Under this deliberately provoking title, (after all, we all prefer blondes don't we? Or was it redheads?) I'm following CJ's advice to speak about things I do know and trust me, I know about the history of games. Thanks to the recent instalment of E3, Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft now seem to be heading in different directions which I find really interesting as a gamer. That’s the first part of a little file about game console strengths and weaknesses. In order not to raise too much hatred from Xbox lovers, I’m starting with handhelds.
First let me speak a bit about my gaming habits. They've not changed that much since I’ve been on TA but it did change some of them. For example, multiplatform games will now more than likely be 360, unless I only want to see the story (and not go for achievements) or it is a FPS shooter (mouse/keyboard combo). I usually play 2-3 hours a day (not counting games in public transport) and try to play 10-15 hours in the week ends (Sat-Sun, across-the-pond friends). I’m lucky enough to be able to afford each game system thanks to my job but I live in France so games are expensive. We don’t have a proper rental system yet so I have to buy each and every game and since I’m something of a collector, I keep all of my games. However, I’m not into sports so you can consider my speech sportless (or sport unaware). In Part 1, I’m focusing on the least controversial topic i.e. handheld consoles since Microsoft hasn’t started to make handheld gaming devices yet and we’re on an Xbox site. Zune does not count, it is rubbish compared to the popularity of Apple and the functionalities of an Archos.
I usually go to my hometown during week ends, basically to meet up with friends and family, and more recently to ride my motorcycle. It's not easy making friends in the capital (for those who wonder). I also play whilst on public transport when I'm not listening to a podcast (iPhone) or watching a TV series (Archos 5). So basically there’s already two ways of utilising handheld videogames; my mother and my sister for instance play them sitting on a couch while watching TV for about 20-30mn. Handhelds are a tricky topic because nobody uses them the same way.
This brings me to the topic of journeys and how to occupy time. At first I took turns with both my PSP and my DS. Rapidly DS overtook PSP. When you've finished LocoRoco, MGS Portable Ops and once you've lost your interest in Patapon and FF7: Crisis Core, you don't bring your PSP with you anymore. Battery duration is so-so, screen is a bit “motion-blurred” (but great still) and some of these titles really are great, but you'll need to immerse yourself in the game and that's not easy with a handheld device. Game sessions are usually short (train journeys being an exception) and most of the greatest games on PSP don't fit into that category (except Lumines).
I'm talking about games here and that's what I hope you'll be taking from this article. PSP games are what I call "serious gaming" while DS ones are "fun gaming". I'm not talking about exceptions; I'm talking about a trend which creates an image around the device itself. I sometimes play on the metropolitan or on the bus and PSP just doesn't fit. It's a great system at home when you're in your be* or in your bathroom. It's basically a PS2 when what you need is a Gameboy. However it surely has the best quality/price ratio in terms of games.
Alternatively, you can have fun with your DS anytime. It's certainly not a means to convey certain emotions (wouldn't see Silent Hill or MGS on that one) but it’s really designed for short gaming sessions to relax. For example, I'm playing GTA:CW at the moment and I can do a complete mission or deal some drugs while I'm on public transport. I wouldn't have time to complete missions if I were to play it on my PSP. I used to tackle some riddles in Professor Layton, progress through the story in Phoenix Wright and I'm now playing Big Bang Mini and throwing some fireworks.
Battery duration: Sufficient, you’ll plug the AC adapter when you’re home.
Ergonomics: Good except for the “tank” version’s weight. Left stick is a pain though.
Style of play: Serious gaming.
Play sessions: 20mn to hours.
Number of games: Not many, but at least 1/3 deserve a look.
Best games IMHO: FFVII Crisis Core, MGS Portable Ops (and Ac!d if you prefer strategy/card games), Loco Roco, Patapon, Final Fantasy Tactics and WipeOut Pure or Burnout Legends. Don’t forget the GTA series if you’re a fan and you can deal with an approximate stick (I couldn’t).
Battery duration: Great.
Ergonomics: Tiring, console corners can hurt your hands after 10mn. Buttons are responsive and well placed.
Style of play: Fun gaming.
Play sessions: 5 to 30mn. Some titles can break that barrier though.
Number of games: Far too numerous, only 1/10 should you take a peek at.
Best games IMHO: Professor Layton, the Phoenix Wright series, GTA Chinatown Wars, Picross DS, Mario and Luigi 2, Zelda Phantom Hourglass, Chrono Trigger (if you haven’t done it back in the time), Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin and The World Ends With You. The Mario series can appeal to some (Kart, 64 and Party essentially).
Recent developments have made both of them smaller and more technical. While DSi dropped backward compatibility with the GBA port, PSP Go completely dropped compatibility in short (hopefully for the best) with its UMD drive. I wouldn’t be able to express an opinion on both of them yet, but let me advice you to wait a little. PSP Go’s ergonomics leaves me doubtful and DSi games still have a lot to prove.
Some might remember I mentioned an iPhone earlier. To me this is still emerging gameplay, that’s why I didn’t compare it to the others. There are only a few games worth your attention, mainly because developers lack imagination and consider the iPhone as a cash cow and also because controls are flawed at best. There’s also an issue linked to batteries, and games really drain it. There are some enjoyable games though like SW:TFU and Fieldrunners or even Tap Tap Revenge 2 but they don’t expect you to move a character around. If you’re interested, I might try to get a list of those games that are actually enjoyable.
On every system I have mentioned so far, the best thing definitely is ScummVM (http://www.scummvm.org
) but you need to have a way to launch homebrews (jailbroken iPhone for example). It allows you to play some glories of the past (i.e. LucasFilm games, Gobliiins and Simon The Sorcerer). For our youngest audience, I strongly suggest (mighty scissors in hands)** that you play them for your gaming culture. And please buy the HD version of Monkey Island when it comes out.
*“In your be” is GSSP slang for bed as instructed by The Chuck Chuck
** Pictured here: Gamers For The Sterilization Of Stupid People
In the next article, I’ll give you my views on our holy trio and explain my choices about each console and their use.
Thanks to Beanpotter
and Clever Jake
for some needed corrections