Is time running out on the PlayStation Portable?
March 22, 2010
running out on the PlayStation Portable?
By Louis Bedigian
Looking back on the first five years of Sony’s handheld game machine.
Following years of speculation that Sony would get into the handheld gaming biz, PlayStation Portable hit US stores in March 2005. With a beautiful, HD-quality screen, the ability to play multiple forms of media, and the promise of PSone and PS2-caliber games, the PSP was what millions of gamers had been waiting for.
Good enough to stop traffic.
The launch was met with tons of great sequels and offshoots to several console favorites, including Wipeout and Need for Speed, which helped launch the original PlayStation 10 years prior. UMD (Universal Media Disc, for those who forgot) flooded the marketplace, and it wasn’t long before people began to speculate that PSP would destroy – or at least be a serious competitor to – the iPod.
That thought was a bit presumptuous. But while the iPod has spent its life evolving to stay ahead of the competition (just look at the many iterations of the iPod Nano, or how the iPod Touch practically made the iPod Video, released only two years prior, obsolete), the PSP has survived – and despite what analysts say, thrived – on one basic format. Reducing the weight, increasing battery life and brightening the screen are barely worth the “upgrade” label. Though you could point to the PSP Go as a form of evolution, that system was merely an experiment to see if people would embrace a new variation of a very old handheld. They didn’t. But they still embrace the classic PSP and all that it has to offer.
2005 and 2006: A Beautiful Start
PSP had the first truly great console launch since 1999, the year the Dreamcast pummeled retailers with new Sonic, sports and fighting games that no one could resist. Similarly, PSP had its share of must-have sequels, such as Wipeout and Ridge Racer, whose franchises helped launch the PSone in 1995.
PSP also launched a new craze with Lumines, a unique game that looked familiar (at first glance, thoughts of Tetris sprang to mind) but played unlike any other puzzle game available. Lumines was followed by Mercury and many other flawed-but-inventive puzzle games designed exclusively for Sony’s handheld.
By fall, PSP was blowing minds with console-caliber experiences from Burnout Legends and Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories.
In 2006, Sony’s portable prowess continued with Daxter, Def Jam Fight for NY, Ace Combat, the ultra-creative (and often cloned) LocoRoco, Lumines II, another Grand Theft Auto, Gitaroo Man Lives! (an update of the PS2 original), Ultimate Ghosts 'N’ Goblins (also an upgrade, but of an SNES game), Killzone: Liberation and Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops.
God of War: Chains of Olympus
2007 and 2008: Things Slow Down
With so much support and momentum from the developer community, many thought that 2007 would be the PSP’s greatest year yet. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The system’s best games – Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters and Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles – were overshadowed by a number of disappointments.
Many of the long-awaited sequels/prequels (Burnout Dominator, Coded Arms Contagion, Silent Hill Origins and Sonic Rivals 2, to name a few) failed to live up to the originals. Sales figures were anything but Earth-shattering, which gave publishers a fearful attitude toward PSP development.
When gamers think of the following year, 2008, they think of God of War: Chains of Olympus – not only because it is an amazing, console-perfect offshoot, but because it is also the only standout game to hit PSP that year. There are, of course, a few games that deserve an honorable mention: Patapon, Echochrome, Wipeout Pulse and Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2. Not surprisingly, all of these games were published by Sony.
(For the record, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII was omitted from the list on purpose because it does not deserve an “honorable” mention of any sort.)
2009: A New Beginning
With the exception of the Saturn, which Sega attempted to resuscitate on more than one occasion, console and handheld manufacturers don’t typically stand by a machine whose success is dwindling. But despite the dying third-party support and slowing sales figures in 2007 and 2008, and despite the failure of UMD as a movie/TV format, Sony was determined to keep the PSP going.
PSP Go was one such attempt, but again, it is best described as an experiment, nothing more. The real effort came from Sony’s push to bring another string of triple-A games – both first- and third-party – to the handheld. This led to the creation of new titles in the Resistance, LocoRoco, Patapon, MotorStorm, LittleBigPlanet, and Jak & Daxter series – all built specifically for PSP. There were a couple third-party gems as well, most notably Rock Band Unplugged and Tekken 6.
PSP only suffered two disappointments in 2009, the first of which was visible from a mile away: Gran Turismo. No game can endure that many delays without tempting players to expect more than the developers can deliver. The second, Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines, was somewhat of an important release because it showed that these kinds of games can be developed for PSP. Now all we need is for someone to make them fun.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
2010 and Beyond: The Swan Song Begins
There’s no doubt that PSP still has some life in it. Dead or Alive Paradise is on the way, Lunar: Silver Star Harmony was just released, Ace Combat Joint Assault was just announced, and Blazblue Portable should be a blast. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, due this May, is more than gorgeous technology – it pushes the gameplay boundaries as well.
But with games like Peace Walker, you can’t help but get a sense that things are coming to a close. It happened with GameCube as soon as Resident Evil 4 – the console’s most groundbreaking title – arrived. To be certain, PSP’s life will end with much more grace than Nintendo’s failed square ... uhh ... cube. But going into 2011, when developers begin to prepare for the next DS, the next iPod (will Apple finally make a game-dedicated machine!?), and undoubtedly the next handheld from Sony, development for the original PSP will be seriously reduced. We’ll see some great titles before then; I expect there to be at least five to 10 must-play releases before the year’s end.
After that, chances are the best third-party releases will be small, download-only games that will be compatible with the PSP and its successor, allowing developers to serve both markets with ease.
Dead or Alive Paradise
If you’re wondering how Sony will tackle PSP development once its next handheld is released, look no further than the way the publisher handled its aging consoles. Unlike Wii and Xbox 360, which killed off their predecessors the day they were released, the arrival of PlayStation 3 didn't spell doom for PS2. To keep the old brand alive while paving the way for the future, Sony chose to release its primary sequels and start new franchises on PS3, but lowered the price of PS2 while pushing mainstream games like Buzz! and SingStar for the older console. Expect a similar strategy for PSP.