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PSP: All it's cracked up to be
New handheld gaming device lives up to the hype, opening new areas for Sony.
March 23, 2005: 11:11 AM EST
Game Over is a weekly column by Chris Morris
Sony's PSP
Sony's PSP
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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) As far as sure bets go, you really can't do any better than Sony has with the PSP.

In the weeks leading up to its release, the "portable PlayStation" has captured the eye of both gamers and non-gamers. Finding one this Thursday, when they officially go on sale, will be nearly impossible if you haven't placed a pre-order.

If you're planning on adding a PSP to your holiday wish list, tell your friends and family to buy it early June or July might be a good plan.

So is the PSP worth the fuss? Almost certainly.

It's not flawless, and at $250 it's not cheap, but at its core the PSP is a sleek, adult-friendly device that could take handheld gaming to a higher level.

With its space-age design and crisp, large 4.3 inch screen, the PSP is a visual treat, especially for 3-D titles. Games on the PSP look slightly better than what you're probably used to on a PlayStation 2. It certainly adds to the "wow" factor.

The button layout is nearly identical to the Dual Shock controller on the PlayStation 2, which makes the PSP instantly accessible to a generation of gamers.

The addition of wireless game play allows as many as 15 PSP owners within a few feet of each other to compete in one of several games. Can't find an opponent close by? In many cases, all you need is a wireless access point to take the game online.

Ultimately, of course, screen quality is just a bonus. For the PSP to succeed, it all comes down to games. Sony has a ton of 'em ready to hit store shelves with the PSP 18 to be precise. Another half dozen will appear within roughly two weeks, and 23 more are currently in development, including Grand Theft Auto 2 for PSP, due in the summer.

There are definitely some dogs in that stack (hello "Gretzky NHL," I'm talking to you).

There are some gems as well. "Wipeout Pure" has been a personal favorite, and the critical cheers for the puzzle game "Lumines" are almost deafening.

Make no mistake: Having 24 launch titles is a definite show of strength of Sony's part. They want to make it clear they're not only in the handheld gaming market to stay, but that they also plan on quickly challenging Nintendo for the leadership role.

To the Sony's credit, they've made a point to have a diverse lineup. Whether you're looking for sports, driving, action, role-playing or just plain quirky games, you can pick one up when you get your PSP.

I haven't spoken at length about the PSP's movie and music playing abilities. There's a reason for that. While they're certainly nice additions to the machine, they're far from the PSP's focus, despite Sony's (Research) bundling of "Spider-Man 2" with each unit sold.

The PlayStation 2 also plays movies and music. But ultimately, it's a game machine.

It's certainly nice to be able to watch films on the go -- and this aspect of the PSP might be popular with travelers. Still, given the choice of a $20 PSP movie with no extras or a DVD for the same price with commentary, bloopers and more, it's not going to be a contest for most consumers.

As for music, the PSP will play your MP3 files, but if you're looking for an iPod replacement, this isn't it. The 32 MB Memory Stick that comes with the PSP bundle will only hold a few songs. You can upgrade, of course, but a 1GB Memory Stick would only give you a quarter of the storage capacity of an iPod mini for more than half the price of that iPod.

As noted, the PSP isn't perfect. That same beautiful screen I was raving about a few paragraphs ago collects dust and fingerprints quicker than you can blink. If you try to play a game or watch a movie outside, the glare is so bad you'll spend the bulk of your time staring at your own reflection.

Battery life is, as expected, something of an issue, though it's not as bad as many feared. I found four hours to be about the norm. That's not an issue futzing around town, but could be maddening the first time you're on a cross-country trip. If you don't keep an eye on the monitor in the screen's upper right corner, you might not realize when your PSP battery is about to run dry.

(Perhaps you heard my anguished scream last week when my screen went dark midway through one of my races in "Wipeout"?)

It's also worth noting the PSP's price tag once again: $250 is considerably higher than what the company asked in Japan. At $40-$50 each, the games aren't much easier to swallow.

Niggling complaints aren't going to slow down the PSP powerhouse, though, if my (admittedly un-scientific) buzz-meter is any indication.

With the release of any new handheld gaming device, I always like to take it with me on public transportation, to bars, to restaurants and other areas where there are large groups of people. The more people come up to take a look, the better the buzz.

In the week I've had my PSP, I've been surrounded on a train, had a waitress ignore all her other customers in a rather upscale steak house and had a police officer halt his rounds to come over and ask to see more and inquire about the cost.

That's just in the real world. You should see how excited they are in gaming message boards.

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Morris is Director of Content Development. Click here to send him an email.  Top of page

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