Editors' note, June 7, 2011, 6:33 a.m.: Updated with hands-on impressions of Vita games.
LOS ANGELES--Sony's revamped take on the PSP has impressive graphics, a slick screen, tons of controls, and an aggressive $249/$299 price, but all that's nothing without games. At Sony's E3 2011 press conference, a variety of Vita games--some known, some new--were announced, and many were made available afterward for hands-on demos on the floor.
A number of Vita units were available to play with at demo stations. They were tethered "development kit" units, but I still got to see a number of the games.
E3 2011: Complete coverage
Uncharted Golden Abyss: The headliner of all Vita games. Lots of ways to play, and graphics that seem ripped from a PS3.
ModNation Racers: The make-your-own-racetrack game already exists in PSP and PS3 versions. The Vita edition had slightly choppier graphics in its current build, but an impressive track-creation toolkit. I drew tracks on the touch screen with my finger, raised and lowered land, and made other adjustments. Then, I switched to physical buttons for racing.
Wipeout 2048: A new iteration of the PlayStation-era hovercraft classic, this new Wipeout is a prequel with dramatically improved graphics. Cross-play enables multiplayer racing between PS3 and Vita players online, a move sure to offer plenty of competition. It looks like a console game on the Vita's 5-inch OLED screen.
Little Deviants: A collection of minigames focusing on the unique control schemes on the Vita, Little Deviants has cutesy graphics, a bit like LittleBigPlanet. The four playable games each used different clever control schemes. An augmented-reality shooter felt like the 3DS' Face Raiders, but with smoother graphics and a better low-light camera; it overlaid creatures over whatever the back camera displayed, using Sixaxis controls to spin and target robots to shoot. One game used tilt controls like an iPhone game to move through a maze. Two others used the back touch panel in surprising ways: a whack-a-mole game used front and back touch to target creatures to hit on a grid, and a ball-rolling game used the back panel to "push up" the landscape where your finger had been placed.
Virtua Tennis 4: A unique combination of analog and touch swipe controls made this 2K tennis game feel awkward at first, then suddenly compelling 5 minutes in. The swipe racquet action allowed surprising accuracy.
Gravity: This Japanese-developed Sony title features a heroine in an ornate city who can float and reverse gravity. The game's fairly difficult to describe, but action sequences, which involved floating and falling sideways and across buildings, felt like dream sequences out of "Inception." Controls were, again, easy to pick up.
Hot Shots Golf: The PS3/PSP golf game returns to the Vita, with far better graphics and a few touch controls, along with an augmented-reality mode that transplants the golf course over your actual surroundings.
BlazBlue: A button-mashing fighting game with 2D graphics, a sharp port of the console series.
Shinobido 2 Tales of Ninja: Another Japanese-developed game with sharp graphics and stealth tactics, like Metal Gear Solid.
Hustle Kings: A pool game technically isn't much to get excited about, but the cue stick angles can be finessed with touch, and the power meter is controlled with a finger flick. Multiplayer will be cross-compatible with PS3 players, too.
Super Stardust Delta: A revamp of the PSN shooter; it plays like a classic arcade game.
LittleBigPlanet: The touch-screen controls and minigames looked iPad-reminiscent, while the game feels like what players should already be familiar with.
Tekken vs. Capcom: The upcoming fighter will be made for the Vita as well. Not shown on the floor.
Unnamed Bioshock game: Mentioned by Ken Levine. TBD. Not shown on the floor.
Sony's also announced more than a 100 North American, European, and Japanese companies developing for the PlayStation Vita.
From my time with the Vita, I was surprised at how crisp and large the screen was, how good the analog sticks felt (they're actual sticks as opposed to the PSP's stiff pad), and how lightweight the unit was to hold, although that's probably more because these dev units don't have batteries inside. Having all the control schemes and inputs that the PS Vita contains seems daunting, but the games I looked at did a decent job of picking the tools available and offering a variety of experiences. It still remains to be seen whether first-time players will be intimidated by all the buttons and touch panels, or feel liberated.