Last week, Sony circulated a brief courtesy warning via email to the owners of its flagship handheld, the PS Vita. From April 20, the Vita’s YouTube, Maps and Near apps will no longer be supported. The announcement comes as yet one more rotten egg thrown at the consumers who invested in one of gaming’s messiest fry-ups.
Though Sony was quick to reassure players that YouTube would remain accessible via the console’s browser app, its announcement made one thing very clear: the healthy enthusiasm that drove the company’s revolutionary answer to the handheld market has rapidly dissipated. The company can no longer even warrant the expense of renewing a YouTube contract for its forgotten system, so it’s little wonder that big developers are scant to be found in the Vita’s sizeable back catalogue.
The portable’s namesake can only feel like somewhat of a too-soon jab right now. The fact is the Vita feels anything but alive. Sure, the system sports a rather healthy library of indie titles, with Sony fashioning a new, easy-access home for independent games. That’s great, but a gaming platform should be able to claim more than being a dumping ground for what are, by and large, low-effort ports. Sony may well be able to boast that exemplary games like Guacamelee can only be experienced on the go with the Vita. But this shouldn’t, by any means, be a defining function. Cross-play is indeed nifty – but not two hundred dollars’ worth of nifty.
The Vita is a powerful, feature-rich system, which only makes its complete lack of must-have titles sting even more. Freedom Wars was, in all likelihood, the console’s very last AAA title. While the highly stylised dystopian action RPG packed a high-scoring punch among critics, for many, it only underscored the Vita’s paltry sampling of comparable experiences. When Sony took to the E3 stage in 2011 to announce the system, dual analogue sticks and a few unchecked boasts intoned promises of ambitious, untethered gaming experiences Nintendo couldn’t hold a candle to. A Bioshock title was slated, rumblings of a portable Infamous game sounded promising, and fans were certain that the stellar Grand Theft Auto Stories series would receive a next-gen portable follow-up. Four years later, and all three have met their demise somewhere along the Sony pipeline.
At every expo since the console’s initial reveal, Sony has been paying less and less attention to their dejected system. In fact, Gamescom 2014 even saw the handheld lose exclusivity on Tearaway, arguably one of the few games to truly utilize the Vita’s dense array of features. The company seems to be becoming as disinterested in sustaining their progeny as the rest of the world is in playing it.
There are indeed still system loyalists that find regular use out of their Vitas, and more power to them. The system’s awesome potential has been compacted into an indie niche which has proved satisfying for some. No doubt the Vita remains, for me, the ideal platform to chip away a few hours on games like Guacamelee and The Binding of Isaac. But one egg doesn’t make a cake. Only a handful of developers have ever dared to even experiment with the PS4/Vita second screen functionality. The system’s virtual reality feature never surpassed gimmick status before promptly being forgotten about in 2013. Vita owners were never given the promised ingredients to satisfy Sony’s ambitious recipe. For that, the system will forever be stained by the words ‘wasted potential’ and ‘lack of support’.
The loss of support for no less than three native apps presents itself as a new chapter in the Vita’s lethargic disintegration. The system now not only lacks support, but is actively losing it. While seemingly inconsequential, the announcement represents a sobering truth: Sony has stopped caring. They have accepted that their costly side project will never amount to being even a minor hit.
My prediction is that the Vita will find its support administered via IV drip for the next two to three years. Apps will continue to lose support and exclusives will dry up. My Vita, for one, will find its legs as a somewhat reliable second controller for my PS4. While loyalists will still find the same comprehensive library of indie games and more to enjoy at their own portable leisure, skeptics and intermittent users will steadily find less and less to compel them into the Vita’s ever-shrinking solar system.
Do you agree with the sentiments of this piece? Want to get started on funeral plans? Or do you disagree? Will you be playing your Vita through the foreseeable future (and perhaps beyond)? Direct all dissent, apathy and ceremonial suggestions to the comments section below.