Sunday, October 22, 2006

Why Own a PSP? [Update]

Some days, I just wonder why I have the thing. It has more dust particles on it than "played" minutes. On more than one occasion, I've contemplated putting it up on eBay.

Yes, I'm talking about my Playstation Portable.

What in the world was I thinking back then in Hiroshima, man-en (10,000 Yen) bills in-hand, contemplating an impuse purchase only a tech-minded gaijin would, weighing the options of buying a PSP or eating later in the trip? As was previously revealed, I ended up getting the PSP, and starved the last day or two- but it didn't bother me much at the time.

A few months later, after buying a whopping 2 games for the portable (Ridge Racer [Japanese] and Lumines [American]), I'm having a bit of buyer's remorse. What was once hailed as the future of portable gaming, with first-of-its-kind media features embedded in the hardware, the sleek device seemed like it could do no wrong.

What I learned was: NEVER judge a portable by its shiny black outer casing (or its audacious marketing).

At first glance, Sony's Playstation Portable seemed to have everything Nintendo's Game Boy series did not. It could play full-length movies thanks to its UMD drive. It could store much larger games since it was not cartridge-based. It would look sleek, akin to a slightly wider, keyboardless Blackberry with a disk drive on the back. They even promised to accomodate the homebrew crowd (AKA your basement game creators). Most importantly, Sony's PSP advertised a vast library of addicting, innovative games. I also heard all the bad things back in America during PSP's launch week- "Dead pixels! And Sony won't replace it!", "My Square button isn't working!", "This analog pad thingamajig feels funny...", "The battery life a comparable lifespan to a mosquito in a repellant tiki torch factory, especially when playing movies".

So, going against my better judgement, I took the $300 plunge (well, maybe a little more, since it was 29860円 before a 4980円 game) barely a month after launch at a game shop in Hiroshima, Japan. I tore it open on the bullet train back to Kyoto, but alas- they don't charge PSP batteries when shipping them out of the factory. I played Ridge Racer to death while in Japan and on the flight home, sufficiently getting the Woo!-ness out of me and coming to my normal senses.

Back in America, I patiently awaited the onslaught of new games that I would purchase to round out my first portable. But, where were they?

After about a month, I saw a few movies and a game or three. Nothing notable came out- or at least nothing that justified the price. $25+ for a movie with skimpy extras (at the time), and on a 4.3" screen?! No thanks, I'll buy the (cheaper) DVD. UMD movies had obvious flaws and shortcomings. With the games, however, it was a simple issue of having no "killer app". Because of this, I never bought a game past Lumines. I still read Electronic Gaming Monthly, looking for a game I could get my hands on and thoroughly enjoy, but the only things scoring decent reviews are WarioWare (Nintendo DS) rip-offs. FPS games are a joke, RPGs have all been crud, and the only decent games seem to be racers. The only decent games coming out recently are just ports of a larger console franchise. Ugh.

Oh, not to mention, PSP games aren't region-encoded, but the movies are. So, gullible little me thinking "If the multi-region games are playable, maybe movies are too!" got a nice surprise when I popped in my first U.S. movie- to see a region error (keep in mind my PSP is Japanese). There went half the reason I bought the PSP. And I wasn't in the mood to spend twice as much on imports.

Last, but not least, I was hopeful for the online capabilities of the PSP. It could surf the web via an included software browser, and there were talkings of online games and the like. Nothing online came out at launch, and they're just breaking the surface of the online field now, presumably to hook up with the Playstation 3's online service. Not to say there aren't online games for the portable, but they're few and far between (even fewer if you're looking for good games).

For you homebrew folks, I hate to mention it, but you were slightly shafted as well. To do anything with the PSP that's non-UMD, you need a background in haxxor-ing to get around the occasionally-updated firmware Sony likes to put out. Many people simply don't update the firmware so they can play their great, fan-created games. And I can't blame them. Why Sony makes it a pain to enjoy a hobby is beyond me, but I guess it's in the spirit of making homebrewers "work for what you love".

Perhaps there's some good things on the horizon with the release of the Playstation 3. There's some interconnectivity in the works to allow your PSP work as a controller/mini-screen for your PS3, along with other functions which are sure to take advantage of the media aspects of both consoles, and perhaps the portable nature of the PSP. I forsee the PSP turning into an expensive, pretty, more functional USB stick, storing saved games, movies, and the like.

There's also some great games that just got released, and are being released. This is Sony's first attempt at a portable, and perhaps this is just the necessary learning curve they're experiencing. I still can't help but feel they greatly underestimated the differences of console versus portable gaming, but maybe these will be ironed out with the Playstation Portable 2, if they ever create such a thing.

I may sound a bit sour about the PSP, and I am. It made me lose a lot of faith in Sony as a company, after an already shaky track record of busted TVs and MD players. I gave them my $300 (and ability to purchase food) in trust they would snag good games (and game developers), enhance their media content, and put forth a device that would compete with the Nintendo DS. Sadly, it turns out the PSP was a flop, evident in Sony's losses with the product. Although Sony would be reluctant to admit this, which is why I was suckered into buying one to begin with (yes, feel free to blame my lack of research).

So, why own a PSP? Maybe you're optimistic for the future. Maybe you need to own every gaming peripheral Sony puts out. Maybe you're excited to try out the PSP+PS3 connectivity. Soon, I will not have to ask this question- just give me a chance to post it up on eBay a little after the PS3 launch, and hopefully I'll get some of my precious pennies back.

[Update]:Check out the following Kotaku link for further explanation (well, sort of) regarding PSP+PS3 integration. Just in case you were looking to buy a PS3. Or a PSP.

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