Through the Cracks: 2012 Vita Edition

We review a lot of games here at Hardcore Gamer. It’s sort of what we do. Still, despite our best efforts, we can’t get to all of them. Games, both good and bad, fail to get reviewed and our poor readers are left to pull their hair out in throes of indecision when they come across something without the official Hardcore Gamer seal of approval or walrus of shame. Here we finally get around to talking about some games that, for whatever reason, managed to avoid our critical gaze when they were first released. In what’s soon to be a regular feature, we’re kicking things off with the major 2012 PS Vita releases we missed. It’s time to sit down, put our reviewing pants on, and take a good look at some games that managed to slip through the cracks.

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Uncharted: Golden Abyss was without a doubt the premier title in the Vita launch library. Of all the titles, it had the greatest potential to lure in those still unsure of the system due to the appeal of the Uncharted name. Sony could have sold it as Uncharted: Seriously, This Case is Empty and it still would have been the best selling launch title.  As a way to show off a new system, Golden Abyss succeeds on just about every level.  The visuals are absolutely amazing and there is not much of a difference between this and its big brothers on the PS3. It feels like something you can play on one of the home consoles and manages to replicate much of the core gameplay from any of the three original titles.  However, while it succeeds in showing off the power of the Vita, if fairs far less well when you actually assess it as a game.  It essentially plays like Uncharted Lite, trying as hard as it can to ape the other games in the series but always falling just short of its goal.

The story is the same one they’ve used in every single Uncharted game now, and at this point it feels like they’re just trying to save money by reusing the exact same script each time and changing some of the proper nouns. However, nobody ever really enjoyed the stories in the series for their thought provoking scenes or meaningful dialogue and what the series has always been about were those amazing, over the top moments that make you put down your controller, grab your head in disbelief, and yell, “DID I JUST SHOOT DOWN A HELICOPTER WITH A TANK ON A MOVING TRAIN!?” It is these wow moments that always defined the games, and of these Golden Abyss has none.  This is as by the books as a shooter gets, with players just plowing through hordes of generic enemies in forgettable encounter after forgettable encounter.  The shooting mechanics themselves are dumbed down a bit, giving you less variety in gameplay and worse enemy AI.

This is by far the worst Uncharted title in the series, and everything about the game just feels a bit off.  While some people have compared the PS3 titles to big budget, Hollywood action films, Golden Abyss feels more like a direct to tv rip-off made by the same people that brought you Sharktopus vs. MechaHitler.  Huge fans of the series might want to give this a look, but your time would be better spent on any of a dozen other titles in the Vita’s library. A big Walrus of Shame for Golden Abyss.

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Speaking of starting over at the beginning of a series, Mortal Kombat is essentially a reboot of the franchise after they went and killed everyone off at the end of the last game. And, if you are going to go about rewriting one of the most iconic series in gaming, this is most definitely the way you want to do it. The amount of kontent…er…content is astonishing, and in addition to the expected arcade ladder the game features a really meaty story mode and a challenge tower that introduces a variety of new and interesting missions and gameplay types. This is both one of the best reboots of a franchise and fighting games I’ve ever played. Not being a serious devotee to the genre, Mortal Kombat hits that sweet spot for me where there is skill required beyond mindless button mashing but it doesn’t require me to first get my masters thesis in combos before I have any hope of tackling it.

The Vita version is in sort of a weird position, as it was released substantially after the games on the rest of the consoles. It seemed to be catering to an audience that had bought a Vita but had not already purchased the title on either the PS3 and Xbox 360 when both had already been out for over a year. However, myself and the six other individuals that found themselves in this demographic got essentially the definitive version of the game. The Vita edition comes with all DLC characters including Rain, Skarlet, and the random “sorry, I think I got off on the wrong floor” character of Freddy Krueger. In addition to the free extras, Mortal Kombat for the Vita comes with access to an entirely new bonus challenge tower which includes 150 original missions and several unique playmodes designed specifically for the Vita’s capabilities. However, despite all these extra goodies, you’re going to have  hard time justifying this purchase if you already own one of the original editions. This is essentially a slightly more complete edition of the version released on consoles, and it suffers from a noticeable visual downgrade. If you don’t already have it, this is still probably the version to own, so consider this our tentative and conditional Seal of Approval.

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While it might not always seem like it, it isn’t as if the Vita is completely bereft of big name, AAA titles. In addition to the previously mentioned Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the past year has also seen releases of strong Assassin’s Creed and Silent Hill games, and other (unfairly) neglected series have made good impressions on the handheld as well. Despite all of this, if there is any one specific title that is worth owning a Vita for, it is Gravity Rush. It has beautiful cel-shaded graphics, an amazing soundtrack, an interesting story, and perhaps one of our favorite new protagonists in years.

While that’s all true, the biggest reason to love Gravity Rush is its clever gameplay. They give you a big open world to explore and a variety of gravity powers with which to do so. I can’t properly express how enjoyable it is to start floating, propelling yourself through the sky with a gravity kick, and then causing gravity to return to normal so you can fling yourself down into a crowd of suddenly terrified people. Not only is it a blast hurling yourself around the town, you actually have a lot of different things to do to occupy your time. Beyond the normal story missions, there are an assortment of challenges that give you a chance to show off your moves. There are plenty of time trials that require you to use your gravity powers as quickly and effectively as possible, and even some assorted combat trials that are different enough that they don’t get boring. The controls are great as well, and Gravity Rush is one of the few games on the Vita to use the touch screen in a way that feels neither obtrusive or unnecessary.

Gravity Rush certainly isn’t perfect, and in addition to a combat system that can grow repetitive, the story ends seemingly at the halfway point leaving a lot of the more interesting questions completely unresolved while we have to sit around and wait for a sequel. If you have a Vita and don’t own Gravity Rush, then I hate you. Well, not really. Maybe just a little bit. You can make it up to me by closing this article and running out and finding a copy immediately. This definitely comes with the Seal of Approval, and considering how well it is regarded around Hardcore Gamer, perhaps I’ll slap a second one on there as well.