Veni, Vidi, Vita
The PS Vita never became the juggernaut that Sony wanted it to be; the portable media machine to end all portable media machines, one that could run PlayStation 3 quality games on a pocket-sized handheld. In the years since its release, though, the Vita has become something far more special.
While it stopped delivering big budget blockbusters like Uncharted almost immediately after it came out, it's become a home for some of the gaming world's most fascinating and beautiful experiments.
Hundreds of unusual indie games, remakes of classics, and lush role-playing games and visual novels have kept Vita owners devoted to their machines long after industry pundits declared it dead. No matter what kind of player you are, there's something for you amongst the best PS Vita games ever made.
25. Killzone: Mercenary
Killzone: Mercenary has never been the pinnacle of shooter series, but this exclusive PS Vita sequel is easily the best portable FPS ever made. Mercenary makes the most of its handheld unit, sporting jaw-dropping visuals, expansive gameplay, and a multiplayer that gives Xbox 360 and PS3 titles a run for their money.
As gun-for-hire Aaron Danner, you'll face the full brunt of the Helghast-Vektan war in set pieces that rival sci-fi Hollywood blockbusters. With ample weapons at your disposal, and all manner of enemies eager to gun you down, Killzone: Mercenary is an intense and polished game that shows the PS Vita's true mettle.
24. Don't Starve
Don't Starve might be an honest title (no really, try not to starve), but nothing can truly prepare you for the perpetual stress of attempting to survive in a world that desperately wants you permadead. A handy stomach meter needs kept full to avoid hallucinations and madness but that’s only one of a stack of risks you have to contend with on the randomly generated biomes of complete death. Murderous spiders, penguins and even furious trees await your innocent survivalist.
Just like in Game of Thrones, winter is coming so even if your summer day is going ok and you’ve managed to build a proper fire that isn’t a nightmare to keep lit every night, misery is just around the corner. Yet despite the constant stress, there’s something beautiful about this nightmare and a genuine sense of achievement as the days count up and you're still wandering around without too many hallucinations. Plus, if it’s all too much, you can always turn off winter.
It’s no accident that Mojang’s world builder has sold more than 100 million copies across PC, consoles and mobile. Minecraft is a game of literally endless possibilities. Want to build yourself a farm, raise chickens, and have a simple life? You do that. Maybe don’t mine at night. But want to go on vast adventures and quest to slay an enormous dragon? That’s fine too. Or maybe you just want to hang out with friends and build yourself your own world to live in that looks like Hogwarts or Middle Earth.
There’s nothing like landing in a new biome in creative mode of Minecraft and being overwhelmed by the possibilities ahead. As Vita experiences go, the blocky wonder makes for a perfect handheld adventure. Relax in creative mode or get stressed in survival as you hurry to build your first shelter to protect against creepers. Maybe make sure you’re near a charger though.
22. The Walking Dead
Like a good book, season one of Telltale Games' The Walking Dead adventure game is a tale that's hard to put down. It's exciting. It's gut-wrenching. It forces you to make some of the toughest decisions you'll ever make in gaming, and it leaves you questioning those choices long after the fifth and final chapter fades to the back. The Walking Dead: Season One is interactive storytelling at its best, and its swift-yet-measured pace feels at home on the PS Vita.
Lee and Clementine's odyssey is designed to be played multiple times over so that you can make different decisions, save different allies, or toss new friends to the horde. This is still the main draw in this version, however there's something extra special about how Telltale's cel-shaded comic book style looks on the Vita's screen, and how it feels tapping away your moral dilemmas through optional touch-screen controls. Even those who have played the original version will find something alluring about this PS Vita adaptation.
21. Lumines: Electronic Symphony
Lumines has seen several iterations in the years since its PSP original, almost to the point of fatigue-yet the charm of its core mechanics always shines through. With Lumines: Electronic Symphony, the series grew in ways that make prior entries look like mere spin-offs rather than true sequels.
It reinvented itself for a new medium and showcases Sony's handheld just as wonderfully as its predecessor managed in 2005. From beautiful visuals to stellar integration with the PlayStation Network, Lumines: Electronic Symphony is everything we wanted from a Lumines sequel and more.
20. Wipeout 2048
Going back to the days of the original PlayStation, Wipeout has been the game that gets made when Sony wants to show off. That ambition was never more apparent than in Wipeout 2048, a launch game clearly meant to highlight the new Vita at its best. That's by no means a slight against it, though.
