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PlayStation Vita Launches in Europe: Why There'll Be No Execution

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The technology market is a brutal place, where gadgets and innovations are largely guilty before proven innocent, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of video games.

Games pundits love to kill things. Much has been written in the past year about the need for dedicated gaming handhelds in the post-smartphone era, as Nintendo and Sony both readied next-generation devices.

It seemed as though capital punishment wouldn't even be needed for Nintendo's 3DS as it lurched close to suicidal disaster last year in an attempt to follow the lunatic success of the preceding DS.

Now it's Sony's turn. PlayStation Vita launches in Europe and the US today, and has also been condemned by many for summary execution, a needless update to PSP destined to swing from mobile gaming's Applewood gallows by its conceptually broken neck. There's no place for Vita in the lives of the modern goldfish-person, the black-cappers have been saying. Off with its head.

That was, of course, until they actually got their hands on it.

Vita is the world's first portable games console, your honour. We now have a beautifully constructed device that plays startlingly attractive software with two thumbsticks. As insane as it sounds, Vita is an 18cm PS3, with games that look just as good as their big brothers. The new versions of future-racer WipEout and seminal adventure Uncharted, both of which ship alongside the machine at launch, look as though they're playing on a small HD TV. It should be made clear to the jury that neither of these games could ever work on an iPad or iPhone: they need physical controls.

While games are this case's main piece of evidence, Sony's desire to keep Vita from the disgraced section of the graveyard is also apparent in that it's crammed full enough of features and openness to keep even the most cynical happy. There's a touchscreen, a touchpad on the back, two control sticks, six control buttons, an accelerometer, front and back cameras, a d-pad, physical volume control, Bluetooth, 3G (if you want it - you can buy it without), a memory card slot, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and God knows what else.

If Vita's on trial, the system's designers are the sort of quickfire witnesses that leave prosecutions wobbling their reddening jowls in dismay.

But the games are expensive, the lawyers dribble. No they're not. Sony understands that not everyone wants to pay £40 for a handheld game, especially when they can buy Angry Birds or Tiny Tower for a few quid. Motorstorm RC costs less than a fiver and you get both the Vita and PS3 versions in the same pack. That's new. It's true cross-platform innovation.

And if you do want to pay £40 or £30 for something like WipEout or Uncharted, you're going to get a standard of software previously only playable on a PS3, Xbox 360 or PC. These aren't 'mobile games'. Other titles - such as the gloriously stupid Gravity Rush - focus on tactility and movement. You can touch everything on Vita.

And you'll want to. It's a breakthrough games device in a way 3DS never was. It links up with your PS3 friends list on PlayStation Network and provides a competitive framework that has never existed across mobile and static games platforms before. It will succeed, m'lud, because it does a great many things a mobile phone cannot.

Despite all its problems, 3DS has become the fastest-selling console of all time in Japan, reaching five million sales in a year. Vita has had a slow start in the east since its December launch, but a version of Capcom's Monster Hunter will fix that.

People do want handheld games consoles, iPhone or not.

Then you have games like Call of Duty and BioShock on the way for Vita, real console versions of true gamer games. The core community is becoming as excited about these new additions as they are for the next instalments on PS3 and 360. As BioShock developer Ken Levine said recently, Vita offers no compromise in terms of gameplay for the sort of action games many thought would never be possible on a mobile device. Having two thumbsticks and a practically absurd level of power is a game-changer.

Vita has its place, and it's not swinging in a gibbet. Take the wig off and try one for yourself.

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