3DS: PSP Killer?

The most recent handheld battle has been won for a long time but there might be another, far more fierce and interesting one just around the corner.

Outside of its native Japan, the PSP has had uninspiring hardware sales and very poor software sales. Repeated, tweaked iterations leading up to the near-disaster that was the PSPGo haven’t helped it gain much more traction in the West. Even in Japan, the ‘Go is often embarrassed in sales charts by its forebears as much as its competitors.

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Piracy has been a big problem on older models and the inconsistently priced and under supported (by third parties, at least) digital distribution model enforced by the latest hardware have all had a detrimental affect on the image of Sony’s powerful little console.

The Nintendo console has been another story. Similar piracy problems have not made the same impact on its software sales (although it has sometimes been a struggle) with slow burning flagship titles that maintain their retail price for many months, even years, longer than the industry norm. The relatively inexpensive manufacturing costs of the DS range mean that Nintendo have been making a profit on the machine since the very early days and it has long been the market leader in terms of total unit sales.

But that’s all history. The handheld race is hotting up again, with Apple making big grabs for the casual mobile gaming market in the West and a new breed of dedicated handhelds in the news.

[drop]It’s probably fair to say that the Nintendo 3DS has had a lukewarm reception. Critics have cynically moaned about a lack of strong first party titles in the launch line up and, despite all noises to the contrary, sales don’t seem to have been as strong as expected. At least, the ‘sell out’ we were told to expect seems a long way from happening. It’s still making money, of course, with recent reckonings that the production costs were under $105.

The hugely over-stated crashing issue has also been a slight mark on the launch. While it’s almost certainly not as big a problem as some would seem to want to imply, it is bad press around a console launch and that’s never good.

But the 3DS does so many things right that, now the ageing PSP has lost its graphical superiority (one or two titles aside, what I’ve seen on the 3DS is at least equal to the PSP standards) it’s difficult to see any life left in that old dog.

The headline gimmick is, of course, the 3D support. It is impressive when it’s just right and it will probably see some very interesting and imaginative use in the future. I don’t think it’s the killer feature though. For me, the 3DS’ bump in power, solid construction and that fantastic analogue controller (the Circle Pad) all form a solid base which gives the console a familiar and firm footing.

I think the augmented reality functions are going to be a much more interesting and important feature set in the future. AR gaming is just starting to take off with Apple’s iPhone another serious platform for its use and Kinect, Move (Start the Party, EyePet, etc.) and even the PSP (Invizimals) pushing it into the spotlight. I’m certainly no industry analyst but I think there’s more of a future for AR than there is for 3D and the Nintendo 3DS is the first handheld, even the first dedicated console, to ship with that functionality at launch.

The biggest thing the 3DS does though, for me at least, is embrace a connected lifestyle. The new system of adding friends is still not perfect but it is a huge step in the right direction. Connected ways to play with friends are all there for developers to make the best of, right out of the box. The SpotPass and StreetPass functions have the potential to make the handheld a social media device (admittedly, in a limited way) and play to the modern desire for on demand or pushed media. These are all things that are either decent improvements on older standards or new implementations which it would be unwise to ignore.

Now, the PSP is in the Autumn of its life. Successes (at least critically) for the platform’s take on the Metal Gear Solid and God of War franchises feel very much like isolated instances rather than a sustained barrage of quality software. With the release of the 3DS facing off the PSP’s longstanding graphical advantage and the ever increasing seriousness with which the iOS devices are targeting the more casual end of the market, it becomes difficult to see where the PSP can score a victory.

[drop2]Of course, this all leads us to the next generation of Sony handhelds. It would seem that the tough battle fought by the powerful PSP against the gimmicky value of the DS has not taught Sony any lessons. The NGP looks like a beast, in terms of power and features. Once again it will go to market competing against a significantly less powerful, gimmicky, machine. But this time it can be different.

Sony will doubtless be investing heavily in security to prevent piracy. While nothing is ever going to guarantee them a pirate-free future, they should be able to buy themselves a decent head start on the hackers. Their return to physical media seems to indicate that they at least learned the lessons taught by the PSPGo’s lack of success and flash memory rather than expensive, battery-draining proprietary disc formats is a complete no-brainer. Two big hurdles jumped, then.

The multiple input options (buttons, touch, gyro, rear touch, etc.) have the potential to become overused and messy but they also allow developers a huge range of freedom to experiment and make much more immersive experiences. While they might be crammed in to every game just because they’re available, they could be used imaginatively to enhance the interface between game and gamer. The important thing is that the option is there in the hardware.

