Sony’s latest incarnation of its handheld looks like the “If They Mated” result of a brief, unsatisfying, boozy affair between a PSP-3000 and an iPod Touch.
In recent years, surely to Sony’s chagrin, the original PSP has become a hardcore gamer’s machine. It has none of the playful, touch-me vibe of the Nintendo DS. It’s a slick, black, cold machine that has always ached to be taken seriously. The new PSP go doesn’t stray far from that traditional aesthetic. The machine is, again, all piano black and gun-metal silver, making it look like something that fell off the Batmobile. (It’s also available in white.) The top slides open with a satisfying click to reveal a directional pad, an analog thumb-stick nub, and the familiar X, circle, triangle, and square buttons, along with Start and Select buttons.
Older PSP models always felt too delicate to be stuff-in-your-pocket portables. Not so with the PSP go. The unit not only fits comfortably into a shirt pocket—it’s nearly the exact size, shape, and weight of an iPhone—it also feels sturdy enough to endure a real-world pounding.
The unit’s analog thumb-stick nub feels needlessly stubborn and ill-suited for its job. It loosens up a bit after a few break-in days, but it never offers anywhere near the nuanced control most gamers want. Beyond that, it’s actually recessed into the unit, so locating it is sometimes akin to trying to find a dime at the bottom of a bowl of cold peanut butter.
But the most troubling reality is that Sony has ditched the Universal Media Disc format altogether. All games must now be downloaded via wi-fi to the PSP go’s 16 gigabyte hard drive. Inefficient, impractical, and noisy as an emphysema patient trying to take a breath, UMDs definitely needed to go. But by rendering entire collections of UMDs obsolete, Sony has forsaken its most loyal fans.
Since the focus is on downloading games, Sony has also launched a line of bite-sized, oddball games called Minis. At press time, Alien Havoc and Brainpipe both offered sub-par App Store-caliber experiences at $5 apiece. You can find far better games in the App Store for free.
Speaking of the App Store and Apple, the PSP go neglects to mimic the iPhone and iPod Touch in one significant way: It doesn’t feature touchscreen functionality. For anyone who’s used an Apple handheld in recent months, manipulating information and gaming avatars has become second nature. When things get confusing on the PSP go, and they will, the first temptation will be to touch the screen. It’s in that moment of dragging an index finger across a cold, unresponsive screen, of looking for a functionality that most of us now take for granted, that it becomes apparent that the PSP go is a lateral move, and not the step forward Sony wants it to be.