The Philip Rational: "Play  Station PIECE"
-By Philip "Pocket Squirrel" Wesley-
-This may offend people-
-Posted December 25th, 2003-

There are literally dozens of portable game systems that have appeared since the beginning of the market and for every success like the Game Boy, there are dozens of failed systems. So many that it gets to be annoying when a new one pops up. Each new system is hailed as a "Game Boy Killer", "The Next Walkman" or whatever new buzz phrase the marketing people come up with. In a way, you could pretend that the Game Boy and its various incarnations are like a giant gorilla in the jungle. This giant gorilla has a huge pile of customer bananas. The newest competition consists of little monkies that come along and try to take the gorilla's bananas. Some of them manage to take a few bananas; but in the end: The gorilla squashes the little monkies flat by exploiting the many weaknesses that monkies have. The current incarnation of the Game Boy Advance is the Game Boy Advance SP and there are already a few new challengers aiming for it. The N-Gage from Nokia was met with a collective defecation noise by the general public as a hand held game system. As a phone, the N-Gage became a badly designed; but semi-classy competitor to the much better designed "Sidekick" unit from T-Mobile. The N-Gage has way too many problems to go into in this Philip Rational; but I will take the time to pick it to shreds at a later date.

Today, this is all about the Howard Dean of the handheld world: The Sony Play Station Portable. The Play Station Portable, or PSP, is designed by the company that defeated Nintendo's N64 system with the original Play Station and is currently the number one maker of home consoles with the Play Station 2. Sony has been eyeing the portable market for years and even made a small, flirtatious fling at it with the Sony "PocketStation" device. The PocketStation was a glorified Memory Card that never amounted to anything. It had a soul mate in the Sega Dreamcast VMU; but the VMU (Virtual Memory Unit) completely destroyed the PocketStation in terms of usefulness and popularity. Sony then made another pass at making a portable when they announced the smaller version of the Play Station. The smaller version of the Play Station was called the PSOne and had a back-lit screen that was sufficient for those who did not have televisions. The screen was a bit blurry and the lack of a real first party battery pack killed any aspirations of the PSOne being anything other than a home console with an identity crisis. The latest stab at the market is Sony's "real" weapon. The Play Station Portable was announced at E3 2003 to enthusiastic crowds. Only preliminary system specs and a sample of the game system's storage and game medium was shown. But that was enough for the general media to begin chomping at the bit and breathing forth gaseous remarks about the Game Boy Advance SP being "doomed." Now that the first development kits are in the hands of game creators, and the the first real proto-type pictures are out: Nothing has changed. Many people think it will be the end all system and that the Game Boy is doomed. I stand by my opinion of the system I had at E3. I think it will have nice looking games; but will be just another piece of crap monkey for the gorilla to squash.

The first and worst problem with the PSP is the systems battery life. It has a rechargeable battery inside of it that takes four to five hours to charge; but has a gameplay life of three hours. Sony had damn well fix that before they even think of releasing the system. The Game Boy Advance SP has a battery life of 10 hours with the front light on and 19 to 20 with it off. There is also a battery upgrade that Nintendo released that lasts a total of 15 hours with the light on and twice that with it off. The original Game Boy had a battery life of 32 hours with four AA batteries. The competeing systems had battery lives of 2 to 3 hours with SIX AA batteries. Of course, I am speaking of the Atari Lynx, Turbo-16 Express, and the Sega Game Gear. Already, the PSP has a legacy of failure it has latched onto willingly. The problem with portable game systems is that we want them to be there when we take them out for long plane rides, short lines, or road trips. If I can not do that reliably with the PSP, than I have no reason to lug the thing around with me.

The next glaring problem is evident in the prototype for the system. For some bizzare reason, Sony believes that the best place to put the power button and the reset button is RIGHT BELOW and RIGHT ABOVE the directional control. I suppose that they are intended to be multiple use buttons; but the Neo Geo Pocket did that and it was a bad idea. It was a bad idea then and a bad idea now. Especially in fighting games where I had a tendancy to turn the Neo Geo Pocket Color off when trying to block. Whoever decided on dual use power and reset buttons on the PSP should be dragged out and beaten with unsold PSX units.

The screen is where I am going to focus more criticism. I have to see one of the PSP units in person to know for sure; but I have a hunch that Sony is using the same kind of screens they used on the PSOne screen attachment. Which means that it looks reasonably good straight on; but disappears when moved a little. It also means that the screen may be slightly passive. It probably will be comparable to the backlight on a low end digital camera, where it blurs slightly on moving objects. As there has been no demonstration of the screen yet, this is pure logical estimation. There is still time for Sony to address problems with the PSP and -for their sake- the screen had better not be one of those problems.

The size of the system makes it less appealing as well. In the prototypes, the thing is huge. However, Sony has a while to go and fix that. The PSP may be huge; but it's closer to the Game Gear in terms of size. Huge and akward? Oh, absolutely.

The next big deal with the PSP is the price of the games. So far, Sony has announced that they intend to start selling games at a price range of $40 to $60 and memory cards at $20. That is pretty pricey if you ask me. Game Boy games are not cheap these days; but I would easily fork over $20 to $40 depending on a game. However, $60 for a game will make me think twice on purchasing it.

Portable games are meant to be hassle free and portable. The PSP is shaping up to be neither. Well, gotta get going! See next time!

-Philip Wesley-
-Property of