Sony's slimmer PlayStation Vita heads to UK

Sony PS Vita Image copyright Sony
Image caption Sony says the new Vita is 20% slimmer than the previous version

A slimmer version of the PlayStation Vita games console will launch in the UK on 7 February, making it the first market set to get this version of the handheld after Japan.

Sony said it would cost about the same as the previous model.

The firm also announced a series of child-focused titles for the machine - an area where Nintendo's rival 3DS console has performed strongly.

One expert said that the lack of a price cut was likely to limit sales.

Earlier in the year Sony announced plans to stream games from its PlayStation 3 catalogue to smartphones and tablets.

However, the managing director of Sony Computer Entertainment said the firm had not yet decided whether that meant this Vita would be its last dedicated handheld console.

"We'll continue to monitor how the market evolves and will continue to listen to what gamers want," Fergal Gara told the BBC.

"It has a dual role as a standalone gaming device and an exciting accessory for the PlayStation 4 [the Vita can connect to a PS4 and play its games], so let's see what behaviour and gameplay pattern emerges."

Games for kids

Sony said the new model was 15% lighter and 20% slimmer than before, and the wi-fi only version would cost about £180.

Image copyright Sony
Image caption The new Invizimals game allows player to see the characters placed in the real world

It also gains 1GB of internal storage and boasts longer battery life - claiming up to six hours of gameplay and nine hours of video playback - thanks in part to the firm replacing the OLED touchscreen with a more traditional LED version. Early reviews suggest this makes it appear less bright.

The company spent more time at its London launch event focusing on forthcoming software than the hardware itself.

The new titles include Invizimals: The Alliance - an augmented reality title targeted at children that uses the Vita's cameras to show fantasy creatures interacting with views of the real world.

Image copyright Nintendo
Image caption Nintendo's 3DS console remains cheaper than the PS Vita

The franchise has been compared to Nintendo's bestselling Pokemon series.

"Invizimals in southern Europe is massive, with a TV show, a magazine and figurines," said Christopher Dring, editor of the video games trade magazine MCV.

"Over here in the UK it hasn't really taken off yet and Sony is trying to promote it in a big way when it launches in March. That may be a key to pushing the Vita."

Other child-focused games include a Lego Movie game and PS Vita Pets, a title which challenges the player to raise a virtual animal and then take them out into a virtual environment.

The Vita has sold a fraction of the 81 million units claimed by its predecessor, the PlayStation Portable - something Mr Gara said was due in large part to the rise of smartphones and tablets.

But he also acknowledged that Nintendo's efforts to target a younger market had meant that the Vita had also been outsold by the 3DS.

"Nintendo has done a great job I think in creating franchises for the kids market," he said.

"They kind of have that market quite firmly in their hands I guess.

"We've brought out a device more for the core gamer and not as many of those necessarily want that experience on the move.

Image copyright Sony
Image caption Sony will sell a bundle of popular indie games

"So, you'll see us moving more into that [kids] market, but we recognise that there's a strong player in that space."

Too expensive?

Sony is also making greater efforts to promote games from independent developers, launching a £20 "megapack" containing 10 of the sector's best reviewed titles, including Hotline Miami and Limbo.

This may help it counter the popularity of low-priced games available for Android, Windows Phone and iOS devices.

But MCV's editor said the Vita might need to be priced £140 or below to drive a big rise in sales.

"They could do with lowering the price... but that may be to come," said Mr Dring.

"There is a die-hard fan group for the Vita, and while there may not be many devices sold, the number of games bought per device is relatively high when compared to the PlayStation 3.

"So, the Vita isn't like the Wii U where you think there's probably no way back - perhaps Sony can get some momentum behind it."

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