Let me take you back to, er, late 2004: the specialist gaming press had lifted the lid (no pun intended) on Nintendo’s DS system; the console was due to launch in the states on the 21st November, and promised to offer inventive gaming experiences that we had never experienced before, rewriting game design books and opening up a whole new way of thinking about what makes a game. From the moment it was announced, the DS was ripe with potential – the question that followed this announcement was, of course, “how soon will this potential be realised?”
Personally, I was excited about the potential of the system, but unimpressed by the launch line-up; games that you knew would be perfect for the system (Wario Ware, Polarium) sat alongside more convential material (Spider-Man 2, Madden and of course the ubiquitous (read: “just fuck off and die already”) Rayman.) This mix of creativity and convention left me unconvinced of the DS’ immediate appeal: a few games of Wario Ware Touched and Yoshi’s Touch ‘n’ Go on a friend’s DS proved to be a nice distraction, but at the time I was still enjoying the more conventional 16-bit ports on my GBA: with a gaming structure I was comfortable with, those games had a more tangible sense of progress than the gimmick games in the first wave of DS software. So it wasn’t much of a surprise that I soon found my gaze drifting towards a forthcoming rival.
With structures so familiar, so comfortable, the games in the PSP’s line up were an immediate draw for me. Here were titles that had that sense of progress I’d loved in the GBA software and longed for in the DS’ library of games. Avoiding something as risky as the DS’ design gave Sony the opportunity to play it safe and deliver the kind of games they already knew there was an audience for, and this approach proved to be effective in my eyes – I was fascinated by the promises, by the Sony classics I loved playing at home that could potentially be played in my hands. So it’s obvious which handheld I ended up buying first. Isn’t it?
Well, as you know, Disposable rarely gets the chance to review stuff for free (apart from my Freeware column, of course :P) and as much as I liked the PSP’s line-up I couldn’t justify spending that much on the console. If I recall, it launched at around £180 in the UK; something of a joke when you consider that the announced price for Japan was a shade over £100. The GBA market had pretty much dried up, save for a few ill-advised licenses, and I was casting my eyes towards a new handheld. Any new handheld. Suddenly I feel a pinch on my bum – it’s the bite of Karma, letting me know that as much as I loathed the launch line-up, I would end up buying into the potential of the DS, hoping against hope that the future was brighter than this shaky beginning. Actually, I’ll confess, it wasn’t just the price difference that sold me a DS – it was Ouendan. But that’s another story.
So I have my DS and a copy of Polarium, and I later bought Ouendan and enjoyed it. A lot. Maybe there is something to this “gimmick” console after all. However, the DS was still getting out of it’s “1. Implement any form of touchscreen interaction 2. ??? 3. Profit” phase, and in the end it was inevitably the games with more conventional structures that won me over. Sonic Rush. Portrait of Ruin. New Super Mario Bros. Even Phoenix Wright, which can be played entirely with the DS’ gimmicks, is (bonus case aside) a port of a game originally developed for the more conventional GBA. I was a DS convert: Nintendo had once more won the battle for my palm sweat. Well, until last Tuesday.
At £70 – a shade over the average price of a 360 or PS3 game if you shop at the wrong places – a local indie was selling a preowned PSP. Delightedly, I snapped it up a day after I first saw it and have since been enjoying the system I had originally planned to buy all these years ago. I have a lot of catching up to do with my games library – so far I only have Wipeout Pure, GTA: VCS and Tekken: DR to play – but I haven’t felt so happy about a new gaming purchase since The Orange Box. Which arguably is still quite recent, but whatever.
So, as an afterword to that happy ending, I’ll say that you can expect a bit more balance with regards to the handheld reviews in Disposable, and I hope that this anecdote has served as a reminder to the jaded old folk (trust me, I’m one of them) of the joy that gaming can bring. Happy playing.