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Japan cautious on PS Vita

PSM3 on why Vita needs Metal Gear, Monster Hunter, and some serious bug fixes

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Official figures show PS Vita owners bought an average of less than one game per PS Vita, the most popular being Hot Shots Golf. But this isn't the whole picture. Vita games can also be downloaded from PSN. Sony isn't doing itself any favours by withholding the PSN numbers, though SCEJ CEO Hiroshi Kawano told a conference that PSN titles are selling "extremely well".

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HEALTHY HANDS

In Japan's blogosphere, PS Vita's reception is mixed. Most owners are pleased with the hardware, and it seems that once you've played PS Vita, going back to 3DS's tiny screen and hand-knackering form is no fun. "Once you touch a Vita, you'll want to save up for one as quickly as possible," said one online fan.

But many are furious about the system's numerous bugs. These include severe freezes that require fiddly power-button-holding techniques to remedy, with game progress lost in the process. There are also inexplicable 3G SIM card lockouts, intermittent gyro and sound dropouts when playing Uncharted, and trouble connecting to a PS3 or PC to transfer data - not to mention a total lack of support for Mac. Some complain that their thumbs obscure Vita's speakers, while others are calling for a quick price drop, similar to Nintendo's 40% cut just six months after 3DS launched. "Sony knows that Japanese people will put up with problems like this without complaining, and that's why it released Vita here before the West - to iron out the bugs!" ranted a user on popular Japanese gossip forum 2chan.

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Some have questioned Sony's logic of releasing a handheld at all, but they're more popular in Japan than the West. Japanese gamers live in small apartments and often stay with their parents into adulthood, so a personal screen is convenient. They prefer to play ad-hoc and in person than online, and in co-op rather than head to head. It links to Monster Hunter's popularity: four players in the same room can team up to fight together.

PS Vita's smartphone rivals like Android and iPhone aren't as popular in Japan, though growing in size, but the real challenge is the rise in social games on regular mobile phones. Gaming networks Gree and Mobage are churning over billions of yen with horribly old-fashioned Java-style titles.

Ultimately, PS Vita still has a good chance of success in Japan, but it needs a killer app. Or rather, it needs its killer app back. Monster Hunter 4 is in development for 3DS, but isn't confirmed for Sony's handheld - at least, not yet. When it does arrive, PS Vita sales will rocket - luring other developers onto the hardware. MGS: Peace Walker was PSP's best game, but came too late to impact the handheld's popularity.

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Let's hope PS Vita's system-seller arrives much earlier - and with the multi-million selling FIFA available at the UK launch next week, plus a confirmed Call of Duty game, the lessons may have already been learned.

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The latest issue of PSM3, featuring extensive coverage of Bioshock Infinite and PS Vita, is on sale now. Subscribe to the print edition, get it for your iDevice via Apple Newsstand or grab it for your PC, Mac or Android phone. Based in the U.S.? Fear not: subscribe to the print edition here, get it on your iDevice here, or PC, Mac or Android here.

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