PSP vs Nintendo DS
A year or so ago, I had a chance, briefly, to try out a Sony PSP and a Nintendo DS. Both handheld game consoles, but they couldn't have been more different. The PSP was – and is – a gorgeous piece of hardware which looks great, feels great in the hand and has a beautiful, bright widescreen display. Like the best of Sony's designs over the years, it feels as though it's been beamed back in time from about five years in the future; it's the iPod of consoles. Nintendo's DS, on the other hand, felt as though it had been beamed forwards in time about twenty five years; it looks and feels like it was made by Mattel in about 1980; it's big and clunky and if someone showed you the two of them side by side and asked you which one you wanted, you'd have to be insane to pick the DS.
And yet shortly before Christmas, I bought a DS. Am I insane? Not for that decision, at any rate. The trouble with the PSP is that it lacks the one crucial thing a console needs; good, distinctive games. There are games which look great when you see them running – Ridge Racer, for example – but the overwhelming majority of the PSP catalogue is stuff which has endlessly been done before – first person shooters, racing games, sports games, movie tie–ins. Owning a PSP is just like owning a PlayStation only smaller, and while I can see that for some people that's exactly why it's great, for me it's just completely uninteresting.
(As a slight digression, what I think is most regrettable about the PSP is Sony's boneheaded refusal to see that their DRM obsession is stopping them from having a genuine category killer in the PSP. If they'd given it a 30GB hard drive and made it easy to copy music and movies to it, and they'd encouraged rather than worked frantically to block all those developers who want to port their own applications to it, they could have completely ruled the emerging personal media player space with the PSP. What a waste.)
But back to the DS. It took a while for a range of interesting titles to emerge for it, but before Christmas I started to hear great things about games such as Advance Wars, Animal Crossing, Mario Kart, Sonic Rush, Kirby Power Paint, Meteos and others. Some of these games obviously aren't completely original, but they all offer something distinctive on the DS that hasn't been done before; Mario Kart, for instance, has managed to include genuinely seamless wireless multiplayer gaming which just works, even over public wifi access points. Sonic Rush plays across two screens simultaneously. Kirby Power Paint is a platform game which is controlled by drawing and tapping rather than the conventional joypad approach. They all feel fresh, different, innovative. And that's worth much more than a high gloss case or a big screen.
(Bonus points: If you close the lid of the DS, the game you're playing is automatically suspended and restarted when you open the lid. You couldn't ask for a better handheld for the parent who has to cope with 4 year olds materialising at a moment's notice to demand attention. And the DS plays GBA games as well, allowing me to resurrect some of my old favourites from the Game Cupboard of History.)