This article is provided by Tired Old Hack.
Sony abandoned its most recent handheld, the PS Vita in record time, which led to the understandable consensus that the portable was dead before its library really had a chance to grow.
In reality, the Vita does have many great games. Indeed, it’s got plenty more than that. The Vita was (and years later, still is) a remarkably powerful system with the type of graphical oomph that makes the games available for its rival, the Nintendo 3DS, look like cave paintings by comparison.
But, much as the DS destroyed the far more powerful PSP, Sony once again failed to convince players (in the West at least) to splash out for its handheld and the Vita’s sales eventually all but flat-lined, while the 3DS grew from strength to strength.
But if you are reading this with the thought of picking up a Vita on the cheap, hopefully by the end you’ll be convinced its still worth your time even though official support has long since dwindled.
The Bit.Trip and Bit.Trip Presents Runner2
What they are: Seven minimalist action games, each focusing on a unique gameplay mechanic.
Why they’re Essential: Like other handheld systems, the Vita is best suited to quick pick-up-and play games that take very little time to get into the action.
Every game in the Bit.Trip series fits this bill: within seconds you’re indulging in each title’s specific quirk: Beat’s rhythm game/Breakout mash-up, Core’s risk/reward system, Void’s multidirectional action, the ‘perfect run’ challenge of Runner and Runner2, Fate’s on-rails fluidity and the way Flux brings it all full circle.
If you’re looking for games that push the Vita’s graphical capabilities to their limits, these aren’t the ones you want (though pop in some headphones and they sound incredible). For a pure hand-eye challenge though, there’s nothing better.
DJMax Technika Tune
What it is: The latest instalment of Korean studio Pentavision’s cult rhythm action series.
Why it’s Essential: Where as previous DJMax games have you pressing buttons on a highway similar to Guitar Hero (or, more accurately, Konami’s Beatmania series), Technika Tune has you using the PS Vita’s touch screen instead, tapping notes as a bar passes through them.
This control method doesn’t work quite as well as using buttons, especially if you use the horrible rear touchpad (turn it off in the options right away). That said, a bad DJMax game is still a great rhythm game, and its wide selection of tracks and beautiful presentation have still ensured I’ve put countless hours into it.
What it is: A charming 2D adventure game from the man behind ToeJam & Earl.
Why it’s Essential: Doki-Doki Universe is an acquired taste. If you’re looking for a game that provides any sort of challenge then you will hate it. If you’re looking for a game that plays like ToeJam & Earl because you heard it was made by the same guy, you might still hate it. This is nothing like it.
If, however, you’re looking for a game with a charming art style, a laid back pace and dialogue that’s adorable and hilarious in equal measure, then you might just fall in love with it like we did.
Earth Defense Force 2: Invaders From Planet Space
What it is: A handheld remake of the second Earth Defense Force game, in which giant bugs from space invade the earth and it’s up to you to gun them down.
Why it’s Essential: Too many action games these days take things too seriously. Most have straight-faced, gloomy plots about meatheads saving the world from some threat or another, usually from another planet. What if this alien threat was giant ants and spiders, and all the sober ponderings about the nature of war were replaced with you taping the fire button down while people scream at you in terror through your radio?
Earth Defense Force knows it’s ridiculous and doesn’t care. It’s the video game version of a 50’s B-movie like Them! or Phase IV, or something like Starship Troopers. Perfect for switching your brain off and emptying countless bullets into similarly countless baddies.
Final Fantasy X HD and Final Fantasy X-2 HD
What they are: Visually upgraded remasters of two of the most moving games in the Final Fantasy series.
Why they’re Essential: The Vita isn’t exactly lacking in good RPGs: it’s pretty much the go-to system if you’re looking for anything Japanese and turn-based. Final Fantasy X HD and its sequel, however, are among the finest genre entries you’ll get on the system, thanks to Square Enix’s inimitable production values and characters that don’t adapt to the usual cliches you may see in other titles.
