Price: £279.99 (3G), £229.99 (wi-fi)
Developer: Sony
Publisher: Sony

Sony’s previous entry into the handheld market, the PSP, was a something of a mixed-bag for Sony. While world-wide sales figures were reasonable on the whole, the system wasn’t without its critics.

Take the UMD format, for example, yet another ill-judged data storage system which no other device adopted and so possibly outranking even the mini-disc in the flop stakes.

Then there was the initial cost of the console and a lack of triple-A titles published by even Sony itself. Add in the steady rise of the iPhone and Android formats as alternative sources of gaming on the go, and a dwindling presence on the crammed store shelves of game stockists and the fate of the PSP was sealed.

Undeterred, Sony have taken the decision to once more go the way of the handheld; the resulting PS Vita no mere tentatively placed toe in icy waters, but rather a full on cannonball aimed at blowing the competition out of the water through raw power,  exclusive titles and features.

First impressions are good, Vita’s five-inch, 16 million colour, 960×544 pixel display is strikingly vivid, not quite HD resolution but appearing sharper than HD due to the relatively small constraints of its screen.

The contours of the device itself are pleasing too, slick and nicely finished. Be in no doubt though, this is a monster of a machine; far larger than say Nintendo’s 3DS and – thanks to the welcome placement of not one, but two analogue sticks – larger than the PSP too. That said we’ve rarely experienced thumb cramp, even during prolonged play.

Graphical horsepower is provided by a quad-core processor, 512MB of RAM and 128MB of VRAM, while twin cameras, front and back, complete the package. Audio levels are perhaps more reminiscent of mobile phone devices, rather than say the sonic levels of Apple’s iPad but with headphones attached speech and sound effects are crisp.

The Vita’s rear touchpad proves as sensitive as that of the front screen, and is utilised in games such as Super Stardust Delta (via a pincer-style, asteroid crushing mini-game) and in the Wario Ware-like Frobisher Says! While the PS3’s long forgotten Sixaxis motion controls return, feeling more at home on a handheld where moving the entire screen dovetails with the on screen movement.

Vita’s interface is clear enough though much departed from the PS3 and PSP’s familiar XMB. Instead we’re presented with a touch-based layout of icons, much reminiscent of the iPad and other tablets of the moment. The Content Manager option is your port of call whenever you’d like to transfer music, etc. from PS3 or PC, while the ‘Near’ app lets you socialise friends those close to your vicinity.

As with the PSP there’s the option to drive your PS3 remotely too – particularly useful for those of us who use the PS3’s PlayTV peripheral, though the more interesting sounding ‘Cross Play’ feature which will ultimately let you play all PS3 games remotely has yet to be activated; still it’s nice to have something to look forward to.

So far, so good then, but what of the much discussed pricing options? Entry level prices  for systems begin at £279.99 (3G) and £229.99 (wi-fi) while the necessity to purchase yet another bespoke memory stick (£44.99 16GB) goes some way to pricing out those who might have otherwise given the fledgling console a chance. Shop around however for there are much superior deals on offer for added value.

There’s no doubting the quality of Vita’s launch line-up, with Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Wipeout 2048, Escape Plan, Everybodys Golf, Square Enix’s Army Corps of Hell and Capcom’s Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 all hitting the right notes and so providing early adopters with the right kind of decision to make when deciding what game’s to puchase along with the system.

It’s not quite all is rosy in the garden of Vita’s software however, a number of the titles invoke memories of the original Nintendo DS’ initial offerings, so keen are they to demonstrate Vita’s features that they feel like technology demos for the touchscreens, and justification for the inclusion of the Vita’s SixAxis motion controls.

Even top-tier titles, the likes of Uncharted and WipEout, feature unwarranted forays into these areas – particularly in Uncharteds case with its inclusion of gesture based quick time events and unceasing gyroscopic balance trials every time Drake happens to cross a wooden beam (and believe us, Golden Abyss features a lot of wooden beams).

Ultimately PS Vita will succeed, or fail, based on its public perception. If Sony can convince games buyers that their system’s visuals and functions far outstrip the average iPhone or Andrioid in base gaming terms, then they have a chance – for what its worth, our 3DS hasn’t seen much game time since the Vita swept into the offices.