A Tale of 2 Analog Sticks
Its important to learn from our mistakes. Its better to learn from mistakes without making all new ones. As i patiently await my Vita preorder (don't judge me), i can't help but look back on what went wrong for my old friend, and on what pitfalls my new one must navigate.
The troubles of the PSP have been well documented. For a compendium of reasons, the very promising launch of this console did not translate into a smooth ride that Sony were accustomed to hardware-wise. Software droughts, console price, piracy, developer support, over-priced ports and a slew of other reasons made the life of this console a turbulent one.
However, while sony was able to resurrect the fortunes of their handheld in Japan and to a lesser extent, in Europe, they capitulated to an irreversible flatline in the North American market. Why then did they fail to phoenix down their way out of troubles in this region?
The gaming world was a far different place when the PSP was being designed and launched. The ecosystem thrived with diversity in the form of platformers, adventure games, and obscure titles in the way of “Mr Mosquito” and “Katamari.” To launch a console with a single analog stick was in no way unprecedented and in fact had great historical success. The dreamcast entertained the heck out of millions just a few years before (myself included)with a single stick. Surely, a handheld console could do the same. Why then did it become such an insurmountable factor?
Much of it, in my opinion, had to do with the explosion of online multiplayer and concomitantly, the FPS an TPS genres. The demographic being targeted had fallen head over heels with the genres and success could not be had without a generous serving of spacemarine mayhem. I looked on in dismay as studios traditionally charged with producing pure platforming goodness on the PS2 jumped genres, admittedly, in spectacular style on the PS3.
That shift however, could not be replicated on the PSP. The single analog stick precluded the fast and frantic nature of the genres, and the software lineup was never able to capture its intended market. Nintendo managed to escape this by having a console that was priced at a wider market, and by virtue of their years of experience in software development for handhelds.
Many of sony’s offerings simply did not suit the platform. I’ll give an example here. I love the patapon series, but have you ever tried playing it in public or on a bus? It’s hell. It’s no wonder that most users opted to use their PSPs at home. The games that I managed to play in public were mainly jrpgs, where you had to pay less attention to the gaming environment and which were slower in pacing.
The point is that while those 2 analog sticks and other input options are great, software needs to be made that can actually be played on the go. So while titles like uncharted are welcome, it’s important not to lose sight of simpler games such as Angry birds, locoroco and hammering hero, which are much more suited to gaming on the go.
Many gamers may scoff at the software lineup on phones and even on the DS, but these titles can actually be played in public, and are essential for mainstream success. I can name a few titles that I stopped playing in public because I could not follow WTF was going on in the plot and during cutscenes by virtue of environmental distractions. Variety is key, and I hope they don’t lose sight of that.