They may be showing their age in some areas, HD upgrade or not, but these are still two of the finest RPGs of the last 15 years.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved
“Geometry Wars is one of the most addictive arcade shooters of a generation”
What it is: The third entry in (what used to be) Bizarre Creations’ simplistic shoot ‘em up screen-melter.
Why it’s Essential: Geometry Wars was never supposed to be a proper game. It was knocked together by Bizarre Creations staff as a way of testing the original Xbox’s controller while they made Project Gotham Racing. The team then slipped it into the second PGR as a little bonus and it became so popular they decided to release it as a standard Xbox Live Arcade game. And then it went stratospheric.
It’s little wonder: Geometry Wars is one of the most addictive arcade shooters of a generation. And this third iteration, with a variety of game modes, is just as compelling even though it’s no longer the now-late Bizarre’s baby.
God of War Collection
What it is: Handheld versions of the first two games in Sony Santa Monica’s critically acclaimed God of War series.
Why it’s Essential: The early God of War games can feel a little clichéd these days, but that’s because they invented most of them. That so many modern games combine hack-and-slash combat with epic boss battles featuring QTEs is a testament to the influence of God Of War 1 & 2.
They may be from the PS2 era and around a decade old, but they’re still hugely playable to this day and perfect for a bit of grandiose escapism on longer journeys.
What it is: One of the earliest Vita exclusives, in which you play as a girl called Kat who’s been given the power to control gravity and has to save the world from an invasion by gravity-twisting monsters.
Why it’s Essential: Gravity Rush was one of the first games that showed the Vita was capable of doing very special things. Using Kat’s gravity powers to fly through the air, walk on walls and perform ridiculous flying kicks on enemies is massively satisfying, and the Vita’s gyro controls (optional) make moving between dimensional planes a treat.
It hurts your brain a bit at first as you get used to the idea of every wall and ceiling being a potential floor, but once you master it there are some fantastic moments in there.
Lumines Electronic Symphony
What it is: The third main game in the Lumines series of rhythm-based puzzlers. Drop coloured blocks to create squares of the same colour so a bar (sweeping across the screen to the beat) can remove them.
Why it’s Essential: Lumines is an equally addictive and immersive puzzle game, with headphones an essential. Once you adapt to the deceptively simple square-building mechanic and figure out how to put combos together, the block-dropping gameplay timed perfectly with the thumping soundtrack immerses you to a level that hasn’t been seen since Rez on the Dreamcast.
What it is: The ninth instalment in the long-running Mortal Kombat series, marking a long-needed return to form.
Why it’s Essential: After years of sub-standard Mortal Kombat sequels, the 2011 Mortal Kombat finally gave the franchise a kung-fu kick up the backside and delivered everything fans had been asking for. This Vita port is brilliantly faithful and includes all the downloadable characters that were later released for the console game, including Freddy Krueger.
Mortal Kombat X and its sequel may have improved the series even further on home consoles, but for a portable Kombat fix this is still the best available.
What it is: An isometric spin-off of Evolution Studios’ popular MotorStorm games. This time, instead of racing massive dirt bikes and buggies, you’re controlling little radio controlled versions of them.
Why it’s Essential: This woefully underrated racer launched alongside the Vita in Europe and was then quickly forgotten about. Which is a shame, because it’s one of the finest Micro Machines style racing games ever.
Vehicle control feels very light and takes a bit of time to get used to, but this only makes things all the more rewarding when you finally start winning races regularly. And at the price it’s going for, you really can’t go wrong.
OlliOlli and OlliOlli2
“Its bite-sized chunks of combo-building goodness are exactly what handheld gaming is all about”
What they are: Infuriatingly addictive side-scrolling skateboarding games where the aim is to pull off long combos and land tricks well.
Why they’re Essential: OlliOlli and its sequel are perfectly suited to the Vita because timing is such a key principle to their gameplay. Players have to press a button to land every time you jump, and the better you time this the more points you get. As a result, if your TV has a little input lag (and most do these days) there can be some frustrating moments of mis-timing.
