Itís difficult to imagine the thought process behind the design of the PlayStation Vita when development began in earnest in 2011. Nintendoís DS range of consoles was an unexpected success against the mighty PlayStation brand, yet Sony still managed to carve out a sizeable market for themselves by positioning the PlayStation Portable an explicitly gamer-orientated handheld, rejecting Ďgimmicksí such as the DSís touchscreen in favour of replicating traditional console experiences. The brief of its successor, the PlayStation Vita, was to push this further and prove that despite the growing dominance of smartphones, dedicated handheld consoles were still relevant by bringing full-fat console games to the portable space. Despite this, including a front touchscreen was par for course by this time as they had become standard on most portable devices. However, the decision to eschew additional L2 and R2 buttons in favour of a rear touchpanel was met with confusion and bemusement, and time hasnít justified this decision as nobody really knew what the extra touchpanel was for in 2012 and nobody really knows now. Ironically, the most common usage of this rear touchpanel has been to simulate L2 and R2 through virtual buttons. Given this, third parties have stepped up to correct Sonyís rather bizarre decision by adding physical buttons to the touchpanel. This review will cover the JEC Vita-1000 L2/R2 Button Grip for the Vita PCH-1000.
It has been a long and arduous road to get this product onto the market. There are plenty of similar button grips available by better known manufacturers such as Nyko, but they are exclusively for the later Ďslimí PCH-2000 model of the Vita, leaving owners of the older revisions in the lurch. This has been a problem with Vita peripherals in general. Even in Japan where the Vita has always been a strong platform it has been difficult to find accessories for the older ĎOLEDí Vita PCH-1000, with shelves dedicated to cases, screen protectors and the like for the newer slim Vita, while stock for the older OLED is often thrown into a dark corner of the store alongside leftover PSP and DSi products. Manufacturers presumably felt the existing millions of PCH-1000 owners werenít worth catering for and instead decided to focus exclusively on the slim Vita, which received a whole range of new accessories including plenty of button grips. The button grip we are covering here was designed for the PCH-1000 specifically and developed by Joetsu Electronics (JEC). JEC are not a company who specialises in gaming products, generally focusing on lighting solutions for growing plants. The story goes that the CEO of this company, Yozo Fujikawa, is a massive fan of the Vitaís Remote Play feature but was always somewhat irked by the lack of buttons on his shiny new PCH-1000 Vita. Thus, he spearheaded development of a button grip for his device. This was way back in 2015 and the device had long since ceased production. Consumer demand remained high, but it was difficult for a company with no presence in gaming to fund a new production run. JEC used the crowdfunding platform CampFire to raise the money to put this device back into production. It is somewhat bizarre to see a crowdfunding campaign for a product that already exists, but it was a huge success and owners of the PCH-1000 Vita now have a solution for button grips once again.
What immediately strikes you about this button grip is how sturdy it feels. Unlike many similar devices for the later slim Vita, this button grip encases the whole of your Vita giving protection to both the front and back of the console and doubling up as a full protective shell. The console suddenly feels like it could take a bit of a beating, and the matte finish solves another one of Sonyís more dubious design decisions with the original Vita Ė the glossy finish making the whole thing a fingerprint magnet. For people who obsessively clean fingerprints from their beloved console, itís nice to be able to use the console without worrying about this. Unlike some other protective shells for the Vita, JEC has made sure to keep all ports on the top and bottom of the console uncovered and accessible. This reviewer has experience with alternative protective shells that even cover the gamecard slot so this consideration from the manufacturer is welcome. Moving on to the central focus of this grip, the L2 and R2 triggers feel extremely firm and give a pleasing amount of resistance when pushed. Given that the triggers simply press a thin membrane onto the rear touchpanel, itís surprising how solid they feel. This is due to the spring-loaded design working to simulate the feel of genuine triggers as much as possible. The overall feel is very similar to the L2 and R2 triggers on the Dual Shock 3.
One concern with these kinds of accessories is that they often add extra bulk to the console Ė not ideal with a portable device. There are indeed some extra Ďhandlesí added to the bottom of the grip to balance the extra weight added to the top but this turns out to be a blessing. This ultimately makes it easier to access the new triggers whilst holding the rest of the handheld and makes the console feel more like a large controller rather than a Frankenstein handheld. The amount of added bulk has been kept to the minimum required to make the device conformable to hold, and doesnít add unnecessary elongated grips to the bottom unlike competing devices such as the Nyko grip does. Face buttons remain accessible despite the additional layer of plastic added to the front of the console (with the exception of Start and Select which continue to be pain to push) and it is clear that JEC has strived to make their accessory improve the design and feel of the Vita as a whole rather than simply focusing on the L2 and R2 triggers.
