Editor's Note: List last updated March 04, 2015.
As the PlayStation Vita approaches its third anniversary, it's time once again for IGN to look back on some of the best video game experiences the handheld had to offer. This year, your selection committee is: Marty Sliva, (Editor), Vince Ingenito (Associate Editor), Meghan Sullivan (Database Editor), and Jared Petty (Associate Editor).
Our criteria is as follows:
The primary question this top 25 list is intended to answer is simple: "What are the 25 best games we played on this platform?" How much fun we had with the games is obviously our primary concern, but we also considered elements like longevity/staying power, influence, and innovation.
What do you think of our selections? Let us know in the comments, and sound-off with your own Top PS Vita Games lists.
And now, without further ado...
Tower defense darling PvZ reached far and wide after the game spread its spores from mobile devices to consoles, but it's never felt more at home than on the PlayStation Vita. The Vita's vibrant multi-touch screen makes the perfect playfield for arranging and deploying your sprouty soldiers against wave after wave of the cartoon undead. As players progress, they're rewarded with increasingly more insane new plant types to do backyard battles with. It's a win-win situation. Unless you're a zombie.
- See Plants vs. Zombies at the PlayStation Store
When IGN first previewed Luftrausers as part of our Vita Indie Week, we knew we were on to something special. Even strictly at face value, Luftrausers' silhouetted, sepia-tinged presentation of WWII-style dog-fighting is hard to pull oneself away from. But beyond that, there's a surprisingly deep customization system that allows you to create an aircraft that suits your particular style. Its simplistic premise – shoot as many things as you can before you die – is made richer by a control scheme that, unlike the side-scrolling arcade shooters that inspired it, makes you feel as if you are truly piloting something rather than simply telling it where to go. It's rare for a game so deeply rooted in old-school arcade culture to feel so fresh and nuanced.
- See Luftrausers at the PlayStation Store
Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward is the sequel to the excellent text-adventure game 999: 9 Persons, 9 Hours, 9 Doors, and manages to improve upon its predecessor in almost every conceivable way. The story of nine hostages pitted against each other in a deadly game of survival is utterly gripping, and their trials are made all the more visceral thanks to beautifully rendered 3D art and fantastic voice acting. VLR is a game where every decision you make has potentially deadly consequences, as you must constantly choose whether to ally yourself with your friends or betray them in an act of self-preservation. It’s intense to say the least, and the ability to visit alternate realities created by these decisions results in a dizzyingly complex and brilliant narrative that keeps you engaged until the very end.
- See Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward on Amazon
Thomas Was Alone sells itself as “a minimalist game about jumping and friendship” – and unlike most slogans, this one doesn’t overstate itself. We can say with reasonable confidence that it is the most endearingly characterful game about jumping rectangles that you will ever play. The understated aesthetic design and unusual co-op puzzles will absorb you for the game’s duration – the wit and personality of the writing, though, will stay with you for much longer.
- See Thomas Was Alone on Amazon
Almost every popular, semi-decent block-dropper inevitably draws the Tetris comparison. “It's good, but it's no Tetris” people like to say. The same is true for Lumines: Electronic Symphony – hands down the best game to bear the Lumines name. Unlike Alexey Pajitnov's classic, it requires you to think about both space and time, adding a rhythm element that gives players both another tool to apply, and trance-like connection to the game's masterful audio design. Every action you take in Lumines, from the rotation of a block, to a well-executed chain combo results in a sound effect that times itself to the beat of whatever track you're listening to. What's more, its puzzle “language,” while initially more forgiving, is incredibly rich, granting players the freedom to build intricate structures that go far beyond a simple four lines.
- See Lumines: Electronic Symphony on Amazon
Vita’s camera, accelerometer, and touch features are rarely exploited to their full potential, but these hardware innovations are put to wonderful use by Tearaway. The touchscreen and rear touchpad allow for Tearaway's whimsical environment, and the characters that exist in it, to stretch, rip, and shake. Two cameras found a practical application enriching the game world by drawing the player’s likeness and surroundings into the fabric of the universe. The huge, bright display is one of the platform’s great strengths, and Media Molecule made the most of its capabilities by creating striking high resolution environments and colorful characters. All of this technical inventiveness is matched by a delightful style and a playful, simple story that rewards almost every interaction with a delightful and surprising response.
- See Tearaway on Amazon
In 2009, developer Vanillaware released a hack-and-slash adventure for the Wii called Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Though it didn’t rush up the gaming charts, it did manage to gain a solid cult-following, with fans praising Muramasa’s fluid controls, unique approach to storytelling, and beautiful 2D artwork. Knowing they had a potential hit on their hands if they could only expose Muramasa to a wider audience, Vanillaware decided to re-package the game for the Vita, adding HD visuals and additional content. The result is an absolute triumph: environments in Muramasa: Rebirth are incredibly crisp and vibrant, downloadable content and a new translation enlivens the already compelling story, and intuitive button-mapping and smooth, responsive controls make it a sheer joy to play on Sony’s handheld.
- See Muramasa: Rebirth on Amazon
LittleBigPlanet PS Vita pretty much embodies everything the Vita set out to do: console quality presentation, awesome touch screen integration and well-handled connectivity between the PS3 and other Vitas. This seemingly simplistic platforming game starring adorable Sony mascot Sackboy is incredibly rich with content outside of its pre-packed single and multiplayer efforts, with access to thousands of user-created levels shared across the world.
- See LittleBigPlanet PS Vita on Amazon
Freedom Wars' emphasis on fighting, looting, and upgrading creates an addictive gameplay loop for Vita owners. It certainly isn't the only Monster Hunter clone available on Vita, but it’s perhaps its most successful one. The staying power of its addictive fight-loot-upgrade cycle is enhanced by deep gameplay, customization options, and a really interesting online component made it one of our favorite portable releases of 2014.
- See Freedom Wars on Amazon
Visual novels aren't exactly new, but they are gaining steam, especially on PlayStation Vita where they seem especially at home. Arguably the best visual novel of them all -- one that combines tons of adventure game-like exploration, conversations, and amazing characters -- is Spike Chunsoft's Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. It's a game that embraces its anime-like tropes and ridiculous cast while at the same time focusing on something that's dire and real: murder. Lots and lots of murder. Danganronpa is like playing a game of interactive Clue, and it's an incredibly unique and enjoyable experience, one every Vita owes his or herself to play.
- See Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc at the PlayStation Store