Screw the Vita, buy a PSP
Many gamers are eagerly anticipating the February 22nd launch of the PlayStation Vita, getting ready to nestle the unit's two sexy touchscreens deep in their pants pocket, stimulating 3G signals gently caressing their... okay I'm off topic. Problem is, we're in a recession, and many of us have to make the tough choice between eating food or dropping obscene amounts of money on a new toy (being both a fat kid and a gamer makes this an especially hard choice for myself).
Someday they'll develop a sandwich that plays Blaster Master. Until then I've got a real Sophie's choice on my hands.
Thing is, I am in the market for a toy, but not the Vita. What I'm anticipating isn't the latest piece of gaming tech but rather the inevitable deep discounts on that original Sony handheld, the PlayStation Portable (mine got swiped from me during a recent vacation, but hey, I can't fault a thief for having taste).
Now some of you may be thinking "But Vito, the Vita is just a month away! Why not look at your recent misfortune as a chance to hop on a magic rocket and ride it all the way to the future of portable entertainment?" First of all, that's the stupidest analogy I've heard all day, but secondly, and most importantly, I don't need a Vita right now, and I doubt you do either. If a sexy Monster Hunter exclusive gets announced, sure I'll jump in line. But until then I'm much more interested in the falling prices of PSP hardware and software, the foolish masses selling off last generation's gaming tech so they can play the crappy Ridge Racer and Katamari ports being hurried out for the Vita's launch.
Here's why I'll be buying another PSP come February, and why you should consider doing the same:
It's strange how few people are aware of all the cool stuff the PSP can do, many assuming that it's little more than a souped-up GameBoy. Truth is that the PSP is actually crammed full of features which make it comparable to an iPod, and Sony could've actually competed with Apple's flagship media player if they hadn't priced 1GB memory sticks at $100 back when it first launched (I still can't believe I bought one of those...).
Point is, you can now find a 16GB PSP memory stick for about $30, making the PSP an awesome solution for those who want a solid media device, but can't afford a costly smartphone plan. The PSPs Media Go software makes it easy to load up a wealth of music, pictures and video files, while the more recent PSP models (2000, 3000) can playback media on any standard television using the PSP component cable. The system also includes a competent WiFi internet browser, while the RemotePlay function lets the PSP stream media and select games from your PlayStation 3, letting you enjoy that Netflix account even while mom is hogging the television and dad is on the computer (and sis is off at lookout point with Brad, the hunky school quarterbac-- damnit! I'm off topic again!).
The PSP camera costs extra. After seeing what iPhone users do with their cameras, we consider that a good thing.
If there's anything the PSP is truly missing, it's the ability to function as an actual phone, though it is comforting to know that the 2000 and 3000 models both offer Skype support, meaning you can dial out to friends and family using a regular WiFi connection. I still hope that someday Sony has the sense to design a real PlayStation phone (no Xperia Play, you don't count), but until then I can just duct tape a mobile phone to the back of my PSP and pretend it's a functioning all-in-one device. Kind of like the Nokia Ngage.
Again, if you've already got a smartphone, the PSPs gaming abilities are probably the feature you're most interested in. Maybe some people are satisfied with the simple games the iOS store has to offer, though I personally find it ridiculous that mindless, repetative crap like Jetpack Joyride can win awards for Mobile Game of The Year, and the iPhone has a long way to go before it can be considered a true gaming device. So, if you're in the market for a standalone media device such as the iPod Touch, but want something which can actually play a decent video game, I'd definitely recommend picking up a PSP (and a big ol' memory card).
God of War, Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid, Mega Man... the list goes on, but chances are you're a fan of at least one of these proven franchises, all of whom have one or more PSP exclusive titles. Games you already know you like, now in affordable bite-sized packages.
Don't think that these portable titles are simply shoddy dumbed-down versions of the console games, many of them standing out as true classics in their own right. For instance, Mega Man Powered Up was a fantastic re-imagining of the first Mega Man title, while Dracula X Chronicles let American gamers finally experience one of the best Castlevania titles ever with new updated graphics, even throwing in a copy of legendary PSone title Symphony of the Night as the coolest unlockable ever. Plenty of other classic franchises got a chance to shine on the system as well: Ghosts n' Goblins, Twisted Metal, Final Fantasy and even Wipeout, with Wipeout Pure being honestly one of the best racing games I've ever played.
What true Metal Gear fan doesn't own a PSP?
However, of all the franchises featured on the PSP, Metal Gear is perhaps the most prolific, and true Solid Snake fans will want to hunt down one of the limited-edition Metal Gear PSP consoles that will be making their way to eBay as the Vita rears it's head. Though most will probably pass on the Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel, Portable Ops and Peace Walker are both fantastic entries in the Metal Gear Saga, while Metal Gear Ac!d 1 and 2 are pretty damned fun if you like the idea of jamming Magic: the Gathering, Metal Gear and Final Fantasy Tactics into a single game.
Long story short, it's pretty damn hard not to find something you like on the PSP. Not to mention that Sony's Passport Program will let UMD owners transfer their game libraries onto the Vita, so if you do decide to upgrade in the future, you'll still have access to these great games. Time to start building that PSP library!
I love Japanese RPGs, but it seems obvious that the leap to nextgen has been none too kind to the genre (as I touch on in my recent thought provoking article "What's Wrong with Japanese RPGS"). Japanese developers seem unable to figure out what to do with this generation's powerful hardware, with plenty of classic RPG franchises having simply been abandoned. Thankfully, even though JRPGs no longer command the audience neccessary to fund a big budget nextgen title, these epic tales have found new life on portable consoles, with the Sony PSP sporting a ridiculous number of experience point laden classics both old and new.
