The 12 Best Games For The PlayStation Vita

The PlayStation Vita is something of an oddity—a pricy, powerful portable gaming console adrift in a sea of smartphones, touchscreen controls, and inexpensive app-store games. All the same, we have a fondness for Sony's beefy handheld, and the many unusual games you can play on it.

The Vita gives us a handheld machine with sticks, touch panels, lots of buttons, lots of online features and, oh yeah, graphical horsepower like we've never seen before in a gaming handheld. It lets you stream PS4 games remotely, which can actually work really well under the right circumstances. It also allows you to download and play select PSP games, the best of which sit comfortably next to their higher-resolution Vita brothers and sisters.

So, what must you play on this thing? Start with these games.

The 12 Best Games For The PlayStation Vita

Unimaginable on any other platform and busting with imagination, Tearaway is a Vita dream come true. At its most basic, the game is a basic 3D platformer set in a world that appears to be made of construction paper. The trick is that the people of this world appear to be aware of you. They can see you, thanks to the Vita's front-facing camera streaming a feed of your face into their world as their sun. They can feel the impact of your fingers as your forefinger and middle finger can tap the rear of the system to poke through their terrain. This game is wonderfully like nothing else.

A Good Match For: Fans of development studio Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet games and for fans of Instagram. This game basically has its own in-game version of the popular photo-modifying app.

Not a Good Match For: Grumpy people who don't like cute stuff.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Amazon | Wal-Mart | Best Buy | Gamestop

The 12 Best Games For The PlayStation VitaGravity Rush is a delight, an open-world adventure game built around a truly new-feeling mechanic. The protagonist Kat is able to re-orient gravity, letting her fall in any direction. It's something of a mix between falling and flying, and it makes the game a uniquely disorienting, highly enjoyable experience. Combine those mechanical smarts with a wonderfully imaginative, fun story, lush visuals, gorgeous art design and a dizzy, grand soundtrack and you've got a real winner for the PSVita.

A Good Match For: Crackdown and Infamous fans, people who like their games to look and play differently, jazz-heads.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want familiar mechanics, deep and involved combat.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase from the PlayStation Store

The 12 Best Games For The PlayStation Vita

"Waiter, I'd like a large order of high school drama with a side... of murder." That's Danganronpa for you, a high school social simulator/murder mystery that combines elements of Phoenix Wright, Clue, Persona and Battle Royale into a pulpy stew of bloody entertainment. This is the first time we've collapsed two games into a single entry on The Bests, but considering that both games, Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair came out in the same year and tell two halves of a complete story, we feel okay about it. Monokuma agrees. Puhuhu…

A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a fun story to occupy their time for the next 30-40 hours, anyone who likes the games/movies/manga listed in the description above.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone looking for challenging gameplay—both games feature weird minigames that take place at various points in the story, but they're mostly just linear visual novels that you slowly work your way through.

Read our reviews of the first and second games.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Available Digitally From The PlayStation Store

The 12 Best Games For The PlayStation VitaRymdkapsel is a real-time-strategy base-building game with a Tetris twist. It's also all touch-screen, but don't let that worry you. It's still superb on Vita. The game's Swedish developers call it “meditative space strategy.” It’s simple. Place odd-shaped floors of different colors on a plane in outer space. Command little rectangular men to farm on or work in these spaces to generate resources to build more spaces and feed more workers. Rally the little men to defend the base against alien invaders every so often. Survive and repeat.

This is a minimalist game, a stripping down of the real-time-strategy genre that went baroque with the visually and technically complex top franchises StarCraft and Company of Heroes. Rymdkapsel makes its more ornate competitors feel needlessly garnished.

A Good Match For: Gamers looking for a portable real-time-strategy game. There ain't much to choose from, and this one has the bonus advantage of being good.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want a lot of action or complexity. This is a mellow game with a single unit-type and a handful of rooms to create. Players won't be progressing through complex skill trees.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase from: PlayStation Store

The 12 Best Games For The PlayStation Vita

Combining the PlayStation 3's PixelJunk Shooter and PixelJunk Shooter 2, PJS Ultimate is a two-in-one pack of well-designed, great-looking and great-sounding 2D flying/shooting/rescuing games. You control a little craft that you fly through a series of caverns. Each area contains some people to rescue (use your grappling hook), creatures to kill (use your guns), gems to find (use your brain) and, coolest of all, some sort of incredibly-animated liquid: lava, water and weirder stuff. The fluids are the stars of the game, as they realistically splash, flow, deform, melt, and cool in ways that aren't just special to see but affect gameplay. Both games were created by Q-Games, a Kyoto-based studio that use the Shooter games to demonstrate their mastery of tight, clever level design, one cavern at a time.

