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Dispatches From The Handheld Wars


Those who have not been living under several piles of rocks have undoubtedly heard quite a bit about the Nintendo 3DS -- which is, by all accounts, the most impressive thing since God invented the Sun -- a device that creates a new kind of gaming experience, one that has to be seen to truly be comprehended. With a $250-300 price tag it's quite an investment, but the payoff could be well worth it, should this first-of-its-kind handheld rise to our expectations. Even without the 3d goodness, the impressive hardware will run games like Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater, Super Street Fighter 4, and others. Combine that with a 3D camera and the familiar touch screen, and you've got a gadget that is nothing if not nifty.

Amidst the dissonant chorus of "oohs" and "aahs" that surround the 3DS, Sony is plotting something fierce. With the rust around the wheels of the PSP coming more sharply into focus as time rolls on, there are whispers of a heir to the throne. Very little is known about the PSP's successor at this point, but the rumor mill is abuzz with claims of touch-screen functionality, HD graphics, twin analog sticks, a camera, and an inexplicably-present rear-mounted touchpad. I can't shed too much light on the matter -- with no official word from Sony, we're left only with speculation as to what may or may not be fact -- but the PSP2 is expected, like the PSP before it, to be the powerhouse of the handheld gaming market.

Now let me say that i loved my PSP -- or at least i tried to love it. For all its technical magnificence, i couldn't help but think that it found its origins in some backroom Sony meeting that started with the words "Alright, here's the pitch: We take the PS2, make it smaller, less powerful, and offer a catalog of primarily mediocre games. The kids will love it." Yes, it had some good games (GOW: Chains of Olympus, MGS: Portable Ops, and for all its flaws, Crisis Core), but its selection was nonetheless terribly lacking, and almost entirely dependent on those UMD discs that sounded like screeching metal whenever the system needed to access them. Part of the allure was that it was, in theory, a multifunction device; but this didn't work either. The mp3 player was bare-bones, setting up video playback was a chore, and the web browsing was, gently put, terrible. The PSP Go wasn't much better, trading the grating racket of the UMD for digitally-downloaded games. While incredibly tedious -- especially for those of us with a less-than-reliable internet connection -- it at least showed some foresight on Sony part. It did not, however, address any of my other qualms with the system, and i found it much less comfortable to hold and operate than its predecessor.

With all that said, my money is definitely on Nintendo this time around. While Sony is bent on the old "faster, sleeker, more powerful" model for growth, Nintendo has taken the path of inventiveness. Here is what i believe to be Sony's fatal flaw: No matter how preposterously powerful and expensive the PSP2 will be, it will never be a PS3. "But that's not the point," one might protest. "No, it's not a PS3, but it's still going to be amazing for a handheld." And that, in my opinion is the point -- "For a handheld." While Sony stuck rigidly to the PS2 model for the PSP, Nintendo created an entirely new animal -- not just a souped-down Gamecube -- with the DS. Now, with the 3DS, they're further distinguishing their portable platform while giving developers a whole new avenue for creativity and ingenuity. And if history is any teacher, Sony will be busy trying to play catch-up, as evidenced by the "Move" motion controller and their apparent newfound interest in touchscreen technology. But in spite of it all, i'm not bitter. Like a wistful lover who sees in those time-ravaged eyes the one for whom he used to feel such tenderness, i can't quit you just yet, Sony. I want to love you again -- really, truly, i do -- i'm just not sure that i can trust you anymore.


I think the PSP may have taken awhile to find its niche, but it does seem to have done so. And that is in JRPGs and strategy games, much like the Xbox 360 did with the FPS genre.

And it can do music and video playback now, but I agree the PSP is very awkward about how it handles both. Nonetheless, the "improved" design of the DSi did the impossible and make music playback on a handheld even worse! I do love that Mario mini-game that was included in it, though.

I don't doubt that the 3DS and whatever the PSP sucessor is will both have great games. My curiousity lies in what other functions they will be able to provide for me. Custom soundtracks on a handheld would be a nice feature I would never use. And backwards compatibility for both systems would be very much welcome as well, even if the PSP2 is only compatible with downloadable versions of the old games. Because the 3DS is already confirmed to be DS compatible, no?

neshoba said:

So, we're not going to acknowledge the Xperia Play? I'm not a Sony Fanboy, but we need to play ball. They're coming out with two devices this year. The PSP2 and the PSPhone AKA Xperia Play. And while I am skeptical about the long term prospects of either, we have to mention them both to be fair.

The 3DS is revolutionary, but the industry is fast on the heels of Nintendo offering glasses free 3D TVs and Android Phones in the near future. Which brings us to the fact that Sony and Nintendo are not the sole contenders for your pocket and pocket book. In fact, we need to talk about iOS and Android.

My thoughts are that we are not far off from a future of Wii2:3DS::Tablet:PMP/Phone. Vizio released info on their tablet offering that includes an IR Blaster for remote control functionality. But, it includes some of the features we have already seen in smartphones and tablets: Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, HDMI Ports, rear and front facing cameras. All of these will go along way toward the biometric future of gaming.

Imagine the Wii2 that is a tablet that will dock and connect to your TV. The Wiimote and Wavebird Classic will connect through Bluetooth while the front facing camera will be on par with Kinect.

The ONLY problem I have with that future is the fall of physical media. I don't know if we're just there yet. OR, if digital media manufacturers would let us get there.

Super Swede said:

I didn't mention the PSP phone for a couple reasons: One is that (from what i've read) despite the fact that it's a much more impressive device on paper, it doesn't seem like it's going to go beyond the performance of the PSP (certainly not into PSP2 territory), thus would not be a firm contender against the 3DS. The other is that, given such scant details, i didn't want to dive too much into it for now. I'm planning to make this an ongoing series, so you can be sure that i'll elaborate on it in the future. Surely Apple and Android are also emerging in the gaming market, but this was meant to focus more on the "hardcore" gaming devices.
And armless-phelan: i too am hoping for the best for Sony. The 3DS is definitely supposed to be backwards compatible; no word yet on whether the PSP2 will follow suit. The PSP is not a bad device by any means -- the mp3 and video were appealing to me at first -- but i eventually found myself moving to another device more suited for those functions, and i often found myself waiting for far too long before finding a game that tickled my fancy.
I also hope that physical media isn't dying anytime soon. Waiting for games to download to my PSP Go was a massive bore, but at the same time i couldn't stand the UMD. While i understand that the PSP required much more storage than the DS, I thought Nintendo was wise to go with the memory stick.

That's all i can crank out before bed... Thanks to both of you for your comments, and thanks for keeping me on my toes! More shall come, i assure you.

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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Super Swede on Dispatches From The Handheld Wars: I didn't mention the PSP phone for a couple reasons: One is that (from what i've read) despite the fact...

neshoba on Dispatches From The Handheld Wars: So, we're not going to acknowledge the Xperia Play? I'm not a Sony Fanboy, but we need to play ball....

armless-phelan on Dispatches From The Handheld Wars: I think the PSP may have taken awhile to find its niche, but it does seem to have done so....

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