On the Vita these issues are a thing of the past. It’s just as well really because its bite-sized chunks of combo-building goodness are exactly what handheld gaming is all about. Take it out, try some quick runs for five minutes, put it away again. Heaven.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
What it is: An unashamed Smash Bros knock-off, only instead of Nintendo’s well-known mascots the fighters are Sony’s slightly less famous characters.
Why it’s Essential: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale was initially shunned by the fighting game community for not being very well balanced. But listen, If you just want to play as Heihachi from Tekken and kick the stuffing out of Nathan Drake from Uncharted and Dante from Devil May Cry, there’s plenty of fun to be had.
Its mash-up stages don’t really get the recognition they deserved either. Take the brilliant PaRappa The Rapper / Killzone stage, which initially takes place in Chop Chop Master Onion’s dojo before the Helghast invades and the walls come crashing down. There aren’t Smash Bros levels of content in here and the fighting system does leave a lot to be desired. But as a bit of mindless fun, you’ll get a kick out of it.
Ratchet & Clank Trilogy
What it is: The original three Ratchet & Clank platformers in a single collection.
Why it’s Essential: By and large, each entry in the Ratchet & Clank series (almost 15!) has been entertaining, which is certainly the case with the first three games: Ratchet & Clank, Ratchet & Clank 2: Locked & Loaded and Ratchet & Clank 3 (also known as Up Your Arsenal in the US)
Because they’re showing their age a tad now – the first game is 14 years old – they’ve been given a little bit of upscaling polish too, which is nice. Great gameplay is timeless however, and all three games are still some of the finest action platformers you’ll find on a Sony system, so having all three in one package is a great deal.
Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends
What they are: A pair of side-scrolling 2D platformers using the much-praised UbiArt graphical engine.
Why they’re Essential: The Rayman games have always been quality platformers, even after it switched from 2D to 3D. But for years fans online had been requesting a return to the series’ side-scrolling roots. Well, demanding it. It’s the internet, after all.
Rayman Origins not only granted this wish, it did so with a beautiful new graphics engine called UbiArt, which allows for fantastic hand-drawn animation to be effortlessly reproduced in-game. Both Origins and its sequel Legends truly shine on the Vita’s OLED display, making both an essential purchase for fans of old-school platformers.
Resident Evil Revelations 2
What it is: The episodic second game in Capcom’s Resi spin-off series. The Vita port brings all four episodes together in one package, and adds the two bonus episodes and other DLC released for the console versions.
Why it’s Essential: While everyone wasted their time moaning about Resident Evil 5 and 6, the smart players were enjoying Resident Evil Revelations on 3DS and Wii U (and later 360 and PS3). Starring Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield, the first Revelations successfully merged the action of Resident Evil 4’s gameplay with the more tense atmosphere of earlier Resident Evils to make for a brilliant return to form.
Revelations 2 continues this with another four chapters of survival horror mastery, this time dumping a kidnapped Claire Redfield in an island facility full of nasty creatures. The Vita version is the complete Revelations 2 package of all four episodes and the two bonus ones that expand the story further. Then, when you’re done with that, there’s the much-loved Raid Mode, which – with its time-based nature – is better suited to handheld play.
What it is: A simplistic platformer from Sony’s Santa Monica Studio in which collecting pick-ups adds to the background music.
Why it’s Essential: Another game that didn’t get the widespread love it deserved (noticing a theme?), Sound Shapes is an enjoyable platformer even with the sound turned off. Stick some headphones in though and it becomes a completely different beast: a game in which players create music as they progress. Some stages are even influenced by the music: check out the Beck stages where the lyrics affect the platforms.
Beat the game and you also unlock a bunch of rock-hard ‘Death Mode’ levels which will really test your skills. Brilliant stuff.
