For mobile gaming on the go, the choices are few but much more difficult than ever before. In many ways, the old allure of high-end versus low-end gaming on portable devices — a choice between Sony and Nintendo, respectively — was an easy one to make. Most people know what they like, and they stick with that particular type of play. But that line is blurring thanks to two main factors: smartphone gaming, and inexpensive games as apps.

With the Vita, Sony is attempting to capture all of that with a best-in-class handheld that is both very powerful and capable of playing high- and low-end titles, as well as any and all media users could desire. My experience with the Vita is that it’s an exceptional device, and in many ways still the most powerful handheld gaming device, even after the 4th generation iPad released. The AMOLED display is the best 5″ panel I’ve ever seen, better than any smartphone. The controls are the best you can get. Games once again play on cartridges, so no clunky UMD’s to carry around.

If you’re going to buy a Vita, now’s a great time to do so. Not only are the bundle deals pretty great, but PS3 owners who have PlayStation Plus can automatically download six free games, as well as reap the rewards of the service. So even if you aren’t impressed with the number of available titles thus far, there are still plenty to come and PS Plus gives a bunch to get you started.

Console Bundles

Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation Wi-Fi Bundle

There are two bundles to really look for: Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation and Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. Both are just the Wi-Fi version of Vita, plus a 4GB Vita memory card, and the game in question. I’m more partial towards the Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation bundle for two reasons: first, it comes with a white Vita, which looks starkly better than the standard black model. And second, it comes with AC3: Liberation.

For $250, it’s a pretty fair deal, though as you’ll see below the included 4GB card may not be enough in the long run. It also has no cellular data option, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but if you think you may want the functionality in the future then neither of these bundles work for you. In fact, there are no Wi-Fi plus 3G bundles this holiday season, but 3G use is pretty limited for most games and applications.

If you want an alternative to the Liberation bundle, the Black Ops Declassified bundle is identical except that the Vita is black and the game, of course, is Black Ops Declassified instead of Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation.

Hardware & Services

Sony PS3 Pulse Wireless Headset

You may wonder why the PS3 Pulse Wireless Headset would work for the PS Vita. The reason is pretty simple: it’s both a stereo headset that connects via auxiliary ports, as well as a USB surround-sound headset for gaming on the PS3 and PC. And while it may not be the best bet for use outside the home (it is fairly large, after all), in the home it works on three gaming fronts, plus any media devices with that 3.5mm audio jack. So it makes a really great gift for the PlayStation owner or just the gamer in the family, especially when it can be found for as little as $120.

PlayStation Plus

Thought PlayStation Plus was just for the PS3? Think again. As of a week ago PlayStation Plus, the quintessential answer to Microsoft’s Xbox Live pay-for service, comes to the portable console, offering free downloadable games, discounts and early purchases on games and media available in the PlayStation store, and access to game betas, all for $50 annually.

And what makes it such a great gift? Not only is it the gift that keeps on giving (with savings, free games, and early access), it only requires one account for the Vita and PS3. So if you own both, then you have access t o all of the benefits of PS Plus on both consoles. I can honestly say that it’s such a good gift that you should buy it for a friend and yourself, if neither of you has it already.

PlayStation Credit Card

I’ve taken some time to read up on credit cards. There are a lot of them, and they offer a smorgasbord of rewards, services, and features. Picking one is really hard. If you’re a heavy gamer, you can look at an Amazon credit card or one from your favorite retailer, but it’s also worth considering the PlayStation credit card. Why? Because buying games earns a ton of points, and everything else you do to indulge in your media needs earns as many points as other credit cards.

You can look into it yourself here (which I highly recommend; credit cards are serious business), but consider this: if you buy a game on PSN for $60 instead of at Best Buy or Gamestop, you’ll earn $6 towards any other purchase on PSN. Every ten games offers the 11th for free, or ever three-four games offers a free PSN arcade game. That’s a pretty sweet deal for people who play and buy a lot of games, though to really get the most out of it you’ll have to like getting direct downloads from the PSN store instead of buying physical discs. Which I recommend anyways, but you’ll obviously need a serious hard drive to store all those games. But even if you don’t, plenty of purchases still earn 3X the points. So every time you do earn enough to buy something on PSN, you still get 10X the points for that purchase.

Games

LittleBigPlanet

The franchise may be several years old already, but the PS3 hit isn’t quite done with new beginnings. On the Vita, LittleBigPlanet is an entirely new adventure that includes all of the level-building and platforming gameplay as the previous titles, and not on a smaller scale. On the Vita LBP is a fully-fledged game that is massive in scope and capabilities; players can do pretty much anything, from playing through the campaign over 10-12 hours to creating maps for players around the world.

And because it’s a Vita title, it comes with all the benefits of the console, such as touchscreen support. It is weird for a handful of mini games, but at the same time the list of creation tools enables players to work around anything, including the relatively bulky console frame. Definitely a must-own for the console.

Touch my Katamari

Katamari Damacy is extremely popular because it combines simple gameplay mechanics of rolling around an ever-growing ball of items into an objective-based game. It isn’t for everyone, but Touch my Katamari is one of the most travel-friendly games for the Vita. The huge number of short levels is astounding, and you can really spend as much time on any level as you want. It isn’t the full Vita experience with high-end graphics, but it offers quality gameplay that will keep you entertained on the car/train ride every time.

Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation

A twist on the fan-adored Assassin’s Creed franchise, Liberation takes place alongside the home console Assassin’s Creed 3 except in New Orleans, a port city of much French wealth, much slavery, and a lot of mischief. If you’re looking to take an Assassin’s Creed game on the road, Liberation is certainly that. It looks and feels the part, with high-end graphics, the same run-escape-kill gameplay, and the same clutch moments that make this series so great.

There are some pretty big differences though, such as playing the role of Aveline, a woman who can change clothes and instantly change personas between high-class citizen to slave. She can also charm men into doing her bidding, but won’t shy away from a fight. The controls take some time to adjust to (they’re different enough from the traditional Assassin’s Creed games), and load screens are tedious and long, but this is one of the best games on the console by far.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted

I loved Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. It was an absolutely brilliant game, one that Criterion Games undoubtedly had a lot of trouble both emulating and besting. One they actually couldn’t best, in fact, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play Most Wanted, their latest Need for Speed title. It’s an open-world arcade racer that features fast cars, lot’s of crashes and intense racing, and some of the best driving you can find in any game anywhere.

With an improved graphics engine and a laundry list of incredible cars, Most Wanted is a well-organized racer that has a massive world for online play as well as a huge solo experience, even if the two don’t perfectly coincide. It’s the same great racing on a bigger scale, though the action isn’t quite as intense or quite as good as Hot Pursuit, which was really a masterpiece of racing. The two are so similar though that I recommend them both: Hot Pursuit for solo play and Most Wanted for online play. It’s a win-win scenario.

The fact that it’s the same game as the console version on a portable device like the Vita makes it all the more worthwhile.



James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.