The PlayStation Vita has been out for about nine months now, and even though it hasn't gotten off to the promising start that Sony was expecting, it is getting somewhere, between the impressive line-up of retail games that are also available for direct download from the PlayStation Network and the exclusive downloadable fare, ranging from PS1 classics to PlayStation Mobile releases to PSP favorites.
But let's not forget about the original games, the ones that various studios have put together to showcase the Vita's prime features without going too crazy on the price tag. There are a lot more here than you might expect, and some of them genuinely surprise when it comes to content, playability, and presentation.
Without further ado, here are some excellent first choices for downloadable games on your PlayStation Vita. We've done away with the retail selections in favor of the PSN exclusives, though that shouldn't stop you from picking up PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale and Mortal Kombat. Especially if they're on sale…
Dokuro (Game Arts, $19.99)
Though a bit on the expensive side, there's a certain satisfaction to Game Arts' side scrolling adventure Dokuro. You play an undead soldier trying to keep watch over a practically useless (but beautiful) princess, solving puzzles and defeating enemies so she can reach a magical flower at the end of each stage. Packing an interesting presentation and entertaining gameplay, Dokuro is a pleasant surprise. But, seriously, that princess needs to grow some smarts.
Escape Plan (SCEA, $14.99)
One of the initial launch titles for the PS Vita, Escape Plan remains one of its most charming downloadable games. You play as one of two escaped convicts, in oddly shaped bodies, as they solve puzzles that could otherwise have lethal – if somewhat hilarious – consequences. With dozens of levels to choose from (more if you download the extra DLC) and a presentation that resembles something out of Tim Burton home-school, Escape Plan is a delectable treat.
Hustle Kings (SCEA, $9.99)
Another Cross-Buy title that's very easy to recommend, Hustle Kings retains all the goodness of its pool shooting PS3 brethren. You can easily challenge players to quick rounds of various games (like 8-ball or 9-ball), either through direct competition or back-and-forth email turns, and you're also able to customize your stick, balls and tables how you see fit, including some rather weird designs. While the touch-screen controls take a slight bit of getting used to (analog options aren't included), this is still the coolest game of portable billiards around.
Oddworld Stranger's Wrath HD (Just Add Water, $9.99)
Though this title isn't Cross-Buy compatible, Oddworld Stranger's Wrath is one of those games that's worth paying for twice, if only to take in all the majesty of Oddworld Inhabitants' sweeping adventure. You play a bounty hunter pursuing evil enemies while uncovering a conspiracy that could easily tear your town apart. Featuring luscious visuals (they haven't changed a bit from the PS3 version), quality audio and gameplay that actually takes advantage of the PS Vita's set-up, it's a wonderful adventure that's worth experiencing all over again…varmint.
Plants vs. Zombies (PopCap Games, $9.99)
One of PopCap's crowning jewels from over the last few years, Plants vs. Zombies is a likable – and hilarious – strategy game where you line up defensive plants across a yard as they take on hordes of invading undead. You'll have several different types to choose from, but as your plant numbers grow, so do the zombies, with tougher defenses and particular styles, ranging from dancers to cone-wearing warriors. The game never loses its sense of humor, and the gameplay has enough content to keep you coming back for more.
Retro City Rampage (VBlank Entertainment, $14.99)
Another terrific addition to the Cross-Buy/Cross-Play line-up, Retro City Rampage is a mixture of open-world adventure (straight out of the Grand Theft Auto games) and 8-bit design, resulting in a tremendously in-depth romp through Retro City. Featuring game references from yesterday and today, and plenty of laughs along the way, Rampage also features various missions that get more challenging as you go along. If you're a PlayStation Plus member, you can snag it for free – but only for a limited time.
Super Stardust Delta (SCEA, $9.99)
If you're familiar with the awesome Super Stardust HD on PS3, then you'll feel right at home with the handheld equivalent in Delta. Featuring a gameplay layout that perfectly fits the Vita, along with exquisite graphics and a fast-paced soundtrack, the game doesn't let up as you move from stage to stage, destroying enemies and eventually coming face to face with massive bosses. Throw in competitive leaderboards and you've got a shooter that'll keep you coming back.
Sine Mora (Digital Reality, $9.99)
Another "shmup" that hardcore fans will come to appreciate, Sine Mora brings every ounce of its visceral style to the PS Vita. The game features a terrific time-bending technique, where you can dodge incoming fire with precious seconds left on the clock. However, you'll need to save as much as you can, as the bosses you'll run into throughout will leave you fighting to survive. With great graphics and a variety of gameplay settings, Sine Mora can't be beat. The only thing that would've made it better are some Cross-Buy/Cross-Play options. Or 3D graphics, for that matter.
When Vikings Attack (SCEA, $9.99)
It's not every day that you see normal people become heroes, but that's the focus of the party game When Vikings Attack, a romp where you control a mob of folks as they battle Vikings by throwing objects, ranging from telephone booths to couches. Featuring full Cross-Play/Cross-Buy functionality, you can challenge others on either Vita or PS3, resulting in some rather wicked multiplayer match-ups. The single player mode isn't bad either, just in case you need to practice. If you're a fan of offbeat games, put this on your purchase list.
Zen Pinball 2/The Pinball Arcade (Zen Studios/FarSight Studios, prices vary)
If you're a pinball enthusiast – and you should be if you grew up near arcades – then both Zen Pinball 2 and The Pinball Arcade will have something to offer. Both feature downloadable tables featuring original designs and popular characters – Zen has various Marvel Pinball tables, while Pinball Arcade features additions like Theater of Magic and Elvira-licensed set-ups) – and they're both perfectly matched with the kind of action you'd find on a real pinball table. Not to mention they're both entertaining and competitive, complete with online leaderboards. Just don't tilt!