Vita’s 10 Best Online Games - ArticleAdam Cartwright , posted on 28 April 2019 / 4,294 Views
Competing with other players online is ingrained into the gaming ecosystem these days, with every hardware manufacturer (even the previously resistant Nintendo) offering ways to connect to others over the internet to engage in multiplayer. Ever since SEGA blazed a trail with their gone-too-soon Dreamcast and titles such as Chu Chu Rocket and Phantasy Star Online, the console landscape changed towards embracing the internet – solidified further by Microsoft’s Xbox initiative in 2001.
On handhelds, inroads into online gaming were slower, but with the advent of Sony’s PSP in 2005 that changed again and suddenly portable experiences were offered that could also connect with other players across the world. This was refined further with their next-generation handheld the PlayStation Vita, which offered improvements like easily accessible friends lists, system-based party chat, alongside some of the best portable online games that were available at the time of its release.
It’s these I’m going to examine in this article – 10 of the best online experiences that have been available on Vita. Please note – I am including titles that have had their online services ended as this is meant to be a preservation piece and eventually all of the handheld’s library will go offline!
Dragon’s Crown (Status: Online)
Vanillaware’s gorgeous hand-drawn co-operative brawler seems as good a place as any to start this list, not least thanks to its cross-play capabilities. Initially released alongside a PS3 version (the two consoles were able to play with each other), it later added a PS4 port and retrospective cross-play was added, helping to keep the Vita’s community alive by adding a whole new pool of players.
Dragon’s Crown is all about the loot. You’ll progress through a variety of beautifully animated areas as one of six character classes and fight monsters in traditional side-scrolling brawler combat to gain new weapons and equipment, which in turn will make you stronger for the next stage. It’s an addictive gameplay loop that’s proven to work and is just made all the better by playing with others – whether this be friends or strangers over the internet. Working together to take down waves of enemies is tonnes of fun.
Freedom Wars (Status: Online)
Playing with others has always been an integral part of the hunting sub-genre, but back in the PSP era this was mostly done via local ad-hoc and therefore only really took off in Japan. With Vita’s stronger online capabilities, more games took advantage of network play and Freedom Wars is probably the best example of this. It created a living, breathing world where you’re a prisoner in a futuristic panopticon who has to fight giant abductor creatures to reduce your state-enforced life sentence to 0.
To do this, you run into warzones with a team of up to three other players to take down the abductors, rescue the civilians they’ve taken, and return home. This can be done offline with bots, but is made so much more enjoyable when gaming with other humans – teamwork tactics can come into play (such as using your ‘thorn’ ability to drag the abductor to the ground) and some of the later missions practically require a squad of co-ordinated players to succeed. Vita has plenty of hunting games, but few offered as enjoyable an online experience as Freedom Wars.
Helldivers (Status: Online)
Arrowhead Studio’s co-operative twin-stick shooter was a big part of Sony’s 2015 cross-play lineup, allowing gamers to work together between PS3, PS4, and Vita to shoot enemy forces and liberate planets. That has meant that the title has managed to keep a community going to this day (despite the addition of a PC version which doesn’t use the same servers, but this doesn’t seem to have fractured the userbase), making it a great game to just dive in and chip away at.
Helldivers uses a ‘Galactic Campaign’ where every player contributes to a global initiative to free the universe and every level can be played with up to three friends online. As is standard for the developer, friendly-fire is always on, meaning you have to be incredibly careful when shooting (or calling in supply drops) and there are plenty of tactics for protecting and reviving downed team-mates. It’s absolutely the type of title you’re going to want to play with others, which makes it one of the best online experiences on Vita.
Everybody’s Golf/Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational (Status: Offline)
Right out of the gate, Vita fans had access to a brilliant multiplayer experience with Everybody’s Golf (Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational in North America), the latest entry in Sony’s long-running casual-yet-challenging golfing series. It all starts off with some brilliant simulation elements – before entering an online tournament, you can customise your character however you like, then you enter a Habbo Hotel-esque chat room with the people you’re going to be playing with.
Once in the tournament, you can chat by sending simple phrases before it kicks off into the action. Everything is done simultaneously, so as you’re progressing on the hole you’ll see other players' shots landing, which adds a really nice sense of competition to the event. It was a fantastic introduction to Vita’s online capabilities. Sadly, the servers have now been shut down, but those who managed to check it out while they were up are likely left with some brilliant memories of their time with the game.
Killzone Mercenary (Status: Online)
Despite receiving a handful of high-profile FPS games throughout its life, only one really delivered a fully-fledged online experience – Sony’s flagship Vita game Killzone Mercenary. Featuring over 25 weapons, 8 maps (including two released as free DLC via a compulsory update), as well as a variety of ‘vanguard’ perks that can significantly alter the way you play, the options provide an enjoyably varied experience that is made all the better by a full ‘prestige’ system (allowing you to level up the more you play).
Perhaps best of all are the game modes – traditional deathmatch and team deathmatch are here (named ‘mercenary warfare’ and ‘guerrilla warfare’, respectively), but it’s ‘warzone’ that really takes the cake. In this, your objective constantly shifts every few minutes – you might be hacking computer terminals one second and collecting dog tags the next. Combined with Killzone’s weighty and satisfying shooting it made for easily the best online FPS experience on Vita.
