New England Gamer
The PSP: A Perpetual Swan Song
Back in 2006, I bought a PSP for God of War: Chains of Olympus. It was an
impulse buy spurred on by my wife's insistence that we could make it my birthday
present. Little did I know that I would be purchasing what would become arguably
my favorite handheld of all time. I am not a newcomer to portables. I had a
Gameboy for years, and a Gameboy Advance for a time. Furthermore, she and I
had bought each other DS's the Christmas before. The DS more then anything else
left me curious about the flashier PSP. I charged through Chains of Olympus, was
ready for more and the PSP delivered. Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, Final
Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core; in just the first
few months I became entirely enamored with the little black handheld.
But then the bad times were just really beginning. Where the PSP's first year was
marked by a number of notable releases, 2006 to the present date has been one long
drought broken up by brief periods of greatness. And while those short spurts of
rain are often great, they always come with a grim assurance that it will be a long
time before anything as good comes out again.
So why do I love the PSP so much? It is, without a doubt, a flawed system. It
boasts a ton of features, but most are useless. Why would I use it to listen to music
when my iPod Nano from 2006 does it a hundred times better? Why would I use its
internet browser when I can just bring my netbook along and not have to struggle
just to type a web address? Even playing movies, one of the things it does
relatively well, is more convenient on other formats.
I love my PSP because it plays great games. I'm something of a quality over
quantity sort of guy. The top tier PSP games may be a bit few and far between at
times, but very few DS games can compare to their quality. Point in case, pit any
action game on the Nintendo DS up against God of War: Chains of Olympus. The
difference in quality is astounding. Chains of Olympus looks and plays almost
identically to its console-based siblings. The DS has never arguably been able to
match that experience.
It's more then just action games though. The PSP is more diverse then it gets credit
for. A fan of RPGs? The Final Fantasy games on the PSP alone will keep you
occupied. Enjoy yourself some third person shooters? Try Socom, Syphon Filter
and Resistance: Retribution. Honestly, the PSP's biggest problem in regard to
content is that you have to do a bit of looking to find its gems. Many are new IPs
and come from lesser-known franchises, which for many gamers is anathema.
Many developers don't invest in new IPs because nine times out of ten gamers
flock to sequels over new titles. It's why Activision churns out a new Call of Duty
every year, and why Okami was largely ignored despite it being a creative and
visually brilliant take on The Legend of Zelda. It's also why people claim the PSP
has no good games, despite there being dozens of fun, well-made titles on the
Case in point, ever heard of Undead Knights? No? For shame. Despite being a
great action game with medieval combat, zombies, and some light strategy
elements, it's rarely mentioned by anyone in the gaming community. Gamers fell
in love with Torchlight, a Diablo style loot gathering RPG, but little attention was
paid Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony, a PSP dungeon crawler that garnered good
reviews and offered a long, well-put-together quest.
I can forgive strategy fans for passing on R-Type Command when previous R-Type
games had all been side scrolling shooters. I can also forgive gamers passing up the
excellent Tenchu: Shadow Assassins since it was a port of a console game, which
is most often a sure sign of lousiness. That said, to discount laziness on the part of
gamers would be foolish. Reviews are easily available on the internet. You'd think
that after spending hundreds of dollars on a video game system that you'd want to
get as much out of it as possible.
Shoring up what actually is a solid library is the PSP's ability to play PS1 classics
downloaded from the PlayStation Store. I can't overstate how cool this is. No, not
every PS1 game has aged well. However, for those that have, the PSP is an
essential piece of hardware. On a 40" plasma screen, the 32-bit visuals of the
PlayStation era look ferociously ugly. On the smaller PSP screen, I'd go so far as
to say they can look attractive.
As great a system as the PSP is though, people have been predicting its death for
years. These prophecies grow only more pertinent with Nintendo's announcement
of the 3DS. The biggest advantage the PSP has had over the DS is that its superior
hardware allowed for better looking, more ambitious games. The PSP was a
miniature PlayStation 2, where the DS was struggling to be a Nintendo 64. The
3DS changes this equation, not just matching the PSP for power, but also bringing
3D into the fray. In its current form, the PSP is going to have a hard time going
toe-to-toe with a Nintendo handheld with superior hardware.
The truth is that while the PSP has been selling solidly, it has always been dwarfed
by the popularity of the technologically inferior DS. Its survival has also been, to
an extent, carried on the back of games like Monster Hunter which made the PSP a
must-have item in Japan. With Monster Hunter spreading to the Wii and Xbox 360
though, what does the PSP have left? Can we really expect it live long against the
3DS on its own flawed merits?
I don't know. The PSP is the underdog, but it still has some things going for it. It
has a backlog of strong games under its belt, something the 3DS will have to
establish over time. Furthermore, Sony has just kicked up its marketing for the
PSP. It only took five years, but they finally seem ready and willing to support the
PSP with the sort of advertising and software it deserves. Some think this is all just
a lead up to announcing the PSP2. It doesn't feel that way to me. I think Sony,
having gotten the PS3 into a favorable position competitively, is finally realizing
that simply surviving is not all the PSP can do. The DS may be the king of
portables, but the PSP still has a lot of fight in it. The real question is whether it
has enough to survive what Nintendo will be hitting them with next. Only time will
Interested in a little more PSP goodness? Check out the this article at the New England Gamer blog.
Read more by Stewart Shearer