The NGP also looks set to feature similar, possibly more powerful (thanks to 3G), connectivity to the 3DS. With WiFi hotspots becoming more common and 3G signals ubiquitous in most major cities, the NGP has the potential to be constantly connected, continuously updating and evolving, while it sits in your pocket.

But that’s the future. Today, the handheld battle that was largely already won by the DS has been decisively concluded by a new player. The future of the market looks interesting, if Sony can firm up their plans and refine their manufacturing process for the NGP. So, it’s safe to say that while this battle was won by Nintendo, the war is still ongoing and Sony have a new tank in development.

As for the PSP? Well, I think it’s time for a nice quiet retirement while the new generation takes up arms.

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66 Comments

  1. I agree that there is little to come now for the PSP, saying that it amazed me that it sold within a few hundred copies of the 3DS last week in Japan, that is just crazy.

    Really looking forward to the NGP though.

    • “the ageing PSP has lost it’s graphical superiority (one or two titles aside, what I’ve seen on the 3DS is at least equal to the PSP standards”

      I’m sorry but that’s total BS and you know it.

      • With one or two exceptions (like GoW) the 3DS graphics I’ve witnessed are at least the equal of anything I’ve seen on PSP. That’s what I know.

      • MGS Peacewalker, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, The Third Birthday, etc. all look better than the 3DS games.

      • yes, nem, they do. That’s why I disclaimed the statement.
        Interesting though that all those games are the absolute graphical climaxes of a system, released well into its lifecycle. What we’ve seen on the 3DS so far is just the beginning so it’ll be interesting to see what devs can squeeze out of it 4-6 years down the line.

      • Have you seen the videos from the new Resident Evil game for 3DS?

        The 3DS defiantly has the muscle to leave PSP in the dust, the first games isn’t showing it and well that’s hardly a surprise….

        Will the NGP produce better quality, sure, but let’s see when we are getting it and for what price.

        The PSP is dead, it has been for quite some time now. The amount of good games for PSP the last years has been low and some of the games, you rather want to play on the PS3.

        Looking forward to NGP and mean while, I’m enjoying the unique and fun experience the 3DS delivers.

      • Dissidia Duodecim and T3B on the PSP prove that the system is not dead yet. It’s declining, sure, but there’s still life there.

      • To be fair the 3DS is about 6 years newer than the PSP. If anything its well done to the PSP that it holds up so well.

      • Fair enough CB! It is interesting alright, what will be even more interesting is what they do with MGS 3. That will be the acid test for me, if they can pull that off at a decent framerate with most of the game still intact, then we will have seen the power of the 3DS. Only things on 3DS at the moment that could push the PS3, IMO, are SSFIV and Pilotwings. But yeah, we will see the best of the system in a few years time in terms of graphical prowess. Do you know if the 3DS tech specs are that much better than the PSP’s?

      • Totally agree Kovacs, not dead at all. With Final Fantasy: Type Zero coming down the pipe aswell, we could have another game that can push the PSP even farther.

      • Final Fantasy: Type Zero??

      • The new name for Final Fantasy: Agito XIII.

      • Sweet

      • So you telling me Steel Diver beats the ANY psp game in graphics. GTFO you shouldn’t be writing on this site because you clearly have sight issues.

      • The most relevant point is “Interesting though that all those games are the absolute graphical climaxes of a system, released well into its lifecycle. What we’ve seen on the 3DS so far is just the beginning so it’ll be interesting to see what devs can squeeze out of it 4-6 years down the line.”

        In the limited time span for launch titles has already practically exceeded 95% of the other system, the future does indeed bode well for the 3DS as devs get more to grips with it & importantly the userbase expands enabling bigger budgets.
        Will the NGP beat it graphically in the years to come? Of course it will, its selling point is its horsepower & potential, will it beat it sales-wise or gameplay-wise… who knows, but bet against Ninty at your peril

      • @jaffa: No, I’m telling you that, with a few exceptions, the titles I’ve seen on my 3DS are at least the equal of the graphics I see on my PSP.

        If you want specifics, here they are: PES looks roughly the same, possibly a touch smoother on 3DS but there does appear to be a little bit of framerate slowdown during goal celebrations. Load times seem vastly improved from the PSP version.

