I promised a set of Vita game reviews, and I delivered! Here now are eleven titles that are either currently in my collection, or were thanks to Playstation Plus.
Street Fighter X Tekken
It's just like the console versions! In other words, it's a shallow*, button-mashy fighting game with characters that have no business existing together. The only thing it loses in the transition from console to handheld is Capcom's greed... all the extra characters that were dangled in front of the player are finally liberated from the twenty dollar surcharge, and you can even get a handful of alternate costumes by entering a code tucked into the case. Admittedly, the control is a bit wonky (touchscreen buttons are no substitute for the real thing, and you can forget doing anything with Sony's accursed touch panel), but the graphics have lost very little of their charm, with the same vivid colors and characters that love to ham it up for the camera. Look, you were going to buy the extra fighters anyway... you might as well get them to go and save a little cash in the process. B+
* A reader took issue with my calling this game shallow. Admittedly, there are tons of crazy combos you can perform if you're willing to learn them. However, it's been my experience that chain combos work pretty well too, and you can assign them to a single tap of the touchscreen if you'd like. There's depth if you're willing to dig for it, but you're not required to take advantage of it.
If nothing else, Frobisher Says is a fascinating look at how an established style of gameplay can change when run through the filter of another culture. Put simply, this is Wario Ware, but British. Frobisher, an apparent refugee from a Pringles can, makes random demands, and you'll satisfy his whims with the Vita's various input devices. You'll squish "toppers" by pinching them with the front and back touchscreens, capture an alien bluebird lazily drifting through your house, and smile at bikini babes laying on a conveyor belt. The mini-games rarely work as well as the ones in Wario Ware, but they're illustrated by some of Britain's finest underground cartoonists, making the experience a little more palatable. Also, using the player's face as input is something I've never seen done in any video game ever, so Frobisher (petulant wanker that he is) gets points for that, too. C
It's a video game! No, it's a living work of art! No, it's an interactive entertainment experience! I don't know what the hell it is, but it sure looks purty! Anyway, Flower casts you as the wind, collecting petals from flowers scattered throughout the countryside. As you gather petals, the hills and valleys come to life, with the grass changing from dull grey to vibrant green. Once you're full of potpourri, a portal appears in the middle of the playfield, taking you to the next stage. The control is a little weird on the Vita (you have two options, and neither of them involve the analog thumbsticks), but the game is nevertheless a quiet, relaxing change of pace from the usual bloodstained fare on Playstation game systems. B
For years, the best tube shooter around was Typhoon 2001, designed for home computers by German programmer Thorsten Kuphaldt. However, it just lost that crown to TxK, the latest release by indie game legend Jeff Minter. As the title suggests, TxK is as close to Minter's earlier Tempest games as possible without prompting a lawsuit from Atari. The Flippers have been redrawn, Spikers are now flowers with deadly stems, and there's a new soundtrack (even better than the original, stunningly!), but beyond all that, this is the same game you loved on the Jaguar and Saturn. The controls are damn near perfect, with a slight bit of inertia that reproduces the feel of the old arcade game's spinner, and the crisp, candy-colored visuals are a wonder to behold on the Vita's OLED screen. Unfortunately, the game collapses under the weight of Jeff Minter's indulgences by the 35th stage, but you can always quit before the confounding level designs and the unending assault of cow heads take their toll on you. B+
A Smash Bros. knock-off with Sony's cast of incongruent characters seems like the worst idea ever, but somehow, they made it work. It helps that all the heroes are faithfully represented, with attacks you'll recognize from their own games. Nathan Drake kicks exploding barrels and fires his gun from behind concrete bunkers, Ratchet and Clank have an arsenal of wacky weapons, and the Fat Princess still has her subjects do all her dirty work for her, giving All-Stars a much-needed air of authenticity. It also doesn't hurt that the game is so well made, with incredible graphics (now this is console quality!), tons of weapons scattered throughout each battlefield, and arenas that start out as a tribute to one Playstation game... before being interrupted by another. The lack of health bars takes some adjustment- the only attacks that count are super moves, which are instantly fatal- but it does give All-Stars a frantic, cat and mouse feel that other fighting games lack. B
Ever wonder what happened to GameArts? They're still around, but they're no longer bringing their A-game. Ragnarok Odyssey is a portable spin-off of an online RPG that's hugely popular in its native South Korea. However, its horizons are severely narrowed by the limitations of the Vita, with areas broken into bite-sized chunks. The fighting system has promise- strong attacks launch enemies into the air or outward like a bullet- and the scenery is just this shy of beautiful, but the action gets repetitive quickly... to say nothing of frustrating when you're surrounded by hungry bears. It's not the best the Vita has to offer, but Ragnarok Odyssey might get you by in a pinch if you've got a Monster Hunter jones and are willing to take advantage of the game's rich customization features. C
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
The Sly Cooper series went dormant for a few years, forsaken for the grimdark (and frankly, depressingly reflective of the game industry as a whole) InFamous. Sony would probably have been content to let the stealthy raccoon sleep, but a small developer called Sanzaru Games had other ideas. They started work on their own sequel to Sly Cooper, and got the greenlight to finish it after showing the demo to Sony's top brass.
