Happy Birthday PlayStation Vita! In honor of the handheld's fourth anniversary here in North America, we here at Short Pause are celebrating by giving you a list of our ten favorite experiences on the Vita so far! This list was incredibly difficult to pare down this year, as there are dozens upon dozens of other Vita titles that would be right at home on this list, but we did our darndest to come up with a collection of games that was varied, unique, and indicative of all of our individual tastes as a website. We haven't played everything, but we've played a lot, and these are the ten games we've had the best time with. So without further ado, let's get on with the list!
Please note: Neither of us has played through Persona 4 Golden entirely yet, but Brent is currently in the process of doing so, so don't get too mad at us because it's not on the list! Send all hate mail courtesy of Bre... just kidding!
Please note as well: These games are in no particular order.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (New Entry)
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Frankie: Visual novels have become quite the budding genre on the Vita over the course of the handheld’s first four years. It’s a good thing, too, as the system is the perfect place to partake in any one of these fine titles. From Steins;Gate to Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, the visual novel genre is right at home on the Vita. Ask anyone who enjoys these games for a recommendation, and almost everyone will point you towards the game that arguably kick-started the popularity of the entire genre, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. Sporting a twisted, teddy bear-esque mastermind for a villain and a cast of enjoyable characters, Trigger Happy Havoc tasks players with solving murders by finding clues, gathering intel from possible suspects, and then successfully identifying the killer(s). Of course, I am being intentionally vague here as the game’s narrative is one best experienced with as little knowledge of the characters and plot as possible. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc boasts a fantastic tale that’s well-worth the dozens of hours required for completion. Note: Yes, I've heard the sequel — Goodbye Despair — is even better, but I haven't had a chance to start it yet.
Developer: Facepalm Games/Curve Studios (Port)
Brent: The PlayStation PLAY program has featured some excellent games over the past couple of years, and the 2014 selections were no exception to the rule. The jewel of the 2014 class, in my opinion, was Curve Studios’ port of Facepalm Games’ highly acclaimed puzzle-platformer, The Swapper. You play as a nameless character that can’t seem to remember who they are or why they’re on a desolate planet all alone. As you make your way through an abandoned facility on the planet’s surface, you happen upon and acquire an apparatus aptly named The Swapper. You use this device to create up to three clones of yourself. These doppelgangers, who all move as you move, are the key to solving the game’s tricky brain teasers, forcing you to carefully choose where to place each of your clones if you hope to have them all end up in the right place in order to trigger the solution to the conundrum in front of you. Not only are the puzzles expertly crafted, but the narrative is surprisingly thought provoking. The overall presentation is top notch as well, featuring an eerie soundtrack and sound design that create a mood similar to the one found in Dead Space. It’s a game that will stick with you long after you’ve managed to solve its incredibly challenging puzzles.
Bastion (New Entry)
Developer: Supergiant Games
Frankie: It’s great to have access to so many titles on the PlayStation Vita, but only some feel truly at home on the little handheld-that-could. Bastion’s Vita port arrived over half-a-year after its PlayStation 4, cross-buy counterpart launched and, boy, was it worth the wait! I had dabbled with Bastion on the PS4 a little bit, but didn’t truly dive into the game again until the Vita version was released a few months back. Thanks to the handheld port’s cross-save functionality with the PS4, I hopped back into Bastion again on my Vita and picked up where I left off all those months ago, falling completely in love with the game in the process. It was hard to set down for a couple of nights as I finally made my way through the aftermath of the game’s calamity. Notorious for its superb soundtrack and unique story-telling, Bastion shines through as one of our top titles available on the Vita today.
