Looking Back On The PSP

by Dan Ryckert on Feb 02, 2011 at 10:43 AM

When it was released in 2004, the PSP was a portable with promise. Its large screen displayed near PS2-quality graphics, and gamers imagined a handheld that could bring console experiences on the road. Seven years later, we can look back on the system as neither a smash success or terrible failure. While it did possess more power than any portable in history, its game library was mostly unremarkable and its sales were trounced by the Nintendo DS. Let’s take a look back at some of the more notable talking points about Sony’s first handheld attempt.

A New Format

Sony tried hard to push PSP’s new format, the UMD (Universal Media Disc). These optical discs could hold up to 1.8 gigabytes of data, and could be used for games and movies. With Blu-Ray just around the corner, Sony pushed the idea of combo packs that contained both Blu-Ray and UMD versions of a film. While retailers initially stocked movies on UMD, poor sales led to Universal and Paramount dropping support for the format early on. By 2006, Wal-Mart stopped stocking UMDs. Other retailers followed until it was evident that the concept of UMD movies had completely crashed and burned.

Back To The Drawing Board

As it became more evident that UMD was unpopular and downloadable games were on the rise, Sony began work on a new PSP model. Announced in 2009, the PSPgo featured no disc drive, 16 GB of internal memory, a sliding screen, and a significantly smaller frame than previous versions. It was met with mostly negative reactions, with many gamers complaining about its high cost ($249) and inability to play any PSP games they had previously purchased.

Controversial Campaigns

When YouTube launched in 2005, it helped spark a firestorm of viral marketing. Sony wanted in on the action, so they hired an advertising firm called Zipatoni to create a website called “All I Want For Xmas Is PSP.” They wanted it to look like it was a fan-made site, featuring intentionally misspelled posts like the following:

here's the deal::: i (charlie) have a psp. my friend jeremy does not. but he wants one this year for xmas. so we started clowning with sum not-so-subtle hints to j's parents that a psp would be teh perfect gift. we created this site to spread the luv to those like j who want a psp! consider us your own personal psp hype machine, here to help you wage a holiday assault on ur parents, girl, granny, boss — whoever — so they know what you really want. we'll let you know how it works for us. pls return the favor.

They also treated us to this atrocious faked attempt at viral video:

A link on the site encouraged readers to print out an ad that read “This is not an ad. It’s a reminder...that someone close to you wants a PSP for Xmas.” Turns out the whole site was just a giant ad, and Sony had plenty of egg on their face when their transparent viral attempt was revealed. After getting busted, Sony tried to recover by posting this message on the site:

Busted. Nailed. Snagged. As many of you have figured out (maybe our speech was a little too funky fresh???), Peter isn’t a real hip-hop maven and this site was actually developed by Sony. Guess we were trying to be just a little too clever.

Owning up to a mistake usually helps, but their admission didn’t make the attempt any less embarrassing.

Sony placed billboards in the Netherlands in 2006 that featured a white woman grabbing a black woman by the jaw, with the line “Playstation Portable White is Coming.” The company defended these ads by saying they were meant to showcase the contrast between the colors, but that didn’t make the image any less questionable.

In late 2005, Sony paid graffiti artists to tag walls in seven U.S. cities with PSP-centric images. This resulted in the company receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the city of Philadelphia. Angry residents also painted over the ads, with messages like “Fony” and “I’ll teabag a mime before I give the Sony corp another ****in dime.”

In the UK, Sony advertised PSP with a series of posters that featured red lettering on a white background. One read "Take a running jump here," and was placed in London subway stations. Fearing it would inspire suicide jumps onto train tracks, transit employees covered them up with tape before Sony eventually brought them down.

Sony may have crashed and burned when it came to their viral marketing attempts, but surely they could handle standard TV ads...right? While not overtly offensive, many called out the commercials featuring squirrels and talking dust balls for sounding like racial stereotypes. Plus, there was the whole thing about the spots not being funny at all.

The Games

While its launch lineup didn't exactly knock the socks off early adopters, the PSP eventually grew to have a somewhat respectable library of games. Let's take a look at its ten best:

(with contributions from Matt Bertz and Joe Juba)

1. God of War: Ghost of Sparta

Their work on Chains of Olympus was stellar, but Ready at Dawn delivered their best PSP offering with this sequel. Even without the horsepower afforded to God of War III (which also came out in 2010), Ghost of Sparta delivered a fantastic action experience filled with huge boss battles, pitch-perfect combat, and a story that bridges the gap between the first two games. Ready at Dawn takes up three spots on this list, but this stands as their best offering and the best game on PSP.

2. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Originally released on the DS to critical acclaim and surprisingly disappointing sales, Rockstar ported Chinatown Wars to the PSP in hopes of finding a more accepting audience. The transition to the more powerful handheld proved a smart one, as the fixed top-down perspective flourished with the PSP’s widescreen display. Though the generally unlikable cast did the story no favors and Rockstar borrowed many of the game’s anachronistic mechanics from pre-3D GTA entries, the addictive drug trade side quests stole the show and injected a much-needed dose of innovation to the predicable kill this/fetch that mission structure. By making smart purchases and unloading your stash at the right time, you could rake in the cash and muscle out the competition like a young Marlo Stanfield.

3. God of War: Chains of Olympus

Taking place before the events of the first God of War, Chains of Olympus instantly silenced anyone who doubted the series could be shrunk down to a portable (while retaining its quality of gameplay). It didn’t just feel “good for a handheld”...this game would have impressed if it were an installment on PS2. This entry focused more on the character of Kratos and less on toppling mountain-sized bosses, but it succeeded in adding more depth to his backstory.

4. Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters

Insomniac made the action-packed Ratchet & Clank series a success on home consoles, and High Impact Games successfully shrank the experience down to the PSP's screen. Trademarks like space combat, playable vehicles, and Clank-based stages made their portable debut, and Size Matters stands as another great entry in the long-running series.

5. Daxter

Before they introduced Kratos to the PSP, Ready at Dawn developed this significantly more light-hearted title. A spinoff to the Jak & Daxter series, this put gamers in the shoes of the latter of the titular duo. Like Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters, Daxter successfully brought one of Sony's best series on the road.

6. Lumines

At its launch, the PSP didn’t have a huge stable of must-have titles. Ape Escape, Twisted Metal, and Wipeout were all solid games, but they didn’t offer anything particularly new. Lumines took some tried-and-true puzzle mechanics and amped up the energy with an exciting soundtrack and visual style. It didn’t reinvent puzzle games, but its fast-paced gameplay was perfect for a portable system.


7. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

Peace Walker continues the story of Big Boss' rise to power, providing the most complete Metal Gear experience available on any handheld. The game is packed with things to do, from the main story arc to an array of side operations, plus the ability to manage an army and customize your own Metal Gear. As if that weren't enough, Peace Walker also adds a co-op mode, which allows up to four players to tackle missions together. The plot gets a little crazy, even by Metal Gear standards, but the massive amount of content will keep any fan coming back for more.

8. LocoRoco

Rolling a round object through a level in an attempt to make it bigger had already been done by Katamari Damacy, but LocoRoco added enough charm and personality to make it feel like its own experience. With its fantastic soundtrack and simple-yet-addictive gameplay, it was perfect for quick pick-up-and-play sessions.

9. Patapon

Along with LocoRoco, Patapon stands as one of the most visually interesting titles on PSP. Its vivid colors and unique art style contributed to an inescapable charm, and its rhythmic chants and tunes could get stuck in your head for days.

10. Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror

Gabe Logan was a hot name during the PSone era, but his star began to fade as Solid Snake and Sam Fisher stole his spotlight in later years. Dark Mirror brought the Syphon Filter name back to gamers, and was well-received thanks to its solid level design and engaging action.

Honorable Mentions - Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, Valkyria Chronicles II, Resistance: Retribution, Tekken Dark Resurrection, Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee, Wipeout Pure, Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness, Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions, Twisted Metal: Head-On, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth

PSP's Legacy

It's hard to say how kind history will be to Sony's handheld. While it was the first competitor to Nintendo that actually held its own to some degree, it still lived in the shadow of Nintendo's portable dominance. A (comparably) lackluster game library and questionable hardware decisions (UMD, lack of a second analog stick, PSPgo) contributed to mixed feelings about the PSP, but it was by no means a failure.

What do you feel about the PSP? What are your thoughts on the upcoming handheld war...will your experiences with PSP contribute (positively or negatively) towards your decision to pick up the NGP?