Digital Life: Sony is set for war but its sexy weapon faces an army of enemies
Sometimes the best form of defence is attack. When your kingdom is under attack from smaller, smarter, more nimble armies, battening down the hatches is the wrong option.
When Sony came to build the successor to the PlayStation Portable, the landscape had changed irrevocably since the original's launch in 2005.
Smartphones from Apple and Android have eaten the lunch of the traditional handheld leaders from Nintendo and Sony.
Now hundreds of thousands of games costing just a few cents or nothing at all are only a couple of taps away on a myriad of devices that often sell for a pittance.
Sony's defiant response has been to build the biggest bad-ass handheld it could muster and hope to compete on pure firepower.
The result is the PS Vita, which launches across Europe next week. It is the antithesis of the iPhone and iPod Touch, its greatest rivals.
Resembling a PSP on steroids, Vita manages to be both big-boned and sexy. Sort of like a digital Beyonce.
It bucks the trend for slimline electronics and won't fit comfortably into a pocket.
The size indicates just how much Sony has packed into its black and silver frame, starting with a monster five-inch touchscreen.
Inside, a powerful quad-core processor hums away alongside the usual wi-fi, GPS, Bluetooth, cameras and (optionally) 3G. Unusually, Vita includes another large touch-sensitive panel on the back of the unit, for extra controls.
This being primarily a gaming device, it obviously incorporates the familiar PlayStation buttons and two joysticks, albeit in a cramped form that will recreate the famous PSP hand-ache after long play sessions.
In a sense, though, none of this hardware willy-waving really matters unless Sony can rapidly boost the range of games from the 25 scheduled for launch day.
They range from full-price blockbusters such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss (a gorgeous poster child at €50) to mid-range releases such as mini-game collection Little Deviants (€25) to bite-sized MotorStorm (€7). Unfortunately, there's precious little to compete with the 99-cent gang that makes iPhone so attractive - and even the few that do are remnants from the PSP days.
There's a vague plan for backward compatibility with full PSP games, but concrete details are scarce. Vita's handling of music and video is typically clumsy for a Sony device and, unforgiveably in the smartphone age, there's no real multitasking.
You've got to admire Sony's gumption for going all-out with Vita but despair at its insular approach (non-standard USB connector, proprietary memory cards, lack of low-priced games, and so on).
PS Vita goes on sale on February 22 for €250 (wi-fi) or €300 (3G) -- unfortunately you'll also need to set aside at least another €20 for the obligatory memory card.
The hardcore will flock to Vita as a powerful system, but the mass market may consider it a dinosaur and stick to their iPods.
This is the stuff nightmares are made of: you wake up in bed next to a girl who is not your fiancee and have little recollection of how she got there.
This is also the stuff of nightmares: you're being chased by a grotesque monster and have to scramble up endless stairs to escape.
Somehow, Catherine shoehorns these two disparate ideas into one satisfyingly unique game for adults.
It's partly a mature meditation on human relationships (no, really) and partly a block puzzler with demon imagery.
Popular entertainment hasn't managed this much existentialism since Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The worst you could say about this notion is that there's only a very loose cause-and-effect connection between the two worlds.
By day, we listen to Vincent -- slacker, drinks too much, untidy -- fret to his friends in the local bar about his troubled relationship with his girlfriend, Katherine (with a K). By night, his dreams force him to climb a series of blocks that must be rearranged to form a stairs for an escape route.
But in the real world he meets the seductive Catherine (with a C) and so begins his tangled journey to choose between two women, played out through sweary conversations, text messages and cut-scenes.
By turns utterly bizarre, baffling and beautiful, Catherine's main problem is the repetitive puzzles can often seem to get in the way of the game's storyline.
Double Fine Happy Action Theatre
What's your high score in Lego? What level did you get to in Play-doh? The answer, of course, is that some classic kids' games need no goals for them to be endlessly enjoyable.
DFHAT anchors itself firmly in the same territory with this delightful collection of mini-games, a cheap download from Xbox Live.
With no tutorial and no scores, young players simply experiment with the 18 different 'playgrounds' superimposed on your living room to see what happens.
The room fills with balloons?
You flail around to scatter and pop them. Pigeons?
Stand still and see how many perch on you -- or send them all flying.
Turn yourself into a fire-flinging monster.
A brilliant use of Kinect, DFHAT will keep children amused for hours on end.
Bits and Bytes
- It's difficult for parents to keep up with what video games their children are playing (you could read Digital Life every week but far be it from me to suggest that . . . ).
It's even worse when you're standing in the games shop and little Johnny is pestering you to buy Nuclear Zombie Party 5 or whatever. Sometimes the rating on the front of the box (you do pay attention to that, don't you?) isn't enough, which is where the British Board of Film Classification and its iPhone app comes in handy.
Punch in the name of the game (or film/DVD, obviously) and a detailed rating of its violence or sexual content is yours. Users of other smartphones can browse the BBFC website
- The FBI has declassified the files it held on the late Apple boss Steve Jobs (pictured) after a freedom of information request and made them available online.
Among the nuggets revealed were that some former business associates questioned his morality and honesty.