Super Meat Boy (New Entry)
Developer: Team Meat
Ben: I was five years late to the Super Meat Boy party, but I’m happy to say I can finally attest to what all the fuss was about. I LOVE this game, especially on the Vita! It’s a particular type of game, and its extreme difficulty won’t appeal to everyone, but to those who are able to persevere and learn the game’s ins and outs, one of the best platformers of the modern era awaits. Ultra-precise jumps, impeccable speed control, and unlimited patience are just a few of the ingredients necessary to conquer the evil Dr. Fetus, save Bandage Girl, and return order to Meat Boy’s world. Once you’ve conquered the Light World, and gained a little bit of confidence in your Super Meat Boy skills, the game crushes what little faith you had amassed when you step into the game’s twisted and insanely difficult Dark World. A wealth of unlockable characters — who all control differently and have unique abilities — injects a nice layer of strategy into the game, and the PlayStation version supports a brand new (and arguably even better) soundtrack for you to rock out to due to licensing issues with the game’s previous score. I’m particularly impressed with the Vita port of Super Meat Boy; it’s a 1:1 recreation of its console counterpart, and it controls exceptionally well on the Vita’s d-pad. If you’ve yet to fire up this gem, do so ASAP! Oh, and good luck in The Cotton Alley!
Kick & Fennick
Developer: Jaywalkers Interactive/Abstraction Games
Brent: It’s easy to overlook the little guys when it comes to video games; everyone knows AAA games will always benefit from publishers who spend money on mass marketing to get the word out about their latest and greatest titles. Indie developers don’t normally have this luxury — at least most of the time, anyways. Thankfully, programs like PlayStation Plus and Games With Gold allow gamers to pick up certain games for free, many of which would likely get glanced over otherwise. In the month of February 2015, PlayStation Plus owners hit the indie game jackpot, scoring a true gem of a game in Kick & Fennick for the PlayStation Vita. Not only does the game sport impressive visuals that stand tall against most other Vita titles, but its unique platforming mechanics require quick thinking and precise execution. As Kick, you make your way across a deserted city that appears to have been overrun by machines. Early on, you stumble upon a small friendly machine named Fennick, as well as a high-powered rifle that has enough recoil to propel you at a high velocity in any direction, allowing you to traverse the dangerous, post-apocalyptic environments around you. It may not have the narrative that its particular world is capable of inspiring, but the gameplay is exhilarating and challenging, while the colorful visuals and engaging soundtrack are the proverbial cherry on top in terms of presentation.
Ben: Velocity 2x was my first taste of developer FuturLab’s adrenaline-fueled shooter franchise, and I immediately regretted not plunging head-first into the series earlier. This game is a fantastic mix of classic shoot-em-up gameplay, speed, and — in a franchise first — 2D platforming segments. The novel teleportation mechanic, while boasting a steep learning-curve at first, keeps the tried-and-true genres Velocity 2x mashes together feeling fast and fresh. While players may barrel through the game’s 50 included levels relatively quickly, series veterans know the true game comes as you try to secure a coveted perfect run through each stage. As a nice touch, later levels introduce some light puzzle solving, which when combined with the game’s emphasis on speed and precision, results in a challenging gameplay experience that is both exhausting and exciting. On the presentation front, Velocity 2x soars, brandishing an infectious techno soundtrack and a surprisingly deep fiction that is fleshed out through files that unlock as you play the game. With a mere 25 perfect runs under my belt, I’ve got unfinished business to attend to with this game, and I’m looking forward to every white-knuckle minute I’ve yet to spend with FuturLab's flagship title.
Developer: Drinkbox Studios
Ben: Few games have executed in the "Metroidvania" genre as well as Guacamelee!. Gorgeous, colorful graphics are the backdrop for a dramatic, yet humorous, tale based in Mexian folklore. The gameplay is spot-on, as everything from the wrestling-based combat — which is a ton of fun to learn and master — to the light/dark polarity-based dimension swapping, to the precision platforming, is executed with a sheen and polish that most games can only aspire to. Add in some super challenging platforming sections (remember the Tree Tops?), entertaining boss fights, and some great DLC, and you have a total package that is hard to top. Oh, and Flame Face is one of the great characters to come along in gaming in a long time.
