Dancing with Myself: Vita's MP without the other player
I've had the Vita a little over a week now and while the promise of a truly unprecedented console experience on a handheld has been fulfilled, I can't but notice some of that has been done with smoke and mirrors.
It's not a bad thing necessarily, just different than what one is used to in thinking in terms of a multiplayer experience. Yes, there are friends list and messaging and it is implemented very nicely. My Vita is the wi-fi version only so I can imagine how much more barrier breaking the experience would be via 3G. It's a bit of a jolt to the system getting a notification when a friend pops online. I was pleasantly impressed that I was able to have a party chat with Soup while we played Motorstorm and then later Ascension. And it sounded like the Soup I know through Xbox Live.
But the thing is, despite being on at the same time, playing the same game, we weren't really playing each other. I spent some time in Motorstorm RC chasing Soup, Snap and Tenga's ghosts around, seeing a constant reminder of not only their times/scores on a particular track, but actually competing against their ghost line through any number of venues. It was cool and it did feel as close to competing live without it being "real." (Yes, I understand that's the direction the new SSX headed and I did like that, just not the game so much.)
In the same way, Hot Shots Golf has a similar mechanic. There is a lot of competition, daily international tournaments and multiplayer lobbies. Even in game chat with randoms albeit typed (not too bad with the Vita's competent touch screen). But in a step backward from the last PSP incarnation of the game, head-to-head multiplayer via Infrastructure is gone. Weird.
Sure it's a small sampling of games and I suspect things like Unit 13 and Wipeout, for example, are true multiplayer experiences. The thing is, for a handheld, it's nice. It does not feel like a less than full-fledged console experience, but one that tries to accommodate and translate the experience into something for gaming on the go. It's smart and the bite-sized portions easily consumed.