With the upcoming release of the Nintendo 3DS this March, the next generation of portable gaming devices is just around the corner. This generation has been an interesting one, with Sony entering the portable market with the PSP, and the Nintendo DS breaking sales records. Sony has faced an uphill battle against the Nintendo juggernaut, but how do the two devices really stack up? Let's take a look.
Originally released in 2004, the DS looked like nothing that had come before. Featuring two screens, the bottom of which is a touch screen operated by a small plastic stylus, the DS brought a new kind of portable gaming to the public. The lighter, more stylish DS Lite, released in 2006, really took off in terms of sales. By that year, there was a solid software library built up for the DS, and several technical improvements such as an increased battery life made the DS Lite more attractive than its predecessor. At the present time, the DS Lite is still being sold, along with the multimedia- and internet-focused DSi and the super-sized DSi XL.
The PSP, released in North America in 2005, is a more traditional-looking portable device than its competitor. It features a single wide screen flanked by controls on both sides, and its 24-bit graphics are higher-resolution than those of the DS. The PSP doesn't have a touch screen interface, but has an analog stick, which the DS lacks. Internet-focused from the get-go, the PSP connects to the PlayStation Network for software downloads, and also plays movies and music files. Currently, the PSP 3000 and the cartridge-free PSP Go are available from Sony.
Both the DS and the PSP are solid portable gaming systems, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. More compact and portable, with a longer battery life to boot, the DS works better for gaming on the go. Over the years, developers have put out a wide variety of games for the DS, some using mostly stylus controls, and others relying on a traditional button/d-pad control scheme. Some stylus-heavy games are hard on people with larger hands, who report that their hands have a tendency to obscure parts of the screen when they're using the stylus. Luckily, the DSi XL is a good solution for these giant-sized gamers. The DS has a solid d-pad, but the lack of an analog stick can be frustrating in some games, especially those that require a lot of precise diagonal movement. In general, however, the DS is easy to use, durable, and flexible in the kinds of games it supports.
The PSP, although less portable than the DS, provides a superior visual experience and greater processing power, allowing for more modern-looking games. Taking full advantage of the PSP's graphics capability sucks the system's battery quickly, though, so gamers may need to choose between maximizing a game's settings and being able to play it away from a charger. They PSP's UMD cartridges have faster read times than DS cartridges, although heavy cartridge access creates a scratching and grinding sound that some gamers find worrisome or irritating. Fortunately, the PSP is easy to expand with SD cards, so cartridge access can be minimized by installing a game to the system memory or an SD card. The PSP's controls are sturdy and responsive, although some gamers may find their placement to be somewhat hand-cramping. Third party peripherals are available to adjust how the PSP is held, but often obstruct important things like the UMD slot, power button, or headphone jack.
One area in which the PSP far excels over the DS is internet connectivity. Both devices have wireless connectivity, but the PSP takes far greater advantage of that connectivity. The DS Lite is only compatible with the outdated WEP security protocol, which makes connectivity problematic for many people who own modern wireless systems. Although the DSi is WPA-compatible, it's a case of too little, too late for any cartridge-based games, which are still WEP-only in order to be compatible with the Lite. Many games eschew online multiplayer mode entirely, opting to only support local multiplayer via the system's infrared sensor. Those games that allow online multiplayer modes often make use of Nintendo's antiquated friend code system, which makes connecting up with friends and Internet acquaintances a chore.
The PSP, on the other hand, supports all major security protocols and connects to the PlayStation Network. This is a real boon for players who prefer online multiplayer games, as connecting with others on the PSP is quick and easy. The superior storage options on the PSP also make it easier to buy games in digital download format (and in fact, this is the only way to purchase games for the PSP Go). While the selection of downloadable games for the DSi is fairly limited, many PSP games can be purchased and downloaded from Sony's online store.
In the end, the choice between buying the DS and the PSP depends on a gamer's personal preferences and their choice of software library. Those who find hi-res graphics a must or who mostly enjoy online multiplayer games will want to choose the PSP, while most other gamers are likely to prefer the DS due to its superior portability and far more extensive software library.
The Software Libraries:
Unfortunately for Sony, the PSP's game library simply can't compete with the massive breadth and depth of the offerings available on the DS. While the DS has seen its share of shovelware, there are tons of quality games available for it in just about every genre. Not only have Nintendo's games shone on the DS, third parties have stepped up with strong and often innovative titles. Puzzle games like the Professor Layton series have made excellent use of the touch screen, and adventure games like Hotel Dusk have turned the DS on its side for a storybook-style experience. Casual gaming is also huge on the DS thanks to its popularity and portability, with everything from Brain Age to Cooking Mama to Sudoku games attracting new gamers to the system.
There are areas, however, where the PSP's software library shines. There haven't been many quality RPGs on the DS, and thanks to a recent surge of titles from companies like Square Enix and Atlus, there are quite a few to choose from on the PSP. The PSP's superior graphics and analog stick also lend themselves well to action games and platformers, although the DS also has quite a few worthy games from those genres.