Kickstarter and Vita – Has it Delivered? - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 02 September 2018 / 20,893 Views
Around 2012 (coincidentally just as the Vita was getting its footing in the gaming market), a new type of project funding was exploding – this was the crowdfunding model, where fans were encouraged to contribute their own money to help titles finish their development. It promised to be a fantastic way for gamers to ensure that the games they wanted were released, without the meddling focus-testing of publishers, or in some cases just to help some more niche ideas become realised at all.
Projects soon started popping up all over, many promising Vita versions either via the base funding goal or if a certain amount of money over the base had been met (“stretch goals”) – and thanks to the dedication of the Vita fanbase, a lot of these titles managed to reach their targets. The future looked bright for Sony’s handheld as even if the console’s manufacturer wasn’t supporting the console, the fans had been able to obtain some control over its future.
Yet it didn’t quite pan out like that. As time went on it became clear that many of these projects were hobbyist titles and a large amount of the developers had never actually researched the practicalities of launching a game on Vita, leading to an ever-increasing number of cancellations over the years. And yet some delivered. It’s this I’m aiming to examine in this article – how many projects succeeded in reaching the Vita, how many failed, and how many are in limbo, as well as a conclusion on the overall state of Kickstarter (and other crowdfunding sources) on the handheld.
One of the earliest cases of a developer specifically targeting Vita via Kickstarter that I can recall is Starlight Inception from Escape Hatch Entertainment, which was funded in May 2012 to bring the legendary Garry M. Gaber’s new space sim to the handheld. While it missed its target release date of August 2013, the Vita port did eventually arrive in April 2014, although unfortunately this wasn’t the best start to crowdfunded projects on the console as the game’s quality was questionable. Still, at least Escape Hatch delivered on its promise, even if two further Vita games in Starlight Tactics and Starlight Titanium have yet to release.
Funded slightly later but releasing slightly earlier, Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse was another early Kickstarter project that interestingly didn’t target Vita during the funding stage, but thanks to investment from fans to get the project off the ground it quickly made its way across thanks to the developers finding the platform a perfect fit. Indeed, this was something that was repeated years later with The Deer God, which missed its Vita stretch goal but was later ported to the platform by Blowfish Studios.
Interestingly, the next crowdfunded project to actually come out would be a title that actually failed to reach its funding goal altogether – Citizens of Earth. Originally only targeting a release on PC, the game was picked up by Atlus (which presumably noticed it thanks to the publicity from Kickstarter), which proceeded to publish it on pretty much every viable console (including Vita) in January of 2015. Feedback was mixed, with some ending up loving it while others found it tedious.
In the summer of 2015, the Vita received a second Kickstarter game which was never a part of the original funding pitch – Shovel Knight, from Yacht Club Games. Conceived as a retro-inspired Mega Man-esque game that originally targeted PC and Nintendo platforms, Sony seemingly struck a deal to get the game onto PS3, PS4, & Vita – including a cameo appearance from Kratos himself. It went on to become one of the most essential titles in Vita’s library and is still receiving free updates and new DLC to this day, as well as a physical release through Fangamer, showing just what a success it has been.
It would be a long wait until the next successful crowdfunding project would come to fruition – this was Dragon Fin Soup which was funded in April 2014 and released in November 2015. While I have to commend the developers on getting the Vita port out at the same time as the other versions, it was a technical mess (on both Vita and PS4) and seemed to really disappoint backers, so much so that Grimm Bros promised a new version (Extra Chunky Edition) by the end of 2016 to fix these issues. As of the date of this article, this hasn’t materialised, with sporadic updates no longer mentioning it.
An even longer wait came until the next Kickstarter title landed, although interestingly as with Broken Sword it was another game that hadn’t specifically been promised a Vita version during the pitch. Darkest Dungeon was a gothic-inspired psychological dungeon crawler which had shown interest in Sony’s handheld during the campaign but hadn’t committed, yet following the successful PC launch where the title received rave reviews, the studio commissioned Vita porting experts Sickhead Games to transition it. As with Shovel Knight, Darkest Dungeon is still being updated for the console today, showing just what a commitment from the developers this was.
