Despite rumors of its death, the Playstation Vita is going strong. It never quite succeeded in the way Sony hoped, much of the blame for which can be placed on expensive proprietary memory cards, ineffective marketing and too-little too-late Remote Play integration with the Playstation 4. Yet, the system represents the pinnacle of handheld hardware and continues to be a hotbed for wonderful indie games and quirky Japanese ports.
At its 2013 E3 press conference, Sony stated that the Vita has an attach rate of 10:1 (meaning the average system owner has purchased 10 games), which is one of the highest attach rates ever for a gaming system. Vita owners may not be high in number, but they’re reaping the benefits of all the amazing gameplay available on the system and have helped keep its ecosystem afloat since its 2011 release.
Even now, I would recommend to anyone to buy this system, despite it being six years old. You can score a new one on Amazon for less than $200, and if you’ve been a PS Plus member, chances are you already have a huge Vita game library. Not to mention, the Vita has an uncanny battery life. I love being able to suspend a game mid-play and come back days later at nearly the same battery life to pick up right where I left off with zero loading time.
Sony PlayStation Vita WiFi | Get it for a special price at this link!
But I’m not here to write a thinkpiece on all the reasons I love the Vita or why I think it mostly failed in the marketplace. Plenty has been written about that. I want to share my personal list of the best 25 games on the Vita, whether you own one already or you’re wondering just exactly what there is to play on it (spoilers: there are hundreds of awesome games and narrowing to 25 was tough).
Strap in, check out the list, then let me know if your favorite was left off and why you think it deserves recognition. (Fans of Freedom Wars, I know you’re coming for me with pitchforks.
This macabre gem offers a dose of cute, weird and challenging that never gets old. It will bend your brain into a lifeless pretzel at times, but it feels so rewarding when you take down each enemy and section. The blend of brawler combat and escort missions with puzzle platforming is a uniquely fresh take on an otherwise tired genre.
Though not superior to the PS4 launch version, the Vita version of Resogun holds up as one of the greatest experiences on the platform. The initial simplicity of the game gives way to frenetic bullet hell combat and fun rescue and upgrade mechanics, all wrapped in a visually stunning package.
23. World of Final Fantasy
It’s Pokemon. With all your favorite Final Fantasy characters as the pocket monsters, er, “mirages.” The turn-based, random battles feel a little dry and grindy from time to time, but the core mechanics are interesting because they layer character stacking onto traditional elemental skills. The writing is also not bad.
22. Super Exploding Zoo
It never gets old — exploding, cute, cartoony animals. The game builds you up to commanding ever larger and more skilled armies of zoo animals with different abilities to help you overcome the puzzling challenges of each stage. The puzzles and animal types are varied enough that every moment feels fresh and fun from start to finish.
21. Velocity Ultra
A fast-paced space-themed shooter designed to perfection for the Vita platform. Velocity never lets up on forcing you to make hairpin decisions and delivers action throughout. Playing it is easy, but mastering it is not for n00bs.
20. Super Stardust Delta
Housemarque delivered this game prior to its bigger hit, Resogun. But Super Stardust Delta allows the player a full spherical 3-D world in which to collect powerups, shoot alien ships and navigate dangers, far exceeding the level of excitement offered by the latter shmup (shoot ‘em up).
19. Rogue Legacy
Roguelikes are a dime a dozen these days, but none even come close to Rogue Legacy, which perfected the formula in every way. Dungeons are ridiculously tough, but the blend of incremental upgrades through the heirs of your dead characters, procedurally generated levels and sometimes-wacky character physical features leaves you always wanting ‘just one more game.’
18. Dragon’s Crown
Pandering to the male demographic, Vanillaware’s side-scrolling action RPG delivers just as much cleavage as it does awesome gameplay. The RPG-lite mechanics, tight combat controls and decent story all blend with a stunning art style, fun characters and interesting enemy types to make Dragon’s Crown one of the Vita’s must-play titles.
Technically a Vita exclusive (Sony claims the PS4 version is more than a remake….), Tearaway manages to use all of the Vita’s unique hardware features in non-annoying ways while delivering a fun story, unique adventure game platforming and exploration, and several exhilarating moments. The characters are lovable, the story is entertaining, and the real-world origami-making tie-in is a neat albeit probably-not-much-pursued-by-users idea.
16. Super Time Force Ultra
Take an 8-bit side-scrolling shooter. Mix in time travel — as in, go back and fight alongside yourself multiple times to build an army of on-screen badasses. Add great level design, plenty of unlockables, hilarious writing and awesome boss battles. What do you get? One of the most fun gaming experiences on any system ever!
15. PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate
OK, even you don’t play it on Vita, this game is available on many platforms and deserves your time — but it’s best on the Vita. And boy does it deliver on just about every element that makes a fun video game. Flying, shooting, collecting, exploring, puzzle-solving, dropping little space men to their doom. Et cetera.
