PSP - Buy It Now

Is the PSP worth buying right now? 'Hell yeah!' says Kristan.

It took me about seven months to take advantage of the fact, but the PSP is so much more than the games machine I bought it as, and for the first time in my life I'm actually using a multimedia handheld for pretty much all the things Sony designed it for.

Taking it point by point, as a games machine it's merely adequate at the moment. Much like Tom, I broadly agree that there are only a few Must Have games out there for day one. The usual suspects make the list: Virtua Tennis, Everybody's Golf, Ridge Racers, Mercury. I still haven't played Lumines but like the sound of it, but most of the other games are oft-incompetently ported shovelware that have been rushed to market with little thought as to whether they're even suitable for the demands of handheld gaming.

But then, as Phil Harrison pointed out at GDCE, publishers always stick with what they know in the format's early days. Barely any system's launch line-up ends up being that memorable, and I suspect the PSP has so much more to offer than the facsimiles of existing multi-format titles.

It does, however, look very much like many publishers are happy to throw in a PSP version almost for the sake of it, and I hope that some seriously low sales of certain ill-advised titles will sharpen their focus a little.

Rockstar, for example, should be congratulated for making the effort to prime an all-new GTA for the system, when it would have been far more lucrative to simply rush it out on the other systems. Whether it's any good is another matter, but given that I'm seeing the game on Friday (tomorrow) there's not long to find out on that score.

Although all the evidence in front of us right now suggests the PSP will be drowning in ill-considered identikit ports, it really is too early to judge whether that will persist in the long term. And in any case, there are more than enough good games out there so far to feel satisfied.

Another point to make is no-one's forcing you to buy two versions of the same game; I'm personally just glad to have the choice: not all of us have unlimited time to spend playing games at home. Some of us sneak in gaming time during commutes and other periods of dead time (like on holiday on the sun lounger, on planes, or even, you know, on the bog), so as someone whose gaming time is being eaten into all the time at home, the PSP has come at exactly the right time. Being able to hone my Pro Evo skills on the tube might actually give me a chance to beat Mugs for once.

Aligned directly to this point of being able to squeeze in some time with Sony's baby on the move is the PSP's non-gaming functions. Although some claim that putting MP4 movies on the PSP is fiddly, it really isn't, and I'll provide a handy blow-by-blow guide later this week to show you exactly how easy it is to do. Once you've gotten over the slightly unintuitive learning curve, the ability to watch your favourite episodic TV show or movie on the move is a godsend.

Sure, other machines do this sort of thing better, and have far better file format support, but none of them have a screen like the PSP's, and none of them double up as a gaming system anywhere near as proficient as this.

I'm certainly not complaining that I can also store a bunch of MP3s on there, and keep a store of my favourite photos to amuse friends and family with whenever I see them. Of course you can do all of these things on other devices, but I'd much rather walk out of the house with just one machine tucked in my jacket pocket knowing that during my five hour return trip to see Norwich City will dissipate in a blur of Virtua Tennis, and assorted TV shows and the odd movie. I actually look forward to those train journeys now, safe in the knowledge that my lovely girlfriend can't interrupt me, or tell me off for watching a scary movie that she doesn't approve of. Even the recent hour-long delay last weekend was no bother as it merely meant I got further into my game.

As for the issues concerning the build quality and the fragile screen, I've personally never had a sticking button, never had the nub fall off or scratched the screen despite having taken it out on countless occasions. Of course, the same argument could be applied to not owning a nice shiny new car and keeping it in the garage at all times. If you buy nice shiny new things you have to take extra special care of them, so I take extra special care of the PSP. Seriously, it's not an issue. Yes, if you drop it it's not going to fare too well; but use the hand strap every time you play it. Make sure it's always in the case when you're not using it, and definitely do not leave it on a sandy beach for the love of God!

Battery life is another contentious issue. Many critics point out that Ridge Racer sucks the life out of the system to the tune of three and a half hours, which isn't going to help you on a long haul flight. Well, I suppose the first thing to note there is that not many gamers are that obsessed to play games for an entire transatlantic flight, and if they are they can always buy a back up battery, or, you know, watch an in-flight movie. In my own personal experience, the battery life is perfectly fine for day to day use; five hours (give or take) is fine for most hardened commuters, and once you get into the habit of charging it when you get home (like your mobile phone) it's really not an issue. Repeatedly droning on about battery life is as useful as criticising a mobile phone that you can't talk on continuously for eight hours. Most of us don't and won't ever use a PSP continuously like that, and so that's good enough for me.

Far more pressing than battery concerns are upgrading the PSP's Memory Stick storage, because without a decent-sized card, the PSP's functionality is slashed at a stroke. A 1GB card is definitely recommended here as it provides an excellent amount of storage for full length movies and several album's worth of MP3s as well as photos, and still have room to spare. More is a bonus, but they're perilously expensive at this point and for the money you'd be better off buying a dedicated media player with a whacking great hard disk and an extra bag.

One thing that I find utterly irrelevant, though, are UMD movies. What the hell was Sony thinking? Who in their right minds is going to spend more on a UMD movie than a DVD just to watch something that's probably been stripped of the extras? With games costing way more than they should already (for the time being, at least), I very much doubt people will have too much cash left over to buy UMD movies into the bargain. Maybe there are enough stupidly rich people out there to make it worthwhile, but my feeling is that once people realise how easy it is to convert their DVDs to mp4s they won't be so keen to shell out for UMDs.

On balance, though, I'm totally in love with the PSP. It's not perfect, admittedly. The loading times are a real pain in the butt on certain titles, but that appears to be more of an issue with developers not having sussed out the best way to program for the system at very short notice than anything inherently wrong with the hardware. Time will be the judge on that score, although there's no denying that it could be better. Even so, the level of quality of some of the games on the PSP, combined with all the extra functionality makes it an essential purchase to me. I should add that I love my Nintendo DS as well, but these days my PSP is increasingly the one I take out of the house. Whether you choose to buy one is a matter you'll be wrestling with right now, but I certainly couldn't do without mine right now.

PlayStation Portable is out now worldwide. For an alternative take, you can find Tom's thoughts on it here.

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