“Spelunky is another 2D platformer that suits the Vita’s handheld format to a tee”
What it is: A procedurally generated platformer in which the aim is to make it through a set of random caves, rescuing an optional ‘damsel’ (or chap) in distress along the way.
Why it’s Essential: Spelunky is another 2D platformer that suits the Vita’s handheld format to a tee. Armed with a whip and a finite number of bombs and ropes, you’ll encounter all manner of beasties and bizarre surprises as you fight your way through each stage.
It’s surprisingly difficult too: no matter how often you practice it the random nature of the levels means you’ll never be a complete expert and the ability to think on your toes is an essential skill. To this day Spelunky is still one of the games many PS Vita owners start up first without even thinking.
What it is: A papercraft-inspired platformer with a beautiful art style and an insistence on using every possible input and feature the Vita is endowed with.
Why it’s Essential: Tearaway isn’t just one of PS Vita’s best games, it’s one of the most original things you’ll play on any platform.
The carefree, happy adventure makes use of virtually all of Vita’s feature-set; the two cameras, both analogue sticks, its gyro sensor, every button and the touchscreen. Even the rear touch pad, ignored by most developers, is an integral part of Tearaway’s mechanics.
This is a game that simply wouldn’t work on any other system (unless you redesigned it for PS4… ahem).
Street Fighter X Tekken
What it is: A long-awaited crossover game bringing together two massive fighting series from Capcom and Bandai Namco respectively. Developed by Capcom, it uses the Street Fighter engine, letting players see how Tekken characters control in this style.
Why it’s Essential: With a ridiculous 55 fighters to choose from – including a few Sony-exclusive ones like Japanese cat mascots Kuro and Toro, and Cole from Infamous – it’ll take you an absolute age to master every character in Street Fighter X Tekken. Plus it features a Pac-Man in a giant wooden mech, so there’s that.
Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition
What it is: The fourth and final entry in Sega’s fantastic arcade-style tennis series.
Why it’s Essential: Time has proven that it’s not easy to create a genuinely good tennis game. Attempts at realistic simulation like the Top Spin series tend to be too fiddly for their own good, so only simplified arcade-like efforts such as Mario Tennis do the job.
However, the king of all tennis games will always be the Virtua Tennis series and this final instalment proves why. Just like its predecessors, it sports a refreshingly simple control system, yet one that allows for a wide variety of shot types.
Its World Tour mode is one of the more entertaining career modes in a sports game, offering a board game-style progression and various training mini-games (such as the return of the classic ten-pin bowling one) to keep things varied. If you’re a tennis fan, this should be a no-brainer.
Virtue’s Last Reward
What it is: Part visual novel, part ‘room escape’ puzzle game, this sees nine characters locked in a complex and attempting to not only escape with their lives, but figure out who’s behind it all.
Why it’s Essential: Although Virtue’s Last Reward is the sequel to the 3DS game Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, you don’t need to have played the predecessor to enjoy this one. Visual novels aren’t to everyone’s taste, so if you’re the sort of person who thinks gaming is all about reaction-based gameplay and action-packed shenanigans then you may find this painfully dull.
For those who can appreciate what’s essentially a big long narrative adventure, though, this is pretty gripping stuff. Its puzzles are the only real annoyance sometimes, but luckily there’s an easy mode which offers hints. With that problem sorted and six different endings to see, players will spend a long time breaking down this brilliant storyline.
What it is: Another retro 2D platformer that’s actually fun, mainly thanks to its gravity-switching mechanic.
Why it’s Essential: Here’s a novel concept: a platformer in which your character can’t even jump. Instead, VVVVVV’s hero Captain Veridian can reverse gravity at the touch of a button, letting him switch from the floor to the roof and vice versa. It’s a mechanic that leads to a bunch of interesting navigational puzzles that you have to figure out in order to find and rescue your missing crew members.
And it’s all wrapped up in a splendid retro package, this time with a look and feel based on old Commodore 64 games. Much like Shovel Knight, this is a lovingly authentic homage. The pixellated cherry on top is the fantastic soundtrack by Magnus Palsson: yet another reason to make a set of headphones a permanent fixture in your Vita.
