The PSP's launch has come and gone, but is Sony's beautiful first foray into the handheld gaming market worth the price? Find out!
In case you were one of the few who didn't hear, the 24th of March was the day upon which Sony's stunningly powerful PlayStation Portable was released in the U.S., into a market of SNES-quality graphics and gameplay fairly disconnected from other forms of multimedia, such as digital photography, film, and MP3s. Sony's goal is clearly to revolutionize the U.S. market by introducing these other aspects of entertainment to mobile gaming, and they've included all of these features in one sexy package to make the PSP a console that will be difficult to pass up.
Calling the PSP beautiful would be an understatement. It is surely the most gorgeous gaming console ever released, with its sleek and shiny design, clear shoulder buttons, and jet black color. The 4.3-inch screen is no small part of it, displaying a crystal-clear widescreen image. It is definitely the first thing that anyone will notice upon seeing the PSP in action, as it pretty much dominates the front of the unit. The UMD discs also have a certain level of appeal both because of their size and their design.
As a multimedia center, one of the features that Sony is pushing, the PSP gets the job done, but not as well as others on some of its features. For photos, the image is extremely clear because of the screen, and navigation between pictures is easy with the L and R buttons. An issue here is the inability to play music while browsing or going through a slide show, but most people probably won't mind, as showing pictures isn't the primary feature of the console. This can also be easily changed by Sony in the future through a firmware update via the PSP's wi-fi infrastructure mode.
For videos, the PSP is absolutely amazing. The picture is clear, even with heavy compression to fit on the stock 32 MB Memory Stick Duo. A larger Memory Stick Duo is recommended; up to 1 GB sticks have been released at this point, and they would be perfect for every hentai fan's secret stash. With no compression, the image is better than most mobile hardware designed to play video files. Some might complain of the difficulty of putting the videos on the card and converting them to the MPEG-4 format, but there is no need to, as there are hundreds of tutorials on the Internet. With how easy the whole process is becoming and increasing Memory Stick sizes, this con season will be marked with a barrage of congoers carrying PSPs, playing everything from Gundam SeeD Destiny to Negima.
As an MP3 player, the PSP is definitely no iPod killer. Sure, navigation is clean and the sound quality is as good as any other MP3 player out there, but the size of the available memory sticks just doesn't cut it if you want to put game saves, movies, pictures, and music all onto one. Plus, the PSP is a bit larger than the iPod and other MP3 players, so it doesn't have that same level of mobility for comparable usability. Anyone with common sense would not take their PSP jogging.
The PSP uses the XMB, or the Cross-Media Bar for navigation through all of these features, including games, USB connections, and Wi-Fi Internet updates via its Infrastructure Mode. It is one amazingly intuitive and cool feature, one that is extremely fun to play around with and easy on the eyes. It's basically one 'bar' of five items corresponding to what is in its column. For example, one would go to the movies bar for watching a UMD movie or a video file on the Memory Stick Duo, and then choose which one that they want to view vertically. From here, they can hit X to choose what they want, or triangle for the various options that go with that specific capability or selection. The only problem with the XMB is that music cannot be listened to while browsing other sections.
Gaming is what the PSP was designed for, and on this front it truly shines. With near-PS2-quality graphics, and twenty-four launch titles, some of which are absolute perfection, Sony did not settle for a mediocre launch in regards to its software. The console's control ergonomics are excellent, and those used to Sony's DualShock will be right at home here. As for battery life, it's never really an issue. Most people won't play it long enough to notice and better batteries will be available soon anyway. It lasted about three hours while playing the stunning Ridge Racer, the most graphically demanding game of the launch, and around five hours for Lumines, a simple but fantastic puzzle game from the creator of Rez and Space Channel 5.
Obviously the most graphically impressive of all of the PSP's launch games, Namco has continued the tradition of releasing a Ridge Racer game with every Sony console launch. Sticking to the traditional Ridge Racer formula, the game heavily focuses on power sliding to achieve victory. This time, however, a bonus for said slides has been added. With each power slide, the bars continually fill up, until they can be used to heavily increase speed. This is an interesting new mechanic to the game play, making for great strategy in the last few moments of the races.
The difficulty starts off fairly easy, but about mid-way through the Professional World Tour, it becomes the opposite. The graphics are insane, and the frame rate stays at a perfect 60 frames per second, never being bogged down. It's definitely the best handheld racing game ever made, and I would even go so far as to call it the best game yet in the Ridge Racer series. The UMD is stocked full with CD quality music, and this is definitely the game to show off to PSP naysayers. Wi-Fi racing is completely lag-free, making for a smooth multiplayer racing experience. Battery life with this game really wasn't an issue, although it certainly is lower than many other PSP launch titles. This, along with Lumines, is a must-buy launch title.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi of Space Channel 5 and Rez fame has crafted yet another musical masterpiece, one that fits perfectly with the PSP's style. Building off of the original Tetris in a way, Lumines has players stacking blocks and matching four boxes of the same color to eliminate them. They stay on the screen until the 'tempo bar' comes across the screen at the pace of the music. The backgrounds are simply beautiful, stylistically bouncing along to the amazing music, which ranges from J-pop to rock. Anime fans will have no trouble digging this one.