In fact, the latter end of 2016 would see numerous projects finally come to fruition. Another followed in November when the much-delayed Slain arrived on the handheld in a spruced up ‘Back from Hell‘ edition that fixed many of the issues that had plagued the title since its original PC-only March release. As was becoming a common trend with Kickstarter projects, reviews were mixed, citing the beautiful graphics but frustrating gameplay. Sadly, another problem with the Vita port was poor performance, likely owing to the game’s development in the Unity game engine.
Like Darkest Dungeon, another title that went above and beyond its original promise was Demetrios: The Big Cynical Adventure from developer COWCAT Games, which released in December 2016. The project didn’t actually reach its funding stretch goal by the end of the campaign in November 2015, but the developer proceeded to release on the platform anyway and (in a bizarre reversal from the norm) published the Vita version before the PS4/XB1 ports. Interestingly, COWCAT is continuing to work on Vita to this day, recently publishing Xenon Valkyrie+ and Riddled Corpses EX, suggesting Kickstarter truly converted the developer to be a fan of Sony’s handheld!
Just making it in time for the end of the year was Shantae: Half Genie Hero from Wayforward Studios, the latest in the long-running metroidvania series starring the belly-dancing hero. Compared to some of the other titles in this article, it was perhaps less surprising to see this one come to life as the developer is a seasoned studio (which released multiple Vita games, including Silent Hill: Book of Memories). The game actually managed to get a physical release through XSEED Games, as well as a long-running DLC campaign that is still coming to the handheld – another success story for Kickstarter, even if it was a long time coming.
Following the rush at the end of 2016, there was another lull. There had been multiple Pinball Arcade tables added during the preceding years, some of which had used Kickstarter to raise funds for the license, but otherwise things were quiet. A notable exception was Plague Road from Arcade Distillery, which was funded by the end of 2016 and released by summer 2017. Vita owners seemed to be the main contributors to this (enticed by a special limited edition physical release) and the success of the project led the company to return to Kickstarter for its next project, SkullPirates, a year later.
So far this year, we’ve seen a few more projects finally release – one is the Vita version of Root Double from Sekai Project, which seemed to take forever considering the game was already released in Japan, and another is the long-awaited Vita port of Cosmic Star Heroine, which has just released (although only available more than a year after the PS4 version, the developer shared frequent updates on progress along the way, which makes it all the more special that it finally reached this stage). In just a few short weeks we should also have the bonkers duck-boxing title Pato Box, which took an unfortunate detour through Switch & PS4 ports first, but still seems to be actually happening for Sony's handheld.
The biggest success story of 2018 has to be Muv-Luv. After being funded in 2015, it finally picked up a publisher in PQube and received a retail release worldwide, making it one of the few Kickstarter Vita games to receive this honor. It's undoubtedly one of the best visual novels on the platform too, making it a worthy addition that fans helped contribute to.
So there have been numerous successes over the years, but what failures have there been? Well, plenty, but the two most high-profile have to be Bloodstained and Mighty No. 9. Both raised millions on the back of name recognition from the creators of Castlevania and Mega Man, but the former officially cancelled its Vita version a few weeks ago (despite giving constant promises that it was actually happening), while the latter promised handheld versions in 2017, which still haven't materialised (also a problem for 3DS). At least Bloodstained delivered the enjoyable prequel game Curse of the Moon on Vita, I guess, and judging by the state of the Mighty No. 9, we’re not missing out on much.
Another high profile game (one that was formally cancelled this time) was Hyper Light Drifter, which got $645k in pledges and promised a Vita port during the 2013 Kickstarter campaign. Following PC and console releases, though, the Vita version was cancelled (alongside the Wii-U port), with the developer citing the amount of effort they would take alongside his ongoing health issues. Given fans had helped fund this development it was a pretty disappointing outcome, especially given how good the game looked (it was one of my 10 most disappointing cancelled Vita titles).
Similar technical difficulties were cited by Moon Hunters developers Kitfox Games, when they cancelled the Vita port of their title in 2016, which seemed to be another infuriating case of developers not researching the hardware they were planning to release on. Oddly, Poncho was a Kickstarter project that failed but found a publisher willing to release a Vita port, but legal issues supposedly stopped this (leading to a big dispute between the developer and publisher over the legitimacy of this claim).
