After the Playstation Portable’s first dismal year on the market, I don’t think many people expected it to ever have any sort of serious impact on the industry. However, here we are five years later and Sony has just released the fourth and probably most significant version of the system: the PSPgo.
What makes this new portable gaming machine so important is that it marks the very first time a game company has released a device based solely off of digital distribution. Making history doesn’t matter though if the system is badly designed with poor controls. This begs the question, does the PSPgo deliver as a pure gaming machine, or should it be left on store shelves to sit and collect dust?
I think it’s important to start this review by letting you know the PSPgo is the first version of the system I’ve ever owned. While I’ve played the original PSP model, its never been for extended periods of time. I was therefore never able to collect my thoughts to piece together a well informed opinion of the system. This review is based solely on the over 10+ hours of play time I’ve had with the PSPgo so far.
The first thing I should point out about Sony’s new system is how incredibly small and lightweight it is. Besides the Gameboy Micro, the PSPgo is probably the smallest portable gaming system ever created. To give you a good benchmark for comparison, the device is almost the exact same size and weight as the iPhone 3GS. This is considerably smaller then the Nintendo DSi, and it allows you to easily stick it in your pocket without noticing it’s there.
Unfortunately, because of its small size, the PSPgo feels a little bit flimsy. Everyone I’ve handed the system to so far has pointed out that they want to be careful with it because it feels like it can break easily. While this could simply be a result of the “heavier equals sturdier” human mentality, I have to admit is really does feel like a delicate piece of hardware.
This is mainly due to the sliding screen which doesn’t firmly lock into place when you slide it upward. It kind of jiggles back and forth, which gives the impression you could break it if not careful. There isn’t really any evidence of poor build quality though. It’s simply a result of the screen sliding mechanism Sony decided to use. Eventually, after hours of use, you get used to it and stop worrying.
Because the PSPgo is so small, the screen size has had to shrink to 3.8” across diagonally. This is an 11% shrink from the original PSP’s 4.3” size. While some might complain that this is too small, it’s still a larger screen than the iPhone and DSi. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to smudge and even more difficult to see in direct sunlight. To be honest, unless you can find some shade, you might as well not bother playing the PSPgo outside. Using an anti reflective coating may help, but I haven’t had the opportunity to try one yet.
When you aren’t in direct sunlight, the screen looks absolutely gorgeous. While there are three levels of brightness, controlled from a button on the top of the system, all provide more than enough light. There is also enough contrast between the black and white levels to make watching the darkest movies enjoyable.
No portable gaming system would be complete without comfortable, easy to use controls, but this is one area the PSPgo falls short. Let me begin by saying if you play a game that uses just the D-pad and the main four buttons, the controls feel absolutely great. However, using the shoulder buttons and the analog knob is a completely different situation.
As far as the shoulder buttons go, I have two main problems with them. The first is the entire button doesn’t press down when you push on it. It’s kind of floating above the pad, so you can easily press down only the right or left side of the button without the entire thing moving downwards. This is inconsequential because the system recognizes that you’ve pushed the button in either case, but it feels weird. My tendency is therefore to push the buttons down more firmly, which is just wasted effort in the end.
The other problem I have with the shoulder buttons is that they are a little bit too narrow for my taste. This is because the sliding screen cuts the width of the buttons in half from the original PSP’s size. My fingers feel like they are constantly sliding off of them, which can get really annoying during long play sessions. I therefore end up not resting my fingers on the buttons, which gets me into trouble when I have to immediately push them to dodge an enemy’s attack.
The other major problem with the PSPgo’s controls is the analog knob. First of all, it’s placed in a location on the device that makes me have to hold my thumb in a very awkward position. After a while my thumb actually hurts from using it, and I find I have to stop playing to stretch it occasionally. You should never have to do this after only 20 minutes of use. Another problem I have with the low location of the analog knob is that it makes reaching the left shoulder pad very difficult with your index finger.
Please note, none of these control issues make the system difficult to use, but they can make your experience an annoying one until you get used to them. By this point I’m not really bothered much by poor button layout, but my thumb does still get tired from using the analog knob for extended periods of time. I highly recommend you try out the controls for yourself before buying the system.
Probably the most disappointing thing to date about the PSPgo is the small library of digital games available for it. Currently there are a little over 100 games on the PSN store to choose from. While that might seem like a large number, it’s really not when you consider the small number of quality titles contained in that list. For every good title, like God of War: Chains of Olympus and Patapon 2, there are six or seven mediocre or bad games that most people won’t want to play.
Why hasn’t Sony put some of the best selling and highest rated titles on the network yet? Where is Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, and Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. When you launch a new system based on digital distribution, you should make sure your #1 selling titles are available for download from day one. I really don’t know what Sony is thinking to be honest with you.
While you are waiting for more games to be released, there are still plenty of other features to be excited about. The PSPgo incorporates every feature the original PSP models have, including internet browsing, built-in Skype support, external speakers, and PS3 remote play functionality. You can also still output the audio and video to a TV to play your games on the big screen.
Added to this list are a couple other unique features like built in blue tooth support. This mainly comes in handy by allowing you to plug in a blue tooth headset to talk on Skype. In addition, you can also use it to tether to an existing device, like a cell phone, to surf the internet.
Another new feature is the dualshock 3 controller support. This supposedly allows you to use your PS3 controller to play games on your PSP. I don’t know why you would want to do this though. If you are holding the controller in your hands, how are you going to hold up the PSP screen to see it? This might be desirable if you are projecting the image onto your big screen TV, but I don’t even see why you would want to do that. I’m sure I’m missing the point, but I just don’t understand why Sony included this.
The nicest new feature Sony added to the PSPgo is the ability to put the system into sleep mode without exiting out of a game. This is something the Nintendo DS has had for years now, and many people love it. I can’t tell you how many times I get interrupted while gaming on the go and need to put my system away. If you are not near a save point this can result in the loss of a lot of play time. Now I can simply put my PSPgo to sleep and walk away without any worries.
The final thing I want to discuss is the battery life. While there might not be a UMD drive to use up energy, Sony has shrunk the battery, so there’s less charge to siphon from. If you turn the wireless off and set the screen to its lowest brightness level, you might be able to get four hours of life out of the battery. That has been my experience so far. If you leave the wireless on and have the brightness all the way up, you’ll be lucky to get a little over 2 ½ hours of play time in. Please be wary of this before you try to play the system for extended periods of time without charging it.
Overall, I am generally satisfied with my PSPgo, but I wish Sony had more big name titles available for download, and I wish they had made the controls more comfortable. However, this hasn’t stopped me from getting hours of enjoyment out of the system. The problem is, I would have gotten the same amount of enjoyment out of the regular PSP for less money. I’m an enthusiast though, so I always like owning the newest and most high tech gadgetry.
I can really only recommend the PSPgo to people who don’t already own the system and who enjoy owning the newest technology on the market. If you already own a PSP, I highly recommend you stay away, especially since there is currently no way to port your current UMD games over to your hard drive. I think it’s important that we all pay close attention to the success of the PSPgo and its digital only system. We could very well be watching the birth of the next generation of video game systems. Only time will tell.