For the decidedly old-school RPG junkie, the PSP is home to tons of great ports of fan-favorite RPGs, many updated with beautiful new graphics and extra content. Many classic gamers balked at the $80+ price tags of PlayStation One games like Star Ocean 2 or Valkyrie Profile, though these same games can often be found on the PSP for ten bucks or less. Final Fantasy Tactics, Tales of Eternia, Breath of Fire III, Persona 3: the list goes on and on. Not to mention the Playstation Network's plentiful bounty of downloadable "PSone Classics," straight ports of RPG hits such as Chrono Cross, Xenogears, Alundra, Arc the Lad and even Final Fantasy VII, all running smoothly on the PSPs competent Playstation emulator.
If you can deal with the ungodly slow text dialogue, you'll find Xenogears is one hell of a game.
Now, don't let me have you thinking that the PSP is only useful for playing the classics, as plenty of beloved RPG franchises have continued onwards with pocket-sized sequels . Valkyria Chronicles II, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, Parasite Eve: The Third Birthday... heck, the PSP even has a few new games in the Ys series, a franchise that should've likely died years ago! And though Final Fantasy junkies may have to import Type-0, they still have access to exclusives like FFVII: Crisis Core, Final Fantasy IV Complete Collection, and the wackiness that is Final Fantasy fighting game Dissidia.
In short, if you're a fan of swords and sorcery, you've got no excuse not to own this veritable RPG box of joy. Plus, if you can convince three of your friends to snag PSPs for themselves, know that multiplayer RPG Monster Hunter is more fun than you'll ever know. Two million Japanese people can't be wrong...
When the PSP first launched, many of us were wary of paying $40 for a portable game, and to be honest few of those initial titles were truly worth the asking price (I like Lumines all right, but forty bucks for techno Tetris?). Thankfully games didn't stay at full price for long, not with dwindling console sales and rampant piracy helping to turn PSP developers desperate, passing the savings onto you, the consumer!
This combination of desperation and the fact that the PSP is on it's last legs means I can count off the number of PSP titles currently retailing for more than $20 on my fingers, with the majority of console's awesome game selection now crowding bargain bins. I've always been a "quantity over quality" guy, and knowing that I can pick up four or five PSP classics for the price of a single Vita game, means I'll probably be taking a raincheck on Little Deviants.
When Sony shutters your studio before your game even launches, you dun goofed.
On that same point, I never understood parents who bought their kids the latest game system. Kids are dumb, they'll play anything, stop wasting your money! Why would you buy your kid a brand new 3DS and a copy of Pokemon, when for the same price you could get a PSP and an entire library of games, keeping your annoying kid occupied for the next three years?
Granted, your kid will probably cry when he finds out they don't make a Pokemon game for the PSP, but you can just load up the memory stick with some episodes of the cartoon to hopefully distract him. Or, you could take advantage of the PSPs most notable selling point...
I'm not going to lie, there's one very specific reason why the PSP is awesome, and it's not something you'll find in the product manual. It's no secret that Sony's gaming device has been defiled worse than Jodie Foster in The Accused (pop culture's go-to rape reference), pirates eagerly loading up their memory cards with pilfered PSP titles, leading us ever closer to the passage of SOPA. But while I definitely don't condone piracy, emulation is another issue entirely, with my PSP having served as my own pocket emulation station for years.
Getting classic games onto the PSP takes little more than an afternoon's work, and the rudimentary mental ability to follow one of the many step-by-step guides floating around the internet. From there it's a snap to locate emulators for just about every console imaginable. I remember the first time I booted up Super Mario Bros. on my PSP, Nintendo's flagship platformer running on a Sony branded device. I'll admit it felt a little dirty. The good kind of dirty.
Fan translations of games denied to American gamers? A-OK for emulation in my book!
Now obviously there are some moral and ethical questions associated with these types of activities, some legal questions as well. That being said, the Supreme Court agrees that purchasing a device gives you the right to jailbreak it all you damn well want. It's more a question about what you intend to do with it after loading it up with custom firmware and changing the menu icons to pictures of naked ladies. Downloading games without paying for them? Not cool. Loading up legitimate backups of games you already own? More reasonable.
Now obviously game junkies like me stand to benefit the most, as my ridiculous backlog of games makes it easy for me to emulate ethically. But even if you don't have your own classic game collection, there's plenty of old games which have been all but abandoned by their publishers, making them pretty much fair game for emulation. Sites like Abandonia maintain a catalog of these games, though you can also use your head, as I doubt the ghost of Data East would object to anyone loading up a copy of Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja. Better yet, use the PSPs emulation capabilities as an excuse to start the classic game collection you always wanted, scouring flea markets and tag sales for new wares to add to your growing digital library.
Or hey, just pirate stuff. I won't tell you how to live your life.
The PSP is already one hell of a deal, and should become an even better deal once the Vita finally launches here in the states. So next time you're in GameStop and spot an eager Vita fanboy getting ready to trade in his PSP, why not pull him aside and offer him thirty bucks for the thing? He'll be happy that he can actually afford one of those overpriced Vita memory cards, and you'll have countless hours of gaming bliss ahead of you.
Or you could get a Vita. Because IF I DON'T GET MY HOT SHOTS GOLF FIX I'MA KILL SOMEBODY.
GAME OF THE YEAR
- Vito Gesualdi
Vito Gesualdi is a Senior Editor for GameZone.com, and our resident funnyman. Follow him on Twitter @VitoGesualdi