With Sony’s announcement of the PlayStation Vita, the days of the PlayStation Portable are coming to a close. The PSP is the most successful non-Nintendo handheld video game system to date. It did some things right, and some things wrong.
Like a lot of people, I was first attracted to the PSP at an aesthetic level. I saw it at a Gamestop shortly after launch and played Wipeout. It was a beautiful system with a big, gorgeous screen. It was easily the best looking portable system I had ever seen.
After begging my parents to get me one for Christmas, I began to realize they kind of forgot to make games for it. Lumines was a fun, inventive puzzle game, and some of the other launch games like Ape Escape: On the Loose and Twisted Metal: Head On were fun, but nothing special. As time went on, other decent games kept coming out, but there was no killer app.
The problem is that the PSP was almost too powerful. The reason the DS succeeded is that it offered gaming experiences that couldn’t be had anywhere else. The PSP simply offered console-quality games in a portable format. I don’t want to play some big game with cutscenes and voice acting while I’m hunched over a three-inch screen. I want to play that type of game on a television with a controller in one hand and a drink in the other. This isn’t to say games like Daxter and Dissidia weren’t a ton of fun – they were. It’s just that a portable system is not the ideal way to experience games like that.
It didn’t help matters that the PSP was not very portable, despite the word “portable” in the name of the system. The original, fat PSP was a beast. It could not fit in your pocket. This is what prevented me from really enjoying the PSP. Unless I wanted to carry a bag around with me all the time, I couldn’t play it out of the house. Sure, I could play it at home, but what would be the point? I have real video game consoles hooked up to televisions at home.
Sony soon started releasing smaller versions of the PSP, but they were still too big to comfortably take out of the house. Until the PSP Go came along. Yes, I was one of the few people who actually bought a PSP Go. I thought, finally, a PSP that’s actually portable. I understood that buying a Go locked me into Sony’s pricing structure, but I didn’t care. I still had my old PSP in case I wanted to play disc-based games. I was right in that the Go was actually portable and could easily fit into my pocket, but I had overlooked one crucial detail – I still didn’t want to play console-quality games on a handheld system. This problem was intensified thanks to smartphones.
To be fair, neither Sony nor Nintendo had any way of predicting what a huge thing smartphones would be when they released their respective handheld systems back in 2004. But smartphones have forever altered the handheld gaming landscape. Suddenly, carrying around a device to play games on seemed superfluous when you could simply whip out your phone and play Angry Birds or Plants vs. Zombies. Something like Angry Birds is exactly the type of game I want to play when I’m out and about. It’s extremely simple and can be played in short bursts. There’s no voice acting, in-engine cutscenes, orchestral scores, or moral choices. It’s a fun, stupid game that amounts to little more than something to do with your hands for a few minutes.
Sony doesn’t appear to have learned the lessons of the PSP. At E3, they showed Uncharted on a Vita. Uncharted, really? That’s the definition of a game best played on a television. I’ll probably exacerbate the problem by buying a Vita anyway, because I want to play every Uncharted game that exists. But I won’t like playing it on a three-inch screen.