Editorial / The troubled (yet wonderful) life of the PSP

The death of a system isn’t announced the moment its successor arrives. The PS2 saw releases like God of War II months after the PS3 had launched, and for a year or so the 360 clung to (sometimes inferior) ports of games that were coming to the original console.

But few would argue, I don’t think, against the claim that Sony’s PSP was dead long before its burly bigger brother released.

Sure, the PSP has seen a few minor releases in the past year, like Corpse Party, The 3rd Birthday and, to a lesser extent, some excellent minis like Where Is My Heart?, but nothing to truly cause a stir. It was arguably God of War: Ghost of Sparta that was the system’s last big game, and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker before that.

Despite strong sales, the PSP marks a turning point in the PlayStation brand’s 16-year life. The unstoppable success of the original PlayStation and PlayStation 2 was complimented with software libraries filled with some of gaming’s all-time greats and then some. The PS2 in particular saw over 2,000 games released on it. Its handheld counterpart, however, will likely be remembered for its infamous software droughts, so much so that Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida has stressed that this is a mistake that will not be repeated in the PS Vita.

It feels as if the system has had somewhat of a muted existence. A string of early misses in the software line up seemingly dampened any hype that later titles might have carried. Issues with piracy, control schemes, confusing films/media services, expensive minis, system updates and eventually the ill-fated PSP go seem to define the consoles lifespan rather than its killer apps.

It feels as if every time Sony decided to build momentum with the system, any ground gained quietly slipped away just weeks or months afterwards. One event held late in the system’s life span revealed a quadruple whammy of MotorStorm, LittleBigPlanet, Assassin’s Creed and Rock Band all heading to the portable, but initial excitement seemingly vanished by the time these games released. The fact that Sony Cambridge, for example, managed as robust a creation and sharing system with the handheld version of LBP as seen on the PS3 game was no small feat. But it just didn’t seem to go anywhere. Then again just a few years ago when Sony placed a huge focus on the go and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker at an E3 conference, hype just seemed to die soon after.

Developers found themselves making names for themselves for entirely different reasons than they would on a console. Sony Bend managed three perfectly capable, engaging third person shooters on the system, seemingly the only developer to do so. High Impact and Ready at Dawn came to be known as the Ratchet and God of War B-teams respectively. Though Japanese development admittedly thrived on the system – a smattering of Final Fantasies, JRPGs and wonderful oddities like Patapon prove as much.

But there have been some utterly incredible additions to its library to justify a purchase. There are plenty of games that slipped under people’s radars on PSP. Valkyria Chronicles II, Patapon, Locoroco, Half-Minute Hero are all games that felt like they deserved a little bit better than the system they were headed too. Peace Walker, for example, featured a fantastic sweep of multiplayer and social features like soldier trading and online co-op. But it wasn’t until the recent console rerelease that these features were fully realised and reached the masses.

And I loved my PSP, I really did. I bought the system at launch and like to think I’ve used it fairly regularly in the following seven years. And I’m not just talking about for the Final Fantasies and Metal Gears that came to it, but also for those games that weren’t quite there, the console ports that actually worked out pretty well, and for being a platform to expand upon some of my favourite franchises on. I remember beating MGS: Portable Ops at 5:30am when I had school in just three hours, accidentally hurling the thing like a brick across a room as I was inched out of first place by a second in Burnout Legends, and scribbling down notes on a piece of paper while utterly engrossed in one of Silent Hill: Origins’ devious puzzles.

I even enjoyed just the spectacle of console-centric games like Splinter Cell: Conviction running on the system, even if they were to fall victim to that lack of camera control. Many a potential hit on the PSP was completely destroyed by that all-important second nub that was inexplicably absent.

But the PSP has seemingly been a very necessary system. Now that it’s come and gone, we have the Vita in its place. For now, during this unusually positive launch period (something that’s all too rare these days), concerns about the system’s long-term success don’t matter. What we have right now is a system that corrects the faults of the PSP with its oh so lovely second analogue stick, digital offerings and surprisingly powerful tech.

Already games that would be sent out to die on PSP are seeing success on Vita – Sony Bend’s Uncharted: Golden Abyss captures the spirit of the franchise perfectly, rarely am I able to pry my housemates’ fingers off of the system when FIFA is on, just by playing the demo it’s clear that Zipper’s Unit 13 is a more capable shooter than any PSP entry in the genre, and the accessibility of the PlayStation Store makes fantastic offerings like MotorStorm: RC possible. The potential the system carries rest on the foundations the PSP laid, for better or worse.

Saying goodbye to a system should be like writing poetry – epic metaphors and imagery of a towering achievement in the world of gaming. The PSP was too much of a troubled system to do that for. For every success there’s something that trips it over. For every perfect beat in Rock Band Unplugged there’s an ugly screech of a UMD turning inside. But I’ll remember it for my second favourite Metal Gear game, building an army in Patapon, discovering Final Fantasy Tactics and much more. Let’s hope when I come to write a farewell in (god-willing) another seven years, I’ll be able to replace ‘troubled’ with ‘triumphant’.