Much like Street Fighter II on the Game Boy, Borderlands II for the Vita is a game that probably shouldn't exist.
I mean, I know why it exists. Sony would dearly love for the Vita to be a handheld with AAA-quality games, even if it's long since become something else entirely. But at this point, I just don't think the thing has enough buttons to succeed in that niche.
Borderlands 2 uses every single button the Vita has to offer, and then some. It uses both touchscreens, even going so far as to split the one in front into different sectors. Somehow, it manages to be playable under this configuration, but only just. It's easily the worst Borderlands 2 experience on any platform, and being portable doesn't really make up for that.
I say this with all affection for the game itself, which is a decent shooter with memorable cel-shaded graphics; a dose of low-brow—but enjoyable—humor; and lots of guns. It's a distinctly old-school experience, generally eschewing the pop-up shooting galleries of Call of Duty and its ilk for a more run-and-gun approach, with moderate RPG elements such as stats, light skill tree, and passive buffs serving to spice things up still further. What ultimately sets it apart though is its four-player co-op, which is perfect for a Saturday night spent drinking and laughing with friends while plowing through Borderlands' ludicrous amount of expansion content.
Unfortunately, due to what I can only imagine are technical limitations, Borderlands 2 on the Vita does away with four-player co-op almost entirely. A second player can still be recruited over PSN; but without multiple humans to play with, Borderlands 2 loses a lot of its value. It still finds a niche as a portable title by enabling cross-saves between the Vita and the PlayStation 3; however, unlike Final Fantasy X HD and Dragon's Crown, Borderlands 2 just isn't all that fun to play on the Vita.
It's not a lot of fun to sit here and harp on technical issues all day; but unfortunately, with Borderlands 2, it's pretty much unavoidable. I've already mentioned the controls; but even with two analog sicks, it bears repeating that they really aren't optimal for playing Borderlands 2. This is was especially apparent during boss battles and particularly tough enemy encounters, which actually caused my hands to cramp up on more than one occasion. Some of this is hardware-related—it's not Borderlands 2's fault that the Vita has no shoulder buttons—but it can't help impacting the overall experience.
Also apparent: The Vita's processor isn't powerful enough for a game like Borderlands 2. Or at least, Borderlands 2 hasn't been properly optimized for the Vita's hardware. Whichever it is, the result is the same. Borderlands 2 consistently runs at sub-30 FPS, occasionally becoming an outright slideshow. Putting aside the aesthetic considerations--it isn't what you'd call very attractive--it makes it a lot harder to aim in a game where accuracy can be a bit of a dice roll to begin with.
On top of that, Borderlands 2 takes a major hit in terms of visuals compared to console and PC brethren. The cel-shaded graphics are oddly muddy—even when compared with other Vita shooters like Killzone: Mercenary—and sacrifice many of the physics and particle effects. There's rarely any appreciable feedback when shooting an enemy, save the declining health bar, and explosions are similarly unsatisfying. Dialogue text is tiny and headache-inducing, and the menus are frequently slow. Even accounting for the trade-offs that are naturally going to be made with a handheld shooter, it's just not a very attractive game.
With that, I think it's fair to say that Borderlands 2 loses almost everything in the translation from console and PC to the Vita. Maybe it's a bridge too far to expect a perfect port; but in straining to get every bit of content into Borderlands 2, it seems that Iron Galaxy forgot that it's also important to optimize the experience as much as possible for the Vita. And I don't just mean the controls, either. Borderlands 2 falls into the common trap of trying to create a "faithful" port without seeming to understand that the Vita is just a completely different beast than the PS3. There was much that could have been done to make it more attractive on the Vita—better menus would have been a start—but Borderlands 2 is mostly just a pile of compromises. Even if you're a hardcore shooter fan desperate for a portable experience, you're better off saving that precious memory card space for something more worthwhile.
- Graphics: Borderlands 2 is a substantial step down from the console and PC versions, and even struggles to match other Vita shooters. Surprising for a game that was never really predicated on raw graphical fidelity in the first place.
- Audio:The action is peppered with a wide variety of snarky one-liners, which helps add to the atmosphere. Claptrap has most of the best lines, but the New-U Stations are a close second ("The Hyperion corporation: You don't die, until we say so.")
- Interface: Borderlands 2 just has too many buttons to be successful on the Vita. The UI is slow and unwieldy, and the menu text is on the whole far too small for the Vita's screen.
- Lasting Appeal: The Vita port is remarkably content complete, featuring both the campaign expansions and the additional Vault Hunter. Cross-save functionality makes it a decent companion for the PS3 version.
Borderlands 2 for the Vita is a case study in how a great game can get lost in a really bad port. There's just no getting around this version's raft of technical issues, nor the fact that the Vita doesn't have enough buttons to make it really work. Given more time, Iron Galaxy might have made it work. But as it is, even hardcore fans of the series should stay far away.