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  • A Look-Back at Devolver Digital’s Support for the PlayStation Vita

    January 28th, 2018GamespotUncategorized

    This is the 13th (and penultimate) entry in a series of articles looking at the output of a number of Vita-supporting companies, from launch through to the present day. I’ll be examining the games they released, how well they sold (if there's sufficient data), how well they ran in the case of ports, and will take a brief look at games which perhaps should have come to the console, either in the west or in general.

    While this series of articles has focused heavily on Japanese publishers - obviously due to the fact that they have been the main supporters of the handheld - I couldn't finish it without looking at the other major aspect of the Vita's life; indie developers. Obviously, the majority of these do not produce enough titles to write an article about, but as a publisher Devolver Digital is different, working with independent developers to bring their titles to consoles. Devolver managed to find major successes with a number of these releases and this led to decent support for a good number of years, although a habit of promising titles which weren't delivered served to lessen the publisher's impact.


    Launch & 2012 - Nothing to Show

    Despite being founded in 2008, Devolver took things very slowly in its first few years, including with respect to the Vita's launch year of 2012.

    To be honest, there's very little they could have actually been brought to the platform during this time either, as Devolver's first few years were dominated by Serious Sam releases, including multiple HD ports of earlier PC titles. These likely would've been able to have run on the handheld, and considering that most of them weren't even ported to PS3 it's not that surprising (or disappointing) that they didn't make the jump across.

    It would take until 2013 for the publisher to blossom into the off-the-wall, unique, and brilliant indie publisher that it became in later years.


    2013 - A Hot Line-up

    Better late than never is a common expression, and that was very much the case with Devolver's Vita support, which took more than 12 months from the console's launch to appear. Still, the first game Devolver released was a modern classic - one of my favourites on Vita in fact - and it set the standard for what the publisher would release going forward.

    That game is, of course, Hotline Miami - Dennaton Digital's first ever title, which took the aesthetic and tone of the film Drive and made it into a fast-paced, bloody, schizophrenic gaming masterpiece. The twin-stick shooter was ported over to Vita with care by the team at Abstraction Games (you can read more about my thoughts on their work here), who managed to make the game feel even more at home on the handheld than it did on PC thanks to smart-touch screen controls and tight aiming. And Vita owners were receptive to the amount of effort put in as well - the game spent two months at the top of the EU PSN charts and seemed to see similar success worldwide

    Unfortunately, that was all Devolver had to show for Vita in 2013, suggesting Hotline Miami was a 'test the waters' title to see what kind of market the company could find. As in 2012, Devolver was still finding its feet in general and didn't have a great deal of releases as a whole, although one title I'd have loved to have seen on the handheld was Shadow Warrior Classic Redux. This updated port of the 1997 3D Realms PC title saw a rebirth which sadly stayed PC-only at the time, but it would've been great to have had such a classic title on the go with Vita.


    2014 - Not Quite There Yet

    Devolver's 2014 was also defined by a single game, but it was a fun indie title that fit perfectly on Vita. Thankfully, Devolver also promised more to come in the future, and this would come to fruition the following year.

    The 2014 game was Luftrausers, an aerial dogfighting shoot 'em up from developer Vlambeer. The title was one of a number of notable indies that came to Vita throughout the year (and received a notable advertising push). It was initially well received by fans until a number of bugs and glitches were discovered, not least a trophy glitch which infuriated completionists. In 2016 a patch was promised but as of the date of this article (more than a year later) there's been no movement on this front, which is a rather disappointing turn of events.

    In addition to this, there were a number of games released by the company during 2014 that would've been perfect for Vita but never happened. Gods Will be Watching, a futuristic point 'n' click adventure game that prioritized puzzles and time management was released initially on PC before coming to mobiles, but managed to swerve consoles altogether, despite the Vita rapidly becoming a home for the genre with games like Broken Sword and The Walking Dead. In addition, the quirky RPG Always Sometimes Monsters looked like perfect Vita-bait and managed to launch on mobiles in 2015 and PS4 in 2017, but somehow missed out on Sony's handheld altogether.

    However, I feel like Devolver's year was more defined by its brilliant E3 showing. At Sony's conference the company released a trailer showing a number of great-looking indie games that would be coming to Vita and PS4, including BroforceHotline Miami 2, Not a Hero, and Titan Souls, all of which were due in 2015. Unfortunately, not all of these would materialise on Vita.


    2015 - Devolver's Year of Vita Brilliance

    Compared to previous years, 2015 was when Devolver went all-in on Vita and brought with it some brilliant titles.

    The year kicked off in January with a port of another classic 3D Realms title - Duke Nukem 3D (subtitled Megaton Edition), which had arrived on PC in 2012. Bundling in a number of DLC packs including Duke it out in DC and Life's a Beach, it was an extremely complete package and in my mind remains the best way to play the game today. Unfortunately, due to licencing issues with Gearbox Software the game was pulled from digital stores just a year later and now remains lost to time, but those who managed to play it (like I did) agree it makes a fantastic addition to the Vita's lineup.

    In March, the company released the long-awaited sequel to Hotline Miami, subtitled Wrong Number, which continued the bonkers story of the original while refining the gameplay formula in new, exciting ways. While it wasn't quite as well received as the original, it seems this didn't translate into sales disappointment - UK games magazine MCV noted that it would have been the fourth best-selling game in the UK on the week of its release if digital sales were counted in the chart, which is an incredible result for a small indie title.

    In April, Devolver released Titan Souls, an action-adventure title developed by Acid Nerve that seemed to take a page out of the book of Shadow of the Colossus by having the player battle a series of gigantic bosses, albeit in lovely 16-bit style. Reviewers had mixed feelings about its success, praising the checkpointing and challenge, but criticising the empty world and repetitive actions required to defeat the titans. Overall, though, it seemed to find a fanbase on the handheld.