Lumines is certainly the most addictive of the PSP's launch offerings, and it will have players nodding their heads to the infectious music, while admiring how great the game looks on the PSP's screen as they try to master its deep puzzling action. The wireless versus mode is also extremely fun, perhaps even more addictive than the single player modes. The game's only problem is the level progression. It becomes very difficult fairly quickly, and the single player vs. CPU mode is nearly impossible. This is a definite must-buy for anyone who likes colorful, stylish visuals and good music.
Twisted Metal: Head-on
Twisted Metal: Head-on is just as it appears: a throwback to what is arguably the best game in the series, Twisted Metal 2. All of that game's characters are in the game, as well as most of its levels in expanded form. The graphics here look extremely sharp and clear, and the gameplay translates well onto the PSP. The music is a little uninspired, but expectations shouldn't be too high as this is a car combat game.
Twisted Metal: Head-on is also one of the first PSP game to support fully online play via the console's Wi-Fi infrastructure mode, allowing players to compete with other Twisted Metal players from around the globe, provided they have Wi-Fi in their home, or a nearby hotspot with which to connect. With this mode on, battery life decreases heavily, but gamers playing online will probably be near plugs, anyway. This mode is very fun, especially when considering what it's being played on.
Tony Hawk's Underground 2 Remix
Any gamer of the past five years knows what the Tony Hawk series is about, and this game mostly doesn't mess with the formula. Tony Hawk's Underground 2 Remix for the PSP is a direct port of the PS2 version, minus the voice acting, plus four extra levels. Players run about performing tasks on either Bam Margera's or Tony Hawk's skateboard 'gang.'
Sure, it's a great value with so many multiplayer modes and comparable graphics to its console cousins, but it really isn't the most fun, original or handheld-centric game out there. This game consumes battery life like no other because of its ridiculously frequent UMD access and good graphics, and when Wi-Fi is on, it lasts for an even shorter amount of time. It's a good purchase for Tony Hawk fanatics, but beyond that, the other PSP launch games are definitely recommended.
Amidst a ton of sports titles, there's a bucket-load of other quality games out there for the PSP at launch. Most notably is Metal Gear Acid, which will be either embraced by everyone, or only by the hardcore Metal Gear Solid fans. Others to look for are the games from EA. Need For Speed Rivals looks to have potential if the apparently choppy frame rate gets fixed, and NFL Street looks to be a straight port of its console cousins. The PSP Wipeout has been receiving massive critical praise, so that might not be a bad choice either. However, it seems that the majority of major new PSP games will be announced or revealed at the upcoming E3, so look to your favorite gaming news source starting in April for that information.
And or more personal reactions to the PSP, its launch games, and the "Value Pack," here are Chris Istel's impressions!
Hands down, the best handheld I have ever played or owned is the PSP. It is indeed the first handheld that I have ever played that truly feels like a home console. With its great online and multiplayer capabilities, glorious screen, and already quality game library, it's hard to picture myself putting this thing down anytime soon. I actually found it difficult to write this article because of my addiction to Lumines, not to mention the incredible Ridge Racer, which is certainly the best game of the series. I've read online a lot of complaining about the 'short' battery life, but in reality, who will play this thing for four hours or so on a regular basis other than extremely frequent travelers?
One complaint that I do have involves the shininess of the case. It adds a level of sexiness initially, but the more I play it, the more fingerprints visibly accumulate on it. Sony has included a nice little cloth for cleaning, but I found it hard to scrub off some of the smudges after a while. Luckily, I'll be swapping in my current PSP for a new one soon, and I'll be sure to be more careful with the new one.
And why am I getting my PSP replaced? Dead pixels, my friends. I only have four or so, but they really do bother me when I'm watching movies or navigating through menus. Thankfully, the fine folks at Circuit City are willing to replace it at no cost. Dead pixels have been an issue with the PSP ever since its Japanese launch, thanks in part to the precision required to make sure a high-resolution screen.
Since the launch, I've also had time to mess around with the video and audio features, and they work wonderfully. The video quality wasn't especially good in my situation, primarily because I compressed a 138 MB fansub of Final Approach down to fit on the stock 32 MB one. I haven't yet had the chance to invest in a 1 GB Memory Stick, but I plan to do so just so I can watch anime on the go. Audio sounds clear and just as good as it does on my iPod, maybe even a tad bit clearer.
Speaking of video playback, Spider-Man 2 looks fantastic on the PSP's screen. Although the UMD has no extra features to speak of, it's a nice bonus that Sony through in for early adopters to make them feel better about spending so much on an inappropriately dubbed 'Value Pack.' After spending some time with the PSP, however, I would've gladly spent $300 on it, without Spider-Man 2.
As for the rest of the Value Pack, the headphones sounded great with my tests, the strap looks cool, and the little protective case gets the job done to some extent.
I would definitely recommend the PSP for someone who is looking for the future of handheld gaming, and maybe even the future of entertainment for that matter. This holiday season, look out, Nintendo.