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Battle of the Handhelds (Redux) August 2, 2008

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Reviews, Technology, Video Games.
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A few months ago, I ended my self-imposed tech embargo and bought myself a Sony Playstation Portable (PSP). Really, many of the reasons I could think of in favor of buying one came to pass, so I became a mobile gamer on two platforms for the second time in my life (the first being a brief episode years ago involving both a Nintendo Game Boy and Sega Game Gear).

As a self-confessed Nintendo DS enthusiast, comparing this shiny new toy against my old favorite was inevitable. Here are my thoughts so far:

Portability. Where portability is concerned, Nintendo is still king. There’s no denying that the PSP packs a lot of punch for its size, but there are two things about the DS that give it an edge: its clamshell design and battery life. The DS’s ability to shield its two screens in storage is undoubtedly a plus. In contrast, one has to worry about how exactly to transport the PSP without causing undue wear and tear to its defining feature, the large (and exposed) screen. With respect to battery life, the PSP comes up woefully short on a single charge, though its ability to temporarily save in-game progress should the battery run out — allowing the player to pick up where he left off after charging — is a feature sorely missing from Nintendo’s handheld. As a side note, it’s worth pointing out that a DS cartridge is perhaps a fourth the size of a UMD, and can also be cited as an argument in favor of the DS’ portability.

Game Library. On the games front, either platform has particular strengths. By comparison, the DS has a much more impressive library of games, even discounting backward compatible Game Boy Advance games. Its touch screen interface is also a strong feature, bringing plenty to the table in terms of more interactive gameplay. The PSP can’t hope to compete along these dimensions, but it does have the advantage in terms of the technical quality of its games. So far, none of my initial investments in the PSP have really “wowed” me — though the cutscenes in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII came very, very close — but pound for pound they have been much more slick compared to the esteemed competition. Personally, there are much more games on the DS that I look forward to compared to the PSP, though this is really more a matter of preference more than anything else. To be fair, I have been positively charmed by Patapon and Lumines, so far two of the best reasons I can think of to check out what the PSP has to offer.

Functionality. If defined in the sense of “easy to use”, Nintendo’s has to be the handheld of choice. I’ve always felt that the DS is to handhelds what Apple is to computers: more elegant to look at and a pleasure to use (with the possible exception of those poor “Friend Codes” for online play. Yet this is also to say that it is a one trick pony: a handheld device truly dedicated to gaming. On the other hand, if we were to define “functional” as having useful features, then the PSP is functional in spades. Indeed, it would probably be more appropriate to describe the PSP not so much as a “gaming device” but as a portable media and entertainment player. It has a decent (if clunky) internet browser, and on top of that plays music and movies, too. This last feature is the one I’ve grown to appreciate the most. Honestly, I never really fell in love with the PSP until I discovered how to convert my DVDs into files it can play. It’s a little tedious and time consuming to do so, but it’s nice to know that there’s a way to take some movies along with me when I go on vacation, which is the time I get most of my gaming on, anyway.

I sincerely believe it pointless to fuel the flames of fandom and insist that one handheld is better than the other. Let’s leave that debate to the internet trolls that thrive on such banalities. Suffice it to say that between either of these platforms today’s mobile gamer simply cannot go wrong.

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