One of the first things I tried when firing up my new Vita was to buy, for the third time, a copy of the PSP game Ultimate Ghosts 'n' Goblins. That series has been a loyal companion since I picked up the famous Commodore 64 port of the original coin-op back in the '80s. I've bought 'em all.
Ultimate is a dignified send-off, a snowglobe of levels and mechanics that lets the series retire on its own terms, under the direction of creator Tokuro 'Professor F' Fujiwara. Gorgeous on PSP, it's supposedly even better on Vita's 5-inch OLED display. I say 'supposedly' because no one in Europe can buy it.
It's a firmware issue, they say, a glitch in the game's save system introduced by a certain PSP system update. Only in Europe, though, where it saw the game promptly pulled from PlayStation Store, never to return. Is the glitch fixed? Will the game reappear? No one's saying, and no one knows how or whom to petition. Which sucks.
Deflated, and anxious to know at least some of my PSP career would carry over, I figured I'd console myself with Sumo Digital's sparkling OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast. An open-topped dash through Sega's brightest blues in Ferrari's prestigious reds, it's another perfect fit for Vita. Chopped up even finer than the first OutRun, full of minute-long excuses to take that delicious drift model for a spin, it's breezy in the way that handheld games should be. These thoughts started to fizz as I eagerly searched the Store... and searched. 'Maybe 'OutRun' is actually two words', I thought, like everyone doomed to discover the game no longer exists.
A Ferrari licence is so prestigious, it seems, that few seem able to negotiate one for the duration of me enjoying it. Sega's one for the OutRun franchise has expired, taking with it all of these OutRun 2 derivatives in every digital format, on every platform. Cue the bit where the Testarossa hits a rock, rolls a few times, and dumps the guy and his girlfriend on the highway. Now imagine they're both DEAD.
So I finally gave up and played a real Vita game instead. At least we'll always have Ridge Racer, I told myself, for those powerslides down memory lane. But what's this? Apparently this is some new Ridge Racer where it's deemed acceptable to run at 30 frames per second, vandalise the scenery with gross depth of field effects, supply no real single-player mode, and deliver the whole thing as a billion tiny downloads Vita can't even queue at once. No thanks, I'll stick with Ridge Racer 2, the epic anthology that's everything a Ridge fan needs. Hit me up, PlayStation Store! Except that's not on the store either; only the original PSP launch day Ridge Racer is available.
Suffice it to say that zero out of three attempted purchases does not speak well of Sony's backwards compatibility. Worse still is that, thanks to the brilliant PS1 and PSP emulator, there's no technical reason why I shouldn't have them all. It troubles me because, prior to this whole affair, I'd hoped Vita was going to be something really quite important: a curator for PlayStation's heritage.
It's about more than just backwards compatibility. That OLED screen, bold enough to maximise colour while small enough to optimise texture, is the best and perhaps only place where games almost two decades apart can sit side-by-side and say, without fear of ageism, that they are all 'PlayStation'. To me, that's a far greater thing than some All-Stars brawler. Back when Sega and Nintendo were 'the enemy', Sony's best mascots were its games.
My gut tells me that Sony understood that, and took pride in it, right up until they removed the Emotion Engine from PS3. There's a reason it was in there in the first place, which is that PS2 architecture is impossible to emulate accurately and reliably via software. That vast catalogue of PS2 games, has become a millstone, making the PSN Store a kind of upside-down technocracy where being cheap to emulate gets you in.
Please fix this, Sony. I don't want a bric-a-brac shop full of random, often ridiculous prices. Heritage is important - and that's especially clear in this issue of PSM3 - and I want a museum with a sense of history, priced to encourage discovery. You bought Gaikai for a reason. Right?