    The rest of Devolver's year on Vita was dominated by one series - Hatoful Boyfriend, the bonkers pigeon-dating otome game. Originally released in Japanese doujin circles in 2011, Devolver got involved to remake the title in Unity and release it in the west, where it piqued the interest of many Vita fans who were just trying to figure out what the hell it was. It actually received a fairly positive critical reception and clearly did well enough for the company given that it released the Christmas-themed sequel Holiday Star in December of the same year.

    So with two of 2014's E3 announcements released at the start of the year (Hotline Miami and Titan Souls), we still had two to look forward to in the remainder of 2015, right? Sadly, wrong - it quickly became apparent that the remaining games announced that year (Broforce and Not a Hero) weren't going to make it to Vita, although the company wasn't exactly forthcoming about this. Broforce was quietly cancelled in September with no reason given, while Not a Hero was cancelled in January of 2016 citing technical difficulties. It was a frustrating turn of events - Devolver had just started showing proper support for Vita, only to pull the plug on two projects that really shouldn't have been announced before proper technical testing has been done.

    And it only got worse as the publisher had another busy E3 in 2015 where it announced a number of titles for both PS4 & Vita. This time, the Vita highlights were Crossing Souls and Ronin, but unlike the 50% success rate with titles announced at E3 2014, the games announced during Sony's 2015 press conference had a 0% success rate of landing on Vita as of the date of this article (although Devolver did announce Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star during the conference too, so perhaps I'm being a bit unfair).


    2016 - A Down Year

    Devolver's theme of Vita support was quickly being established. Although the company had indeed released some brilliant games, it had also promised more than it was able to deliver on. 2016 would cement this trend, with Devolver publishing one fantastic game while also letting previously-announced titles fall to the wayside.

    Still, let's start with the positives. Devolver began the year with a port of the unique brawler Foul Play, from developer Mediatonic (who had been big on the PS Minis platform and had also ported Hatoful Boyfriend in 2015), but it was May's Downwell that really shook things up. Originally released for PC and iOS by developer Moppin, the game had you play as a man falling down a well, with gunboots strapped to his feet. It provided a perfect pick-up-and-play experience on Vita (check out my review). The ability to also play the game in 'tate mode' (holding the Vita vertically) provided an extra dimension to the whole experience and made it feel like Downwell was designed specifically for the handheld (much like Hotline Miami did all those years prior), showing that Devolver really did understand what made the console special.

    It quickly became evident, however, that Devolver's E3 announcements from the previous year wouldn't all come to fruition. While Crossing Souls was still a few years away from release and Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star had already happened, all eyes were on Ronin - the slick stealth-based action-platformer, which eventually landed on PS4 in November. It seemed a Vita release wasn't happening, but the only confirmation of this came from an interview by Pocket-Console with the developer himself. Again, no official word came from Devolver and as such handheld players missed out on another excellent-looking title.

    This wasn't the only game the publisher was having communication problems with either. Eitr, a brilliant-looking pixel Souls-like, which was originally supposed to land in 2016, was delayed to an undisclosed date and as of the publication of this article still hasn't released. The developers expressed an interest in getting the title on Vita, but the more it gets delayed the less likely it is that this will happen. 2016 also saw releases such as Mother Russia Bleeds, which seemed a perfect fit for the handheld, only show up on PC and PS4.

    I can't fault Devolver during 2016 too much, as the company brought out Downwell, which remains one of my favourite titles on Vita. But it was obvious by this point that the publisher couldn't be relied upon to deliver on all of its promises for the handheld.


    2017 & 2018 - The End?

    Devolver didn't release any Vita games in 2017 but the company possibly has one lined up for 2018, although communication on this one has been poor.

    The final previously-announced game that I'm yet to address is Crossing Souls, a unique open-world action-adventure game inspired by classics like E.T and Stand by Me. It previously hit Kickstarter, where a Vita version was announced, before being re-confirmed during Devolver's 2015 E3 news. A release date announcement happened in November of 2017... but only addressing PS4 & PC, until fans took to Twitter to ask for clarification where they only got a vague "no real plans" answer from the developer and absolutely no word from Devolver.

    Devolver did address Sony's handheld in a roundabout way yet again at E3 2017, when it released a 'behind the scenes' video where a member of the company revealed the team was "seriously thinking about bringing a game to Vita this summer". It was never clarified what this game was, and no title was ever formally announced for 2017.

    Perhaps that title in question was The Swords of Ditto, a fun-looking RPG from developer Onebitbeyond (a studio founded by Jonathan Biddle, a former member of Curve Digital, who were also big supporters of Vita). But with Crossing Souls uncertain, no releases in 2017, and only a vague tease to go on, it seems unlikely we'll see much (if anything) from Devolver land on Vita in the future.



    I feel like I've been quite tough on Devolver in this article, which perhaps isn't deserved. The publisher has still been a key part of Vita's life - heck, the reason I decided to write about Devolver at all is because it provided a range of brilliant games ranging from classic FPS titles, to fast-paced twin-stick shooters, to otome visual novels. It's pretty much always been there, vocally supporting the platform.

    Yet at the same time, an inability to deliver on a number of promises made is something that became more apparent to me the more I typed. Titles like Not a Hero and Ronin were among my most anticipated games to come to the handheld when they were announced, but it seems they shouldn't have been announced in the first place, because for whatever reason they weren't able to make it across. Crossing Souls is the next big question mark - a fantastic-looking title that the publisher seemingly forgot it had actually announced for Vita.

    I'll always be grateful to Devolver for introducing me to both Downwell and Hotline Miami - two fantastic games that I'll likely be replaying for many years to come. I just wish Devolver had managed to deliver on more of its promises.

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