Ten years ago today saw the Japanese release of Sony’s last dedicated gaming handheld, the PlayStation Vita. It wasn’t as popular as its predecessor, the PlayStation Portable (or its main rival, the Nintendo 3DS), and Sony is still trying to bring its gaming experience to mobile, but the Vita still holds a special place in the hearts of those who own one. At Engadget, that’s Nathan Ingraham and Devindra Hardawar, who over the years have both extolled the virtues of the system in our internal Slack (yes, I checked). So on the 10th anniversary of the Vita, we asked our local experts what their favorite games for the system were, and inspired them to pull the shiny little handheld out of their closets for a fresh reboot. — Kris Naudus, Buyer’s Guide EditorGravity Rush
The freedom of Gravity Rush’s acrobatic gameplay, which lets you fall through the air in all directions and walk around the sides and bottoms of buildings, went hand in hand with the portability of the Vita. That made it a game that I was able to enjoy despite the frustrations. Gravity Rush took full advantage of the system’s motion controls—you had to tilt the Vita to control your flying moment—and the watercolor anime aesthetic looked incredible on the Vita’s screen. Few games have captured the magic of the system’s hardware so well.
Sure, the battles were simplistic and the story made no sense. But the visceral feel of flying was hard to match, especially on a portable console. I never got around to playing the PlayStation 4 Gravity Rush remaster, mainly because my memories of the game are so closely tied to the Vita. I suppose it’s time to finally get over that hang-up. The Vita is really dead, and if I wanted to play the sequel, I have no choice but to switch to my PS4. — Devindra Hardawar, Editor-in-ChiefLumines: Electric Symphony
Every portable console needs a good puzzle game. For the PS Vita, it was Lumines: Electric Symphony. The first Lumines game was a launch title for the Vita’s predecessor, the PlayStation Portable, and Electric Symphony arrived when the Vita went on sale. The basic gameplay stayed the same: you manipulate 2-by-2 squares of different colors together and match those colors to brighten things up. If your screen is overloaded, that’s it.
What makes Lumines: Electric Symphony so captivating is the way the gameplay is tuned to the rhythm of a long selection of classic electronic tunes from artists like LCD Soundsystem, Aphex Twin, The Chemical Brothers and about 30 others. Each song has a different speed, and that speed is reflected in the gameplay; it’s not like Tetris where things go faster and faster. It’s actually more like Tetris Effect, the first Tetris game that made music and sound a crucial part of the gameplay experience.
Lumines: Electric Symphony doesn’t reach the lofty heights of Tetris as a puzzle game, but that’s not a huge blow. It’s hard to compete with one of the most popular video games of all time, but Electric Symphony is still a great way to kill some time, either through a short session or a long play-through of the 30+ tracks the game must play offer. — Nathan Ingraham, deputy editorModnation Racers: Road Trip
Ever since Super Mario Kart arrived in 1992, game developers have tried to replicate its appeal, but with little success. For my money, Modnation Racers: Road Trip came damn close. The PS Vita title was a new version of a PS3 game released in 2010. Both parts follow the Mario Kart script pretty closely: crazy tracks with weapons and items that let you level the odds against your competition.
What the Modnation Racers games did differently was endless customization options – from your kart, racer and, most importantly, the tracks themselves. Even on the slightly scaled-down Vita game, you could download all sorts of creations from the Modnation community, something that gave life to the game for years until Sony inevitably shut down the servers.
But even without all the community content, Modnation Racers: Road Trip is still great to play. The 30 tracks in the career mode are extremely well designed and the driving mechanics just feel great. After almost 10 years, this game is showing its age, but it’s a great example of Sony’s promise to bring console-quality games to the Vita. The graphics don’t look as sharp as they used to be, but the racing experience remains great. — NIOlliOlli
Sony initially pitched the PS Vita as a way to play console-quality games on the go, but its legacy extends just as much to the smaller, indie games that appear on the handheld. OlliOlli and its sequel OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood are two games I spent hours playing, even if they weren’t as flashy and high-profile as games from bigger studios.
OlliOlli is a masterful side-scrolling skateboarding game that combines lo-fi music and graphics with gameplay that was easy to learn but insane to master. And let me be clear, “crazy” is a complement. Once I figured out how to do more advanced moves and make longer combos to improve my score, I got hooked on the challenge of mastering each level.
And there’s a ton here to master; both games had to conquer five worlds, each with five “amateur” and “pro” levels. And each level has five goals that you need to complete if you really want to become a completeist. Usually I don’t try to get 100 percent of all goals in a match, but here I had to keep pushing myself to beat as many challenges as possible.
Both games have held up over the years, with the sequel adding crucial new mechanics like tutorials so you can skate through entire levels without stopping your combo. I recently replayed both, and I still enjoy trying to make a level as neat as possible – if you like chasing high scores, OlliOlli is a great option. And if you’ve never tried these games, I’ve got some good news: both are available for current PlayStation consoles, and a new game, OlliOlli World, comes out on February 8. — NIPersona 4 Golden
I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the world of Persona than this title on the Vita. Persona 4 Golden’s bold and colorful aesthetic practically came from the system’s OLED display. (I can’t say if the later LCD Vita fared worse.) It also featured one of the most memorable JRPG soundtracks I’ve ever come across. Best of all, the Vita’s portability was perfectly suited to the grind of P4G. Being able to take the game outside on the subway and all over my apartment made leveling feel more like a real adventure than a typical JRPG job.
For me, someone who grew up with each iteration of Game Boy, Persona 4 Golden also proved that portable systems could finally offer a premium experience on par with home consoles. Sure, there were limitations to battery life and screen size, but in 2012, playing a deep and visually rich RPG on the Vita felt like a miracle. And frankly, it still is. Time to dig up my Vita. — DHxeno ears
I know this is a bit false. But the Vita is one of the last systems I own that can still run Xenogears, Square’s brilliant and enigmatic Neon Genesis Evangelion-esque RPG. As someone fundamentally shaped by both Chrono Trigger and Evangelion in the ’90s, Xenogears is that rare slice of culture that always felt special to nerds like me. I love everything: the unique battles, the eclectic Yasunori Mitsuda score, and the massive mech battles. Hell, I even dig the exposition-heavy final act. Once the Vita arrived, I was able to play Xenogears on the go and fell for it all over again. — DH
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