The 10 best PS Vita games

Remix By Keane Eacobellis

The PlayStation Vita is one of the best handheld systems ever made, and not just because it released some remarkable ports and games over the course of its 10-year lifespan. While it may be the red-headed stepchild of PlayStation’s legacy, it was surely ahead of its time. Just look at the success of the Nintendo Switch.

Whether it was a spin-off of a large AAA franchise, a brand new JRPG, or even ports of classic PlayStation games, the handheld system offered a tremendous selection of games for players of all stripes between 2011 and 2021. Let’s take a look at the top 10 best to ever grace PS Vita screens.

10. Gravity Rush

Gravity Rush was developed by the now-defunct Japan Studio and was released in 2012. The game has you take control of an amnesiac girl named Kat who can control the effects of gravity. It’s an action-packed adventure with solid combat and fun gameplay. Because of her powers, you are able to control Kat as she flies through the air, traverses upside down, and walks on ceilings and walls. 

The story takes place in the mysterious city of Hekseville as Kat rallies to help its citizens. The gravity powers influenced the design and look of the game, making the open-world environments quite large and epic to explore. The motion controls were some of the best implementations of the controls in any Vita game as well. Gravity Rush is unique in that it melds genres more than most games do, mixing superhero adventure with a Japanese style and elevating the game as a whole. With quite a touching story about power and what one chooses to do with it, Gravity Rush has certainly earned its spot on this list.

9. Guacamelee!

Developed by Drinkbox Studios, Guacamelee! tells the story of a man named Juan as he sets out to rescue the president’s daughter from the dreaded Carlos Calaca. The art style is beautiful and the story is extremely funny and tongue-in-cheek. Similarly, the combat feels super satisfying as you take control of the luchador and perform uppercuts, dashes, and headbutts. The Metroidvania style uses these moves to entice you to search for upgrades in areas you have already ventured to as you attempt to become the ultimate luchador. Also, with a move called Pollo Power, you get to turn into a chicken, which is just as awesome as it sounds. 

8. Uncharted Golden Abyss

Developed by Bend Studio ⏤ the studio behind Days GoneUncharted Golden Abyss serves as a prequel to the Uncharted games on PlayStation 3. The plot of the game is very Uncharted. You play as Nathan Drake, the likable treasure hunter who goes after ancient Spanish treasure with a newcomer to the series, Marisa Chase. Once you are on the hunt, a local warlord gets involved and of course, Drake leaves barely unscathed and without any major treasure. 

The game wasn’t as great as any mainline Uncharted game, but that would have been a high bar to hit. Golden Abyss is still pretty epic, carrying over the combat and accolade system from the originals and adding new mechanics as well, like using the touch screen for certain puzzles. The motion controls were not integrated in the best way, but no one really likes motion controls anyway. The graphics also made it one of the better-looking games on the Vita at the time, especially compared to other spin-offs. 

7. Shovel Knight 

Shovel Knight was developed by Yacht Club Games. It’s a 2D side-scrolling game that pays homage to the same type of games in the past. Its brilliance lies in its simplicity and humor, though the gameplay can take a while to master as you learn how to hit enemies with Shovel Knight’s shovel or do a downward thrust to jump and damage your enemies. 

The story is actually pretty good, too, with Shovel Knight going on a quest throughout the land to take down the evil Enchantress and free the land from her control. The game features multiple knights as bosses and each one has a unique land to venture through as well as a unique move set. When you make your way into the castle before fighting The Enchantress, you have to battle each boss before you can fight her. 

The sound design and soundtrack are both great, too, as is the art design, making journeying through the different levels an awesome experience. Plus if you play the PlayStation version of the game, which is on the Vita, there’s a secret level where you can fight Kratos from God of War

6. Danganronpa 1.2 Reload

This absolutely bonkers game is another must-play on the PS Vita. Developed by Chunsoft, the game is part murder mystery, part adventure puzzle game, part romance sim, and entirely brilliant. Danganronpa 1.2 Reload is a package deal, coming with the previously PSP-only Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and then its sequel, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. From the needlessly addicting soundtrack to the brilliantly written story, this game is a joy to play. 

Featuring quite a lengthy story, both games are about an evil bear named Monokuma who kidnaps several students and forces them to participate in deadly murder games. The only way out is to figure out who killed who, and to do that, the game holds a class trial. Think Phoenix Wright but deadlier. The characters are all quite archetypal, but that means that when they act out of type, they keep you interested in the story. The main downside of Danganronpa is that the game can get boring and needlessly repetitive at times, especially if you aren’t enjoying the story, which is why this game sits happily at number six. 

5. Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami is a top-down shooter from Dennaton Games. The brilliant effect that the synth music has while you control the protagonist to shoot, throw, and dismember enemies is unmatched. It’s not a rhythm game, but you will probably play it like one. The plot is pretty good, too, drawing inspiration from films like Drive and Cocaine Cowboys. Playing as a man in a jacket, you receive cryptic messages through your answering machine, prompting you to go on a killing spree. You can wear multiple animal masks that give you different abilities, and fighting through multiple chapters, you use different weapons, guns, baseball bats, and so on, to take out enemies.

The game hinges on response time and your ability to plan out your targets quickly and effectively while dodging enemy attacks. At a certain point, it stops being what it is and becomes a dance between you, the controls, and the character, moving effortlessly to clear stages while bumping along to the hypnotic music. It is for this reason that the game lands at number five.

4. Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward

Virtue’s Last Reward is an excellent adventure game with a tremendous science fiction story and fun puzzles. Also developed by Chunsoft, it’s split between two different types of gameplay. One type is the puzzle sections, almost always an escape room-style game, and the other is the visual novel sections where you play out the fantastic story. 

The game is a sequel to Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, and as such, the story revolves around nine individuals who have been kidnapped by someone named Zero. You play as Sigma and interact with the eight other characters as you try to find who is behind your kidnapping. The story branches into many different paths and you are able to experience multiple endings. The actual progression of the story is too amazing to spoil here, but the game goes through different themes, including espionage, science fiction, and mystery. The puzzles are fun to go through and have a nice balance of difficulty to them, but by the end of the game, you realize that the real genius lies in how much you care about the characters when you’re done.

3. Persona 4 Golden

One of the best Japanese role-playing games of all time, Persona 4 Golden was developed by Atlus and released in 2012. Persona 4 Golden is an enhanced version of the original Persona 4, which came out on PlayStation 2. Its gameplay is good, turn-based fun, and the story finds you transferring to a new school in a small town where various deaths begin to occur.

The real gold that comes out of the game is the group of friends you make along the way. The voice acting and writing of the characters are superb and absolutely essential to the game being as great as it is. The soundtrack is wonderful as well. In fact, the only negative thing about the game might be the repetitive gameplay, but if you stay focused on the bond between you and the characters, those hours will go by in a breeze.

2. Spelunky

The endlessly procedurally-generated dungeon explorer Spelunky was developed by the small team of Mossmouth. Essentially a playable Indiana Jones, you take control of an explorer as he goes through different biomes, mines, jungles, a temple, and even hell. Using your whip, bombs, and ropes to overcome obstacles and defeat any creature you encounter, you venture through each level constantly on edge, since anything could kill you.

The systems are smart, allowing you to open crates to get items, go to the shopkeeper to spend your gold, and bring the damsel to the end of the stage to get an extra heart. The game also has nuances that make it really special. If you decide that you want to steal from the shopkeeper, for example, then you’ll find yourself on the other end of a shotgun. If you wait too long to exit the level, a giant ghost chases you through the level. But if you time it right, the ghosts can turn gems into diamonds, giving you more currency. These systems are so brilliant and so endlessly addictive that Spelunky takes second place on our list.

1. Rogue Legacy

The top spot on our list goes to the brilliant Rogue Legacy, a rogue-like game in almost every sense of the word developed by Cellar Door Games. The game gives you the chance to take control of a knight trying to conquer a castle. As you die, you respawn as the next generation of that knight’s family, going through generations and generations of your family. Every respawn offers three different classes that affect your health, coin pickups, mana for spells, as well other bonuses. Each class then has a trait that is often quite funny ⏤ far-sightedness, for example, where everything near your character is blurry, or something much more far-fetched like Alektorophobia, which causes health pick-ups ⏤ aka chicken legs ⏤ to turn into live chickens, which can damage you.

The game encourages you to keep coming back to master against enemy types, learn the timing of your spells, and masterfully wield your abilities. Game design, plus an intriguing story, plus endless replayability, equals a fantastic game and the best PlayStation Vita game on this list. 

There you have it, the 10 best games from the PlayStation Vita’s life cycle. And what a glorious time it was.