Potent Portables

So both Sony and Nintendo have revealed their next generation handhelds. I suppose it is time for new hardware in the portable space, though considering I only got a PSP in 2007 (and a DS in ’08), these launches still feel premature based on my own time with them. I’ll probably treat the 3ds and PSP 2 the same way I did their predecessors — I’ll largely ignore them, and wait for the price drop, the hardware to be revised, and the software library to improve before I make any move. In the dedicated console space, hardware revisions don’t mean too much (I don’t know anyone who is embarrassed for having an original 360, and people are proud of OG PS3’s), but with portables they can make a huge difference. And considering both Sony and Nintendo are pushing the boundaries of what should be considered an acceptable price for a portable, it is getting more and more risky to beta test 1st gen hardware.

That being said, I know myself well. Even if I have absolutely no time for either of these handhelds, I’ll end up getting at least one of them within the next three years. And if I had to pick one over the other, it would have to be the 3DS. The main reason for this is that my DS Lite is busted, so at the very least , a 3DS would let me catch up on backlog and stay current. But looking beyond my personal situation, I feel like the 3DS is a safe bet. I know that developers won’t ignore it, and the optional 3d effects means that it hasn’t limited its potential market. Optional 3d also means that if the 3d craze dies earlier than expected, the 3DS won’t be dead in the water (though by then, it will likely be much cheaper). Lastly, the fact that we will be seeing classic Game Boy titles on the Virtual Console means that Nintendo has once again staved off the death of 2d gaming. All in all, I can look at the 3DS and know exactly what I’m getting, and that kind of confidence is what I’m going to need in the coming years, when both my time and my gaming budget shrink.

I know what this will do, and I know that I’ll like it.

I can’t say the same about the PSP2 (which I refuse to call the NGP, out of respect for the Neo Geo Pocket). It is crammed full of cool stuff, but I have no idea how all of it will pan out. I like the idea of having a persistent 3g data connection, but the future of mobile data in the States is discouraging. LTE/4g is getting hot, and carriers are eager to kill of unlimited data plans, which I can’t view as anything but an excuse to spend less on infrastructure improvements and rake in more profit. I’m willing to pay for a data plan on one device (my phone), but two? No thanks. I’m also unexcited about PSP backwards compatibility, as Sony’s track record with said feature is less than sterling. The same goes for Sony’s accompanying initiative with Android phones. Great idea, but will they stick with it, and follow through? History says they probably won’t.

I think my main problem with the PSP2 is that it suggests Sony still doesn’t “get it”. Having the most powerful hardware in any market does not guarantee success, and all the features in the world amount to nothing if they end up largely ignored. The 3DS has one primary new feature (3d visuals) and you can be sure that at least Nintendo themselves will focus on it with laser precision until it justifies itself. The PSP2, on the other hand, has both touch capabilities and a tilt sensor, and I’m quite sure at least one of them is going to be ignored (and judging by the PS3, I think I know which one). Sony still thinks they can win the day by throwing together as many hot features as possible, and win everyone over with a spec sheet. It just doesn’t work (remember that people had the same drooling response to the PSP1, and look how it didn’t blow the DS out of the water. These initial reactions mean squat).

Worse yet, they seem to be trying very hard to compete with Apple; Most of the PSP2’s new features put it closer in line with the iPhone than the DS. I had a brief debate with someone about whether or not this is a good idea, and I’ll repeat what I said there. If you’re a casual iOS gamer, you’re not going to replace your iPhone (which is always with you) or your iPod (with its small size and good battery life) for a PSP 2 which won’t even fit in your pocket. On the flip side, your traditional “core” gamer has their head stuck too far up their ass to consider bothering with whatever iOS/Android ports the PSP2 could theoretically feature. The handheld wants to please both audiences, but they’re both interested in very different things. And as for me, who is interested in both styles of games, I’d actually rather keep two devices with me (or better yet, just choose one and alternate between them).

In the end, I could very easily be wrong about this. I had no interest in the PSP for a long time, but it became my most played console for several years. I don’t want to actively dislike the PSP2, but Sony’s vision for it seems so much more muddled compared to the PSP 1, which was simple in comparison. The fates of mobile gaming, mobile computing and mobile internet are all linked, and right now I’m not sure where it will all go. In that light, the relative safety of the 3DS is a comforting prospect.

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