        SFIV3D is impressive and looks better than anything (aside from a few titles from Square, Peace Walker and Sony’s first party stuff) I’ve seen on PSP.

        The Sims 3D and Pilotwings are a different art style but are at least the equal of most PSP titles I’ve seen or played.

        This is all launch day stuff, which is (from memory) much better visually than the launch titles the PSP had all those years ago. So it will be interesting to see what is being made on the 3DS in six year’s time and it will be interesting to see what the NGP can do with its launch.

        One final word, will you tone down your aggression please? We try to discourage that sort of vitriol here and I’d rather have a sensible discussion about it than continue trying to reply to tantrums.

      • I’d like to think the 3DS is pumping out quality graphics (over the likes of the PSP) as the PSP is soon to be put out to pasture. Then the NGP will come along and trump everything again. It’s a testament to the PSP’s graphical prowess and that it’s had some real lookers even when compared to recent mobile gaming platforms.

    • I do like the connectivity of the 3DS and also the planned connectivity of the NGP, increases the scope for social gaming and experiences.

      I also like the idea of these consoles having all the media capabilities they do now. When I got my PSP I loved the fact I could have films on it as well as my music, I know phones do this now as well but with 3D on the 3DS and the screen on the NGP they will both provide great experiences in that respect.

      • Final Fantasy: Type Zero is the new name for Agito XIII.
        A full Final Fantasy just for PSP, on a scale where it will require multiple discs, I believe.

      • Awesome, something for me to look forward too!

      • Right you are, will come on 2 UMD’s. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if they made it as an NGP game instead, although if it is made available via digital download we could still play it on NGP.

  2. Call of Duty multiplayer on the go will be the killer app if they can do it, but I hope not just the mainstream are well catered for.

    • imagine the sales ? Sony would be stupid to not even consider getting a COD game on the NGP

      • their has already been confirmed a COD game on the NGP

      • Activision confirmed a game for the PSP, hopefully it is a COD.

      • I would buy it!……no really, i would

    • A proper CoD game (anything close to what the home consoles have now) could make sales for the NGP explode.

  3. The PSP is a PSP Killer!

  4. I still think the PSP is one of the most under appreciated gaming devices. It’s easily my favorite handheld in a very long time. Tons of awesome games and a nice list of features always keep me coming back.

    Killzone Liberation, both God of Wars, Crisis Core, Kingdom Hearts, Metal Gear Solids, Valkyria Chronicles, and a whole bunch of old school RPGs AND the ability to play PSone Classics. I love that device.

    The 3DS has a long way to go in terms of software imo. It’s annoying that the online setup is still from an age that should be long gone. Why can you not talk to friends? It all feels so limited.

  5. I wonder if it will have anything like Monster Hunter and Phantasy Star. They’re one of the best games on a handheld right now and it would be great to play stuff like that on the 3DS.

    • Even better would be to play them on NGP.

  6. Had a quick go on a 3DS in store the other day, gotta say i wasn’t impressed at all with the 3D, just seems like a massive gimmick to me.

    Got high hopes for NGP, but my psp was not a good investment, only ever gets used on holidays and even then its only really for music

  7. I think Nintendo didn’t learn from the PSPs biggest issue. They really should have included the 2nd analog stick. Hardcore gamers will want the NGP for that alone. 3DS will be good for casual but will have to fight the phone companies more and more for market share.

    • Indeed. Imagine all the generic FPS fans jumping over. The 3DS wouldn’t know what hit it’s ass.

  8. I think the 3DS is a PSP killer due to how new and shiny it is right now. However, I think the NGP will come out on top.

    • This. At least in terms of power and quality. In terms of sales, Nintendo will probably romp home again (although I’ve heard quite promising rumours around the NGP price).

      • Even if the NGP is competitively priced, Nintendo is still vastly superior at marketing, at least in the UK and probably Europe. I’d be surprised if the NGP ever comes close to 3DS sales. And that’s me speaking as someone with no interest in the 3DS but ravenous for the NGP.

  9. So will the NGP mark the start of the 8th generation in gaming?

  10. I dont see why the NGP wouldnt go do down the same road the PSP did.

    • Seems to be getting better support from devs when it gets released. And I think that second analogue stick will be a deciding factor. Trophy sluts may also be tempted.

      I think it’s safe to say the NGP will do much better than the PSP, but expecting Nintendo-style success would be foolish, I think.

      • Like I said. Something like a proper CoD could make sales explode.

    • I know, only selling 66.9 million units, what a failure!

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