La dolce vita

After months of speculation, intrigue and rumour, Sony finally revealed its Next Generation Portable last week, the PSP follow-up. Only it’s no longer called the NGP, it’s the PlayStation Vita. Vita means life in Latin…and a long and healthy one is exactly what Sony execs are hoping for with regard to this hugely-impressive piece of kit.

It’s been a rough couple of months at Sony HQ thanks to the hacking which compromised the bank details of more than 75million PlayStation Network users. Honestly, it wasn’t me. Now the company is looking to bounce back with a handheld that boasts similar power to its larger and more established cousin.

First, let’s run through the good. It’s got a five-inch OLED touch screen, wi-fi , Bluetooth and 3G, Sixaxis controls and front and rear-facing cameras. The publishers are all on board making titles for the launch and beyond, while the price has been set at £229 for the wi-fi model and around £269 for wi-fi and 3G. That’s excellent value considering the specification. No launch date has been set but my mole inside Sony suggests a Christmas release.

I spent a bit of time “Vita-inhand” at E3 and can report it feels similar to the original PSP, only with a massive screen and a pair of touchpads on the back. There are also a couple of analogue sticks as well as a D-Pad. It was only a glimpse and further hands-on will be required to test out the full functionality, especially the social networking side. However, almost everyone in attendance agreed it looked a very, very strong proposition. The problem now facing Sony is this: will anyone buy it?

Smart phones and tablets have eaten away at the handheld market to such an extent that commentators are questioning whether they have a future. You need only look to Japanese rival Nintendo to see that all’s not well with the handheld market. The 3DS launched in March to great global fanfare. The technology was impressive, the games were there and the price, around £210, wasn’t too bad. Yet no one has bought it. Sales figures have not been released but there are mutterings the machine is in trouble.

Last week I had a beer with an employee of one of the third party publishers who released a launch title for the 3DS. He confirmed the handheld is simply not moving off the shelves. That doesn’t mean the Vita will similarly struggle but the novelty of owning a handheld seems to have been eroded by the phone/tablet invasion, so much so that Sony must be worried.

We wait and see. It’s not all bad news for Nintendo, though. Last week they unveiled the Wii 2, now officially known as the Wii U. I didn’t manage to get my hands on one as the queue ran to several hours and was made up of over-excited American teens, each one sporting a pair of large trousers and a lobotomised grin. I just couldn’t face it. What I can report is that the Wii U is a more powerful version of the original Wii and comes with an iPad-sized controller that includes a screen.

It’s utterly new, allowing you to play with or without a TV set, as well as using both the controller and TV in tandem. They had some very basic games on show but the possibilities for the new controller are massive thanks to its six-inch touch screen, camera, microphone, speakers, gyroscope and accelerometer.

It’ll be months before the full capacity of the Wii U is unveiled and longer still before it hits the shops – 2012 is the latest word on the console’s release. Still, it could prove as revolutionary as the original Wii, changing not only the industry but the way we all play games.

This first appeared in The Daily Star SundayThe original article can be found here.

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The milking of Michael

Michael Jackson has been dead for nearly two years yet his name is still being milked like a glove-wearing cow. Who is doing the milking? Ubisoft – sitting on a stool, squeezing teat after teat to get every last drop of cash out of the great man’s legacy. Do I care? Not at all.

Yet it’s interesting Jacko had to moon-walk off this mortal coil for his name to mean anything again. I don’t remember too many publishers scrambling to make an MJ game in the years leading up to his death. Imagine Michael Jackson: The Experience then – you play an ageing, drug-addled former pop star who has to fight his way out of a courthouse using an umbrella and old dance moves. Once you’ve made it back to the hotel, there’s a baby-dangling mini game…

But because he’s now dead, so the argument goes, we can focus on the good part of his life – the music. And that’s exactly what Ubisoft has done with this well-designed, if somewhat bizarre, dance game for the 360 and PS3. It follows in the nimble-shoed footsteps of the Wii version, only using Move and Kinect as the motion controllers on their respective machines.

From here you’re offered a series of increasingly difficult choreographed dance routines, led by an animated version of the departed waif on the screen. Is it any good? Look – you either like dance games or you don’t. If you don’t, you can file this under “tat” alongside Let’s Dance, Dance Central, Just Dance and all the others.

If you are into either the genre or the late Mr Wacko, then it seems to be a decent offering with great music and authentic routines. In the interest of providing a fair review, I gave it a good hour in the front room (only after I’d bolted the curtains closed, swept the room for hidden cameras and put the cat out).

It’s fun and quite demanding. And at the end of the Beat It routine, I even had to stop for a glass of Jesus Juice just to keep me going. There’s not much difference between the PS3 and 360 versions. The Move seems a touch more sensitive, yet Kinect lets you dance away without the  controller so it’s swings and roundabouts (perhaps not the best phrase to use in relation to Mr Jackson).

The Kinect version also captures your entire body image and places it into the actual video. But overall it’s roughly the same game. Alongside the solo mode there’s a four-player multiplayer as well as duets and tracks that require backing dancers. To play this in front of other people you’d need to be on a lethal cocktail of drugs yourself but it’s there if you want it.

You’re probably getting the impression dance games are not for me…and you’d be right. Nor are they for my age. This type of offering is strictly for the kids. Somehow, I think it’s what he would have wanted…

This first appeared in The Daily Star SundayThe original article can be found here.