An appreciation of the PlayStation Vita on its 10th birthday

Two Vita obsessives on the Engadget staff reminisce about their favorite games.

AnthonyRosenberg via Getty Images

A decade ago today saw the Japanese release of Sony's last dedicated gaming handheld, the PlayStation Vita. It wasn't quite as popular as its predecessor the PlayStation Portable (or its main rival the Nintendo 3DS), and Sony is still trying to bring its gaming experience to mobile, but the Vita still holds a special place in the hearts of those who owned one. At Engadget, that's Nathan Ingraham and Devindra Hardawar, who have both extolled the virtues of the system in our internal Slack many times over the years (yes, I checked). So on the Vita's 10th birthday we've asked our resident experts what their favorite games for the system were, and inspired them to dig the shiny little handheld out of their closets for another go-around. — Kris Naudus, Buyer's Guide Editor

The freedom of Gravity Rush’s acrobatic gameplay, which lets you fall through the air in every direction, as well as walk along the sides and bottoms of buildings, went hand-in-hand with the Vita’s portability. That made it a game I couldn’t help but love despite its frustrations. Gravity Rush took full advantage of the system’s motion controls — you had to tilt the Vita to control your flying momentum — and its watercolor anime aesthetic looked incredible on the Vita’s screen. Few games captured the magic of the system’s hardware that well.

Sure, the combat was simplistic and the story didn’t make much sense. But the visceral feeling of flying was hard to match, especially on a portable console. I never got around to playing the PlayStation 4 Gravity Rush remaster, mostly because my memories of the game are so intimately tied to the Vita. I suppose it’s time to finally get over that hangup, though. The Vita is well and truly dead, and if I wanted to play the sequel, I have no choice but to move over to my PS4. — Devindra Hardawar, Senior Editor

Every portable console needs a good puzzle game. For the PS Vita, it was Lumines: Electric Symphony. The first Lumines game was a launch title for the Vita’s predecessor, the PlayStation Portable, and Electric Symphony arrived when the Vita went on sale. The basic gameplay remained the same: you manipulate 2-by-2 squares of varying colors together and match those colors to clear things out. If your screen gets overloaded, that’s that.

What makes Lumines: Electric Symphony so engrossing is the way the gameplay is matched up to the beat of a lengthy selection of classic electronic tunes from artists like LCD Soundsystem, Aphex Twin, The Chemical Brothers and about 30 more. Each song has a different speed, and that speed is reflected in the gameplay; it’s not like Tetris where things progressively get faster and faster. It’s actually more like Tetris Effect, which was the first Tetris game to make music and sound a crucial part of the gameplay experience.

Lumines: Electric Symphony doesn’t reach the lofty heights of Tetris as a puzzle game, but that’s not a huge knock. It’s hard to compete with one of the most popular video games of all time, but Electric Symphony is still a great way to kill some time, either through a short session or a long play-through of the more than 30 tracks the game has to offer. — Nathan Ingraham, Deputy Editor

Ever since Super Mario Kart arrived in 1992, game developers have tried to emulate its appeal with little success. For my money, Modnation Racers: Road Trip came pretty damn close. The PS Vita title was a new version of a PS3 game that came out in 2010. Both installments follow the Mario Kart script pretty closely: crazy tracks with weapons and items that let you even the odds against your competition.

What the Modnation Racers games did differently was offer endless customization — of your kart, racer and, most crucially, the courses themselves. Even on the somewhat scaled-back Vita game, you could download all manner of creations from the Modnation community, something that gave the game life for years until Sony inevitably shut down the servers.

Even without all the community content, though, Modnation Racers: Road Trip is still a blast to play. The 30 tracks in its career mode are extremely well designed, and the driving mechanics simply feel great. After almost 10 years, this game is showing its age, but it’s a great example of Sony’s promise to bring console-quality games to the Vita. The graphics don’t look quite as sharp as they used to, but the racing experience remains a blast. — N.I.

Sony initially pitched the PS Vita as a way to play console-quality games on the go, but its legacy is just as much about the smaller, indie games that hit the handheld. OlliOlli and its sequel OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood are two games that I played for hours on end, even though they weren’t as flashy and high-profile as games from bigger studios.

OlliOlli is a masterful side-scrolling skateboarding game that combines lo-fi music and graphics with gameplay that was simple to learn, but maddening to master. And let me be clear, “maddening” is a complement. Once I figured out how to do more advanced moves and pull off longer combos to juice my score, I got addicted to the challenge of mastering every level.

And there’s a ton to master here; both games had five worlds to conquer, each with five “amateur” and “pro” levels. And, each level has five objectives to nail if you really want to be a completist. Usually, I don’t try to hit 100 percent of all the goals in a game, but here I was compelled to keep on pushing myself to beat as many challenges as I possibly could.

Both games have held up over the years, with the sequel adding crucial new mechanics like manuals, so you can skate through entire levels without stopping your combo. I recently replayed both, and still really enjoy trying to do a level as cleanly as possible — if you like chasing high scores, OlliOlli is a great option. And if you never tried these games, I’ve got some good news: both are available for current PlayStation consoles, and a new game, OlliOlli World, is coming out on February 8th. — N.I.

I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the world of Persona than this title on the Vita. Persona 4 Golden’s bold and colorful aesthetic practically popped off of the system’s OLED display. (I can’t say if the later LCD Vita handled it worse.) It also featured one of the most memorable JRPG soundtracks I’ve ever encountered. Best of all, the Vita’s portability was perfectly suited to P4G’s grind. Being able to bring the game outdoors, on the subway and all over my apartment made leveling up feel more like a genuine adventure, rather than a typical JRPG chore.

For me, someone who grew up with every iteration of Game Boy, Persona 4 Golden also proved that portable systems could finally deliver a premium experience similar to home consoles. Sure, there were limitations around battery life and screen size, but in 2012 playing a deep and visually rich RPG on the Vita felt like a miracle. And honestly, it still does. Time to dig up my Vita. — D.H.

I know this is a bit of a cheat. But the Vita is one of the last systems I own that can still run Xenogears, Square’s brilliant and enigmatic Neon Genesis Evangelion-esque RPG. As someone who was fundamentally shaped by both Chrono Trigger and Evangelion in the ‘90s, Xenogears is that rare bit of culture that has always felt specifically made for geeks like me. I love it all: the unique combat, the eclectic Yasunori Mitsuda score and the giant mech battles. Hell, I even dig the exposition-heavy final act. Once the Vita arrived, being able to play Xenogears on the go made me fall for it all over again. — D.H.

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