When Casino Gaming Visited The Vita

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Regardless of whatever computer or games console you use, the chances are that you will have come across some form of gambling at one time or another during play. While it’s not a pastime that everyone partakes in during their daily lives, for video game aficionados like ourselves here at Vita Player we’ve noticed that it’s far more commonplace that we might care to realise and it’s something that dates back far before the PS Vita was even a glimmer in Sony’s eyes…

The introduction of gambling elements to games has varied right from the late 1970s with the Atari 2600 release of Blackjack in 1977 that made its debut alongside the console up to full blown compilations of simulated casinos that are frequently released for the PC from casual game publishers. In these cases, and many others like them through the years, these have been standalone titles focused on virtual gambling where you can play to your hearts content. I’ve enjoyed games like these on countless computers and consoles that I’ve owned right since the early 80s on the Vic 20 right up to the days of the PlayStation 3 including the virtual casino on PlayStation Home.

When a game is clearly intended to be a digital representation of a specific form of gambling or even a complete casino there’s no question about what you are playing when you sit down in front of your TV or pick up your console to start playing. However, more and more over the years games of chance and gambling have been appearing inside mainstream games either as part of the storylines in large AAA titles or simply as aspects of the gameplay itself to give something extra and it’s been there a lot longer than we know it…

One of my all time favourite games dates back to 1986 on the Commodore 64 – the side scrolling shoot-em-up, Uridium. At the end of each stage you’re faced with the chance to collect bonus points by way of a tower and a series of flashing lights. On each level of the tower two lights are flashing – one has a score, the other ends the bonus round. Stop the light on the score and it moves up to the next tier with the lights flashing faster and faster until you reach the top. Not unlike some of the jackpots in slot machines and while it’s only a mechanism to earn bonus points for your score, it’s an early sign of things to come.

I certainly won’t delve into every instance of games of chance or gambling that have appeared in video games as this feature could go on ad infinitum but more often than not it seems to play a pivotal role in rewarding players or in many games giving them a helping hand when they need it the most as is the case in the Alex Kidd series from Sega where you get to bet coins collected in a virtual game of Rock, Paper, Scissors which you can play on the PS Vita as part of the Sega Mega Drive Collection.

Gambling takes a more interesting twist in games, certainly where the Vita is concerned, with games such as Super Tank Poker by Thomas Hopper where the gambling is an essential part of the gameplay. While the game itself is inspired by Front Wars, combat is resolved by a short hand of poker between the player and the opposing side. An incredibly innovative approach to what is a somewhat saturated genre. Truth be told it’s something that is more prevalent on home consoles, playing an integral part in RPGs, open world games either as part of the story or as background details (I remember betting on illegal cock fights as one of the more unusual side tasks in the stunning PS3 open world game Sleeping Dogs which took up more than a few hours of my spare time I tell you!).

I’m getting somewhat side-tracked though and moving back to the PS Vita and probably the most unlikely places you would have expected to find an integration between gambling and video games is on a pinball table. More specifically several real-life pinball tables that have been recreated on the PS Vita by Farsight Studios as part of The Pinball Arcade. Since they first released The Pinball Arcade (which itself is a follow-up to their earlier standalone titles Gottlieb Pinball Classics and Williams Pinball Classics for the PSP) Farsight Studios has released countless table packs covering everything from the early days of classic mechanical pinball machines with their limited table programming and displays right up to contemporary machines featuring complex game modes, dot-matrix displays, stunning table graphics, and music offering deep, engaging gameplay. Tables have offered gamers an incredibly diverse range of themes for their tables from sports to horror, comedy to the downright bizarre and plenty of licensed tables along the way including some of my all-time favourites such as the legendary Addams Family table which Farsight Studios thankfully brought to the home with their adaptation.

As I said though, even Pinball tables haven’t managed to escape the influence of gambling. Roulette made a small appearance in the Who Dunnit table developed for the arcades by Bally. In the table, roulette had a limited role to play and while the roulette wheel itself took up the top-right hand corner of the table itself, it was only used to increase the player’s bonus multiplier once the feature had been activated which admittedly pales into comparison to playing the real thing, or even playing roulette online.

Things were much better when moving on to a more recent table released by Farsight Studios, this time in the shape of Stern’s High Roller Casino. The name probably gives it away here but the entire table is based around casino mechanics and gaming and makes for a much more satisfying and logical connection blending the casino world and video games perfectly. Not just each game but every single ball that you play kicks off with a game of roulette as the wheel on the playfield is used at the start to determine what opening bonus you get ranging from the skill shot bonus, a bonus multiplier or more but it’s also useable later in the game for added bonuses.

In addition, other familiar games you’d expect in a physical casino are present, as you’d expect from this table, including slots and a game of blackjack that plays throughout. While it’s not as complex as the sort of games you’d find when you play blackjack online it’s still a fun element to the game and the tension certainly mounts as you wonder if each shot you fire up the ramp will edge you closer and closer towards beating the table’s hand.

I’ve only really scratched the surface where the PS Vita is concerned and while it’s not as diverse a range of titles as on other consoles or the PC market, it still makes for interesting and fun gaming and adds a whole new and added dimension to games that we know and love.

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