While most of the above games were fairly forthcoming about their Vita cancellations, others handled it more poorly. Organic Panic, described as ‘Worms meets LittleBigPlanet', was revealed in a PlayStation Blog post upon the release of the PS4 version to no longer be coming to Vita (hardly a solid way of communicating with your backers). This was something that also happened with the beautifully 80s Crossing Souls, whose developers said a Vita port was on the cards, only to back-track on the PS Blog once the game had been released. Meanwhile, the developers of Regalia stated the title would no longer be coming to Vita while simultaneously announcing a Switch port – talk about a kick in the teeth!
Speaking of ports on other platforms, a handful of games promised Vita versions alongside other platforms during their original campaigns and managed to release on those platforms before going completely silent on any potential Sony handheld port. Among these are Loud on Planet X, an interesting-looking rhythm game which managed all of its promised versions aside from Vita and whose developer has been silent on the subject since saying it was coming “soon” (in 2016). Red Goddess: Inner World is another project that promised multiple platforms, including Vita and Wii-U, but is currently only available on PC and PS4 (and the developers now seem unable to be contacted).
There are also projects that ran into difficulties outside of the Vita-porting side of things. Examples include The Hero Trap, which was cancelled outright after a number of years in development, with the developer citing difficulties in funding the project and under-estimating costs. A similar situation happened to the developer of Midora, who decided at the end of 2015 that he could no longer continue development of the game on any platform and cancelled it outright, obviously killing the chance of any Vita version. It also seems like the brilliant-sounding DanganRonpa-esque Quantum Suicide may also be in trouble due to a legal battle over the IP’s ownership.
While the developers of The Hero Trap and Midora actually announced that their games were being cancelled, other projects were just abandoned without any formal word on their future fate. C-Wars was a decent-looking rogue-like game that made it as far as Steam Early Access, but the full game never released on any platform; whereas Outpost 13 did manage to get a ‘full’ version out on Steam, but it was berated by anyone who played it on the grounds that it was blatantly unfinished. Wild Season was a promising Harvest Moon clone that also seems to have been forgotten with no updates as of 2016.
There are some projects that are supposedly still in the works too, but which I have absolutely no faith in. Leading this charge is Project Phoenix, which raised a whopping $1m and included a Vita version, although recent developments make it seem like this was a giant scam, as the money was put towards the development of a different title. The developer of the stylish-looking Liege seems to have gone completely silent on his project, so that one looks like a no-go too.
While we’re on the subject of failures, it’s worth mentioning the handful of projects that didn’t manage to reach their funding goal but had aspirations of releasing on Vita. Early examples include things like Cult County, a new FPS from Renegade Kid (the developer of Mutant Mudds and Xeodrifter) and Edge of Eternity – a project that would later get rebooted targeting high-end consoles and PC, where it eventually received the funding it needed (but I’d have loved to see how a Vita version turned out).
For me, the most famous project that failed to reach its goal is Rogue Raiders Online, a gorgeous-looking co-op action RPG that had big aspirations for a modest investment. It was one of a spree of crowdfunded projects releasing around this time that were looking to release on the handheld, alongside things like Beyond Human and Warped Metaverse (both of which looked great), but it was clear by this point that trust in Kickstarter as a platform had massively eroded (although it's worth noting that Warped is still under development).
There are some projects still in development that say they’re targeting Vita, which still seem to have a glimmer of hope about them. The best example of this is the Persona-inspired RPG Pixel Noir, which recently picked up a publisher (Badland Games) and although a Switch version has been added (usually a precursor to cancellation), last year’s trailer indicated it would still be hitting Vita.
Sadly, picking up a publisher isn't always good news. Despite a publisher picking up Children of Morta, a recent trailer listing platforms other than Vita cast doubt over the release, even though the developer stepped in to say it wouldn’t be cancelling Kickstarter promises. Who knows what’s happening with that one.
