The PlayStation Portable (PSP) was a remarkable piece of hardware that was poised to topple the juggernaut of the Nintendo family of hand held gaming devices, in much the same way the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2 toppled Nintendo’s console dominance in living rooms around the world. While the PSP featured remarkable graphics and multimedia functionality, several key features left it standing squarely in 2nd place compared to the hugely popular Nintendo DS line.
The PSP began development in an effort by Sony to supplant Nintendo’s market share of the hand held gaming market, something that prior devices like Sega’s Game Gear and Nomad, Bandai’s WonderSwan, as well as SNK’s NeoGeo Pocket and Pocket Color could not achieve. Nintendo had firmly entrenched itself into share dominance with the Game Boy, the Game Boy Color, and the Game Boy Advance. Sony’s decision to enter this market came about in the early 2000’s, with technical development preceding an E3 2003 press conference announcement. Dubbed at the time as the “Walkman of the 21st Century” by a Sony executive, this device was neither physically shown nor graphically demonstrated beyond technical specs. A conceptual model of the device were shown later that year in November, which was notably different from what form the PSP eventually took. The retail model of the PSP was finally shown to the public at E3 2004, in a lengthy part of Sony’s press conference that highlighted the PSP as a completely new business for Sony on the cusp of the emerging mobile gaming market. This was followed by pricing and release announcements in October of 2004, and a quick release turn around two months later in Japan. The North American release came on March 24, 2005, and the release date price was $250.00, which came in at $100 more than the Nintendo DS.
Despite price, the PSP entered into the market with several significant advantages to it’s main rival, the Nintendo DS, which had launched late 2004. First and foremost, there was a significant increase in graphical fidelity on the PSP compared to the DS, with the graphics ultimately lying somewhere between the original PlayStation and the Playstation 2 in terms of quality. The PSP also carried the support of a significant number of third party publishers, including Electronic Arts who would bring a plethora of sports titles which were perfect for on-the-go play. The multimedia capabilities of the PSP were stellar as well, with enabling of music storage and playback, as well as the DVD-like quality of the UMD movies (and eventual memory card-based stored digital movies) that the superior PSP LCD screen could display. The aforementioned UMD (Universal Media Disc) was the format Sony developed for PSP games, as well as for portable movies. While the format never took off for consumers of video media and major film studios eventually dropped support, UMD’s remained the format for PSP games throughout the PSP’s later revisions (save for the PSP Go which will be discussed below). This small optical disc contained 1.8 gigabytes of data, and features a rounded plastic shield containing the disc, with data access through a slot along the back of the shield. Unfortunately, due to the mechanized nature of spinning and loading off of the disc, the PSP’s power consumption was not as favorable compared to the lithe power needs of Nintendo DS’ card-based media. Another proprietary component used by the PSP came in the form of the then new Memory Stick PRO Duo, a smaller version of the Memory Stick line of flash-based cards that the PSP used for data storage. This was a required (and not-so-cheap) day-one purchase for anyone obtaining a PSP, as the internal memory was not robust enough to save games, having all of it devoted to system memory. The PSP featured a D-pad, four face buttons that kept the familiar X, Y, O, square configuration, two shoulder buttons, and a small analog nub that acted as a left thumb stick. The inclusion of just one nub meant that the PSP would not be able to carry the full functionality of third and first person shooter control as seen in its console cousins, something that limited the device in certain ways and that Sony would rectify in its PSP successor, the PlayStation Vita. However, a number of companies found ways to go around the lack of a second analog nub in creating third person shooters. The PSP also features a Home button, which would return the screen back to the primary device interface and menu system called the XrossMediaBar (XMB), a feature which eventually found its way onto the PlayStation 3 console several years later. From this menu system one could access system settings, memory cards, the UMD for launch, music, video, an eventually added digital comic book reader feature and connectivity with the PlayStation 3, and access to the PlayStation Network and Store for online access and digital downloads respectively.
The PSP launched with a wide diversity of games, including racers ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin’ Trails, Ridge Racer, and Wipeout: Pure, family friendly Ape Escape: On the Loose, musical puzzler Lumines, card-based Metal Gear Acid, sports titles World Tour Soccer, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, and Gretzky NHL, combat driving Twisted Metal: Head-On, and action RPG Untold Legend: Brotherhood of the Blade. A total of over 1300 games were eventually released for the system. In addition to the retail games developed for the PSP, Sony would eventually release a series of original PlayStation games in digital downloadable format from the PlayStation Store, called PS one Classics. PS minis were also eventually made available, which are a series of small and generally inexpensive downloadable games with limited storage requirements that were typically produced by smaller independent studios.
