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Playstation goes Portable

MARK BEMENDERFER AND TREVOR GASS | Friday, April 1, 2005

When addressing anything that has impact on the world of handheld gaming, it is only right to first acknowledge the legacy of the Nintendo Gameboy. Since 1987, Nintendo has shrugged off every competitor attempting to enter the portable gaming arena with ease.But on March 24, handheld gaming changed forever.Enter the PSP, PlayStation Portable. It boasts 333 MHz of processing power, 4 MB of embedded DRAM (on top of the 32 MB of system RAM), a 4.3 inch 16:9 TFT LCD widescreen, built-in stereo speakers and IEEE802.11b wireless communications ability. This tidy package weighs in at approximately 280grams/.62lbs and is the sexiest piece of electronic equipment since the Apple iPod. Essentially, the PSP sports the power of the PlayStation 2 in the palm of your hand.

GraphicsThough some critics doubt the PSP’s capability to produce PlayStation2 graphics (due to smaller screen size), nobody will deny the PSP’s graphics are spectacular. When comparing them to Nintendo’s recent DS portable system, it’s easy to see there is almost no comparison. The PSP’s launch games boast polygons that the Nintendo DS will not even touch at the end of its life cycle.All games currently available for the PSP showcase crisp graphics, superb textures and, for the most part, silky smooth framerates – a high amount of frames per second. While “Untold Legends” has framerate issues when the enemies become too numerous for the processor to handle comfortably – this can also be an issue in multiplayer due to lag time – all in all, I give the graphics a solid 10 out of 10.Overall rating: A+

SoundThe built-in stereo speakers are very capable in themselves (loud enough that I can hear my roommate in the center room of the quad slashing through “Untold Legends” while working on my paper in the next room over). But, as always, the headphones included with the value pack are necessary to gain the full experience. The PSP is also capable of playing MP3 music files, which are saved to the removable and upgradeable Memory Stick Duo.Overall rating: A

DesignThe same familiar buttons – X, triangle, circle and square – make another appearance on Sony’s latest creation. An analog control “nub” is located in the lower left of the hardware, but unfortunately its position can become very uncomfortable. I also am concerned about its durability in the long run. The standard D-pad located above the analog control functions adequately but is a little sloppy to use in games requiring tight control. The L and R buttons at the top of the PSP are unnervingly flimsy. A line of smaller buttons that run along the bottom underneath the screen include a “home” button that returns the PSP to the OS launch screen, volume control, display brightness with four settings, music tone for MP3 playback that switches between Heavy, Pops, Jazz, Unique, and Off and the all too familiar Start and Select buttons. Instances of these buttons sticking have been reported. Also, problems with the square button sticking plagued a small percentage of the PSPs released in Japan on Dec. 12, 2004.The power button, wireless enable/disable switch and UMD (Universal Media Disc, format in which games and videos are written) release are all located on the side of the PSP. The power button also doubles as a “hold” switch, disabling all button commands, which is handy during MP3 or video playback. Also located along the perimeter are the USB port, headphone port and power jacks, as well as the slot that houses the Memory Stick Duo. There is no doubt that when it comes to looks, the PSP is one sleek machine. However, the avid gamer will find that the controls layout cramps one’s hands. The overall sturdiness of the PSP is another point of concern. The door covering the Memory Stick Duo is flimsy and the UMD drive seems to be particularly vulnerable to damage when it is open.Finally, the giant 4.3 inch LCD, as great as it is, seems to be begging for smudges and scratches. Luckily, the PSP value pack comes with a protective case to help avert these possible tragedies from occurring..Overall rating: B

GamesThe PSP launched with a respectable variety of games, including several racing and sports titles. They have the role playing, puzzle, platformer, strategy and fighting categories covered as well. Also worth noting is that all but two of the launch titles support multiplayer. Upcoming releases look promising as well, including “Devil May Cry” and “Final Fantasy.” Gaming outlook. Overall rating: A