Whether or not you actually need the new L2 and R2 triggers depends on how you use your Vita. The vast majority of games are quite rightly designed to accommodate the Vitaís limited button selection and thus strive to avoid having to utilise the touchpanels as buttons where possible. However, there are a selection of native Vita games which do map controls to the rear touchpanel such as Borderlands 2, Killzone Mercenary and the Ratchet & Clank Trilogy. In general however, the primary usage of the button grip will be for PS4 Remote play and PS1 games which both require the usage of the touchscreen to simulate the additional buttons on the source hardware. With PS1 games, the Vitaís software emulator allows you to remap the buttons of any PS1 game as you see fit. This button grip is perfect for this scenario Ė you can opt to simply map the triggers as L2 and R2 in the game to the corresponding triggers on the button grip, switch the L1/R1 and L2 and R2 button rows for games which use the latter more heavily, or even map L3 and R3 to the triggers instead if preferred. Suddenly sidestepping in Tomb Raider and switching weapons in Doom becomes a whole lot easier, and no longer will you inadvertently trigger these controls by accidentally touching the rear touchpanel. Things become more complicated with PS4 Remote Play however as you are at the whim of how the developer has chosen to map the button layout of their game to the Vita. Sonyís default control scheme is to map the L2/R2 buttons and the L3/R3 buttons to the upper and lower corners of the rear touchpanel respectively. This button grip is designed with this configuration in mind by pushing the upper corners using a membrane. Most games follow this setup if only because very few developers bother to create custom Remote Play layouts. A number of high profile games are compatible , such as Horizon: Zero Dawn, Skyrim, Uncharted 4, Witcher 3, Yakuza 6 among others. However, some developers opted to implement their own bespoke button layouts instead. This is done with the best of intentions but results in breaking how this device works. For example, WipEout Omega Collection maps the extra buttons to the front touchscreen instead, rendering the new triggers on the grip useless. Many other games have this issue, such as Battlefield 1, Destiny, The Last of Us, Dark Souls 2 and Titanfall 2. This would be easily solved by Sony allowing people to remap buttons through a system software update for either the PS4 or Vita, but this has yet to materialise. Thus, people buying this primarily for Remote Play will find that their mileage may vary depending on what games they intend to play. Curiously, JEC have manufactured a version of this grip for the PCH-2000 Vita which has additional buttons for the front touchscreen, although this is as cumbersome as it sounds and not ideal outside of Remote Play usage.
While the build quality of the button grip is generally excellent, there are a few things to consider. Firstly, the case obscures the front camera rendering it unusable. This is strange given the effort that went into making sure at all other slots and ports remain obscured and is presumably an oversight given that other cases cut around the camera. This will not be an issue for most people but is something to consider. Also, while the grip itself is extremely sturdy, it is not designed to be constantly removed. The clips that lock the grip into place are extremely small, difficult to open and prone to breaking. In reality it is generally unnecessary to remove the button grip because it makes such a marked improvement to the shape and feel of the console that you may just wish to leave the button grip attached. However, using the button grip does mean that your existing Vita case is likely to be too small and yet you will need to avoid removing the console from the grip as much as possible.
JEC have produced their own case which is high quality and a very snug fit, but seems to be only available from the Yahoo! Shopping website, which is entirely in Japanese and does not accept overseas credit cards. This necessitates a Japanese friend to order a case for you, although you could repurpose a small tablet case instead. In addition, it feels like a missed opportunity to not include the L3 and R3 buttons which feature on newer devices from Nyko and Hori for the slim Vita. This is simply a new production run of JECís existing device and is thus identical to their original product, and may also be a deliberate design choice as the button grips for the PCH-2000 Vita that do feature L3 and R3 buttons also obscure the entire rear touchpanel whereas JEC seem to have left as much of the rear touchpanel accessible as possible. A handful of games do use the rear touchpanel for gestures and swipes rather than as buttons, and this would not be possible if the entire rear touchpanel were obscured by extra L3 and R3 buttons.
Overall however, this is an extremely high quality peripheral from JEC. Whether or not you need the extra triggers will depend on how you use your Vita. The improvement made to the feel and comfort of the Vita through using this device makes it worth considering regardless as it corrects many different design problems with the original consoles and makes it feel like youíre holding a controller rather than crab-holding a glossy, fragile piece of kit. The high quality, sturdy design and firm triggers as well as the grip itself feel so natural on the console that itís almost like a full-on upgrade to the base console. For people who regularly use their Vita for Remote Play or PS1 games however, this is an essential for gamers still rocking the original iteration.