A Look at All of the Simulation Games Available on Vita - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 14 September 2019 / 2,096 Views
This is the tenth entry in a series of articles I’m writing that will look at all of the games available in a particular genre on the Vita. The articles will highlight all Vita-native games, as well as any backwards-compatible PSP and PS1 titles that can be downloaded in English (i.e. from the EU or NA stores), and will include some commentary on how well those games run on Vita and whether they fill any missing gaps in the library.
I’ve very much been in two minds whether to write an article about simulation games. On the one hand, it’s been a favourite genre of mine for years dating back to playing SimCity 3000 and The Sims at the turn of the millennium, but on the flip side it consists of a very broad selection of titles that are very difficult to categorise. Although the genre title is a hint about what should be included (i.e. simulation of a real-life activity), a key thread that runs through most simulation games for me is an element of management – whether that be managing a city, farm, festival or even a group of idols, you’re often tasked with maximising resources to find success.
As with a number of genres like MMOs and real-time strategy titles, simulation games are a lot more common on PCs than consoles and this is doubly the case with handhelds, where simulations aren’t always suited to the pick-up-and-play nature of on-the-go-gaming. Thanks to two generations of backwards compatibility and the variety of native software it has received over the years, though, the Vita offers a little something for everyone in this department.
The clue is in the title for the first set of games I’m going to talk about – the Farming Simulator titles from Giants Software.
Four different entries released over the course of the Vita’s life – one every other year from 2014 to 2018. All of these received physical releases, and there was also a digital-only original version available in 2013 simply entitled Farming Simulator. While they only ever received average reviews that typically cited how they were a big step down over the home console versions (the build that released on Vita was also available on 3DS, as well as mobile phones), the games offered a fairly relaxing open world where you could just run your own farm at your leisure, collecting crops, sowing seeds, and trading items, allowing you to manage your way to financial success.
Of course, there's a significantly more popular and well-received farming game available on Vita – Stardew Valley, the indie smash-hit that did a fantastic job of filling the Harvest Moon-shaped hole in the handheld’s library. In Stardew, you inherit your grandfather’s farm and decide to turn it from a run-down plot of land into a thriving venture by planting crops, raising livestock, and overall making a profit. There are also social aspects too, as you can romance women and even get married. In this regard, rather than just simply mixing in management gameplay, the title also includes aspects of dating sims and life sims too, making it a fun hybrid.
In fact, if you’re into games which mix life sim elements in with other gameplay types, then the Vita does that particularly well. There are things like Persona 4: Golden, a traditional JRPG where you also spend your time in a small Japanese town forming social links with local people and growing relationships. You can find similar things in games like The Caligula Effect, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, and Tokyo Xanadu (where you bond with your classmates in a school), as well as Spike-Chunsoft’s madcap but brilliant DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and its two sequels, which also included an extra mode where you have to collect resources and build items within strict timetables for the crazy headteacher Monokuma.
In a way, a title like VA-11 HALL-A (a bartending visual novel where you mix drinks for customers and listen to their stories) is a simulation game in that it’s mimicking a real-world activity, but there’s definitely an aspect of life simulation in there too. Something like the enthralling Papers, Please - where you check the documentation of immigrants coming into a fictional Soviet-esque country - would fall into this category also. While we’re on the topic, I may as well mention that there are a couple of Japan-only titles which fit in here too – Dream C Club Zero is a simulation of a hostess club, where you try to date various women in a bar, while Great Edo Blacksmith is an RPG that includes elements of working as a blacksmith to raise money to spend on girls.
To get back to more traditional simulation games, though, Vita has more to offer. Take for example BigFest, a title where you have to manage a music festival, including building the stage, managing the supply of drinks and food, as well as dealing with the (crazy) demands of the bands. It’s very much inspired by Theme Park (sadly, not available on Vita) and misses the mark in a few ways, but is a decently fun time overall (unfortunately, it has been de-listed from PSN as of the time of writing). There’s also Ecolibrium, a very poor free-to-play ecosystem simulator that had few redeeming features.
If you’re looking for something a little different, you could try New Little King’s Story, which allows you to rebuild a kingdom by adventuring out into the world and finding treasure and using it to regenerate your land. It’s not a perfect port, but the game itself is a lot of fun. I’ve often wondered whether other building/crafting titles such as Minecraft would be classified as simulation games, after all they do often include elements of resource management and construction. If so, things like Airship Q, Dragon Quest Builders, and Terraria can be included here.
A rather obscure, but equally enjoyable type of simulation game would be raising sims, which come in two types. The first are your traditional pet-raisers. On Vita, you’ve got things like PlayStation Vita Pets, a bizarre hybrid of Nintendogs and Invizimals where you have to train your chosen dog in order to take it out on adventures into the world. Another example would be the import title Digimon World: Next Order (sadly only localized on PS4), where you have to look after a digital pet by caring for its needs, in order for it to fight in combat for you.
