PSP2 news round-up

Sony has announced its successor to the PSP, but can it compete against Nintendo and the increasingly powerful Apple?

With Nintendo loudly trumpeting the arrival of their shiny new handheld, the 3DS, it’s unsurprising that Sony hasn’t wasted too much time announcing its own piece of portable gaming wizardry.

Where Nintendo has always stayed several steps behind technology’s cutting edge – giving much of its output a slightly quaint, built-by-Santa-in-his-workshop kind of feel as a result – Sony has long been keen to remain as close to the forefront as science and budget can allow.

True to form, the Sony PSP2 (currently codenamed NGP, or Next Generation Portable) wields technology like a bludgeon. Featuring a five-inch OLED screen with a resolution of 960×544, the device displays twice as many pixels as the outgoing PSP it replaces. The use of OLED, meanwhile, makes the handheld far more energy efficient than a standard LCD display, since it doesn’t require a backlight.

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Beneath the PSP2’s shiny black shell lurks an ARM Cortex-A9 Core CPU which, I’m told, is full of science and extremely powerful for a device of this size.

The PSP2 will also be 3G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled, allowing for wireless multiplayer gaming and data transfer. Sony has said the PSP2 will “offer great compatibility features” with its bigger brother, the PS3, though the company’s currently remaining tight lipped as to what this compatibility will mean in practice – more details will apparently be revealed at this year’s E3.

While the PSP2 will feature the same basic button configuration as its predecessor, the new handheld will have two analogue sticks that are closer in design and feel to those on a standard PlayStation controller – the benefits for both developers and players of first-person shooters is obvious.

The device’s most interesting feature, at least from a gaming point of view, is its pair of touch-screen displays – unlike the Nintendo 3DS, which uses the same configuration as those classic Game & Watch handhelds from the early 80s, the screens on the PSP2 are arranged back-to-back.

The configuration, along with the PSP2’s front-and-back cameras, will give developers the scope for all kinds of weird creative ideas – in theory, it should be possible to create the illusion of an aquarium-like 3D world inside the console, with the player able to interact with objects inside it with a series of gestures that Sony refers to as Sony touch, grab, trace, push and pull.”

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We can’t wait to see what LocoRoco and Patapon developer SCE Japan Studio do with the PSP2’s unique set-up – if anyone can think of a quirky and fun way of making the most of it, they can.

Games will come on a new type of proprietary cartridge based on flash memory cards, while a PlayStation store will again offer both full games and demos to download. After the poor sales of the PSP Go, where your only choice was to download games from the PlayStation store, the reintroduction of physical media to the PSP2 could be seen as a bit of a climb-down for Sony – and for our money, a welcome one.

Cartridges aside, what about the games themselves? The familiar Sony-only names are all in the offing: miniature versions of Killzone, WipeOut, Resistance, LittleBigPlanet and, most excitingly, Uncharted, are all on the way, and from the horrendously grainy footage we’ve seen from the presentation in Tokyo yesterday, the latter looks rather glorious.

As for third-party support, Activision has already thrown its hat into the PSP2 ring, with a Call Of Duty handheld title on the way, while Epic is creating a version of Unreal Engine 3 for the device, which we hope means we’ll be able to play a miniature Gears Of War battle on the train very soon. Ubisoft, Tecmo and Rockstar are just a few other big names that have thrown their weight behind the PSP2.

Given that the Nintendo 3DS will retail for around £229.99 (though many outlets are severely undercutting this figure already), the big question surrounding the PSP2 is, obviously, how much it’ll cost.

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While many expected the PSP to outperform the DS when the consoles appeared a few years ago, the latter surprised many analysts by going on to become the biggest selling handheld device of all time – and the big N’s focus on cheaper technology, and thus a cheaper price point, was undoubtedly a contributing factor in its success.

With the 3D technology in Nintendo’s new console forcing its price far higher, one analyst, Mike Hickey, has predicted that the PSP2 will retail for around $250. “We think the NGP will retail for around +$250 due to its performance technology,” Hickey told Nowgamer. “We see the PS3’s $300 base price as a reasonable price ceiling.”

If this is correct, the PSP2 will cost almost the same as the Nintendo 3DS, which will make the fight for consumer cash and attention more bitter than ever.

For both the PSP2 and the Nintendo 3DS, their biggest rival comes from devices such as the iPad and iPhone. Apple has already eaten into the casual market that Nintendo has courted for the past few years, while games such as Infinity Blade prove that such devices are capable of offering games with more depth (and better graphics) than Angry Birds.

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The 3DS is due out in March, and the PSP2 is due out in “the holiday season”, so it’s fairly safe to say we’ll see them in the shops before Christmas. Both devices offer a unique set of possibilities for developers, and both devices have potentially exciting games on the horizon.

However, Sony and Nintendo are entering into a market that is now more competitive and shifting than ever before, and it’s difficult to predict how consumers will react to their new generation of handhelds.

Will they choose Nintendo’s flawed-yet-fascinating console, with its glasses-free 3D tech, or the more powerful PSP2, which is almost like a cut-down PS3 you can play in the loo? Alternatively, is it possible that neither will capture more than a niche, gadget-loving audience, while the broader market opts to play games on their pads, pods and mobile phones? As the cliché goes, only time will tell.


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