Today’s the fifth birthday of the Playstation Portable. So, um, yay?
I remember the first time I saw a PSP, however many E3s ago. It was displayed behind a thick slab of glass and I wasn’t allowed to handle it. But, from about 10 feet away, that thing looked like the future. The future that players were promised–a handheld multimedia monster–never came, though. Here’s the frustrating thing about the PSP: It’s a sleek, well-designed piece of portable electronics that’s decently specced. It’s got the network and support of a major consumer tech conglomerate, with hundreds of developers and publishers wiling to make content for it.
But, with the possible exception of its first year, it’s always felt like the PSP’s never lived up to its full potential. There’s no iconic franchise for the handheld, the way that Advance Wars has captivated Game Boy and DS owners for years now. (The closest thing to a signature PSP series are the awesome Patapon rhythm strategy games.) Nearly everything that winds up on the system feels like an afterthought, an orphan or a cast-off.
What this fifth anniversary really represents is a crossroads for the Playstation brand’s handeld ambitions. If Sony really wants the PSP to replicate the ten-year lifecycle of the PS1 and PS2, then they’ve got to figure out ways to inject some fresh ideas into the Portable.
Here’s five things I’d like to see happen with PSP over the next five years:
Support Legacy Content
My PSP Go has sat on my desk ever since I got it. It’s pretty and somewhat inviting, even. But, the one major reason I’ve never played anything for more than an hour on it is because I can’t play my old PSP games on it. I’ve got plenty of UMDs that I love and would love to play on the Go’s nice shiny screen. But, because Sony decided to create yet another dead-end proprietary format, its most dedicated users are out of luck when it comes to playing the format that made them loyal. There’s no way to get UMD data onto the Go. What should be happening is Sony should be making the guaranteed hits on PSP–Lumines, Syphon Filter, etc.–available on the Playstation Network for download. The physical versions of these games have already proven there’s an audience; reward that success with a way for new and future users to play them. As for new games,
Make the PSP a Place for Weird
Does anyone really want SOCOM on the PSP? I mean, the Fireteam Bravo games that have come out are passable. However, the whole time you’re playing, you know that you’re getting a bastardized version of a console release. I’d rather see the PSP become home for the more experimental side of game development. Give indie developers a price break on dev units and let them go to town. Publish the most promising ones as artsy low-cost curiosities. And, then, give the platform’s quirkest content the push of AAA titles. I’d much rather see a TV ad for Echoshift than for yet another Monster Hunter game. It might help to…
Embrace Your Limitations
I’ve always thought that the games that work best on the PSP somehow manage to account for the hardware it’s being built for. One of my favorites, the anti-shooter Every Extend Extra, has a gliding feel that works well with the limitations of the system’s wonky analog nub. The Tekken fighting game series don’t require a user-controlled camera so the dev team can focus on the game being really sharp and responsive. There’s been a whole slew of new, 2D side-scrolling games like Shadow Complex, the last Matt Hazard game and even Metroid: Other M and that’s the kind of category that the PSP could capitalize on. There’s just no point in trying to shove 3D worlds into a system that doesn’t let you view them well. Unless, Sony can…
Figure Out a Universal Camera Control Solution
The thing that ruins the vast majority of PSP games is the crappy camera controls. I’ve lost count of the times where my right thumb’s unconsciously moved to the PSP, expecting to find an analog stick to correct a bad angle. And that’s the problem with serving an audience used to such controls over the last two generations of video game hardware. Sony needs to internally develop and provide a set of tools to handle this camera problem. I know it’s sacrilegious to suggest that there be one mandated solution to this drawback, especially when disparate developers all over the world work on this platform. However, it wouldn’t have to be mandatory and at least there’d be a camera fix for those devs who wanted to use it. Hell, if there were an accelerometer onboard the PSP, you could grant players limited camera control that way. Speaking of accelerometers…
Update the Industrial Design and Technical Specs.
Go crazy here, Sony. You’re getting trounced by the DS, which is developed by a company that doesn’t have half the manufacturing resources that you do. Slap a touchscreen onto that PSP! Put some accelerometers and light sensors in it! Have it connect to over-the-air broadcasts like the FloTV. All the weird add-ons over the years, the Skype headsets, the camera, the third-party motion sensors… just throw them in there. Give your development community the opportunity to craft weird, left-field experiences on the platform. PSP Classic may have looked like the future five years ago, but it looks dated now.