As a modified version of the excellent Wipeout HD, this is still the best futuristic racing game made in the 21st century, with scads of races, excellent music, and a delectable feel to its hover cars.
19. Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is everything it promised to be: a portable Uncharted. This isn't a shrunken mobile version hastily squeezed onto Vita. Development, while from Sony's Bend Studios, was overseen by Naughty Dog and that's still Nolan North and Richard McGonagle on voice over duties for Drake and Sully.
The visuals are beautiful, action varied and it even manages to make touch controls not feel too awful. The only sore point of this is that it shows just how good games could look on Vita, and they have never quite matched this benchmark ever again.
18. Lost Dimension
Lost Dimension is, in many ways, a standard tactical RPG, where you form a party that fights enemies turn-by-turn on a grid. Different companions boast different skills like elementally-tuned attacks, or hypermobility, and proximity to enemies impacts how much damage you deal and blah, blah blah. Here's the cool part, though: each level, one of your companions has betrayed you, and you have to figure out who it is so they can be eliminated.
Taking different mixes of characters into fights lets you narrow down the suspects forcing you to be flexible with your playstyle. You also lose access to the traitor once they've been uncovered, which whittles your party options level by level. It's a very clever way to break the typical tactical RPG mold where you find the characters that serve you best and stick with them no matter what. Learning the truth about why you're all in a tower together in the first place will make you eager to complete the second time to get the true ending.
17. Rogue Legacy
You wouldn’t think Rogue Legacy's combination of Metroidvania with roguelike would work. How can progression be possible if you die all the time? Glad you asked. The key’s in the word ‘legacy’. When your brave castle adventurer eventually bites the dust in the procedurally generated world (*sob*), you play as the next heir in line. You’ll get everything the previous hero earned to spend in one go and you’ll get to pick who'll carry on the family business of adventuring in skeleton-packed dungeons.
Here’s where the true fun lies. While your spawn are split into different classes, they’ve got plenty of interesting traits. Got no sensation in your feet? Perfect for running across spikes. Dwarfism? Great for getting into small areas. It’s not all sweetness and light though. Muscle weakness will mean you can’t knock back enemies and Tunnel Vision will mean projectiles aren’t shown until it’s almost too late. Ah, the joys of video game genetics.
Derek Yu's roguelike action adventure isn't for the easily frustrated, but those who make peace with permadeath and have the patience to keep trying will find much to love (and curse) about this indie hit. Starring a character known only as the Spelunker, the game sends you underground on a treasure-hunting mission chock full of beasts, environmental puzzles, and the occasional damsel in distress.
Failure to survive means starting from scratch, however Spelunky's randomly generated levels guarantee each attempt feels fresh. You will die, and you will die often, but the promise of new environments and game-changing items will have you dusting yourself off and believing that this time... yes, this time... is the one you'll make it to the end (spoiler: you won't). Relentlessly challenging but always addictive, Spelunky offers an elite adventure that never gets stale.
15. La Mulana EX
The PS Vita's legacy will be as the premiere home for independently developed games during the 2010s. Steam and the App Store may have given small developers a venue bigger than any they'd ever had, but it was PS Vita that put hundreds of great indie games in people's pockets with perfect traditional controls.
La Mulana, Nigoro's tribute to Konami's 8-bit exploration games on NES and MSX, is precisely the sort of game that would have stayed trapped and non-portable on PC forever if not for PS Vita. This upgraded version from Nicalis is the best way to play through the viciously difficult platformer. All its secrets, all its bosses, all its maddening puzzles, all in the palm of your hand.
14. Velocity 2X
Want to feel like a god of the analog sticks? Look no further than Velocity 2X, Futurlab’s ultra fast side-scrolling actioner meets top down shooter. One minute you’re listening to the booming electronic soundtrack with Lieutenant Kai Tana hurtling sideways through platforming challenges, teleporting through walls and dodging enemy attacks, and the next, you’re back controlling her ship in a traditional top down shooter.
The controls match across both sequences so whether you’re killing enemies by magically appearing behind them or zooming through another wall to save civilians, there’s a glorious effortlessness to every action. More and more moves unlock as you progress, meaning the action never gets tired and you gradually turn teleportation into an art as you quest for the speediest times. The kind of game that Vita was made for, it’s a perfect portable addiction and a great excuse to crank up the volume on your headphones.
