Okay, so hear me out. I have a soft spot for the PlayStation Vita. It’s a complete disappointment in terms of sales, even Sony near abandoned the platform not long after launch. Despite all this, the system has thrived in some very specific areas – smaller scale independent and Japanese developed games. Even with this niche carved out, it’s hard to imagine the Vita is long for this world. I believe the Nintendo Switch will inherit its torch and become a haven for Vita fans.
The Vita is absolutely full of RPGs, and Japanese-specific games in general. The RPG genre works well with the platform thanks to its portable nature which allows pick up and play with instant suspension of gameplay while being just as comfortable to lay down in bed with to play for hours on end. It’s region free as well, so if a game doesn’t get an official release in your region (which can be a particularly annoying issue in Australia and Europe), you can import a copy and play it just as easily as a game bought down the road. So many games that probably wouldn’t have warranted a full console release outside of Japan end up coming westward thanks to the Vita’s smaller development costs and the knowledge that Vita fans are very likely to enjoy Japanese games.
Independent games are prevalent on Vita as well. Many indie games with their smaller scale environments or simpler visual styles are absolutely at home on the small screen. The Vita offered something no other machine could match at the time. A high resolution screen with enough power to push the calibre of game only possible on home consoles a generation earlier, a touch screen, along with traditional controls that held it in a different class to smartphones. These factors led to the wonderful ability to play games like Spelunk and Rogue Legacy (among *many* others) with the same control method, quality of graphics and often the same save file on both your TV and away from the TV. This comes with some problems though. Needing to buy some titles twice (once on each platform) is a bother and cloud save transfer isn’t exactly foolproof, relying on manual uploads and downloads that could easily lead to data loss if you’re not careful.
As wonderful as the Vita is, we’d be kidding ourselves if we believe it is long for this world. It’s a handheld in its sixth year of life, and it has been years since Sony has paid any real attention to it. It’s on extended life support, held up by fans happy to buy and play some very specific types of game. Sony are almost certainly not going to replace the Vita, and so that leaves developers and publishers with a decision as to which platform to target next. I feel that the Nintendo Switch will be the logical next step for previous Vita developers.
In the end, I feel that the kinds of games popular on the Vita won’t have a lot of choice but to move to the Switch. They could try their luck with PS4 only development once the Vita is gone, but that either turns out far more expensive to develop for or turns out a game that doesn’t look visually up to the PS4’s standard. They could move to the 3DS, but as much as Nintendo don’t want to say it I don’t expect that system to remain relevant long after the Switch hits stores. Switch just makes sense as the next platform for these kinds of games.
It’s not all gloom, since the Switch shares many traits with the Vita. Switch is (thank Kimishima) a region free machine, so the issue of delayed or cancelled regional releases of games won’t be an issue. It can be used in portable mode which lends it all the advantages of the Vita as far as a pick up and play nature of gaming. It has a big, high resolution screen and both touch and traditional button/directional controls so it will be just as capable with games designed for each style of control.
The Switch should perfect the cross-play concept too. When the exact same copy of a game can be played on the same system in either portable or TV-connected modes it eliminates so many of the issues that bugged me around PlayStation’s implementation of the idea. No buying twice, no save management, just buy the game and play it however you want to.
It will be sad seeing the Vita fall further into irrelevance for sure, but I genuinely believe that the future is still bright for the portable style games that defined the system after launch. Switch will pick up where Sony decides to leave the Vita, and improve on nearly everything that made the Vita great in the first place.