System Saturdays: Getting to know the PSP

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two months since I attended Video Game Summit. Of course looking outside I see the weather getting a little gloomy and the temperatures a little cooler, telling me I’m getting further and further from the hot summer day my son and I went to VGS. Ok, it may seem odd for me to start this article on a digression, but I have my reasons, mainly that VGS was ripe with used PSP’s and I found myself seriously considering buying one there. The one thing that prevented me from buying one was that I knew very little about the system, well that, and many at VGS came without chargers and other necessary parts. So that night when I got home I decided I wanted to learn a bit more about the PSP, and find the system that was right for me. 

PSP Development and Launch:

The PSP itself was released in North America in 2005 and meant to give Sony a portable system that would ride on the coattails of wildly successful PS2, and give Sony a major foothold in a portable market long dominated by Nintendo. Essentially, Sony’s marketing strategy was a copy and paste of what Nintendo had done in 1989, with the Game Boy and NES. Sony also stated that they wanted to do for gaming what the Walkman did for cassette players, putting a higher quality of entertainment in people’s hands that was usually reserved for the home living room. So much as the PS2 gave many their first DVD player, the PSP would give many their first portable entertainment platform for movies and games.  

Although, the PSP would receive a great deal of critical acclaim after it’s release, and be applauded for having the most powerful gaming system on the market, its 2005 release was too little, too late. In 2004 Nintendo would release its legendary DS, carrying on it’s juggernaut like control of the portable gaming market. Part of Sony’s lack of impact on the portable market would also be self-inflicted as the PSP would release at a price of $249, about a $100 higher than the Nintendo DS. Although PSP sales where high initially the system never grabbed the market share Sony wanted. With that said though sales were promising enough for Sony to continue to manufacture the PSP, and over time find a market niche among Playstation enthusiast, and to mature gamers as an alternative from the Nintendo DS.  

Choosing My PSP:

The PSP came in four main variants, with a number of sub-variants. The main four are the 1000, 2000, 3000, and PSP-Go. In a way these aren’t so much variants as they are iterations that came along as the system evolved. With that being said the 1000 was the first PSP to be released in 2004, the 2000 an updated model in 2007, and the 3000 the final iteration and most advanced in 2008. The PSP-Go, which was released in 2009, would be the shape of things to come as it didn’t take physical games like it’s predecessors but rather digital games and content. This paved the way for the Vita, the PSP’s replacement, which would replace the PSP in 2011 with all games and content on the system being downloaded directly to the system wirelessly. 

In reviews about the PSP, most in the know tended to agree that the 3000 was the best of all this physical media PSP’s. The 1000 was given kudos for it’s first version charm, but various problems, and the 2000 really didn’t get much attention leading me to believe it was good but nothing special. Reviewers went on to add that the 1000 was good purely for gaming, and the 2000 more for movies than games, and the 3000 was the all around pro at both. The PSP-Go on the other hand was lauded for its innovation and coolness factor with regards to it’s speakers and sliding screen, no mention of how well it played games or movies, but it had a “kickin’ sound system”. To me one of the biggest reasons I wanted s PSP was to get the Gradius Collection, as well as some of the Ace Combat games exclusive to the system, so that meant I was going to need a system that took physical media. With that said my decision was to go with the 3000, the newest of the physical media systems.

With no video game conventions coming up near me till April and all the good video game store out of business it meant I had to look online. The interesting thing I found was that Gamestop’s website had refurbished PSP 3000’s for about $40, but when I asked at my local store they thought I was crazy, stating that the website was badly outdated. This lead me back to eBay, and the prices for PSP 3000’s was anything but cheap there. So it came down to being a waiting game, of finding what I wanted at the right price. Along the way I also determined that I wanted a red PSP if possible. By the end of August I found the PSP I wanted, sadly it was still about $90, but believe it or not that’s actually at the lower end of the average prices for used PSP 3000’s. Of course I need to mention the PSP was also through a seller in Japan, and although shipping was free, it took two weeks to get. 

During that two weeks I was able to pick up a number of games for the PSP, including getting many of them from Japan. Outside of the Gradius Collection, most PSP games are fairly cheap, around $10-$12. Considering the high price of buying a used PSP 3000, it’s nice to know you can build a library of PSP games fairly inexpensively.  Of course most of my Japan imports are anime based and in Japanese, which means it takes some doing to navigate them and get into gameplay. 

The PSP:

When the PSP arrived I was mesmerized by what a beautiful system it was, especially in red. Although the PSP may never have the same popularity the DS was able to achieve, one aspect of it has become very iconic, its case. Even being captured by knock offs, and in the form of toys like the water toy game my youngest has. The case measures about  6.5” in. long, 2.75” in. wide, and about .75” in deep, with a 4.25” in screen. Both ends are curved, which makes the portable feel in bit more ergonomic in your hands, then a DS would. The right side accommodates the four main buttons, ▢△OX (the standard PlayStation faire), a single right bumper/trigger on top, the power switch, as well as the start and select buttons. The left side accommodates a left bumper/trigger on top, the D-pad, analog stick/slider, volume controls, and PS home button. The overall design is compact and nice, and the layout works well for gaming. 