There are games that seem perfect for the PS Vita, and then there are games that couldn't exist without the PS Vita. Media Molecule's post-LittleBigPlanet effort falls into the latter camp, bringing an original and innovative adventure game that showcases the handheld's many strengths. It helps that Tearaway has a bit of LittleBigPlanet in its DNA. Like Sackboy's adventure, the messenger's letter-delivery quest is brimming with charm, experimental design, and playfulness.
Its papercraft world is ripe for exploration, and the ability to affect its landscape and its characters through touch-screen controls and the PS Vita's camera makes you feel like you're an honored citizen of the messenger's world, rather than a passing tourist. In many respects, Tearaway is the PS Vita game that should have been a mascot for the system at launch, and it's unfortunate its taken so long for it to assume that role. The PS4 remake simply can't match the original's ingenious use of hardware.
Guacamelee may look like your everyday Mexican-farmer-finds-magical-luchador-mask-&-journeys-to-the-land-of-the-dead-for-love story, but the beauty of JuiceBox's brilliant 2D platformer is that there's so much stirring beneath its surface. Blending finely tuned platforming, simple-yet-rewarding combat, and a 2D land teeming with personality, Guacamelee is a Metroidvania game that begs to be mined for all its secrets.
From sun-soaked desserts to cloud-covered fortresses, underground tunnels to quaint Mexican villages, Guacamelee whisks you through the land of the living and the dead in an adventure spiced with tons of secrets, hidden challenges, memorable characters, and inspired video-game references. There's just so much to take in (and break, and collect, and pile-drive, etc.) during Juan Aguacate's journey, you'll have no trouble clicking new game to see it all again.
11. Odin Sphere Leifthraiser
Odin Sphere Leifthraiser could have just been a simple HD port of the original PS2 action RPG and still have been an excellent PS Vita game. It is far more than a remaster, though, with every aspect of the action RPG overhauled to the point of making it feel like an entirely new game.
Combat is smoother, faster, and easier to learn compared to the somewhat awkward pace of its original incarnation. Even navigating the unusual circular environments is less confusing thanks to a new map system. Before Leifthraiser, Odin Sphere was a beautiful, flawed story about gorgeously drawn Norse folk figures with some novel RPG systems. On PS Vita, it's a revelation.
10. Dragon Quest Builders
Building games don't connect with everyone. While the freedom to remake a game world in your image can be liberating in Minecraft or Terraria, it can also be crippling for the player who wants a little direction. Dragon Quest Builders is the answer to the problem, a building role-playing game that melds the accessible crafting of Minecraft with the simple storytelling, lush art and good humor of Dragon Quest.
Whereas other building games just set you out into the world, Builders' slowly introduces you to more and more complex projects as you push the story forward, giving you concrete goals but still leaving room for self-expression. Given how putting your perfect fantasy kingdom together can take many hours, the PS Vita version gets a leg up over its PS4 sibling; the PS4 version has prettier lighting but you can play the Vita version in bed.
9. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
A group of elite students find themselves locked in a high school with a homicidal mechanical bear who presents them with a chilling ultimatum: if they ever want to leave, they'll have to kill each other. Just committing murder isn't enough, though; they have to pull off the crime without getting caught by the survivors. If they're found out, they're executed, but if they succeed, everyone *else* is killed.
Danganronpa is a strange blend of murder mystery, courtroom drama, and visual novel that sounds far more gruesome than it actually is. Oh, there are deaths aplenty, don't get me wrong, but it's all so over the top that it never strays into bleak territory. There's much more afoot than just a bear with a hankering for homicide, though, and while the courtroom minigames can be tiresome, they're well worth enduring for the engaging story.
8. Sound Shapes
Sometimes it's the oddballs that stand out, and Sound Shapes is a sterling example. Part music-maker, part platformer, and all parts groovy, Sounds Shapes stars a simple blob that must navigate 20-odd levels collecting notes that build upon each world's soundtrack, provided by artists like Beck and Deadmau5.
Completing Sound Shapes is just the beginning. The real fun begins after the campaign when the level editor unlocks and all its music-making tools become available for you to craft your own levels and share them with the Sound Shapes community. Mix this with developer Queasy Games' steady stream of DLC and the almost impossible Death Mode, and the result is a game that always has something new cued up.
7. Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward
As a direct sequel to Aksys Games' 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors; Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward holds on to everything that made the original interactive novel a cult hit while branching out and atoning for 999's (few) shortcomings. Like the original, Virtue's Last Reward presents an interactive story; this time revolving around nine kidnapped strangers who must contend with puzzles and interpersonal conflicts to escape an unknown facility.
