PS Vita Launches In Japan; Long-Term Success Questionable

Sony's PlayStation Vita went on sale today in Japan to strong demand; there are reports that Sony sold-out all 700,000 units it set aside for the Japanese launch. ""I'm so happy to see so many people lining up for PS Vita so early in the morning," Sony Computer Entertainment Japan President Hiroshi Kono wrote in his official blog after touring several Tokyo stores. "I can tell they had anxiously waited for today's launch."

The handheld shipped out with an impressive 24 launch titles (the 3DS debuted with just eight), and is backwards compatible with PSP-downloadable games, PlayStation minis, the PlayStation Suite (aka PlayStation Certified titles) and PSOne Classics. It's not compatible with PSP games and doesn't support the UMD format Sony introduced with that handheld.

So far, early impressions have highlighted the high-quality screen (5" OLED, 960x544, 220ppi) and the system's low weight. The Vita combines a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU with a quad-core GPU based on Imagination Technologies SGX543. The Vita offers up to twice the GPU performance of the iPad 2, which uses an SGX543MP2, and outclasses anything else in the mobile market, including the just-released Tegra 3.

The PSP Vita is much larger than the PS2, but the size doesn't make the system heavy. Image courtesy of Kotaku

The big question, of course, is whether or not the Vita will catch the eye of more than the hardcore gaming crowd. Sony is still adamant that a $249 (WiFi) and $299 (3G) price point is what it'll use when it ships the device to North America in February.

The DS' performance this past year makes this a dicey bet. That system sold well below Nintendo's expectations until the company slashed prices to ~$170. Even then, sales didn't really explode until the launch of games like Super Mario 3D Land.

This isn't an accident. The 3DS took off when first-party titles from Nintendo started giving gamers a reason to buy it, and
when it's price was sufficiently below that of a high-end phone that gamers were willing to invest. The implication is that Sony needs to deliver on both fronts rather than just one—and it's not clear that the company can.

Sony, to be sure, has strong franchises of its own—but it's got nothing on Nintendo when it comes to the size and scope of the latter's first-party titles. In order to justify its price, Sony is going to have to prove that the Vita can deliver games of
sufficient scope + depth to utterly outclass anything available in a tablet or smartphone. Games so good, in fact, that they can justify the purchase of a $249 toy (assuming gamers don't opt for the 3G edition).

That's a tall order for any system, and the Vita, despite Sony's best efforts, may be biting off more than it can chew. What's your take on it? Are you excited for the Vita's launch, or looking at other gaming options?