VersatilityThe PSP is the first hand held gaming system that serves as a multimedia platform. Aside from games, it can play MP3’s, videos (either on UMD or MPEG4 format), and can hold JPEG picture files. Sony plans on releasing other additional options including the possibility of turning it into a cell phone. Is this more than we need? Most would say yes. Many people already have a portable CD player or iPod for music. The PSP would need a substantial memory increase (costing even more money) to make it worthwhile in the music department, and most joggers would find it too bulky and heavy when compared to the iPod alternative.The United States launch of the PSP included the “Spider-Man 2” movie on UMD free with the first million units. The video was quite good, with minimal color bleeding during onscreen movement, and the sound was equally impressive. Sony plans on releasing other movie titles on UMD. However, since UMDs will only work on the PSP, most people would probably prefer to pay for the DVD version that they can watch on a bigger screen. For those who invest in a larger Memory Stick Duo, they can transfer video files from their computer to watch on the PSP. However, I do not foresee any notable success with the PSP in the UMD video department.When it comes to showing JPEGs, you can download pictures and show them to your friends. Not much else to say on that.The PSP definitely goes above and beyond what is expected of the run-of-the-mill handheld gaming system. Is it more than we need? Probably. Do you have a choice about it if you buy one? No. The only gripe so far is the video format limited to the MPEG4 format.Overall rating: A-

ValueWith a price tag of $249.99, this is not something the average college student can easily afford. The forced bundle pack Sony has dropped on the United States audience includes the PSP, battery, charger, carrying case, wrist strap, 32 MB Memory Stick Duo, ear bud headphones, remote, wiping cloth for the screen and UMD video sampler disc. Also, the first one million units include “Spider-Man 2” on UMD.Sony has not relayed any details on releasing the PSP as a stand-alone unit. The Japanese version of a stand-alone unit launched at $180 U.S. Based on this price, a stand-alone unit in the United States should be priced somewhere between $149 and $200 and will include at least the battery and charger. What is offered in the value pack is useful. The memory stick is necessary to save game data, the remote comes in handy if one is doubling it as a MP3 player and the case is something that one should strongly consider investing in anyway. Depending on the price difference, especially considering the same $250 can land you a Gamecube and a PS2 or X-Box, the weary gamer could be wise to hold off on purchasing the PSP at the moment.Overall rating: B-

OverviewThe PSP is one impressive piece of equipment. With its amazing graphics and strong gaming prospects, it is something that Nintendo should be worried about. It does have its weaknesses, including the above listed issues as well as the low battery life (which varies depending on use, screen brightness and volume) and dead pixels. But, for the hardcore gamer – who loves to be on the cutting edge of technology – or the frequent transatlantic flier, the PSP is definitely something to look into.Overall rating: A

GamesUntold Legends: Brotherhood of the BladeThe role-playing game selection at launch was relatively weak, consisting of only one game. Considering it was role-playing games that pushed the initial Playstation, the lack of such games is noticeable. Fortunately, “Untold Legends” is not a bad one.”Untold Legends” is an action role-playing game, similar to “Diablo” and “Baldur’s Gate.” It can be played either solo or with 3 friends, giving the player a chance to test the Wi-Fi. The difficulty ramps up according to the number of players, giving the game a decent challenge.The graphics are decent, as is the sound quality. Neither one is particularly impressive, but simultaneously not distractingly bad. The loading times are a major drawback for this game since they are frequent and run on the long side. Nothing can interrupt a good ogre slashing like having to wait almost half a minute for the next area to load.Overall rating: B+