A little bit of mimicry

The backend of the system is totally flat, with it’s only feature being the UMD door adorned with the PSP symbol with a large silver circle around it. The UMD door is opens from the top of the system, with a small indentation to act as a thumb grip. The door opens pretty easily but a little quickly which can be a bit disconcerting.The inside of the UMD drive is reminiscent of a tape cassette player, no doubt part of Sony’s homage to the Walkman that they wanted to sneak into the design during the PSP’s development. The UMD is simply placed on the door, top side out, with a small plastic guide area holding the rounded end of the UMD. Once closed the spring trap you see when the door is open, holds the UMD in place, and the drive mechanism plays the UMD like a mini-CD or DVD.  

UMD bay on the PSP 3000

The UMD:

Sony has long been known for innovation, and often heavily pulling form its own proprietary products to service another product line. Some like Blu-ray have become mainstream, but many others like Betamax, Memory Stick, and MiniDisc are slowly disappearing into obscurity. The UMD disc that Sony would use for the PSP, was more or less and updated version of their MiniDisc technology from the 90’s. 

MiniDisc, where basically small CD’s that came within cases that where a little less that 3”x3” inches in size that looked a bit like 3.5” inch computer disks. The disks themselves required the outer cases since the disks where fragile and fingerprints, or dust easily could upset their operation. Although introduced in the early 90’s, MiniDisc gained some popularity in the late 90’s since MD’s could hold more music than a standard CD, and allowed for the creation of smaller and more portable music library’s. Although there were very few original albums released on MD,  MD blanks were readily available and most of us (yes, I had the component and Walkman set) who owned the systems created copy’s of favorite CD’s or just made mixers. Sony marketed the MD as an alternative to the MP3 players of the time, many of which had issues with capacity, quality or both in the late 90’s. When the first iPods would hit in the early 2000’s, their sound quality, and capacity made Sony’s MD technology obsolete. 

Much as DVDs increased the capacity, and capability of CD’s, the technology would be applied to MD’s as well expanding their capability. This gave MD’s the ability to hold not only audio files, but movies and games as well. This gave Sony the ideal physical media to use with the PSP, evolving the MD into the PSP proprietary UMD. Unlike the MD, and UMD’s case is round and just a little bigger than the MD inside of if, outside of the squared off ends at the bottom to act a finger grips. The UMD also has no sliding mechanism over the disk opening like the MD did. With that said the cases do have a bit of flimsy feel to them, and I received one game off eBay in were the case had split making the disk unplayable.  

Playing the PSP:

The system itself is pretty intuitive to use overall, and reminds me a lot the PS4’s control scheme for some reason. The first game I put in was Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron, a game I have on the Nintendo DS as well. Putting the UMD disk in the PSP is interesting since the drive bay is opened by hand, and the disk is just kind of laid within it, to be honest I’m surprised the UMD disk doesn’t move around. 

This is going to sound weird but the PSP’s D-pad is phenomenal, its chunky and with a hearty amount of give that gives you a true feeling of control. I noticed this about my PS4 controller as well, when using it instead of my XBox One. There’s no skipping or slippage it  and goes where you want it. The analog stick or slider on the other hand can has it’s issues, and I did notice one game that didn’t work well with it that I covered in another posting. It’s good overall, but at times can feel a little inaccurate. The four button control on the other hand works as well as the four button layout on any other controller. I also really like the PS home button as well, since it’s a nice connection to Sony’s console systems.

Of the six games I initially tried on the PSP, I would say five of the six where great and paired well with the PSP and it’s controls. The sixth I’m going to markup more to being on the head of the developer than the PSP, see my review.

Is the PSP worth it?

I’ll start off with the disclaimer that I’m a retro-system lover and collector, and I was bound to eventually buy a PSP.

With that out of the way, I will say that the wait to get one was worth it, and I’m glad I added the system to my collection. Having a ton of experiences with the DS and 3DS, it was refreshing to see what Sony brought to the table in the same era. UMD’s seem to play a little better and more smoothly than there DS contemporarys, and their graphics even seem a little better. The PSP was also able to bring in a wider variety of games as well, since it wasn’t bound by the DS’s family friendly policy, or heavy emphasis on Nintendo characters having the spotlight. The caveat of the PSP, is that with the DS being the king of the portables it often got better versions of third party games, as well as a far larger library.  

I would suggest buying a PSP if you; are a PlayStation Fanboy (or girl), love anime or manga based video games, want a system with more mature titles or titles that are still kid friendly but don’t have a Nintendo character attached to them. It’s also worth buying for original titles like the two Ace Combat games I mentioned. If none of this applies to you, then feel free to stick with the DS series, it’s a good system. As for me I’m really impressed with this little system.