Thieves in Time compares favorably to the Sly Cooper games designed by Sucker Punch, with the same bright cartoony artwork, tight control, and quality voice acting. However, it also has something that probably should have been left in the past... cheesy stereotypes. The first stage is called "Turning Japanese," if that tells you anything. A later stage has an angry rapping black bear, which should tell you a lot more. I know, I shouldn't expect nuanced characterizations from a cartoon with a controller stapled to it, but the creators of the game can do better than this. B
How's this for a concept? You're a papercraft kid with a envelope for a head, and it's your mission to deliver a message to the guy holding the Vita... which would also be you, of course. You make frequent cameo appearances in the sun of Tearaway's world, smiling down upon its citizens as the hero struggles to reach you. On his journey to the center of your mind, little iota rides pigs, befriends a hungry monster, hunts for presents, and runs along glue-covered walls, stopping only to battle the cuboid Scraps that have invaded this strange construction paper world. Creativity runs rampant in Tearaway, and you'll interact with the game in a number of novel ways. Can't quite reach that platform in the distance? Use the touch panel to poke your finger through the Vita and drag it to iota! Your sidekick looking a little shabby after a fight with some Scraps? Fix him up by cutting shapes out of paper and sticking them on him! Found a scarecrow who's lost his voice? Give him yours! Tearaway never seems to run out of clever ideas, making it the most refreshingly original game since the glory days of the Dreamcast. A
Speaking of the Dreamcast, Mortal Kombat follows its example of taking a great game, porting it to perfection, and adding exclusive features. Aside from shabby graphics (if you have to sacrifice this much to make the game run at sixty frames per second, maybe thirty frames isn't so bad...), Mortal Kombat is every bit as good as its console counterparts. It's even better in some respects, because you don't have to pay for the bonus characters and costumes, and because there's a new challenge ladder which lets Scorpion perform a fatality on a teddy bear. Did I mention one of those new characters is Kratos from God of War? Between Mortal Kombat, Playstation All-Stars, and Soul Calibur, he's been in more crossovers before 9 AM than most video game heroes will be in their entire lives. Anyway! Great game. Kind of ugly, but highly recommended anyway. A-
Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational
A wise man once called golf "a good walk spoiled." In this case, it's more like a perfectly good Vita pounded into powder. There's plenty here that will send less stable gamers (me) flying into a rage, so if you have anger management issues, for the love of Chi Chi Rodriguez don't buy it!
More patient players will enjoy this rock-solid simulation, which looks gorgeous and moves at a fairly brisk clip. After you've lined up your shot, hitting the ball is as simple as two well-timed button presses. Why there's no option to flick the touchscreen to hit the ball (an option available on the DS for nearly a decade) is anyone's guess. In fact, there's a lot of guesswork involved here, which only adds to the frustration when your obnoxiously chatty caddy won't stop talking. The game's got a built-in instruction manual... make sure you use it. B
Heh heh... this thing. Like Tearaway and Frobisher Says, Little Deviants was designed to take full advantage of the Vita's input-centric hardware. However, while those were games, this is more of a tech demo with profoundly grating spherical characters that fell out the backside of a focus group. You know, like these dorks.
Anyway, you'll have to finish lame mini-games to build a space ship and send these reject Madballs back to their home planet (and if we're all exceedingly lucky, they'll meet the same fate as Poochie in transit). One game has you stick a finger underneath the Vita to make bumps in the landscape, sending a rolling rodent to a door at the end of each stage. Another game has you poking at robots that appear in the windows of an apartment. You have to use both the touchscreen and the touch panel for this exercise in futility, because... well, because they had to find some way to justify its existence. The touch panel, I mean, not the game. They certainly weren't up to that challenge.
Little Deviants has been popping up at K-Marts all over the country for five bucks, but don't take the bait. If you have anything else in your Vita collection, anything at all, you will never play it. D-