The tired argument that PlayStation Vita’s “got no games” just isn’t true. It is true that it doesn’t have many of the “console quality” experiences Sony traded the handheld’s reputation on before launch.
What it’s become instead is a filter – pooling together the highest quality indie games and Japanese absurdities that would otherwise never see release on dedicated hardware. This list is meant to highlight some (certainly not all) of Gamezebo’s favorites, giving players a good jumping-on-point for the system’s eclectic library.
Who it’s For: Those upset by the lack of Metroid news from Nintendo, with a good sense of humor.
What We Like: Lucha libre has always been fascinating to me. Its willingness to utilize national identity and culture in such silly, garrulous ways solely because it’s fun to do so is something I can get behind. That spirit is at the heart of Guacamelee! a game that blends luchadors, the Day of the Dead, and Mexican food in equal measure to craft its Metroidvanian world.
The combat has weight, as you’d hope from a game about a masked wrestler fighting the undead. However, it’s the exploring the beautiful world, amusing characters, and humorous yet tragic writing that never becomes maudlin that gives the game real identity.
Just be nice to the goat-man.
Who it’s For: Players unafraid of devilishly difficult 2D puzzle-platforming.
What We Like: Dokuro has probably received the least attention of any game on this list.
Its storybook-like style and plot belie a fairly unforgiving puzzle platformer. The chalk-like art, while beautiful by itself, is also part of the gameplay as magic chalk is used to draw in solutions to puzzles.
Being a 2D puzzle game, it may have been looked over because it came when everyone was expecting big budget bombast on the Vita. Now that most of us have grown past those expectations, it’s the perfect time to take this Japanese fairy tale for a spin.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Who it’s For: Anyone looking for Phoenix Wright, but with more high-minded philosophy, and high school murder mystery.
What We Like: Danganronpa is very, very Japanese.
That story involves a clutch of “ultimate” high school students – the Ultimate Baseball Star, the Ultimate Fashionista, etc. – finding themselves trapped and forced to murder each other to escape by a, um, robot bear.
The game itself is less Battle Royale and more Phoenix Wright, as the protagonist actually tries to solve each murder through investigations and class trials. In between, you play a social sim to develop relationships with your classmates and learn new skills.
Be warned – despite the youthful cast, this game is very adult. Murders and executions occur with macabre glee, and sex becomes a pretty open topic. The result is something as bizarre as it is entertaining, if you can handle some mature themes.
The game launched earlier this year, but the sequel is already being localized for English-speakers this fall.
Who it’s For: Anyone easily obsessed by nearly insurmountable, ever-changing challenge.
What We Like: Obviously, Spelunky isn’t a Vita exclusive. The exploration-based-roguelike-platformer-of-note has made the rounds to all manner of console and personal computer. That said Spelunky is likely best played on Sony’s handheld.
The game lends itself to short bursts and lengthy sit-down sessions in equal measure – perfect for a device you can take anywhere and put to sleep at any time. Why abandon your Daily Challenge just because you have a dentist appointment? Or, if you’re more like me, you know you’ll just die in five minutes anyway so that bus ride to work is perfect to sneak in a run.
“Addictive” doesn’t quite cut it with the cult of personality that’s cropped up around this game. On the PlayStation Vita, you never have to stop or restart your ancient temple looting.
Super Stardust Delta
Who it’s For: Fans of the older, simpler days of arcade shooters that aren’t afraid to embrace modern particle effects.
What We Like: The only launch game on this list, Super Stardust Delta earned its spot. Like many of the best handheld games, it can be played in short bursts of twin-stick shooting as well as grueling score-chase sessions.
Like everything from developer Housemarque, it’s also gorgeous. As your ship swoops across 3D spheres, detonating asteroids and invaders, sparks and particles flow across the screen like digital fireworks.
A menagerie of modes and the paring down of three weapon types to two actually make Delta, in my opinion, the tighter, better game than its console predecessor.
Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
Who it’s For: Gamers that like a little science fiction in the visual novel mysteries.
What We Like: Virtue’s Last Reward is actually a sequel to the 3DS game, 999. As someone that barely skimmed the first game’s Wikipedia page, I can tell you playing it isn’t a requirement. The developer made sure of that, as it features a new cast of characters and begins its own winding, high-concept sci-fi plot.
The plot begins with a group of characters trapped together with deadly consequences. Puzzle rooms and visual novel elements are used to convey the plot and, I promise, said tale delivers some of the craziest revelations of anything you’ve played.
Who it’s For: Anyone that gave up on Tony Hawk Pro Skater oh so long ago.
What We Like: This is the skateboarding game we haven’t had since the original PlayStation. It has the same focus on stringing together complex combinations of simple tricks that Tony Hawk abandoned years ago.
It’s also a 2D, challenge-based platformer. By dropping the third dimension, the developer was able to focus on what matters – easy-to-execute, difficult to master tricks. The whole thing is then wrapped in a grungy art style the 90s can definitely appreciate, and sports crazy tracks like a top secret military base.
Who it’s For: Are you capable of feeling joy? Then this is probably for you.
What We Like: If you don’t wish to be reminded of your own slack-jawed, dull-eyed gamer face you shouldn’t play Tearaway. If, however, you want a stellar 3D platformer focused on self-expression over split-second timing you absolutely should.
Tearaway’s papercraft world is wonderfully realized with Media Molecule’s cheeky sense of style. It gets a bit precious with its own “whimsy” at times, but you’ll forgive it for actually finding meaningful uses for each of the Vita’s many – often gimmicky – control inputs.
Then there’s the ending, which has an awfully self-aware message for players considering it’s a game about construction paper.
Who it’s For: Players looking to stay busy for a long, long, long time to come.
What We Like: Elements of Dragon’s Crown’s art style – regarding its renders of NPC women – are often reproachable. That said the hyper-exaggerated-renaissance-painting look is nothing short of gorgeous. Fireballs, monsters, and mountains of treasure animate with fluidity and verve you won’t even find in other Vanillaware games.
Not to mention the game will keep you busy for a long, long time. Half a dozen playable characters, scaling, branching levels, multiple stages of new game plus, a stage randomizer: there’s enough here to fill the time on a lifetime of bus rides.
The game isn’t perfect, what with the aforementioned issues. It also retains the perennial side-scrolling brawler flaw of difficult-to-determine depth perception. That said, it may just be the best brawler on any modern system.
Persona 4: The Golden
Who it’s For: If you’ve given up on JRPGs in the past, or just haven’t felt like they were for you, this is what will suck you in.
What We Like: Persona 4: The Golden is the best game on PlayStation Vita. The rest of this list carries no particular order, but we definitely saved the best for last.
Dozens of hours of dungeon-diving interspersed with a relationship simulator (or vice versa, depending on who you ask) makes the Persona subfranchise not only deep, but endearing. Kanji, Naoto, Chie, Yukiko, Yosuke, Rise, Marie, and of course Teddie will stay with you long after the hundred-or-so hours you can easily sink into solving this modern fantasy murder mystery.
While it’s the characters and relationships that make it stand out, the combat system is more addictive than a Rainy Day Special Mega Beef Bowl.
They’re traditional turn-based brawls, but enemies can be snuck up on for an advantage, and knocked down for extra turns. Each creature has an identifiable weakness, and every boss ties back to those lovable characters that matter most. It’s simple, but effective.
Even if you’re not a typical JRPG fan, you should try Persona 4. It’s so unlike anything Western gamers are likely to get you may just change your mind about the genre.
Here at Gamezebo, our Vitas’ overpriced memory cards are filled to burst with Japanese imports and small-time indies. These 10 games, however, have earned a permanent place in pockets everywhere. Check them out, and maybe they’ll lead you to even more.