14. Thomas Was Alone
Talking geometric shapes. Psychedelically inspired level design. An actual touching story (somehow). All in your pocket. Wow.
13. Sound Shapes
Like side-scrolling platformers that are on par with or better than those classics you love? Check. Sprinkle in a dose of catchy music on each level to which platforms and other elements are timed? Check. Remix music and levels to create, share and play an unlimited number of stages? Yep. (Get trophies on every single Playstation system you own because the lists are separate but you can still cross-save sync via the cloud? Oh yes.)
12. Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Sony delivered hardware that could put a console-quality experience in your pocket, as promised. However, they never delivered on the promise of supporting the system with much AAA, first-party software, which partially led to the Vita’s failure and its current position as a hotbed of indie lovers for the most part. But, in the beginning, there were AAA games and Uncharted made it to the Vita. Is it nearly as good as the console Uncharted games? Not really. Is it perhaps the best third-person shooter you’ll ever get on a handheld? Definitely.
11. Rainbow Moon
A world so large and so many hours of gameplay you’d seemingly need a lifetime to complete it all. But this game strips away the obtuseness of other tactics RPGs and delivers a clean combat system that never stops being fun. The story, characters and array of sidequests all stack up to make this one of the best RPGs ever made, much less an outstanding Vita game.
10. Persona 4 Golden
If this were the only game on the Vita, it would still be worth buying. 80+ hours of content. Multiple endings. Engrossing relationship building mechanics. A story wrapped in intrigue. A magical teddy bear. Dungeon-crawling RPG combat using amazing summonable sidekicks that can be combined to unlock even more formidable battle options. Do not pass this up.
9. Child of Light
There’s really nothing to dislike here — great combat and a fluid, easy-to-learn RPG system. Beautiful art and a fun story with satisfying level traversal. You’ll be in a state of wonder and positive feelings playing this one.
Few games take such awesome advantage of the Vita’s hardware features. Specifically, Severed turns your touchscreen into an input for fast-paced sword combat and spellcasting. Usually, this would seem gimmicky. But DrinkBox Studios somehow made it fun. You never feel like you’re fighting the touch inputs, only like you’re a master of the blade. Marrying melee combat and a first-person perspective with Metroidvania-like exploration, level design and upgrades was a purely genius idea that I can’t believe works so freaking well.
7. Guacamelee: Super Turbo Championship Edition
Not a coincidence that two DrinkBox Studios games crack the top 10, as they really can do no wrong. Only awesome. And this game is definitely awesome. Again, the Metroidvania inspiration is here, but it’s a brand-new take on it with a fighting system like you’ve never seen before and Mexican-themed art. Grab your luchadore suit and enter the ring.
6. Gravity Rush
Another early-on AAA quality release for the Vita, Gravity Rush allows you to take on enemies with special powers and melee combat, all while defying gravity. Fly, walk up buildings, throw objects through the air and more as you defeat the evil Navi and save townsfolk from certain doom. The story is delivered in a wonderful manga-style format, and the mission structures and ability unlocks make a perfect combination for always doing something new.
5. Hotline Miami
Lightning fast reloads, 8-bit gore, the tightest mechanics, a trippy, incoherent-yet-mind-blowing story, and dozens of ways to kill enemies make this one of the hardest games to put down once you pick it up. You’ll experiment with stages over and over and over again, late into the night. Hotline Miami is pure gaming gold, primarily because the controls make you feel so in the zone and powerful once you master them.
Another game you won’t be able to get enough of. Micro-missions put your fully customizable Helldiver onto a planet alongside online friends to rush to objectives, take out enemies, use a huge arsenal of powerups and ultimately rush to and defend the extraction point. The fast-paced nature of the game, plus all the tools at your disposal to get the job done, make Helldivers a masterpiece.
3. Towerfall Ascension
Retro-inspired and simple on its surface, Towerfall offers virtually unlimited replay value and gets exponentially more fun the more players you have involved. Whether clearing levels vs. the AI, cooperatively or battling your friends, shooting arrows, grabbing powerups and listening to a great chiptune soundtrack feels A+.
2. Shovel Knight
It seems impossible that a developer would be able to combine Super Mario Bros. 3, Mega Man and Duck Tales successfully. Yet, Yacht Club Games did just that with Shovel Knight, which is available on nearly every platform but plays especially perfectly on the Vita. The art, sound, level design, combat, free DLC — everything about Shovel Knight is exemplary.
Bastion was a very long time finally coming to the Vita, but it’s definitely the platform where it feels most at home. Regardless of where you play it, play it — it’s absolutely without a doubt one of the best games of all time. Ever. But if you can get your hands on a Vita and enjoy the beauty of Bastion up close and personal, all the better. Nearly everything about the game experience is customizable as you explore multiple stages and fight interesting enemies on your way to save what’s left of the world. Along the way, you’ll uncover engaging narration, emotional music and more and more upgrades that serve to make Bastion a game you’ll want to replay year after year.