The Walking Dead: Season One and Season Two
“When it comes to ‘choose your own adventure’ style storytelling, this has rarely been beaten”
What they are: Telltale Games’ episodic zombie series based not on the TV show, but the comics that inspired it.
Why it’s Essential: Telltale created many point-and-click narrative games, but The Walking Dead remains its finest moment. Granted, the game’s biggest selling point – that the decisions you make affect the story – only have a limited impact and ultimately the overall path you take is the same. But when it comes to gripping narrative, hard-hitting twists and some top-quality ‘choose your own adventure’ style storytelling, this has rarely been beaten.
It’s extremely linear and you’re basically just following a set route, but what a route it is.
What it is: The ninth game in SCE Studio Liverpool’s futuristic racing series.
Why it’s Essential: WipEout has been synonymous with PlayStation since literally day one. The first game, developed by what was then known as Psygnosis, launched alongside the original system in 1995 and was one of the main games that sold the PlayStation brand to an older audience.
Since then, almost every PlayStation system has had at least one unique WipEout game (the PS4’s yet to get one, sadly, and now that SCE Studio Liverpool has shut down it seems unlikely).
This Vita version is a beautiful looking game, and while it doesn’t exactly offer anything groundbreaking in terms of new features or changes to the core WipEout gameplay, it does what it aims to do with point-blank precision. We hope this isn’t the last WipEout game, but if it is then it’s gone out on a high note.
Retro 2D platformer with a bit of a Spelunky feel to it. Well known for its high difficulty level, so not one for novices.
A brilliant Metroidvania game that’s about 90% Metroid and 10% ‘vania. Another member of the small ‘retro inspired games that are actually great’ club.
Crypt Of The Necrodancer
A turn-based roguelike that also incorporates rhythm action elements. Any time you move to the beat of the music your actions are more effective, meaning moving constantly and rhythmically is necessary to do well.
Don’t Die, Mr Robot!
Imagine a twin-stick shooter that doesn’t feature shooting but instead has you triggering massive combos with fruit bombs.
Football Manager Classic 2014
The control system is a little shonky on this port but once you get used to it, it’s the same Football Manager you know and are probably obsessed with.
Another Metroidvania style platformer, this one has more of a sense of humour and has you playing as a Mexican luchador tasked with rescuing El Presidente’s daughter.
Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F and Project DIVA F 2nd
A pair of Sega-developed rhythm games starring bizarre Japanese virtual pop star Hatsune Miku.
LittleBigPlanet PS Vita
A handheld instalment in Media Molecule’s adorable puzzle platformer series which focuses mainly on creation, customisation and sharing your homemade levels with the rest of the world.
The Sly Trilogy
The first three games in the Sly Cooper series of action platformers. Solid stealth gameplay and a nice cel-shaded art style mean all three games are still fun to play and still feel relatively modern despite having been released back in the PS2 days.
Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack
An eat ‘em up in which you have to make a giant alien blob absorb as many things as possible so it can grow big enough to get past various obstacles. A fun game with a great sense of humour.
Thomas Was Alone
A puzzle platformer with minimalist graphics, lovely music and a witty storyline narrated by Danny Wallace.
If you’re old enough to remember Tempest and its sequel Tempest 2000, you’ll love this modern take developed by Tempest 2000 designer Jeff Minter. A great shooter with trippy visuals and a thumping soundtrack.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
It’s a shame that the recent PS4 compilation The Nathan Drake Collection somehow decided this game didn’t even exist, because while it’s by no means the best in the Uncharted series it’s still a solid and visually impressive adventure, annoying touchscreen bits aside.
Velocity Ultra and Velocity 2X
The first is a top-down shooter with an interesting teleport mechanic. The second is more of the same but also adds docking stations where the action switches to a 2D platformer. Crucially, both are brilliantly addictive.