A Good Match For: People looking for something hand-crafted and focused, a break from modern gaming's indulgence in open worlds or randomly-generated levels. Play this pair of games to experience the delightful sort of conversation, as it were, that a game designer can have with their player, one full of surprises, teases, challenges and solutions. Co-op is an option.

Not a Good Match For: Those looking for a Vita original (you might have this on PS3) nor for those looking for a more rapid-fire shoot-em-up, which this is not.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Available digitally from the PlayStation store.

The 12 Best Games For The PlayStation Vita

It should not feel this cool to brutally murder people, but that may well be Hotline Miami's entire point. The top-down killfest would be fun with the sound turned off, but the astoundingly good soundtrack elevates things to a different, more disturbingly stylish level.

The game made a big splash on PC, and for a while, mouse-control seemed like the only worthwhile fit for its brand of extremely fast, unforgiving action. But Hotline Miami works surprisingly well with the Vita's controls, thanks in part to the ability to tag enemies for locked-on shots, which lets you plan each room-assault with a bit more precision. Groovy, disturbing, disgusting, and worryingly satisfying, Hotline Miami is one of the Vita's most potent, darkly enjoyable games.

A Good Match For: Fans of exploitation cinema, old-school twitchy action fans, perfectionists, sociopaths.

Not A Good Match For: The weak-stomached, those who don't like violence, people who want a forgiving game and/or hate electronic music.

Watch it in action.

Purchase from: PlayStation Store | Wal-Mart

The 12 Best Games For The PlayStation Vita

Possibly the best modern roguelike around, Spelunky is a platformer where you take a whip, a lasso, bombs, and whatever you find along the way in an attempt to go as deep as possible into randomly-generated ancient caves. The reason? Treasure, of course. Think of yourself as a cute version of Indiana Jones. While the game has appeared on other platforms, it feels at home on the Vita—Spelunky is devilishly hard and holds many secrets about the way its world and creatures work. Players can expect to die countless times as they learn how to get around. One run might last 30 seconds, the next might last 15 minutes, and both might be completely different from one other—you'll play in bursts, which is perfect for on-the-go gaming. With its randomly generated levels and new daily challenges, Spelunky is a game that will likely stay on your Vita for a good long while to come.

A Good Match For: Anyway with tenacity and a sense of wonder. The game is difficult, but it's also fascinating—there are a ton of rules and mysteries to uncover, which is compounded by the fact that most of the game is procedurally generated.

Not a Good Match For: Players looking for a relaxed experience: Spelunky demands that you learn how to play well, else you're not going to get very far.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Available digitally from the PlayStation Store

The 12 Best Games For The PlayStation Vita

Japanese high school never seemed so much fun. Persona 4 Golden, a remake of the critically-acclaimed PlayStation 2 role-playing game, combines a social simulator and a hardcore RPG with surprisingly addictive results. Take midterms in the morning, eat steak with your girlfriend on the roof for lunch, then head to the mall after school to fight off shadow monsters in a dangerous world that exists inside televisions. Just another day in Persona 4's Japan.

A Good Match For: RPG fans who want something different than the standard fantasy or sci-fi fare, or Persona fans looking for a good excuse to replay the fourth one.

Not a Good Match For: Something short. Persona 4 Golden will take you something like 70-80 hours to beat—and that's before you start New Game Plus.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Amazon | Best Buy | GameStop | PlayStation Store

The 12 Best Games For The PlayStation Vita

Virtue's Last Reward is a visual novel—in other words, it's mostly text—but don't hold that against it. As you weave through the game's narrative branches, you'll do some things you could only do in a video game, and you'll discover a story that could only be told in a video game. The hook: Nine people are trapped in a facility where they're forced to participate in a twisted version of the prisoner's dilemma, and... well, the less I tell you, the better.

A Good Match For: Anyone who likes good stories—particularly grisly ones.

Not a Good Match For: People who don't like to read, or can't stand anime-ish characters and voices.

Read our thoughts.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Amazon | Best Buy | Gamestop

The 12 Best Games For The PlayStation Vita

Maybe you played through Final Fantasy X and X-2 back in the day and want to relive them. Or maybe you've never played them. Either way, the remastered versions of both games find a fine new home on the Vita. They're perfect for on-the-go play, and given both games' generous lengths should keep you occupied on commutes for months to come. And is there a better way to experience FFX's endearingly awful voice acting than while wearing headphones on the bus? There is not.

