Sony's latest innovation, the PlayStation Vita, is hitting Australian shores on February 23rd. The handheld launched in Japan on December 17th, however - and imported copies have already started winging their way across the globe.
We were lucky enough to get our hands on one for just a few short hours earlier this week - and spent some quality time with Uncharted: Golden Abyss - the newest adventure for Nathan Drake, released as a launch title for Vita (and yes, it's got full English-language support).
Unfortunately, we had nowhere near long enough to play through the whole adventure (current estimates put playtime at close to 20 hours - none too shabby for a handheld release!), but more than enough time to fall hopelessly in love with the game's visuals and innovative control scheme.
The things you need to know: It's not a prequel. It's set some time before the first console Uncharted, but SCE Bend Studio (think Syphon Filter and the PSP exclusive Resistance Retribution) has created a totally standalone story. No matter what you get up to here, it won't cause any unstable paradox that prevents the future from happening.
Secondly - just like its console predecessors, Uncharted: Golden Abyss makes great use of motion-captured cutscenes, with Mr. Nolan North taking on the primary role of Nathan Drake yet again. Despite the fact that this is all shown on a screen that could fit into your (large) pocket, it aims for - and often reaches - the same level of quality we're used to in our living rooms.
Drake runs around, climbs things, jumps over things, shoots things and generally gets up to the same sort of stuff he does on the PS3 - this isn't an on-rails adaptation by a long shot.
Rather than trimming back the gameplay in order to fit an entire game into such a small package, Golden Abyss instead features shorter levels, each one more self-contained than those we've encountered on the PS3.
It's also great to note that Bend has put a great deal of thought into the mechanics and control scheme. There are the dual-analogue sticks, of course, but it doesn't end there. The front touch screen allows some impressive, naturally flowing swipes which make quick work of hand-to-hand combat - but even that pales somewhat when you realise the shooting mechanics use motion controls.
Yep, you'll look like an idiot playing this one too (if you choose). Just move your Vita around to shift the game's crosshairs, making headshots suprisingly simple - and super-efficient.
If you're a spoilsport and don't like the idea of waving your new toy around on the bus, just to perfect your aim, you can always switch back to the more traditional controls and play the game that way. It's worth checking out though, perhaps when you're in the privacy of your own home.
At the same time though, these gimmicky bells-and-whistles can detract from the game if you're looking to immerse yourself properly in the story. There are elements that feel a little like a tech demo: "And we can do this! And this! And this!", showing off all of the new shiny features of the Vita.
But it's okay, really. Golden Abyss has the story, and the cinematics, and the shooting, and the (minimal) exploring to keep you busy. Once you get tired of finger-swipes and wriggling around to get the best aim on that bad guy, click it over to classic control mode and dive deep into the story.
While it feels like almost everything these days is a "Must Have", if you're planning on picking up a PlayStation Vita when it launches next month, do yourself a favour and snag a copy of Uncharted: Golden Abyss at the same time. If you're a fan of earlier Uncharted titles, this will fill a certain craving, wrapped in an exciting, fresh package.
On the other hand, if you've never spent time with Nathan Drake, this is a great place to start. Not only do you get a great game, an enjoyable story and an introduction to a classic franchise - you also get one of the neatest looking tech demos we've ever seen.
I like video games and music and cups of tea and noodles and beagles and colour-cycling LEDs.
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Jimmy the Geek