The Angry Gamer 05.20.04 – DS Vs PSP

You knew it was coming; the inevitable showdown between the upcoming Sony Playstation Portable (PSP) and the counterattack by Nintendo, the Nintendo DS. In true angry fashion, let’s examine the pros and cons of both, shall we?

Nintendo DS – Pros

The dual-screen and touch-screen innovation is what Nintendo’s betting on for success, and it could very well work. Aside from the fact that stacking screens vertically goes against the fundamental concepts of user-interface design, it’s an interesting idea that really hasn’t been exploited in gaming, handheld or otherwise.

The touch screen is an interesting innovation, and Nintendo plans to make good use of it, especially in titles like WarioWare DS. Nintendo also made the touch screen extra durable; for those of you who own PDAs, you can see why this is important. Touch screens do break down over time, but at least Nintendo’s trying to make sure that doesn’t happen too quickly. They also didn’t waste any time showing off the touch screen at this year’s E3 expo; most of the demos Nintendo showed off featured the touch screen in one way or another. It’ll be interesting to see what they end up doing with it.

Another positive point (and one that sold me on the system, to be honest) is this: New Super Mario Bros. For the first time in ages, we’re getting a brand-new sidescrolling Mario game. I can’t tell you how long I’ve waited for one of those; 2D is where Mario belongs. Granted, the new game will use 3D rendered characters, but it plays in 2D perspective. Enemies will even be able to consume their own power-ups! Cue the choir music from heaven, folks.

Finally, Nintendo added more face buttons. The DS has a SNES layout now, with a D-pad, L and R triggers, and a full compliment of A, B, X, and Y buttons. The buttons are smaller than their GBA SP counterparts, but hopefully they won’t be difficult to use for those of us with giant hands.

Nintendo DS – Cons

The biggest problem here is easily the fact that the DS is set to replace a system that’s only 3 1/2 years old. Nintendo claims that the DS will NOT replace the GBA, but that’s a bunch of horseshit; the DS was specifically designed to replace the GBA and compete with the PSP. If that wasn’t the case, then Nintendo wouldn’t have loaded the DS with full backwards compatibility and other GBA features. With the features the DS has, there will be no reason for a new gamer to buy a GBA system; all the games and whatnot will work on the DS. It’s a shame that Nintendo couldn’t have waited a few more years to release this, but Sony has them piss scared, and the DS is the kneejerk result.

Then we’ve got the ol’ ports and rehashes problem. While Nintendo plans to have a strong launch, many of their launch titles are ports and/or remakes of existing games. WarioWare DS, Animal Crossing DS, Super Mario 64 x4, and Mario Kart DS all fall into this category. (The latest Metroid FPS, Metroid Prime: Hunters, is more of a semi-sequel than a port.)

Another big problem are the control issues. If you’re left-handed, you’re likely to have problems playing Nintendo DS games where you’re required to use both the D-pad and the touch screen at the same time. Using the D-pad is one thing, but the stylus would be like trying to write with the opposite hand.

Another huge design flaw is this: for games where you’re using the D-pad and the stylus…how are you supposed to support the system? Look at it like this: try holding a piece of paper up in the air with your left hand. Now try writing on it using your right hand. Difficult, yes? That’s the same thing with the DS; supporting it one-handed and trying to use that same hand to trigger the D-pad would get very annoying. You could place the DS on a table, but then you’d be using your fingers to trigger the D-pad, and that never works as well as your thumb. Plus…what if you have to use the L-trigger as well? The only “solution” I can see is to balance the other side of the DS on your knee or something, but like I’ve mentioned, that severely limits where you can play the game. For example, I like to stretch out on my bed or kick back in an armchair to play my handheld systems. I wouldn’t be able to do that with a stylus-based DS game; I’d have to sit straight up and balance the system on my knee or whatever. I won’t even begin to go into what that could do to your neck…

This is a ridiculous design flaw that Nintendo should have recognized and remedied during the early stages of development. Luckily, I don’t think most games will be using the stylus; I know Metroid Prime: Hunters will, but I’m not into FPS games, so I won’t be picking that up. New Super Mario Bros. won’t be using it, and I doubt many other platformers, RPGs, or adventure games would use it. The stylus would seem to be at home with FPS, strategy, simulations, or anything else where a mouse-like pointer would come in handy.

