Next month will see the Japanese release of the PlayStation Vita, Sony's successor to its handheld PlayStation Portable console, ahead of a worldwide launch in February next year. How does the Vita match up to rival Nintendo's 3DS? And can portable consoles compete in a world of smartphone gaming? New Scientist went hands-on with the device at an event in London earlier today to find out.
The Vita is slightly bigger than the original PSP and dwarfs even the largest smartphones thanks to its 5-inch touchscreen, but its size has allowed Sony to cram in plenty of technology. The overall philosophy seems to be "why have one, when you could have two?" - the aforementioned touchscreen is complemented by a touchpad on the back, cameras adorn the front and rear, and the PSP's single analogue stick now has a twin.
There is even more under the hood, with a gyroscope, accelerometer and electronic compass providing a full range of motion controls, while GPS, Wi-Fi, 3G and Bluetooth radios promise to keep you located and connected. Essentially, the Vita combines everything you'd expect from a modern smartphone - except a phone - with the controller from its big brother, the PlayStation 3.
Similarities with the home console don't end there, as the Vita can pump out graphics that wouldn't look out of place on your HDTV. Uncharted: Golden Abyss looks and plays much like the PS3 games in the series, but with the addition of the occasional gimmicky touchscreen controls to make protagonist Nathan Drake cut through cloth with a machete or boost an ally up a nearby ledge.
A more innovative title, Reality Fighters, uses the Vita's cameras to create an augmented reality (AR) fighting game. You can scan in your face with the front or rear camera, then customise your in-game self with various clothing and weaponry. The fighters are realistically integrated into the real world, displayed on screen via the Vita's rear camera, and the overall effect is much more impressive than the equivalent AR games on the 3DS.
There's no doubt that the Vita has got the technology it needs to succeed, but are gamers still prepared to carry around a dedicated portable console - especially when it will cost up to $299? Nintendo has already been forced to slash the price of the 3DS after disappointing sales, while recent research by mobile analytics firm Flurry reveals that iOS and Android games have swallowed the traditional portable market, thanks to titles that cost less than a dollar rather than $40 or more.
One solution might be to wed the Vita even further to the PS3, creating a tablet-like controller to go up against Nintendo's recently announced Wii U console - rumours suggest Sony already has plans to let Vita owners stream games from their PS3. We'll have to wait and see what happens when the Vita fully launches next year.