The PSP: Four Years On

October 29, 2008 § Leave a comment

When Sony first released the Playstation Portable back in 2004 it was expected to succeed. After all, this was Sony, the behemoth behind two of the most popular games consoles of all time. At the time they could do no wrong, the PS2 was going from strength to strength and the PS1 was only now about to wrap up on it’s eventual ten year life span.

The PSP’s arrival brought with it incredibly mixed opinion. Fans loved the power this portable device contained, as well as it’s multimedia capabilities. When you bought a PSP, you didn’t just buy a handheld console (so said Sony), you also bought yourself a portable movie player (courtesy of the UMD format) as well as a music player and picture viewer. The trade off however, was price, and with a £180 tag, only serious gamers were going to get their slice of the pie. After an initial sales surge, the PSP soon settled down to sales which whilst impressive in a broader context, could hardly measure up to the mighty Nintendo DS.

Some might argue that the presence of the DS was a foe impossible to overcome. To date the touch-pad equipped handheld has sold over 75million consoles in four years, which makes it one of the highest selling consoles in history. The DS is not only cheaper than the PSP, but it also manages to do handheld gaming with a finesse not shown by Sony’s handheld. With the PSP Sony tried to shoehorn a PS2 into people’s hands, forgetting that the bus isn’t the best way to experience an epic 3D adventure. The DS on the other hand has no such ambitions. It focuses on games specifically designed for mobile play, and its sales have rewarded this move. Whilst many were amazed at the ability of the PSP to handle a GTA game most people spent their time playing it at home, and not out and about as was intended.

Yet at the back of my mind, I can’t get rid of an image of what the PSP could have been. When magazines first started building up hype for Sony’s first foray into the handheld market I was promised so much; a device which would seamlessly connect with my PS2 and PS3 to give me a combined gameplay experience, something to allow me to read books digitally, or to watch movies on the way to school. Many of these promises were indeed possible on paper, but the practicality of them was emphasized to an impossible extreme. You could connect up your PSP and PS2 but the most you’d get would be an exclusive unlocked vehicle as a reward for buying two of the same game. You could read a book on the PSP but only if you painstakingly copied the text into an image file. Of course you could put a movie on your PSP, but only if you sat through a lengthy conversion process first, during which you may have watched the movie to kill some time.

I have a vision for what PSP could do to make me fall in love with it like I did back then. Imagine a traditional RPG. Now, replace your controller with a PSP, and move the menus from the TV onto the handheld. Suddenly you have a screen with all clutter completely removed, and you’re free to enjoy the visuals of the fight in all thier glory. At the same time in the palm of your hand you hold all the information you need to control the battle. Now we can really have some fun, and add some local multiplayer, where each person has thier own PSP, and their own party member to control. We’ve now taken a stale genre, and added something revolutionary, co-op play, and all with a little PSP integration.

Sadly the PSP isn’t popular now because of an improved library of games, but because of one. Monster Hunter is nothing short of a phenomenon in Japan. At TGS many journalists were astonished to see groups of people in public playing the game, groups of females engaging in a hardcore PSP role-playing game. This game has shown that wifi gaming is truly one of the PSP’s greatest strengths, not sitting playing a game on your own, but sitting with friends, working towards a common goal. The PSP has finally found its own market, and hopefully in the future we’ll see it expand on this, and with a more westernised approach, it could certainly garner international success.

It’s very easy to forget about the PSP, dwarfed by its console brothers, and its close rival. Sony have seemed to have forgotten about it, but luckily for now Japan hasn’t, so at least fans of Japanese games should be happy for years to come.

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