Thursday, January 3, 2008

What I'm Playing: PSP

Over the holidays I bought myself a PSP, the Playstation Portable. I got the new one, the 2000.

We have pretty much every game system available in our house, and then some. Seven consoles at last count, several Game Boys, GBA SPs, and -- the most frequently used -- a Nintendo DS for everyone in the house.

With the DS -- which is in my eyes close to perfect in form, function, and innovation -- I didn't need another handheld. But the PSP had finally met my attraction criteria: 2-3 unique games that I want to play but can't get on any other platform. So I splurged.

And I am not disappointed. I actually don't like the PSP. It is too big, too shiny, too high tech and aloof. Aloof? Yes. Any "portable" device that has a large screen, high sheen, and tons of open buttons with no protection is essentially saying "you can take me out, but don't even think of putting me in your pocket". (And, yes, I think the same applies to the iPhone...)

...But back to my story. I don't like the PSP, but you have to admire the technology. The games look wonderful and move incredibly smoothly. It is impressive they can fit that level of gaming into a small battery-operated device.

But the PSP is essentially a miniature PS2. there is very little difference in the gaming itself. So portability is its primary function. And this is where it is clear why Sony lost out to Nintendo.

There are four key flaws in the PSP, as pretty as it is:
  • Its too big. It can't fit into your pocket. No way, no how.
  • Its too fragile. Everything about it screams be careful. The battery compartment door opens easily, allowing the battery to drop out accidentally; the UMD discs are held in and ejected by a shockingly thin metal framework; the screen has no cover. I could go on. But suffice it to say this is not a machine you can toss around like I do my cell phone, calculator, or DS.
  • The load times are horrendous. 30 seconds or more for a game to load (and this can occur several times through initial startup, main menu, opening sequence, etc.) is just unacceptable. Part of portable gaming is speed -- you don't have to set it up, just take it out and turn it on. But with the PSP, which uses discs instead of memory cards, the load times are a major inhibitor to fun.
  • The built-in speakers stink. For all its technical wizardry, the pinhole speakers on the PSP are barely capable of anything better than telephone quality sound. The sound is tinny and hard to adjust with the small up/down volume buttons. This is not a technical flaw with the games -- they sound great with headphones. But having to play all games with headphones further cuts down on the portability and the play-when-I-want nature of the system.

There are lots of other pros and cons that you could argue about the PSP versus the competition (ahem, cough, DS). But everything else is quibbling.

I am still happy I bought it. I can finally play LocoRoco and the "other" Katamari game. But it will never replace my DS and I doubt it will ever leave the house...

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