Sony supercharges Vita at Gamescom (pictures)

Think the PlayStation Vita faces a gloomy future? Sony pulled out all the stops at the Gamescom gaming expo, serving up announcements that may make you think twice about the quad-core gaming device.

Christopher MacManus
1 of 11 Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET

Vita Vita!

Sony spent lots of time chatting up new games and features coming to the PlayStation Vita during its Gamescom expo press conference today in Cologne, Germany.

About six months after the Vita's U.S. debut, we've often observed Vita enthusiasts and early adopters on forums speaking critically of Sony’s missteps with the launch and its various technicalities (e.g. expensive memory card). It didn't help matters much when critics and consumers additionally found Vita's presence at the massive E3 gaming expo in June lacking, as the Japanese company spent barely any time talking up the newly launched handheld at the show.

It seems obvious now that the people at Sony's PlayStation wing heard the Vita criticism loud and clear, as they used the first part of their presser today to reaffirm 60 games available for the handheld this year. However, the event really kicked off when Sony showed off two never-before-seen Vita games -- Tearaway (from Media Molecule) and Killzone Mercenary -- and gave a time frame for PlayStation One classics, new firmware, and other several compelling enhancements (such as Cross Buy) coming to the handheld.

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Buy one get one free

Cross Buy, one of the first major PlayStation Vita announcements at Gamescom, promises that gamers who purchase future PlayStation 3 titles also get the Vita equivalent of the game free. Unfortunately, Sony PlayStation Europe CEO Jim Ryan didn't offer much of a timetable as to when Cross Buy kicks off but noted that it will arrive with the fighting game PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale this November. Sony also mentioned that the Cross Buy promotion extends to the Sly Cooper Collection and Ratchet and Clank: Qforce. GameSpot points out that Sony sent out surveys asking if gamers would like a deal like this back in June.
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New brains

In late August, firmware update 1.80 comes to the Vita, ushering in a slew of enhancements, such as cross-controller functionality, rear-touch for the Web browser, and more. Read the full details of the firmware update at the European PlayStation blog.
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PlayStation One keeps on tickin'

When we last heard about PlayStation One games coming to the Vita (already available for PSP), Sony offered a vague "end of summer" time frame. Thankfully, Sony clarified the situation at Gamescom and announced that Vita owners should expect to see PlayStation One games at the PS Store on August 28. Check out this delicious list of early confirmed PS One titles coming to Vita: Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, and Resident Evil 2.
5 of 11 Media Molecule


Media Molecule, creator of the LittleBigPlanet franchise, undoubtedly excited many Gamescom observers with the announcement of Tearaway, an innovative new game coming to the Vita.

The game represents an entirely new direction for the successful game developer, and shows exciting promise by taking full advantage of the features (microphone, rear-touch, etc.) of the Vita hardware.

Adventurers control a character named Iota in a "vibrant papery world" that gives players "god-like powers," according to the Tearaway Web site. As usual, Media Molecule's high level of interactivity and quality will most likely make this a must-have game for Vita whenever it debuts (we assume this year or in early 2013).

6 of 11 Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET

Killzone Mercenary

Killzone Mercenary, by Guerrilla Games, made a big visual debut at Gamescom and looks to fulfill the need for a solid first-person alien shooter option on the PS Vita. While Unit 13 and the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 for Vita surely impress in various areas (and totally fail at others), Killzone looks like a breath of fresh air. The trailer indicates that players can use the Vita's touch screen to execute melee attacks, and hints at a possible co-op mode. Those looking for further details should expect to see more in the coming months.

7 of 11 Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET

PlayStation Mobile clarified

Sony's Gamescom press conference offered some much-needed details on the PlayStation Mobile service, launching this fall, with representatives noting that Asus and Wikipad join HTC as third parties supporting the gaming ecosystem.

During the event, we spotted a separate section in the PlayStation Store for the games that Vita owners can play, which vary in quality but appear to show promise -- some early hinted titles include Super Crate Box, Aqua Kitty, Samurai Beatdown, Passing Time, BeatSlider, and Flick Hockey. CNET Senior Editor Scott Stein breaks down today's PlayStation Mobile announcements further in this blog post.

8 of 11 Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET

Declassified bundle

A new Vita bundle comes to store shelves this fall featuring Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified. Announced during Sony's Gamescom presser, the package due this November includes a black Wi-Fi Vita with special Black Ops-related etchings on the rear touch panel; a copy of the game; and a special carrying case. The first-person shooter, developed by Nihilistic Software, offers four-against-four player multiplayer action and several popular game modes such as "Team Deathmatch" and "Kill Confirmed."

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Price slash

While unannounced at Gamescom, quiet news of massive price cuts for a variety of high-end PlayStation Vita games also emerged today, confirming a rumor from last week that showed up on the NeoGAF gaming forum.

For example, Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational, Little Deviants, ModNation Racers: Road Trip, Reality Fighters, and Wipeout 2048 now cost only $19.99. First-person shooting games Resistance: Burning Skies and Unit 13 also fall to $29.99, while the AAA game Uncharted: Golden Abyss drops to $39.99. The amount saved ranges across the board from $5-$20, but it remains unclear how long the deal lasts.

10 of 11 Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET

Vita and PS+

At Gamescom, we also heard a brief mention of the PlayStation Plus subscription service coming to Vita, but Sony representatives offered neither details nor a timetable (except for the classic "soon" scenario).

Plus already works for the Vita in some capacity, offering consumers discounts on various titles. A tighter integration of the PlayStation Plus service on Vita could mean several things, such as free top-tier Vita games or PlayStation Network mini-games each month.

A side announcement also mentioned that consumers could use up to 1GB of save data on Sony's PlayStation Plus cloud storage, a rather large increase from a previous 150MB limit.

11 of 11 Screenshot by Christopher MacManus/CNET

LittleBigPlanet on a shared screen

A Media Molecule representative used part of the Sony Gamescom press conference to show how LittleBigPlanet cross-controller functionality works on the Vita. Gamers can use the handheld gaming device just like a normal PlayStation 3 controller (thanks to the dual analog sticks and similar buttons), and also use the touch screen to control obstacles or jumping platforms.

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