With 60 games available at launch, the release of the Xperia Play is one of the best-supported in the history of video gaming in statistical terms, at least. However, those figures are somewhat misleading. Many of the titles up for grabs are merely existing Android games that have been hastily retrofitted with support for the Xperia Play's slide-out interface.
Of those 60 titles, the majority won't present much of a surprise to seasoned Android players. Former PSP Minis favourite Age of Zombies and gorgeous-but-shallow fighter Bruce Lee: Dragon Warrior are games that show off what the hardware is capable of, but Asphalt 6: Adrenaline, Dungeon Defenders, Need for Speed Shift and FIFA 2010 have all previously been available on the Android Market.
While this diminishes the impressive scale of the launch lineup, one thing cannot be refuted: these games play markedly better on the Xperia Play's unique control setup. Whereas before you might have found yourself grumbling and cursing at the ill-defined and imprecise touch-screen interfaces, with this new device such irksome issues are banished.
While we can appreciate that some mobile players will be over the moon to learn that they can now play Gameloft's finest Android titles with a proper d-pad, seasoned gamers are likely to be more interested in the promise of faithful emulation of 32-bit PlayStation classics. Confusingly, Sony Ericsson has chosen to hide this option in a menu that is totally separate from the core gaming interface (which is automatically triggered when you slide open the phone).
To access vintage 32-bit gems from Sony's past you need to launch an entirely unrelated application called PlayStation Pocket. Currently up for grabs are Crash Bandicoot (which comes pre-installed), Destruction Derby, MediEvil, Jumping Flash, Cool Borders 2 and Syphon Filter. Emulation is fast and faithful, although some of the games look a lot rougher than we remembered. We also sincerely hope that the current retail price of £3.99 per game is going to drop; compared to iOS and Android titles, the average mid-nineties PlayStation effort hardly seems worth five times the price.
That said, it takes little imagination to see just how essential the PlayStation Pocket service could become should Sony Ericsson bring across some of the legendary format's seminal slices of brilliance. The tantalising prospect of sampling Xperia Play editions of Gran Turismo, Final Fantasy Tactics or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is enough to make the average gamer salivate with expectation, and the fact that many of these gems are already being circulated on the PlayStation Network bodes well for a quick and easy rebirth on the Android Market. [Editor's note: the connection between PlayStation Pocket and Sony's PlayStation Suite service for all Android phones has yet to be fully explained.]
One aspect of the Xperia Play's gaming portfolio that so far hasn't been bellowed from the rooftops by Sony Ericsson's PR is emulation. Such reluctance is perfectly understandable, given the shady nature of ROM-sharing and the like. There's also the small matter that such activity is potentially counter-productive to Sony Ericsson's mission to make as much cash as possible as evidenced by the recent removal of the excellent PlayStation emulator PSX4Droid from the Android Market, an event that no doubt had something to do with the Xperia Play's impending launch.
However, the fact remains that retro gaming emulators are freely available on the Android Market, and they open up an entire world of gaming brilliance. You're never more than one click away from SNES, Mega Drive, Game Boy Advance, Spectrum, Amiga, C64, Master System and N64 emulation, and when bonded with the Xperia Play's dedicated gaming interface, these esteemed classics are truly brought to life.