on the handheld, just as in Assassin's Creed III: Liberation and Sir Eatsalot), but generally things here are pretty good.
There are a handful of games that didn’t quite make the cut here – for example FIFA Football makes smart use of the rear touchpad to aim shots (it looks just like a goal!), while Modnation Racers: Road Trip allows you to use the front screen to trace a level (just like in LittleBigPlanet, this feels extremely natural).
Yet aside from these, there are precious few examples of games which make the most of the Vita hardware and I can’t say I really blame third parties for not experimenting with it – the extra bells and whistles the console has are nice additions, but many simply do not fit into modern game design sensibilities.
Still, the titles included here buck that trend – many feeling built from the ground up to take advantage of things like the rear touchpad or dual cameras. Some can be a bit gimmicky at times, but it’s nice to see some games try and do things a little differently and doing so has produced some of the most unique experiences available on the handheld. If you’re looking to show off your newly-bought Vita, look no further than the games on this list.