Sony Corp will launch its new PlayStation Vita handheld games device on December 17 in Japan, kicking off a global rollout, and insisted it will not reduce the price in the face of discounting by rival Nintendo.

Sony has been criticized for setting the PS Vita's price too high for the mass market but some analysts say the gadget will likely appeal chiefly to hardcore gamers, who are generally willing to spend more.

Hiroshi Kawano, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Japan, presented the domestic launch plans to reporters a day ahead of the annual Tokyo Game Show.

The PS Vita, first unveiled in Tokyo in January, is expected to go on sale in the United States and Europe in early 2012, but exact dates have yet to be revealed.

Sony said it will launch 26 software titles along with the PS Vita on December 17 and Japan's biggest mobile carrier, NTT Docomo, will provide prepaid 3G plans for PS Vita users.

Rival Nintendo slashed prices for its own portable games device by up to 40 percent to 15,000 yen ($195) last month after sales sagged, and unveiled a raft of new software on Tuesday in a bid to revive interest.

But investors say smartphones and tablets have taken a big bite out of demand for dedicated portable games devices by providing cheaper software and multiple functions.

Sony said in August it saw no need to reduce the price of the PS Vita from the announced figure of 24,980 yen ($325) for a Wi-fi only model and 29,980 yen ($390) for a 3G plus Wi-fi version.

But the company last month cut the price of its PlayStation 3 gaming console by one-fifth to regain lost ground against rival Microsoft, which makes the Xbox.

($1 = 76.880 Japanese Yen)

(Additional reporting by Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Michael Watson and Edmund Klamann)