Darkstalkers Chronicles: The Chaos TowerThe “Darkstalkers” series is an odd choice as one of the launch titles. The series has been more of a niche title than Capcom’s more popular fighters but it still has a small, but devoted, fanbase. Hopefully this situation will change with “Darkstalkers Chronicles.”The game is one of the most beautiful animated 2D fighters on the market. Each of the characters is a fluid, colorful Capcom creation. The game revolves around the Darkstalkers, who are based on the famous monsters of cinematic and written history. Frankenstein’s monster is present, as are an assortment of vampires, werewolves and other mythological creatures. The game also has a ton of unlockable game features. Cinematics, artwork and Darkstalkers tunes can all be unlocked, adding to the replay value of the game. The only deterrent would be based in the gameplay itself. Being a fighting game, the replay value relies on the gamers love for the genre. While the game may not convert anyone, fans of the fighting genre would be amiss to overlook this title. Overall rating: A

Ape Escape: On the LooseThe Gameboy DS has “Mario 64,” and the PSP has “Ape Escape.” While solid in its own right, the game doesn’t bring anything new to the table.A platforming game similar to Mario, the game begins with a horde of evil monkeys hell-bent of rewriting history. It is the player’s job to go through history and capture all the monkeys, setting things right. As more monkeys are collected, humorous descriptions are unlocked. Comedy is key throughout the game, as the cinematics, sounds and the monkeys themselves can be pretty amusing.The game controls well, even though the original used dual analog controllers. The graphics don’t quite push the PSP capabilities, but they aren’t distracting. The game also uses the Wi-Fi for up to two players and multiple players can face off in the unlockable mini-games. Overall, the PSP’s current sole platformer is worth picking up.Overall rating: A- Dynasty Warriors”Dynasty Warriors” is one of the Playstation 2’s most profitable franchises. Having already been seven titles on the PS2, it would seem a logical choice for a PSP launch title. However, of all the available launch titles, it may not be the best choice.The game plays like a weak role-playing game. The player can choose from a huge selection of historical Japanese fighters and then proceed to slaughter thousands of ancient Japanese soldiers. The characters level up as experience is gained. Compared to its predecessors, the gameplay has changed slightly. The huge maps have been eliminated and have been replaced by a playing board. When the player moves his general onto an occupied space, the game reverts to the traditional “Dynasty Warriors” style of play.Graphically, the game is decent. It deserves some credit for displaying a lot of enemy soldiers at one time, but at the expense of some graphical slowdown. While the game is fun, a lack of depth and Wi-Fi playability keeps it from being one of the more essential titles.Overall rating: B

Wipeout Pure”Wipeout Pure” is definitely one of the more visually stunning titles for the PSP. The vehicles all look terrific, especially considering the fact that it’s on a portable system. The gameplay matches the splendor of the visual style.The player gets to choose from a variety of anti-gravity racing vehicles, all of which are rendered well. The tracks range from the simple to the insanely complex, giving the game lasting appeal. Additional tracks and vehicles can also be unlocked as the player progresses through the game.The game also supports Wi-Fi, allowing up to eight players to play together. The game doesn’t lag when played over the internet – a positive point as lag could kill any racing game. Savvy gamers can also find a way to browse the internet using “Wipeout Pure.” Overall, this is one of the must-buys for the system. Overall rating: A+

Twisted Metal: Head-On The classic vehicular combat game has finally become portable. “Twisted Metal” has already made a splash on the original PlayStation, as well as the PS2. With all the hype surrounding the game, the biggest question is whether it lives up to the hype. The answer is an emphatic yes.The premise of “Twisted Metal” is simple – get into a car and blow everything up. And in this case, I literally mean everything. Anything from pillars to the Eiffel Tower can be destroyed, creating some of the most interactive environments found on a handheld console. The selection of cars is also nice, including fifteen vehicles ranging from motorcycles to construction vehicles. The Wi-Fi up to six players, which can also be played over the internet. The game suffers from minor lag, but it hardly detracts from the gameplay. There are some minor changes when played online, but they aren’t obvious and are necessary for a smooth gameplay. Overall, a ton of unlockables and solid gameplay push this title to the top.Overall rating: A+