You have to hand it to Sony: They know how to put on a classy community event.
The company took over a small retail corner in San Francisco's fashionable Marina district and quietly dubbed it as "Vita Hill". No giant PSP logos, no handsome stubbled men eating Subway sandwiches. If you're not paying attention it looks like any other shop on the block. Then again, there was the giant line around the corner that's a little tough to miss. Unsuspecting shoppers were rubbernecking at every possible angle to take a peek inside and try to understand what the fuss was about.
Sony's marketing team gave a sober answer to the question: "This time it's about the games."
Like a speakeasy bar, you're given a vague menu of what's in store (pictured in the gallery below). You can choose the kinds of experiences you'd like to partake in and your escort will guide you to appropriate booths. Drinks and food were provided, and to gamify it all the more there are also puzzles tied to artwork and real lock-boxes in the room that you can challenge to win prizes.
I went in search for the killer app that would sell the console and, quite frankly, there wasn't a Brain Age kind of experience that was knocking people back. That sort of thing only happens once in a blue moon -- even the 3DS launch suffered that kind of stunted absence. Still, the augmented reality games and sharp graphics held the crowd well after the contests. That's a pretty damn good sign of entertainment at work, right? One couple even drove all the way from St. Louis to be amongst the first to get their hands on the system and they were pretty damn happy.
Recognize those tattoos? They're from ex-Dtoid Video Guru Rey Gutierrez who now heads up vids at Sony.
The star of the evening was easily Gravity, but even simple games where you pop numbered balloons with your fingers seemed inexplicably fun. Your inner mom will appreciate the nifty touch controls in Uncharted, which are totally optional. The night was briefly ruined when, in a random raffle, Hamza won the PS Vita. Naturally, being the gentleman that he is, he gave it back and some other random goon got to take it home. I can take this kid anywhere after all.
This painting was on the wall. I think its a secret room on the Starship Enterprise.
I walked away from the event feeling optimistic about the system, which is now just a few weeks away from launch. The PS Vita felt a tad heavier since I last held one at E3 (likely a better battery), but is still lighter than it looks. The dual-analog sticks felt just right, and overall the build quality of the hardware was up to par with Sony's consumer products. It's slick, but looks like it could withstand a clumsy beating.
What isn't certain is the market for dedicated handheld gaming systems beyond this generation. Most of us already have supercomputers in our pockets and a game library that costs less than a fancy dinner. Given the price of the system, its software, and its accessories ... I don't know how that will fare long-term since Apple and Android are so quickly changing the game. The PS Vita is a slick, overpowered thing of beauty with a promising library -- but bang-per-buck the value proposition will be steep to those with ramen wallets.