Sony is doing its best to revitalize its struggling PlayStation Vita portable with two new models, and now it's bringing back its first attempt at a portable gaming console, the PocktStation, in app form. The app, which will be free until December 3rd for Japanese PS Plus subscribers who own a PS Vita, will restore the PocketStation functionality that has been missing in around 70 PlayStation games available on its digital store.
Launching exclusively in Japan in 1999, the PocketStation was similar to the Sega Dreamcast's Virtual Memory Unit (VMU), combining a PS1 memory card and monochrome LCD display to form a basic gaming device. Extra content, usually in the form of mini-games, included with PS1 games could be downloaded onto it by connecting it to a PS1 memory card slot. The device also had a clock and calendar functions, but one of the major drawbacks was that it would typically fill up a memory card. That shouldn't be a problem on the PS Vita.
Despite selling around five million units in Japan, the PocketStation was never released in other markets. However, a small number of international titles (the most famous examples being Squaresoft's Final Fantasy VIII and Saga Frontier 2, as well as Namco's Ridge Racer Type 4) came with instructions on how to access and play the mini-games. Whether or not the feature will be provided to non-Japanese PS Vita owners remains to be seen, but it would be a nice gesture.
Even when it was new, the PocketStation wasn't exactly mind-blowing. The mini-games were handicapped by the device's incredibly low resolution screen (32 x 32 monochrome pixels), which looked primitive even when compared with the original Nintendo GameBoy that was released a decade earlier. Context is important here; we're talking about mini-games designed to be simple time-wasters on the train in the era directly preceding mobile phone games. Players would often earn some form of experience points on the PocketStation, which could then be transferred back to their PS1 game.
To most people, the PocketStation may only register as an odd novelty, but hardcore gaming enthusiasts will be pleased to see that this small chapter in the PlayStation's history won't be completely lost to time.
Nintendo, for its part, might do well to follow suit by including a Virtual Boy feature on its 3DS handheld, which is perfectly suited to recreating that system's 3D effects. While Nintendo may prefer to forget its disastrous first attempt at a 3D game console, the Virtual Boy, like the PocketStation, is a curious chapter in video game history that deserves a chance to live again.
You can see what the PocketStation looks like emulated on the PS Vita in the following trailer, which comically compares PlayStation fans to a monkey whose toy was taken away in 2002 when Sony discontinued its PocketStation support.
Source: Sony (Japanese)