LittleBigPlanet (Status: Online)
Sony’s cutesy 2D platformer series LittleBigPlanet has been a consistent part of their online offering ever since the PS3, thanks to its hefty level editor that allows players to create practically anything they can dream up then share their creations with other gamers across the internet. That beating heart is fully alive and well here, and although the community didn’t reach the highs of its console counterparts (even if it is still alive to this day), there’s still a tonne of quality here.
You can also play through story levels with others online through a delightful co-operative mode full of puzzles that require teamwork, but it also mixes in moments of playfully slapping your comrades into pits of fire just for fun. You can even share your favourite levels with others and this leads to even more content discovery. It’s a really impressive package and a fantastic game to play online to this day.
Minecraft (Status: Online)
Mojang’s crafting phenomenon took the gaming world by storm ever since its full release at the start of the decade, but the Vita version was the first time a fully-fledged port was available on handheld hardware. This includes online multiplayer with friends, and although it was chopped back from the 8 players seen on consoles and lacks compared to the newer console versions, you can still play with three other friends in the same world, which is a really fun experience.
In Minecraft, the goal is whatever you make of it – you can build yourself a farm, mine deep underground for minerals and discover hidden worlds, or simply craft your own house to live in that reaches up into the skies. That sandbox gameplay has helped make it into the hit it is today and it is infinitely better when played with others. There are also two additional competitive modes added through DLC (battle and glide), meaning there’s a tonne to sink your teeth into with Minecraft.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted (Status: Online)
In one of the most impressive pieces of technical engineering available on handhelds, Criterion Games somehow managed to cram the full Need for Speed: Most Wanted experience down to run on a portable and this includes the brilliant free-roaming multiplayer (although it was limited to 4 players at any one time, rather than the 8 seen on home consoles). In this, you’ll compete against three others in a variety of constantly-shifting events ranging from simple races to seeing who can travel the most distance when flying off a launch ramp.
The game also logs your progress while playing single player and compares this to your friends in a feature dubbed ‘autolog’, thereby constantly giving you new targets to shoot for as you’ll be informed of their progress as you play (for example, it’ll record their speed going through a speed camera and then tell you how your own time held up). Amusingly it’ll also do things like update billboards with pictures of your friends’ avatars for you to smash through and this makes the whole multiplayer experience feel integrated as a part of the game – it’s really well done and definitely worth checking out.
Street Fighter x Tekken (Status: Online)
It wouldn’t be an article about Vita’s online games if I didn’t include at least one fighting title. I debated for quite a while about which was best to put in, including Garou, Mortal Kombat and PlayStation All-Stars. For me, the winner is Street Fighter x Tekken though (despite my love for PlayStation All-Stars), mainly for its enjoyable gameplay that uses Street Fighter IV as a base but expands on it with the cast from Tekken.
The Vita port fixed a lot of the issues with the prior-released home console versions, including touching up the ridiculous ‘gems’ system and including the DLC characters in the base game. As with many of the titles in this article, it included cross-play with another platform (PS3), which helped it maintain a solid community for a number of years. Although things are much quieter these days, you can still go online with friends and blast out a few matches, which is always a lot of fun.
WipEout 2048 (Status: Offline)
Taking a different approach to other online offerings in this article, WipEout 2048 opted for a fully fledged online campaign where you need to complete nodes by achieving certain objectives in races against other players. Prior to each race, gamers would be able to vote between two different variants and the one with the most votes would be the next competition – a system which attracted some criticism for its random nature, but one that worked fairly well in practice.
The modes offered ensured that you’d always find variety. Eliminator seemed to be the most popular option, which effectively turned the game into a vehicular combat sim where players compete for weapons to blow each other up. You’d still be able to find races from time to time (against some very skilled people), but the node structure ensured that a loss wasn’t the end of the world (you could still progress by achieving your objectives). There were even cross-play races with the PS3 in a separate mode. It was the complete racing package and it’s a real shame that Sony shut it down.
When compiling the 10 titles for this list, I realised how many brilliant online experiences there have been on Vita. I had shortlisted about 25 different games and had to narrow it down, including leaving off some which I’m sure I’ll get called out on. For example, Invokers Tournament was a title I personally really enjoyed but know most gamers didn’t care for, while Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified seems to remain one of the most populated online titles on Sony’s handheld despite its questionable quality. I’m also aware that things like Earth Defence Force 2017 Portable, Toukiden Kiwami, and Unit 13 have their fans and they definitely all nearly made the cut.
Vita’s life may not have been defined by one or two online experiences like, say, Halo 2 on the original Xbox or Call of Duty on the Xbox 360, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a tonne of fun games to play with others over the internet. The list is dwindling as the years go on and servers shut down though, so if you’ve any interest in playing the 8 of these 10 that are still online (or any of the Vita’s online library), I’d make sure you do it sooner rather than later!
(And by the way, if anyone was wondering, the featured image for this article is from Phantasy Star Online 2, a supposedly brilliant online Vita title which we never got in the west. Perhaps one day in the future I’ll be able to try it out and see what all the fuss is about).