The PSP sold a little over 80 million units worldwide from 2004 until its manufacturing discontinuation in 2014.
A number of device revisions were made over the PSP’s lifespan. The PSP-2000 model was release in 2007 which featured a thinner and lighter form, as well as a brighter LCD screen. Improved internal memory help speed along UMD game loading times and video out capability was added. The PSP-3000 was released in 2008 with improved screen color, contrast, and pixel response, as well as new non-slot UMD tray, a microphone, and the capability to use video out to TV via component cables. The following year, Sony released an all-digital model called the PSP Go, which shed the UMD drive all together, relying on internal flash memory for download-only games. The controls slid out from under the screen, with the analog nub being tightened in to settle to the right of the D-pad. As this was not compatible with prior UMD media (Sony would not allow people who already owned UMD games to obtain a digital version for free), the PSP Go was not very popular and eventually was phased out when the Vita began development. Europe saw one final revision in the form of the PSP Street. This less expensive ‘budget’ version lacked Wi-Fi, stereo speakers. or a microphone. It was released in late 2011. A number of limited edition models were produced across several of the model iterations. These include many differing colors, as well as themed art for Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, Star Wars, and the two God of War games released on the PSP, amongst others.
Several accessories were produced for the PSP, including batteries with greater longevity. These higher capacity batteries were larger than the original battery in the slimmer models, and as a result of their increased bulk required a different battery cover that came packed in with the new battery. Component, S-video, and composite cables were also produced by both Sony and third party manufacturers that permitted the PSP to connect to a TV or display monitor with such inputs.
Unofficial ‘functionality’ for the PSP came in the form of system hacking that began almost as the device was released. This allowed for installation of homebrew applications that sidestepped the PSP’s software protections, and allowed custom programs to be run. Sony countered this vulnerability with subsequent firmware releases, which hackers continued to crack. The end result of this custom homebrew capability for many who use it is the installation of emulator software to run game ROMS of other older game consoles. While these are technically illegal if one doesn’t physically own the games, , ROM emulation has skyrocketed recently as retro video games have increased in popularity.
As mentioned above, the PSP was host to a huge library of excellent games. These included console-like AAA games, casual games, and all manner of quirkiness in between. Some notable titles include:
ATV Offroad Fury Pro
Capcom Classics Collection Reloaded
Capcom Classics Collection Remixed
Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
God of War: Chains of Olympus
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
Hot Shots Golf Open Tee 2
Mega Man X Maverick Hunter
Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker
MLB 08: The Show
Outrun 2006 Coast To Coast
Race Driver 2006
Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters
Sega Genesis Collection
SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1
SOCOM Fireteam Bravo
SSX On Tour
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07
Twisted Metal Head On
Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade
Virtua Tennis World Tour
I obtained my first PSP second-hand sometime in 2005 from a co-worker who had purchased his around launch but needed cash later on. I recall the first time I fired up Ridge Racer on this system, and being very impressed with the graphics and console-like gameplay. The Included Spiderman 2 UMD movie equally was impressive, and was a welcome addition to pass time on airline travel the following year as opposed to bulkier portable DVD players. Of course, the games made such travel a joy, save for the fact the battery would not last over the course of two connecting flights. My original launch PSP saw a great deal of use, my game collection becoming robust with a more diverse push once PSPs started to become phased out at GameStop. I have especially enjoyed portable golfing with Hot Shots and Tiger Woods, varied racing titles, and the numerous retro game compilations produced over the years. I eventually bought a PSP-3000 from an on-line auction site, and now use this to play PSP games given the improved graphical fidelity as well as component video out capability in the limited times I connect this to a TV. While its successor, the PlayStation Vita, is a much more impressive system in many aspects, I still lament the fact that it never has had the diverse software library the PSP enjoyed, and ultimately my Vita collection is quite limited in comparison.
So, what memories or current impressions do you carry of the PlayStation Portable? Did the relatively fluid control scheme of the SOCOM games on the PSP surprise you given the tiny analog nub? Did Lumines and it’s sequel put you into a musical trance? Did you marvel how detailed the small screen could look within the portable worlds of Grand Theft Auto Liberty City and Vice City Stories games? And, did you feel the PlayStation Portable’s console quality games put to rest the notion that portable games should be scaled down small plate versions of their console brethren? Put your comments below, and keep reading for more console and system retrospectives.