In an improvement over 999, you can use the FLOW system to replay key events and achieve new results, rather than having to play the entire game again. This, combined with a fresh 3D presentation, full voice acting, and cutscenes lifts the series from its static DS roots into a lively and compelling (virtual) page-turner.
6. Dragon's Crown
The arcade-style beat 'em up has enjoyed a second renaissance in the 21st century, but no brawler has more effectively or more beautifully modernized the form than Dragon's Crown. Vanillaware took the mold of Capcom's Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara-a vintage example of the '80s/'90s game where a crew of warriors walk through stages punching monsters in flashy ways-and perfectly re-imagined it for lengthy play sessions on a high-definition machine.
The lengthy campaign teaches you a character's insides and outs before opening up online play where a vast loot system opens up to encourage replaying levels. George Kamitani's art is gluttonous, from its wildly proportioned heroes to the drawings of hot food you feed your companions between stages. The Vita version is perfect thanks to its portability and the original model's gorgeous OLED screen.
5. Hotline Miami
Imagine if Quentin Tarantino teamed with David Lynch to develop a retro-Miami Vice video game, and you'll have an idea of the creative madness flowing through this indie hit from Dennaton Games. Smuggled to the PS Vita by Abstraction Games, Hotline Miami maintains the neon-soaked, blood-drenched vibe of the original in every way. Better yet, its mission-based structure makes it ideal for the Vita's pick up and play sensibilities.
Each bite-sized assignment plays out like a self-contained puzzle, casting you as a hired gun who must clear top-down maps of bad guys using the right mix of stealth, weapon skills, environmental hazards, and creepy animal masks. Hotline Miami is relentlessly brutal, ridiculously cool, and definitely not for beginners. It's a retro-inspired challenge that demands mad skillz and a tough skin.
4. Metal Gear Solid HD Collection
The Metal Gear Solid HD Collection is a surprisingly excellent way to play through Hideo Kojima's signature series. It includes Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, VR missions, Snake Tales, and even nicely modernized ports of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, the MSX games that started the whole torrid saga.
Even for those who played through these chapters before will appreciate the games' upgraded presentation on the Vita, as well as the option to handle Snake's inventory and peek around his environments via touch-screen controls. Overall, there isn't much new about this PS Vita version of the console collection, but the portability of some of the best stealth games ever made elevate the collection to the machine's upper tier.
3. Gravity Rush
Gravity Rush is an open-world adventure with super powers. Unlike the hundreds of other games that match that description, its art, style, and powers are utterly unique. Plucky heroine Kat has the power to shift gravity at will. Changing which way is down at a moment's notice takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, you'll be joyously running up walls or soaring through the air above the games gorgeous vistas.
Past the topsy-turvy traversal, there's a wealth of charm in the chipper cast. An episodic mission structure keeps you constantly guessing as to what will happen next between battles with the jelly-monster Nevi that escalate from hand-to-hand combat to kicking building-sized bosses. Gravity Rush was the first Vita-only IP to truly blow us away and it still does.
Combining the clean, bright hues of Guacamelee's aesthetic with ghastly monster design, Severed's gorgeous, grotesque world has a distinctly bizarre feel. The gameplay is fantastic, blending the pattern recognition and twitch reflexes of classic Punch-Out!! with the angled sword-slashing of Infinity Blade as you artfully swipe the screen to deflect incoming attacks and strike back at a host of freakish horrors.
Sasha also makes for one hell of a cool hero, determined to recover her family no matter the cost - even if that means donning bits of slain creature carcasses to serve as macabre armor, or ingesting ancient hearts and brains to increase her health and mana pools. Severed’s combat too is perfectly tuned, keeping you on your toes but rarely overwhelming you. Sasha's sword-slashing feels so right; the Vita screen looks and feels so much better than the obscured interfaces and fudged inputs that often struggle in iPhone games. Brilliant.
1. Persona 4 Golden
Persona 4 Golden is one of the deepest, most engrossing RPGs in history and its best incarnation is on the PS Vita. Far more than a dusted-off port of 2008's Persona 4, Golden uses the PS2 version as a springboard to launch an extended adventure replete with new characters, demons to pummel, personas to master, and stories to unravel.
When you aren't tuning in to uniquely themed dungeons in a secret TV world to thwart a serial killer's next move (don't worry, it makes sense), you'll be living the life of a Japanese teenager in the real world, recruiting allies and forging social links that have tangible benefits in battle. There's also the ability to reach out for help from the real, real world by summoning help from online friends. Persona 4 is a PS Vita system seller all on its own.