Console Retrospective: PSP

The PlayStation Vita is going to be released in Europe, Australia, Latin and North America on February 22, 2012 and although most websites are analyzing the future of the upcoming console, I’ll try to do the exact opposite. I’ll focus on the PlayStation Portable, the most successful non-Nintendo handheld ever created. Although the Nintendo DS was a smashing success (it sold around 151 million units worldwide since it was released on November 21, 2004,) the PSP was also extremely popular. Let’s see why:

 

GOOD: Overall qualities.

The PSP’s hardware was great because the handheld was extremely powerful, had a pristine 4.3-inch screen, could easily connect to the PC or a PlayStation 3 and used memory sticks that could hold games, movies or even mp3 files. Additionally, the PSP 2000 was thinner and the screen was lighter than the original system, making it a very significant re-release.

BAD: The short duration of the battery.

Every PSP owner probably feels the same way about the battery. It was terrible. The battery took about two hours to charge and lasted 5 to 7 hours depending on several factors like the screen brightness, WLAN, volume and so on. It’s worth pointing out that subsequent versions of the console (2000 and 3000) improved the duration of the battery, but if you wanted to fly to Japan forget about playing Patapon for more than 6 hours. That’s a shame.

GOOD: The PSP was the first handheld to offer a true console experience.

The original PSP intended to be as powerful as the PlayStation 2, but in handheld form. Although this represented a problem for Sony (mainly because of aforementioned battery issues,) the PSP was an extremely powerful console that offered an experience quite similar to playing on a PlayStation 2. At the same time, the PSP benefitted from portability and it was quite nice to be able to play technically proficient titles such as Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, God of War: Chains of Olympus or Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep on the bus.

BAD: The UMD format.

In theory the UMD (Universal Media Disc) format was superb. These optical discs created by Sony could hold up to 1.8 gigabytes of data and besides holding games, they could be used for movies and music. In practice though, they were appalling as from a hardware perspective the UMD drive had mobile parts that constantly drained the battery’s life, loading times were very long and the discs themselves were poorly designed. This was a bad move from Sony and thankfully, they are introducing a new type of media for the upcoming PlayStation Vita.

GOOD: Connectivity.

To be completely honest this has always been one of my favorite features on the PSP. Sony’s handheld could easily connect to the web, it had an official Store where you could download software (games, demos, music, videos and a lot of these were available for free) and it had a browser. Furthermore, you could connect the portable system to the PS2 (the only game I remember using this was Pro Evolution Soccer 2008, but it was totally functional,) and the PS3. Personally, I didn’t use all these features quite often but at least it proves that Sony is aware that connectivity is the future.

BAD: PSP Go.

This is also one of those ideas that seemed great in theory. Think about it, a new PSP that doesn’t use those terrible UMDs and instead has 16 GB of internal flash memory (which can be expanded to 32 GB,) and all of its games can be downloaded from the PlayStation Store. Unfortunately, many titles weren’t available in the store, some publishers refused to release their biggest titles digitally (Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII never became available,) and Sony kept promising that they were going to convert every single UMD to this format, something that never became a reality.

The PSP-E1000 should also be mentioned here. This is a European budget model that lacks Wi-Fi capabilities and is available for €99.99. I don’t exactly know how many of these consoles have been sold, but considering that downloading games through the PlayStation Store was one of the handheld’s best features, I don’t think it was a huge success. This brings me to my next point:

GOOD: Downloading games on the PlayStation Store.

The PlayStation Store has become really solid and it’s currently offering PSP games, PSone Classics, PlayStation Minis, DLC and more. The amount of content available in the store is simply staggering and apart from modern games such as Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars you can get classics such as Final Fantasy VIII or Minis such as Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess. I hope Sony keeps supporting and improving the store for years to come.

BAD: Piracy and use of homebrew.

For those who had some free time, the PSP was really easy to pirate. Not only was this a shame because it ruins the industry we love and care about, but also because many people bought the console, pirated it and never bought original games for it. Many users decided to install homebrew programs that allowed them to run new operating systems, packs of codecs, better browsers, games that were not originally published for the system (like Quake III) or emulators which is arguably more benign.

GOOD: Media integration.

Although this was not perfect, it was great that the PSP allowed users to play their music and movie collection. At first, some called the PSP the “Walkman of the next century,” a blatantly silly statement considering that there is a company called Apple that apparently is doing quite well in that regard. Nevertheless, if you wanted to play your files on your PSP, you could definitely do it. Unfortunately, if you wanted to play that .flv video that you downloaded from YouTube, well forget about it unless you had a program that could convert it to the very specific type of MP4 that the PSP used. Still, podcasts totally worked.

BAD: Looooooong Firmware updates.

Arguably this is the worst feature that a portable console may have. Here’s the situation, you’re on the bus going to school, you just bought the new Burnout, you put the disc, you turn on the console and the latest system software starts installing from the disc. Great, you wait for 20 minutes, the battery runs out. I guess you won’t be playing that game for a few hours. Thanks Sony and please don’t do this again.

GOOD: Monster Hunter.

Yes, I know what many people are thinking after reading the title. “I don’t like Monster Hunter,” well I’m not a fan of Capcom’s series either, but I’m thinking of Monster Hunter in the sense that it allowed the PSP to become more of a social platform. Portable consoles have always lacked that kind of connectivity that allowed multiple users with the same console and with the same game to play together. The PSP made it easier for those specific kind of players who took the same train and wanted to slay monsters together Although most of the people who are reading this probably never did anything like that, at least the Monster Hunter phenomenon proved that users want to interact more with each other and that playing multiplayer games is fun even on portable systems.

BAD: Console’s design.

Although the hardware itself was great, the design of the console was pretty bad. The left analog stick was uncomfortable to use especially if you played a lot of fast-paced titles, the right analog stick on the other hand was… um… nonexistent, the glossy shell was a dust magnet and that screen, albeit beautiful, really needed protection from scratches.

GOOD: Exclusive titles.

Patapon, LocoRoco, Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, Jeanne D’Arc, Final Fantasy: Dissidia, Valkyria Chronicles II, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, Parasite Eve: The 3rd Birthday, Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, Rock Band Unplugged and I could go on and on.