Gaming Zen: 3-6-06

Word up. So hey all. I’m Tom Pandich, and I am here to officially push it to the limit this week. The Oscars were last night, and let me tell you, I can officially say that many people won awards. Sure enough, I didn’t watch too much as my favorite film of the year, A History of Violence, did not get nominated for a lot. Beyond that, I hadn’t seen most of the best picture nominations. So yeah, that’s that. In protest of the Academy Awards, I’m watching Fire Down Below and You Got Served tonight.

Enough about movies though. This was a weird week for me, therefore this will be a weird column. Rather then doing pimps, top ten lists, games of the week, and all that jazz. Today, I am going to try and put a few new ideas into play. Send me some feedback about how you like this format and I’ll either keep it or ditch it.

My original idea for this column was to try and look for the negatives in positive stories and the positives in negative stories. This idea sort of fell apart after a while though as there wasn’t nearly enough gaming news to really support it. Rather then doing that, I’ll take a look at a franchise, a system, a genre, a series of games, or some other linking factor between gaming things. This week, I’ll take a look at the PSP (and try and keep my Nintendo fanboyism small insignificant portion).

The Gaming Zen on the Sony PSP

The Sony PSP launched nearly one year ago in the United States. Since its US launch, it has had a mixed level of success. The PSP has the potential to be a fantastic system. Games like Lumines and Wipeout Pure provided a look into what the system could be. After a hot launch, games came out relatively slowly for the system. For the first six months of its life, the PSP had very few games released for it. On top of that the games that were released, games like Death Jr, Dead to Rights: Reckoning, and Coded Arms, didn’t set the world on fire.

This changed in the Fall and Winter months with quite a few good releases. Games like Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, Burnout Legends, SOCOM, and Infected have given the system a stronger library. Recent months have seen even more great releases. So what’s right with the PSP right now? What’s wrong with it? Here’s a look at the positive and the negatives of the PSP.

The Good

Capcom: If one company wins the MVP award for the PSP, it has to be Capcom. Despite having a rather weak 2005 with the system, 2006 has been huge, offering a plethora of some of Capcom’s greatest franchises. We’ve got Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max, remakes of both Mega Man and Mega Man X, and Darkstalkers Collection. With upcoming releases of a new Capcom Collection, Monster Hunter Freedom, an update to the Ghosts and Goblins series, and a Power Stone Collection, the PSP has become the system to own if you’re a Capcom fan. The games, while available on other consoles, they haven’t been around for at least a generation or they offer several new features.

The Home Brew Community: The PSP has become the favorite system of the homebrew community. Like it or not, the hacker community has created some nifty little devices for the PSP. Besides the various emulators that have been ported to the PSP, other programs that allow users to play anything from Sudoku to Quake have been ported over. Other nifty features allow users to stream Shoutcasts, use an open source operating system, and use the PSP as a web server have all been developed.

The Variety: The PSP has a few key advantages that the DS (stateside at least) doesn’t have. A lot of three letter acronyms dominate the PSP like avi, mp3, wma, and UMD. The PSP’s ability to act as a true multimedia system by allowing a player to have access to pretty much any type of media they want. It’s really a fantastic accomplishment that Sony has accomplished with this system.

The Next Generation and the Current Generation: The PSP is the first true portable system that is compatible both with this generation’s system and the next generation’s system. Smackdown vs Raw 06 may be an unfortunate implementation of this (you can only unlock Jake “the Snake” Roberts by using the PSP version of the game), but the PSP could be used for much more on this generation and the next. It wouldn’t surprise me if you’re calling your plays in Madden 07 on the PS3 and PS2 from your PSP.

The Bad

A lack of true “originals”: The PSP has been plagued with ports of PS2 games. EA is the worst of the offenders by releasing games that are slightly different from their PS2 counterparts a week or two later with a slightly different title and a plague of flaws. To be a successful gaming system, the PSP will need to be better at maintaining a unique library. With news like Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories getting ported to the PS2, this doesn’t sound like a reality.

The Price: The PSP Value Pack is still around and there are quite a few gamers who don’t want to pay $250 dollars for a system that should be selling for $200 plus a memory stick that is too small, a pair of shitty headphones, and a weak carrying case. Even more upsetting is the Giga Pack which costs $50 more and the memory stick gets bumped up to 1 GB. I’d rather spend $200 for a 4 GB memory stick. I also know that 32 MBs and 1 GB aren’t what some gamers want. High end gamers will go over a gig, low end gamers would want something a bit higher then 32 MBs. Bundles really only work when a game is included. Drop the price to $200 or toss a game into the “value” pack (like Metal Gear Ac!d, Wipeout Pure, Spider Man 2, or even Lumines), and you’ll sell a lot of gamers who are still on the fence.

Electronic Arts: I’ve never been a fan of EA (well, since EA went into the 32 Bit environment) and the PSP really shows the weaknesses of EA’s library. Unlike the console market, there is not nearly enough games on the PSP for a company like EA to flood the market with sports games without turning off gamers who have no interest in sports games. Furthermore, Electronic Arts has released two games out of over twenty or so that are not on the console market, Burnout Legends and LOTR: Tactics. Furthermore Electronic Arts portable games are often stripped down from their console versions. Not only are their games copies, they’re inferior copies which is my big problem with them.

The Ugly

Dead pixels: The PSP (and the DS) are still shipping with several units with dead pixels. Why can’t this be addressed by both Sony and Nintendo? This makes me feel ever so sad.

The Final Word

The Sony PSP has come a long way. New games like Me and My Katamari and Mega Man: Powered Up come close to selling me on the system and giving it a recommendation. Still, for a little more then a single PSP, you can own two DSes. Furthermore, the PSP still is lacking several key genres including RPGs which is one of the biggest selling points of the PS2. Honestly, if the PSP “Value Pack” goes away or ships with a decent game like Burnout, GTA, or Lumines, I can recommend it. Until that happens though, I’ll say that this system is officially out of balance and not worth picking up…yet.

So that’s the column. Did you like it? Next week will be a bit more “normal” so that’s good. Top Ten will probably alternate with The Gaming Zen on… and I’ll bring back news and other stuff for next week. I’ll catch you cats next week.