In Love With The Nub

A couple of days before Christmas, 2004 – a parcel from Japan containing Ridge Racer and a brand new PlayStation Portable on which I would be racing ridges for some time – there’s nothing on the planet quite as exciting as brand new console technology, especially when you’re super-elite and have managed to re-mortgage your house enough to be able to splash out on an imported machine.  I remember sitting on the train before (I think) some Scottish rugby game getting curious looks from burly men in ill-fitting t-shirts – “that’s that new PlayStation,” they said.  Indeed it was – new, and very much PlayStation.

It wasn’t long before I’d picked up a Japanese copy of Lumines from Charlie at CA Games in the West End of Glasgow, one of the last few bastions of imported video games, which sadly closed a few years back leaving only G-Force left doing a half hearted attempt at procuring Japanese titles.  I remember walking to work playing that bloody game – it was amazing at the time and still remains one of the PSP’s finest puzzlers and by this time I’d already cast aside my American Nintendo DS in favour of the PSP’s super sharp graphics and ‘proper’ console gaming – Everybody’s Golf, Metal Gear Ac!d, Dynasty Warriors – all within a month.

When the first exploit arrived for firmware 1.0 I’d already upgraded to 1.5, so I had to wait for the rather ingenious swap-the-memory-stick glitch that involved you renaming one of the folders with a percentage sign, or a hash – I don’t remember – and starting up an application and then quickly flicking out the card with another with a similar structure, just to get homebrew running.  It was cumbersome, but it was enough to get me started with Lua, a basic programming language that had its own PSP interpreter and enabled me to come up with a couple of rather basic (but reasonably popular) homebrew games.

As Sony battled with the hackers firmware updates came and went with regular momentum, but ultimately the thrill of the PSP’s launch games soon died down.  Yes, some of the UK day one titles like Tony Hawk Underground 2 Remix (a brilliant game by any standards) and Wipeout Pure (still boasting some of the best DLC ever created) were great, but the system peaked a little too early at the SSX, Pursuit Force, GTA Liberty City Stories stage and struggled to keep up the flow of third party titles whilst the DS was suddenly starting to take over the world with a deluge of parent and child-friendly titles the likes of which we’d never seen.

It was around the middle of 2006 when I sold my Japanese PSP, and a massive pile of games, for about £80.  The cash went straight on a couple of DS games and I didn’t give Sony’s portable another thought until God Of War: Chains of Olympus hit the shelves when I splashed out on a brand new (and UK-boxed, for once) 2000 model.  At that time the PSP’s library was at an all-time low – apart from Ready at Dawn’s masterpiece pickings were slim, with EA’s ProStreet typical of publishers at the time just trying to shovel any existing console title onto the PSP without really playing to the format’s strengths.  Still, at least I could go back over the last few years worth of games at rock bottom pre-owned prices.

So, by Christmas that year, the PSN side of things was really starting to pick up – Housemarque’s Super Stardust was great, as was Everyday Shooter, and of course the 3000 model was now on the shelves sporting a rather interestingly flawed screen.  Happy with my 2000, I was just biding my time until 2009 when the PSP would really start to shine, and after a slow start I’m now supremely chuffed to be finally playing the games the PlayStation Portable has so desperately been crying out for for so long – Gran Turismo, Soul Calibur, Motorstorm – massive names and, thankfully, great PSP games too.

With the advent of the PSPgo just around the corner, now is the time for Sony to capitalise on all the positive press the machine has been getting – they’re hopefully going to embellish the launch line-up somewhat and introduce lots of big PSP titles to the PSN before the beginning of October (although there’s only a couple of Thursdays to go) and then, of course, tell us how we’re meant to get all these games we’ve all been collecting since 2004 onto the Go itself.  Yes, rumours abound of magical machines that eat your UMDs and spit out a redeem code for the Store, but that’s not going to happen, is it?

The PSN is the strongest weapon Sony have in the portable consoles war just now – the DS equivalent doesn’t have anything like the breadth of quality that the PSP can provide – there’s certainly nothing of the standard of PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe for example, and with the new PSP Minis on the horizon there’s a chance that Sony might be able to take a bite of the Apple – they’re certainly courting the developers the right way and that development tool, now just 1200 Euro, is damned tempting even though I know I won’t ever have the patience to see a project through to completion when I’m wrapped up in TSA.

But think what you like of the PSP’s software library over the years, right now it’s playing host to some AAA titles and the stuff that’s out very soon like Gran Turismo will surely shift more than a few machines – I’ve just got my hands on preview code for SOCOM Fire Team Bravo 3 too which is out in November and there’s plenty more goodness out before Christmas for both retail and downloadable titles.  On that note, I’m off to play something I’m rather looking forward to on Friday, so stay tuned to TSA at the beginning of next week for the lowdown on that, but in the meantime, pick up your PSP, dust off a few old UMDs and get back into it – it’s a wonderful little machine.