In my most recent column at the Intergalactic Medicine Show, I wrote about my love of the PSP and speculated on its future in light of the announcement of the 3DS. Well, a few weeks later I think it’s becoming pretty clear that the PSP probably won’t survive up against the 3DS. Nintendo’s latest handheld looks to surpass Sony’s portable in almost every facet. The visuals, the games, and the almost immediate heaping of fan and critical adoration the thing is receiving all but guarantees that when it hits in 2011 it’s going send shockwaves through the gaming industry.
I know, I know, that was hopelessly melodramatic, but I couldn’t help myself. In short, what I’m saying is that the PSP needs a dramatic hardware revamp or it will be completely overshadowed by the 3DS. I don’t think the PSP is without advantages. It already has a strong library of PS2 looking games that the 3DS does not, but that is not nearly going to be enough. Nor are the recent “Marcus” ad campaign, which honestly pail in comparison to the Kevin Butler ads.
The PSP needs to beat Nintendo at their own game, eschewing visual superiority and technical prowess for good and simple control. Player control that is. People have been saying it for years and with many more expletives than I, but the PSP needs a better control scheme and if there was a time to launch another PSP built with a second analog stick (not nubs, sticks). Two more shoulder buttons wouldn’t hurt either.
Doing this would immediately give the PSP a one up on the 3DS which adds an analog nub similar to what the PSP already has. Yes, the 3DS also has a touch screen, but if recent years have proven anything it’s that touch screen controls are rarely a preferable alternative to well implemented button controls.
More importantly, melding the PSP with the features of an actual Dual Shock controller would give the PSP one of the most important abilities hardcore gamers have been yearning for; the ability to play honest-to-goodness shooters on the go. Not crappy ports of shooters. Not shooters that have been designed around the limitations of the PSP, but a shooter that controls like its console brethren.
The biggest obstacle to this would be the PSP’s portability. Each major revision of the PSP has been aimed at making it more portable. The PSP Slim reconfigured it into something you could fit more easily in your pocket. The PSP Go removed the UMD drive, driving down the systems size even further. Adding more buttons and an extra, hopefully better analog stick would require the PSP to bulk back up more than some would like. I can’t picture a really viable redesign that maintains the current versions visual sexiness.
That said, I personally wouldn’t care. Portability is relative, I think. The PSP Slim already pushes against the boundary of what you can really fit in your pocket. It’s small, but not as comfortable as the DS. The PSP Go may do better at this, but its reduced feature set is a hard pill to swallow. In short, for what you gain in either direction, you lose in the other. Generally when I go somewhere, I travel with my messenger bag in tow. I could easily stash a bigger PSP in there and be just as comfortable, if not more so, than if a smaller version were riding around in my pants.
Moreover, I as many gamers do, play my PSP less on the go and more at home, whilst watching a movie or otherwise acting like a vegetable on the couch.
The PSP is a great portable and its success up against a Nintendo handheld should be lauded. That said, Sony needs to act proactively if they’re going to keep it alive much longer. New software is great, but new hardware would be better. We don’t need more features, better graphics or other high tech doo-dadds. We need better controls that we don’t have to fight with to play our games.