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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

PSP Madness!!

Hmm.. It's been ages since I posted, I can't even remember what my last article was about. Let me check.. Oh right, Demolish. Well, smallfry updates would have to be a whole other post.. *sigh*
Anyway, I have just returned from a two week business trip to Fargo, ND in the states, and despite warnings from numerous Americans I correspond with that it's such a tiny speck on the map there was no chance I would find a PSP there, I found one in the first gadget shop I went into! There's and awesome franchise gadget store in the US called 'Best Buy' and they had a couple in stock (and so did at least two other stores in town as I would eventually learn..). So rather than bothering with online orders and taking chances with faulty console returns, I picked it up then and there! Other than finding my PSP, the trip was a bit mixed, the first week was a bit of a waste business-wise, but I think the second week made up for it. It's in a beautiful part of the country, and on the weekend we drove East to 'The Lakes'. Minnesota, the state neighbouring North Dakota, is known as the 'State of a Ten Thousand lakes' for very good reason! It's really something, just a pity that the weather sucked on that day. And speaking of weather, wow did we get lucky. We all packed for chilly weather, and expected to suffer through the two weeks, and ended up enjoying mostly warm, sunny days. We went to a Ribfest (Americans take their ribs waaay too seriously ;-)), caught a movie, did some shopping, had great food, and had an all round lekker time! And we met some of the most knowledgeable guys ever when it comes to MS products. One of the guys, Peter Kalbach, has done nothing but SQL Server performance tweaking for 15 years! He really knows his stuff!
On to the PSP
I bought the PSP (which comes in a 'value pack' that includes a pro duo memory stick, charger, soft carry case, carry strap, cleaning cloth, earphones, demo disk and Spiderman 2 UMD movie), a USB connector cable (a pelican one with a built in charging jack for the PSP), a Logitech PlayGear hard carry case and 'WipeOut Pure' and 'Lumines'. I later bought 'Mercury' and a three-UMD carry case as well.
So is it any good?
The PSP itself can only be described as awesome. It is the single most impressive piece of gaming technology I have seen in years-and it's a pretty formidable multimedia device as well. The huge wide screen format screen, thin glossy black chassis and overall ergonomics make it a really good looking piece of kit- certainly far sexier than Nintendo's DS, which is quite ugly in my opinion. The controls are pretty well laid out, though I would have swapped the dpad and analogue-nubbin-thingy. The analogue is what you use for most games, and with it being so low down on the device, it takes some getting used to. The 'shell' software is pretty cool, with intuitive navigation and some nice little extras like the ability to set up a slideshow of your images. Besides playing games it does a good job of playing movies (in MPEG4 format-that's a pain as you have to download third party software to convert standard formats) and MP3's and acting as an image viewer. As a nice little bonus there are a number PSP formatted magazines available and I found it to be a nice and practical way to read stuff on the go.
As for the other bits and pieces in the value pack, the case is functional, but you'll want to get something tougher, the cleaning cloth is.. a cloth, big deal. The charger does it's job, and thankfully takes a variable input voltage, so if you want to charge it off non-US power you can just chop off the plug and attach a local one.The memory stick is only 32Mb, which sucks considering the amount of extra stuff you could be using it for (music, movies, pictures) and you'll want to upgrade to a bigger one at some stage. The carry strap looks downright gay.. no chance I'll be using it.The earphones are actually quite decent, and include a detachable inline volume and play control. The Demo Disk is basically just a collection of game teaser videos-nothing playable at all. The Spiderman 2 UMD is great for showing off the machine, but that's about it. I don't get the point of buying UMD movies when you could just buy the DVD, and rather play games on the go-but that's just me ;-p
And the games?
First off: Wipeout Pure. What can I say, I am a massive fan of the Wipeout series, and this game probably played a large part in getting me interested in the PSP in the first place. Pure is well named, it is simply the best parts of all the wipeout games distilled and presented for your enjoyment. Everything about this game is wonderful, it has the 'feel' that we have come to know and love-including the incredible sense of speed that no racer outside of the series has ever matched. There's a good selection of tracks, teams, difficulty levels and game modes. One game mode in particular, the newly introduced 'Zone', is a Wipeout fan's wet dream! It is the fastest, purest incarnation of the Wipeout experience you will ever find! This is a must own game that looks good, sounds good and plays like a dream!
Lumines is, well, Tetris with music. It's very similar in concept to Tetris, as are many arcade-puzzle games. This title's uniqueness probably comes from the influence your choices make on the music, with ever larger combos resulting in more and more interesting 'soundbites'. All things considered, it's a pretty fun game, that looks and plays well, but I really think it's overrated and overpriced. If you absolutely love Tetris, get this, otherwise, spend the money elsewhere.
Mercury, on the other hand, is pure genius. It takes the simple concept of those old children's puzzles where you have to get the little silver balls into holes on a platform by moving the platform, and replaces the balls with blobs of liquid metal. That may sound simplistic and boring-but it is far from it. A combination of spatial puzzles, a time limit and being penalized for losing too much of your 'mercury' over the side of a level make for some wickedly challenging puzzles. If Lumines is way overrated, this game is insanely underrated, it looks great, has decent sound and has some of the best puzzle game play ever! Buy it now!
What's with the other stuff?
Other than the value pack and games, I bought a carry case, UMD case and USB cable.
Your PSP is an expensive piece of kit, and that screen and gloss plastic are just begging to be scratched! The Logitech PlayGear case is the answer. It is a hinged case with a hard, transparent outer shell, and a rubber inner shaped to hold your PSP snugly in place. All the bits you would want to access while not playing (i.e. to use the PSP as a music player) are exposed, and when the case is open, it is quite comfortable to play while the PSP is still in it-and the cover provides some glare protection. The case folds over quite far, and can be used as a stand for your PSP, this is great for viewing media or images.. or just for showing it off ;) As an added bonus, the inner layer can be removed, and a thin 'skin' placed between it and the transparent outer shell. The result? A customisable case :) Check out for some great examples!
The UMD disks may look really cool, and the casing they come in will partially protect them, but there is a pretty big gap on the back of the casing for reading that is bound to result in scratched or dirty disks. Sadly Sony did not think to include some kind of spring loaded cover like in stiffy disks, and the actual box you buy the UMDs in is way too big to be carted around. This means you'll need another solution. What I did was buy a little three-UMD carrying case that flips open, I forget the brand, but it's the only one I've seen so if you search around you should find it. It's pretty functional, does the job and looks pretty cool.
The PSP can be connected to your PSP by means of a USB cable, and this is how media is copied onto it (that;s right.. no file transfer over the built-in 802.11 connection-silly hey?). I needed one of these, and found one by pelican that included a charging jack for the same price as a standard cable. This is pretty cool as it means I can charge my PSP from my PC at work-so I don't have to worry about carting my charger around or buying a second one.
So that's it! I have my PSP, it rocks, and I want it to have my babies (erm..). I'm sure I'll be posting more PSP stuff at some stage, for now, cheers!


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