Other developers are either still working on getting the game finished or promising that Vita versions are still coming. Among them is Battle Princess Madelyn devs Casual Bit Games, who state they’re putting “extra attention” towards the handheld port, the creator of Heart Forth, Alicia is still toiling away, and Soul Saga‘s developer is posting regular updates. Others have given us news recently – Strength of the Sword Ultimate is in QA for PS4 & XB1, but there was a distinct lack of Vita news, a similar thing seen for Koe and Timespinner. This doesn’t mean they won’t hit Vita, but it is slightly concerning.
Another relatively anticipated project that hasn’t ultimately been canned yet is Ray’s the Dead, a bonkers-looking zombie game whose last update stated it had “every intention” of releasing on the handheld but could not “pretend this is inevitable”. Others like Mechrunner released on PS4 last year and promised the Vita port would be out soon (still waiting), while De Mambo seems to have swerved Sony platforms altogether in favour of a Switch release, although its website still lists PlayStation.
I’m personally holding out somewhat erratic hope for Drift Stage, a gorgeous Outrun/Ridge Racer-inspired drift racing game that was among my 11 most anticipated upcoming Vita titles for 2018. The project appears to be nearing completion and the Vita version hasn’t been officially cancelled yet, although it’s likely a massive undertaking that the developer may not see as financially viable at this point (although I really, really hope it does).
It wouldn’t be an article about Kickstarter without mentioning visual novels, though, of which Vita had a fair bit of representation over the years, but we’ve yet to see any results on. Sekai Project is responsible for a lot of this and although it's now released Root Double, we’re still waiting on things like Fault Milestone One, the Grisaia trilogy, and World End Economica. A partnership with Limited Run Games was announced in 2016 which was supposed to speed things along but we’ve yet to see any results, despite Fault supposedly hitting in Q1 2017.
Other publishers have tried their hands at the Kickstarter VN market too, with the most successful offering (other than Muv-Luv) being Sharin no Kuni. The title has Limited Run Games involved again – not necessarily a sign of success, but something I’m hopeful about. I can’t say the same for Dies Irae, as the people running the campaign managed to botch just about everything about it with progress now being “at a standstill” due to copyright issues.
For a nice parting shot, though, the indie adventure game Chasm recently released for Vita, despite not being part of the initial campaign. This shows that even at this late stage games will still target the handheld if it makes sense and that funding a project might just lead to a port!
The main thing writing this article has demonstrated to me is what a wide variety of outcomes there can be when funding a project through Kickstarter. You could end up with a brilliant game landing on a platform it wasn’t even planned for (Shovel Knight), a title that delivers on its promises against all odds (Cosmic Star Heroine), a shipped product that doesn’t live up to expectations (Starlight Inception), a Vita port dropped despite a successful launch elsewhere (Moon Hunters), an uncertain future on the platform (De Mambo), an uncertain future in general (Quantum Suicide), or even a project that fails altogether (Midora). You really do roll the dice when you crowdfund something.
Vita fans have understandably become jaded towards Kickstarter projects due to repeated failures to deliver on promises, leading to brilliant-looking titles like Beyond Human and Rogue Raiders Online not being funded. And that’s completely understandable – seeing bigger games like Bloodstained and Mighty No. 9‘s be a shambles despite having AAA publishers behind them, or Hyper Light Drifter bailing out because the port requires a bit of effort, is insulting to the fanbase and a brilliant demonstration of why trust has eroded.
My personal viewpoint is that the good outweighs the bad. It’s beyond frustrating when a developer silently cancels plans for a Vita port (the complete deflection by the developers of Crossing Souls is ridiculous), but crowdfunding has managed to provide us with a sea of brilliant titles we wouldn’t otherwise have – the possibility of funding the next Darkest Dungeon or Shantae seems worth the trade-off. The rest of 2018 will be interesting to observe as multiple projects like Drift Stage and Sharin no Kuni reach completion (will Vita still be part of their plans?). Hopefully Sekai Project will finally deliver on some of its promises too. Either way, now that my copy of Muv-Luv has arrived, I know I’m happy I backed it when I did and ultimately that’s what I’ll remember about Kickstarter – what it gave me, rather than what it didn’t.