PSP vs DS - Round One!

25th May 2004

E3 times been and gone again - time for plenty of obese 16 year old "webmasters" to go back and feverishly type out their findings about the next massively multiplayer online role playing game. That will probably have orcs in it.

In the real world of gaming though a few things happened - Halo 2 looked good, Half Life 2 looked...well exactly the same as it did last year to be honest. Good though.

The big news was that this year if you don't mind importing from the land of the rising sun you could be playing two new hand-helds this year.

In the red corner - new to the portable games market but master of the portable everything else electrical market is Sony's new console. The PSP. Imagine a wide screen TV - and shrink it. That's the feeling that they are going for. It's got crosses and squares on the buttons and since it's something Sony related its got a proprietary disc format. A disc format that you are going to be able to buy films and games on. Whether anyone is going to buy two versions of a film on DVD and "UMD" isn't something worth discussing. Presumably some will. Games wise imagine a Playstation 2 that is...portable. Gran Tourismo, Wipeout, Tony Hawks...feel free to continue.

The blue corner - the Nintendo DS. A strange beast - why have one screen when you can have 2? Why have 2 normal screens when you can have one being a touch screen? Research departments seem to get a lot of power these days. It plays GBA games but isn't a follow up to the GameBoy. It also takes a new card for new DS games. It has enough buttons to convert SNES games properly, and has the graphics to keep up with an N64. No analogue stick though - someone really ought to point out that making a home console portable you really ought to have enough buttons for its native controller. Innovative gaming is the main selling point, but beyond a map on the second screen if you don't use the touch features no one is really sure why it's there. Potential - but maybe just potential. Plus having to have two screens for each screen shot is going to get on magazine designers nerves very quickly.

Games wise - again strange. A new Wario Ware, a partly new Animal Crossing, an old Mario 64. Multiplayer wireless gaming is the focus apart from the touch screen - you can now explore Mario 64 with 3 other people, and wander around an Animal Crossing town with friends too. Not much has been confirmed really.

Both companies seem to be going for the "more is more" approach - 2 screens is better than 1 on the Nintendo. Gaming, UMD and MP3 play is better than just gaming on the PSP. One problem that seems to have reared it's head - battery life. Watch a full movie on the PSP and your battery life is gone. Game playing lasts longer but is reliant on nice tricks on the programmerís behalf. Why do extra work for that? It's not their console, not their problem. Worrying, although there is time left so weíll let Internet speculation run riot for now.

So what have Sony got to gain from this venture? Well apart from money it gives them the chance to expand their videogame division - and the chance to make a dent into Nintendo's almost monopolistic ownership of the handheld market. What have they got to lose? Respect - and thatís something that Sony have based their business on. The Playstation was created with nothing to lose - if it failed Sony would have simply invented a new type of Walkman. Now though Sony has a successful videogames department taking risks is dangerous and thatís just what the PSP is. The Playstation brand has never suffered a failure before - how the market will react is an uncertainty. In all honesty though - it's unlikely.

Nintendo on the other hand have lost to Sony before - and this new entry to what is now Nintendo's core market will be taken seriously. The GameBoy has been successful for more than a decade - Nintendo won't want to lose handheld dominance now.

Which handheld will be the most successful? For once itís very hard to guess. Sony have proved they can make tremendously selling consoles - but Nintendo has been generating tremendous sales in this market for what feels like forever. Only time will tell. Presumably a column somewhere in a few years will too. Time is more reliable though

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