Stealth Inc.: A Clone in the Dark
Developer: Curve Studios
Brent: Now, here is a game that will cause you to lose track of time very fast. Stealth Inc. is a platform-puzzle game that is very challenging, not only because it features levels that require you to think outside of the box to solve, but because the added incentive of leaderboards will have you racing against the clock to try to achieve the elusive “S-Rank” on each stage, requiring you to solve some very difficult puzzles as quickly as possible. There is very little room for error, as every second counts. This is one of the few handheld games that’ll have your hands sweating!
Ben: Sorry, this game's so good I had to chime in as well! Rarely has a game dug its hooks into me the way Stealth Inc. once did. The combination of smart, stealth-based puzzle design and quick burst levels that typically take between 30 seconds and 2 minutes to solve, totally engrossed me to the point where this was the only game I could think about playing. With three sets of levels left to S-Rank, DLC I've yet to play, and super addicting gameplay, Stealth Inc. is a brilliantly conceived puzzle masterpiece that I'll be returning to again and again for a long time to come.
Grim Fandango Remastered
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Ben: To think, just a few months ago Grim Fandango was lost in the gaming ether. Now, I can play the once-gone-but-not-forgotten Tim Schafer adventure game classic whenever I want — in the palm of my hand no less. After years of begging and pleading, Double Fine Productions finally answered their fans’ cries to resurrect beloved travel agent for the dead, Manny Calavera, and Grim Fandango Remastered was born. Often referred to as the best adventure game ever put to pixel, I was one of those who never had a chance to play the seminal 1998 original, and I was eager to finally get my hands on the revered game and experience it for myself. Turns out, the game has aged like a fine wine, and Manny’s unforgettable journey through four years in the Land of the Dead is as riveting as ever. Best-in-class voice acting and razor sharp writing are paired up with a plethora of infinitely clever puzzles that will at once have you both pulling your hair out and smiling in admiration. Even in the absence of auto-save, this game is especially effective on the Vita, allowing would-be adventurers to tackle the game’s puzzles at their leisure (Just don’t forget to save!). Some post-release patching has cleaned up many of the launch week bugs, making this an easy recommendation to anyone looking for some brain-bending on the go.
Developer: Media Molecule
Brent: In my opinion, Tearaway managed to get more out of the PlayStation Vita than any other game before it. It features a lengthy campaign that’s lifted by its heartwarming and meaningful message. Not only did Media Molecule create a beautiful world for us to traverse, but because of the amazing use of all the Vita’s features (camera, touch pads, tilt, microphone, etc), it was a world we could actually interact with ourselves, not just with the character we were controlling. This is a prime example of how exceptional games can be on the PS Vita, and I hope other developers take note. Tearaway is the Vita's killer app, and you're doing yourself a huge disservce if you have yet to journey through its beautiful papercraft world.
So, there you have it! Our list of our 10 favorite Vita games at this moment in time. Did your favorite make the list? Four years in, the Vita has an incredibly diverse and fun lineup of games. It's nearly impossible to narrow its list of games down to just ten that we deem "our favorites." We had to make some tough cuts (I'm looking at you Spelunky), but there's always next year, right? But enough about us, what about you guys? What are your favorite Vita experiences from its first four years in North America? Sound off in the comments below!
2016 Update: In the third iteration of our list, Super Meat Boy, Bastion, and Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc are added to the lineup, while Sound Shapes, Spelunky, and Uncharted: Golden Abyss are replaced in a tough round of cuts.
2015 Update: In the second iteration of our list, newcomers The Swapper, Kick & Fennick, Velocity 2x, and Grim Fandango Remastered join the party, as Hotline Miami, Velocity Ultra, Unit 13, and Killzone: Mercenary are out.
Ben, Brent, and Frankie represent three-fourths of the Short Pause podcasting team. You should totally listen to their podcast, because it's kind of the best.