Sony PSP – Pros

Casual gamers love graphics, and the PSP has them in spades. While the DS has around N64-quality graphics, the PSP is very close to the PS2. Personally, I prefer gameplay to graphics, but my personal preferences have nothing to do with how the general public thinks. From all of the demos and games shown at E3, the PSP blows the DS out of the water. The widescreen aspect ratio is a nice touch, too…it’ll be interesting to see how Sony and other PSP developers will make use of the extra screen real estate.

People have bitched about the PSP being “too big,” but it’s about an inch longer than the original GBA, which isn’t that big at all. It’s not as tall, but that’s not really a concern. It reminds me quite of a bit of a car stereo’s faceplate. As far as control is concerned, it doesn’t have the DS’ touch screen, but it does have an analog stick. Initial reports have claimed that the analog stick is smooth and responsive, which is a godsend.

Then there’s the whole matter of its proprietary game format, the Universal Media Disc (or UMD). Most have scoffed at the idea of using moving parts in a handheld game console, as you’re inexorably going to be on the move with the thing, and having your game “skip” would be a f*cking nightmare. Luckily, it seems Sony has overcome this problem. The UMDs look nice and sturdy, and there’s undoubtedly a viable anti-skip mechanism in there. It’s not like people would shake the shit outta the thing to begin with.

The biggest thing Sony has going for it is its fanbase. No matter what Nintendo and M$ fans say, Sony beats the living shit out of them as far as installed userbase is concerned. Nintendo’s gotten their ass handed to them for two generations straight by Sony, and up-and-comer Micro$oft may be doing well with their Xbox, but it pales next to Sony’s dominance. The kicker is that both the Gamecube and Xbox are more powerful than the PS2, but more people still prefer Sony’s machine. Those legions of fans and Sony’s considerable marketing muscle automatically makes the PSP a force to be reckoned with. Nintendo knows this, and they’re shaking in their boots, as mentioned earlier.

Sony PSP – Cons

The biggest con is the price. It’s already looking to be near $300…that costs more than a home console! Hell, it costs more than two! That’s absolutely insane. Sonyphiles may lap the system up, but that’s a big f*cking dent in their wallets.

Next up is the battery life. So far, it’s looking to be about 2.5 hours. Yeah, you read that right: two and a half hours. If you’re hanging around the house, you could plug in and recharge while you play; if you’re on a long flight or something, though, you’re f*cked. And what if you’re watching a movie, but you didn’t charge the system beforehand? Nothing’s more annoying than having a movie rudely interrupted because the player crapped out. I’m sure extended-life batteries will appear down the road, just like they did for the GBA SP, but that doesn’t help the system at launch.

Speaking of movies…who the f*ck wants to watch movies on a gaming system?! I’m sure Sony will sell tons of copies of FFVII: Advent Children to all the mindless Square fanboys and fangirls, but gimme a break. If you’ve got a film on a far superior DVD, why do you need a portable version to squint at? Especially at a jacked-up price? A gaming system should be for games, not all of this other frivolous crap. At least the wireless internet portion will having a gaming use, i.e., linking up other players for multiplayer games.

The PSP also gets the same ports-and-rehashes treatment as the DS, albeit to a lesser degree. We’re getting a new Metal Gear Solid game, yes, but it seems many sports titles and other PS2 titles will be ported or slightly altered to make them seem “new.” There’s no word on what the new Viewtiful Joe or Devil May Cry titles will be like, but I’m not holding my breath.

Final Thoughts

So who’s going to “win” this fight? Personally, I hope neither one does. Variety is exactly what we need in the handheld market, just like we do in the home console market. Nintendo’s throwing down the innovation gauntlet in response to a far superior competing machine, so both systems have quite a bit going for them, problems nonwithstanding. Hell, Nintendo and Sony have both said they’ll be taking a profits hit on their new systems due to development and manufacturing costs. Fanboyism isn’t going to make or break this battle; it’s really going to come down to the casuals. After all, rabid fanboyism didn’t save Sega…