The other type of raising sim includes games like Trillion: God of Destruction, where the focus is more on time management as you pick activities for your chosen demon girl in order to help her grow stronger so that she can fight the titular god of destruction. It’s a brilliant idea that’s executed extremely well. Other examples include things like Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection (an idol sim where you manage their concerts) and the Japanese import Himōto! Umaru-chan: Himōto! Training Plan (where you help raise your little sister like a Tamagotchi).
Of course, I have to briefly mention that a handful of sports games are simulations too. Things like FIFA, Madden and MLB all include full management modes, while Football Manager Classic 2014 simulates what it would be like to be a team manager, with all the stresses included. If you’re a Japanese importer, you can also try Pro Yakyuu Spirits, a deep and challenging baseball game with plenty of simulation-esque modes to keep you busy!
There are also a couple of omissions I couldn’t fit in anywhere else – Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Venus is a mix of holiday sim, dating game, and ‘realistic’ sports (it isn’t quite as bad as you may have read), while Organ Trail is an interesting resource management title that has you escaping a zombie outbreak. You could classify things like Aegis of Earth (a strategy/tower defence hybrid with some city-building elements) and Bridge Constructor (a puzzle game where you build bridges) as simulation titles too (thanks to r/Vita for the suggestions!).
Backwards-Compatible PSP Games
Despite receiving a much wider selection of simulation games than its successor, not all of the PSP’s library is up on PSN, leaving some disappointing omissions in terms of availability on Vita. At least what is there is pretty solid.
So for starters, farming games are once again well represented, this time through the franchise started it all on consoles. The series is of course Story of Seasons (aka Harvest Moon), which received three entries – an updated port entitled Harvest Moon: Boy & Girl (the original title it is based on is also available as a backwards-compatible PS1 game), the custom-built Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley, and the futuristic spin-off Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon. All three received positive reviews and follow a very similar formula to Stardew Valley, so if you’re itching for more they’re definitely worth checking out.
If you’re looking for something with more life sim elements, it's worth considering that three entries in The Sims franchise – The Sims 2, The Sims 2: Pets and The Sims 2: Castaway - were available on PSN for Vita but were delisted a couple of years ago. If you grabbed them while they were up then you can still play them, but otherwise they’re unfortunately long gone. All three offered a cut-back Sims experience compared to the PC versions, but could be interesting enough in their own right.
Elsewhere, if you’re in North America you can grab Thrillville: Off the Rails, a title heavily inspired by Theme Park that lets you build your own amusement empire, but unfortunately it puts a little bit too much emphasis on mini-games over the building and management aspects. Through PS Mini’s there’s also Hotel Mogul, a game I recently reviewed and found to be a lot of fun, as well as Supermarket Mania, which has you running a supermarket with an interesting time-management twist.
In the interests of covering everything available, I should also mention that Petz: My Puppy Family and Petz: My Baby Hamster are available through backwards-compatibility, although I haven’t heard particularly heard good things about either, so I'd avoid them unless you’re desperate for another pet-raising sim.
Backwards-Compatible PS1 Games
While there are undoubtedly gaps in the Vita-native library in terms of simulation games, backwards-compatible PS1 titles at least pick up some of the slack, not least thanks to giving us a proper city-builder in SimCity 2000.
Maxis’ trailblazing classic set up the formula that would be aped for years to come – you construct your own city by building roads, zoning land, and setting taxes, then deal with all the problems that an emerging metropolis faces. It’s now a bit archaic and difficult to get to grips with by modern standards but there’s definitely an enjoyable title underneath, despite the wealth of slowdown that came from it being a sloppy port. If you’re looking for something similar, you could also try , which focuses more on neighbourhood construction to mixed success.
One title I can wholeheartedly recommend without hesitation is Theme Hospital, Bullfrog’s classic which has you running a hospital full of silly diseases and demanding patients. While that might not sound like fun, the micro-management elements in practice play out really well. There’s also Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, the original PS1 farming sim that received an updated release for PSP as Boy & Girl, which is still worth checking out to this day.
Simulation games – either literal simulations of real-life activities or strategy-heavy management games – have never traditionally flourished on handhelds, likely due to the fact that they’ve always been associated with PCs, which offer more power plus keyboard and mouse controls that fit the genre much better. In that respect, it’s unsurprising that Vita doesn’t have a great deal to offer in this area, but as this article shows, there’s definitely more than you might expect.
What is abundantly clear is that while you might not have access to a great number of business-management games, city-builders, or sports sims on Vita, there are plenty of non-traditional ideas – for example, JRPGs which include life sim elements like Persona, or roguelikes that also have raising sim ideas like Trillion. When you also throw in things like BigFest, Farming Simulator, and New Little King’s Story then the offering certainly doesn’t seem too bad.
As a final parting note, I’d like to highlight that Nintendo Switch might finally succeed where other handhelds have failed in offering a full library of simulation games, thanks to things like Cities Skylines and Project Highrise, as well as smaller mobile-esque titles like Hot Springs Story. It’s filling a gap in the market that was previously untapped, which I’m really pleased to see. Still, as an alternative the Vita’s offering is better than it seems and is definitely worth checking out as well.
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