A Good Match For: JRPG fans, Final Fantasy fans, Blitzball fans. (We're not sure that last type of person exists.)

Not A Good Match For: JRPG haters, Final Fantasy haters.

Read our impressions of the new version.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Amazon | Wal-Mart | Best Buy | Gamestop

The 12 Best Games For The PlayStation Vita

Remember back when people thought a game needed realistic graphics with flashy characters to successfully convey a story with real heart and soul? Thomas Was Alone is proof that we were incredibly stupid back then. Using nothing more than colored quadrilaterals, indie developer Mike Bithell created a challenging puzzle platformer that tells a story much larger than what you see on your Vita screen. Through clever narration and intelligent level design that's one part obstacle course, one part character development, Thomas Was Alone has a warmth and depth that adds gentle curves to the sharp edges of its four-sided heroes.

A Good Match For: Platformer and puzzles fans with a healthy imagination, folks who think they're so clever.

Not a Good Match For: Those who can't relate to a platforming hero unless it has eyes, sunglasses and a sassy attitude.

Read our review of the PC version.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Available digitally from the PlayStation store.

The 12 Best Games For The PlayStation Vita

Something is wrong with Isaac's mom: She thinks that she can hear God. And God, disturbingly enough, has instructed her to kill Isaac. The only way Isaac can get out of that hellish situation is by jumping into his basement—which happens to be endless, and full of terrors. Thankfully, these demons can be defeated by directing Isaac's tears, twin-stick shooter style, across Zelda-like dungeons. Well.. they're like Zelda if Zelda was full of horrifying hellspawn, poop, and tons of mysterious items which you don't know how to use...yet.

A Good Match For: Players who like a challenge, especially of the roguelike variety. A lot of the appeal with the Binding of Isaac is that it's full of stuff you don't grok the first time around.

Not A Good Match For: Players who are sensitive to gross stuff or jokes about religion, or people who are just looking to relax while playing a game.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Available digitally from the PlayStation store.

The 12 Best Games For The PlayStation Vita

How has this list changed? Read back through our update history:

Update 11/26/2014: The Vita list gets a much needed update. We've cleared out LittleBigPlanet Vita, Super Stardust Delta, OlliOlli and Sound Shapes to make room for newcomers Final Fantasy X/X-2, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate, and Danganronpa 1&2.

Update 3-5-2014: We've wrestled with a number of good recent Vita games, but only one has made it all the way to the list: The rail-grinding OlliOlli, which bumps off Assassin's Creed: Liberation.

Update 12-10-13: With a new design overhaul for The Bests come a few new games: Need For Speed: Most Wanted, Rayman: Origins and FIFA Soccer leave to make room for Tearaway, Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward and Spelunky.

Update 8-21-2013: Vita price drop officially announced! Sony dropped the news at Gamescom yesterday, to the welcoming arms and ears of probably many gamers. If you were waiting for just this kind of news to hit before making your handheld hardware purchase, now is the time to check out what games you'll want to get started with. We've made a few adjustments in light of the recent events, swapping in Hotline Miami, Rymdkapsel and Thomas Was Alone in place of Hot Shots Golf, Lumines and Where Is My Heart. Take a look at our new list below.

Update 11-12-2012: The quality of titles available for Sony's handheld keeps getting better so we're refreshing the list of what we think are the best games for the PlayStation Vita. New to the Bests for Vita are: Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, Need for Speed Most Wanted and Persona 4 Golden. Games that fell off the list include Mutant Blobs Attack, Wipeout 2048 and Escape Plan. They're still good but their replacements are just a wee bit more impressive.

The 12 Best Games For The PlayStation Vita

Want more of the best games on each system? Check out our complete directory:

The Best PC GamesThe Best PS4 GamesThe Best Xbox One GamesThe Best Wii U GamesThe Best 3DS GamesThe Best PS Vita GamesThe Best Xbox 360 GamesThe Best PS3 GamesThe Best Wii GamesThe Best iPhone GamesThe Best iPad GamesThe Best Android GamesThe Best PSP GamesThe Best Facebook GamesThe Best DS GamesThe Best Mac GamesThe Best Browser GamesThe Best PC Mods

Note: While some games on this list are download-only, all of them can be purchased on the Vita's online store. If you buy any of these games through the retail links in this post, our parent company may get a small share of the sale through the retailers' affiliates program.