The PS Vita is more than a super-powered handheld with a pretty OLED screen. That's its main job, sure, but it only takes a quick tour of the Vita's LiveArea to see there's a lot more running underneath the hood. Ready to unlock the full power of Sony's all-purpose gaming device? Here are the apps you'll need to know...
Near is the PS Vita's proprietary social app, designed to link players to nearby gamers, gifts, and messages using the system's location-based technology. Through the Out and About feature, PS Vita owners can register their physical whereabouts in the real world and use Near to locate other Vita owners in the vicinity. Once identified, players can use Near to invite Vita locals to a game or share information between systems such as stats, trophies, and player history. For added fun, Near's Discoveries mode lets Vita owners bury and retrieve virtual treasures such as minigames and digital booty. The app works over Wi-Fi or 3G networks, however the former is preferred.
Treasure Park is a puzzle game that piggybacks on the PS Vita's Near app for devious, brain teasing fun. With it, users can design their own puzzles or lay out traps for other Vita owners to find in real life using Near's location-based software. The app makes it possible for treasure hunters to challenge each other or gang up to earn top scores on the leaderboard.
Group Messaging / Friends
The PS Vita takes great pains to keep gamers in touch with their PSN buddies, and the Group Messaging and Friends app are just two more ways it accomplishes this task. With Group Messaging (not to be confused with the more stylish and feature-rich Party), PS Vita owners can swap photos between systems, and leave messages for their virtual buddies to be read either on the Vita or PS3. Meanwhile, the Friends app lets users see what their PSN chums are up to on either of Sony's gaming platforms. Both are fairly basic apps, but handy for checking in with fellow players.
Party is PS Vita's other homemade social app that specializes in grouping PlayStation Network friends for multiplayer games. With it, PSN members can recruit players from their PSN friends list for an online match, or join them for a game with the press of the heart button. The app supports up to eight players per party and Party's Cross Game Chat makes it possible to stay social while playing separate games. Sony has also programmed Party to detect when users don't own the same games as their friends, and link them directly to the PlayStation Store to rectify the situation.
If you're new to touch controls, or simply want the skinny on everything the PS Vita has to offer, you'll want to take a stroll through Welcome Park. The app comes loaded with a selection mini-games designed to get users acclimatized to the handheld's functions. These include:
Digital Chase: Tap numbered bubbles to learn how to use the Vita's front and back touchscreens.
Snap + Slide: Use the PS Vita's camera to take a picture and turn it into a slide puzzle.
Hello Face: Use the PS Vita's camera to slap virtual faces on everyday items and learn more about the system's AR software.
Skate Axis: Help a stick figure skateboarder avoid death by balls using the handheld's motion sensing controls.
Looking to learn the PS Vita inside and out, and itching for something a little more engaging than Welcome Park? If so, then you'd do well to meet Frobisher; the cantankerous star of Frobisher Says, a free PS Vita game in Sony's "Discover Apps" series. Frobisher isn't the most pleasant fellow, but his games carry a demented charm that must be played to be appreciated. In it, players wield every last one of the PS Vita's features to fulfill Frobisher's offbeat missions. Tasks include everything from taking pictures of colorful objects to poking otters, and the experience is like a quirkier version of WarioWare. Even the most cold-hearted players will have trouble resisting Frobisher Says' charms, and since it's free, there's little reason not to give in the little man's demands.
Augmented Reality (AR) is the term applied to computer generated content that is inserted into live, real-world environments. The PS Vita handles this technical wizardry by reading information from AR Cards through its cameras and rendering an interactive scene based on the data. Each card triggers a different game, and on the PS Vita, these are made accessible by the AR Play app. Games include:
Table Soccer: Turn any flat surface into a soccer match that can be joined by friends in ad-hoc mode.
Cliff Diving: Use the AR Cards to install diving boards in the real world and watch Diver Dan take the plunge.
Fireworks: Create a light show wherever you want, and tap away for big explosions and points in the built-in minigame.
Didn't get cards with your PS Vita? You can download them for free at PlayStation.com
T@g is one the free PS Vita apps available for download in its Discovery Apps family. With it, Banksy wannabes can leave their virtual mark (aka "Tag") anywhere in the real world for other PS Vita owners to find. This artistic feat is accomplished using the PS Vita's camera to lock on to any given space and then "paint" on a user-created image via AR software. "Players" also collect t@ggers points with every successful tag, which can be used to unlock other designs and in-game goodies. Toss in an online commenting element and global leaderboard, and t@g is an excellent ambassador for the PS Vita's AR features. Unfortunately, since it does require GPS, only 3G Vita models can partake in the virtual vandalism.
Another app in the Park family, Paint Park is a modest sketching program that lets users draw a virtual masterpieces from scratch or alter photos taken with the PS Vita camera. Social finger painters will also appreciate the ability to Paint with Friends in a friendly artistic competition.