The high point of my Electronic Entertainment Expo (and, I suspect, everybody else’s)? Nintendo 3DS, by a country mile. Hardware reveals always chalk up a spike on the gaming Richter scale, but this one was thermonuclear material even by E3′s seismic standards. The sight of Naked Snake’s scowl protruding from the depths of that pin-sharp new top display was enough to sell most attendees a unit right there and then.
One thing and one thing only, to my mind, could have matched the impact of the 3DS announcement, and that was a successor to PlayStation Portable, heavily rumoured in the preceding weeks and months. But this, alas, was not to be. Instead, we got a renewed Sony commitment to its ageing pocket warhorse, showreels larded with footage from games already known about, a teaser trailer for yet another God of War, invisible blue monkeys and ‘Marcus Rivers’, latest in a long line of patronising attempts to spark a ‘cult of PSP’.
[Update: we've changed the headline in light of its mild ridiculousness.]
‘Step your game up’ goes the refrain, but most commentators were left wondering when Sony would step its game up, and wash its hands of a console pronounced dead in the water (outside Japan, at least) as long as two years ago. But just how past-it is the old slab, in fact? Can it be dismissed so easily?
Much has been written about the fact that 3DS marks a return to Nintendo’s imaginative heartlands, with big brand action-adventure titles, rail shooters and platformers dominating the press releases. What doesn’t seem to be getting noted is how much this reorientation is directed specifically against its traditional rival. Forget the parallax screen for a moment, and give your attention to the other thing that sets the new handheld aside at a glance from the rest of the DS family – an analog ‘slide panel’, comparable to the PSP’s nub.
While disliked by many and outright loathed by some, the nub has proved its worth in the field of ‘move/aim’ third-person action gaming, with Syphon Filter, Metal Gear Solid, Resistance and Grand Theft Auto all making serviceable use of it. Nintendo’s nabbing this feature suggests that the Mario-maker wants those experiences for its own stables, and this in turn suggests that there’s life in PSP yet, both as a commercial proposition and as a venue for great entertainment (not always synonymous qualities, sadly). After all, why bother imitating a dud product?
Another reason to believe that PSP can compete with 3DS is that the latter, though bigger-brained than its predecessors, is not the Xbox-360-level processing juggernaut we were led to expect. 3D capabilities obviously give Nintendo’s fold-up the edge, but in terms of the underlying complexity of the games they can render, the two handhelds appear to be practically neck-and-neck. (I’ll leave the serious analysis to HardcoreWare.)