Man vs. PSP Go
During the Sony press conference at this year's E3, as Kaz Hirai described the PSP Go as being perfect for the "digital lifestyle," and as steam began blowing out of my ears (I'd hoped that a Sony comeback would be the big story of E3), I began writing a story right then and there titled "Fifty Things You Should Buy Instead of the PSP Go."
One $249.99 iRobot 500 Series Roomba, which is a robot that vacuums the house and might or might not become your friend. A hundred and forty-two bottles of ice-cold Dr. Pepper. Two hundred and fifty 99-cent KFC Snackers. A low-end escort who might or might not have both kinds of genitals. Anyway, you get the idea.
But as the PSP Go launch approached, and my deadline for filing the Fifty Things story loomed, I began feeling something I never expected to feel: sympathy. The poor little machine wasn't even out yet, and already the gaming press had decided it was folly on par with the N-Gage.
Good, bad? A step forward, a step backward? I needed to have one in my hands.
There is a chain of electronics stores in Canada called Future Shop, which is such a Canadian name, because it's so painfully earnest. Compare/contrast it with "Best Buy" and you'll get what I'm saying. I head for my local Future Shop on Robson and Granville in downtown Vancouver.
I ask one of the sales clerks, a 20-something guy with a buzz cut, if they have any PSP Gos in stock.
"Sure do," he says, leading me to a locked glass cabinet that is literally stuffed to the brim with PSP Gos. I ask him how they're selling.
"I sold one earlier today," he says.
I get the impression that they're not exactly flying out of the store.
"White or black?" he asks.
I didn't know white was an option. Black, of course. That's what I want. Definitely. Or maybe white. I'm confused. I wrestle with this dilemma for a few more seconds. The clerk sighs.
"Black," I say, immediately certain I've made a mistake.
As the clerk is running my credit card, I attempt to engage him in a bit of nerd small talk. I love making nerd small talk. It's my favorite kind of small talk in the world. I ask him what he's playing these days.
He tells me about how he and his brother share a PSP, but that he's currently saving up to buy a PSP Go so that they can do some multiplayer gaming together. It's a sobering reminder that not all gamers are steeped in games and systems the way that I am. Some gamers have to share PSPs with their brothers.
I tell him that I work on a television show here in Canada about videogames. He gives me a vacant look.
I tell him the name of the show. He says he's never heard of it, then immediately issues a heartfelt apology for not having heard of it. Canadians feel the need to apologize for everything. "I just don't watch a lot of TV," he explains, as I say, "It's OK," again and again.
He writes the name of the show down on a piece of paper that I'm sure he'll lose in about 40 seconds. Then he'll spend the rest of the day feeling bad about losing the piece of paper.
I sign my receipt, then my new PSP Go and I head home to get acquainted. I feel a little excited on the walk home. There's an extra spring in my step. There's nothing like having a new piece of electronics to fool with. It's the world's best antidepressant.
Unboxing a new piece of electronics is like taking the pants off your new girlfriend for the first time. You do it slowly. You savor the moment. I love seeing how things are packaged. You can tell something about a piece of electronics by how it's packaged. The packaging for the Nintendo Wii, with its considered Tray 1 and Tray 2 design, remains the masterpiece of all packaging.
The PSP Go's, like all Sony packing, is more utilitarian. It's functional, but not friendly or logical. As with all Sony products, the PSP Go comes with a pair of big, intimidating instruction booklets that I will never read. If were on a desert island, and these manuals were the only reading material, I honestly think I would dig my eyes out before reading these things.
I find a Quick Start pamphlet -- or Guide de demarrage rapide -- and unfold it. Step one: Charge the PSP Go system battery before initial use. I plug it in, then watch an episode of "Dexter." I'm in the second season, when Dexter cheats on Rita with that crazy woman who is always saying, in her British accent, "I have a darkness in me, Dex-TAH." I can't stand this woman, and I desperately want Dexter and Rita -- or, as the British woman says, "Ree-TAH" -- to get back together.
After the episode, I check on the PSP Go. Still charging.
I watch another episode. Then another. Dex-tah and Ree-tah might get back together. It looks promising. But then they don't. Still charging.
When I go to bed, the PSP Go still hasn't "gone" anywhere. The red still-charging light is glowing.
Is it a mistake to ask someone to spend $250 on a piece of electronics, then ask them to plug it in and wait around for it to be ready to use?
Yes it is.
The next morning I'm fiddling with the now-charged PSP Go and drinking coffee. The first thing I realize is that there is nothing that I can do with the PSP Go until I connect it to the Internet and buy some games.
So I do a scan, the PSP Go finds my Wi-Fi access point, I somehow remember the password for my WLAN security setting, and even more amazing, somehow remember my password for the PlayStation Network.
Voil?. I'm in.
I start buying shit. I've been craving God of War: Chains of Olympus lately, but my UMD of the game is in New York, so I grab it on impulse. And by "grab it," I mean I click on the orange BUY button, then wait for it to download to the 16 GB internal hard drive.
If it sounds like I've done a lot of waiting so far, that's because I have.
I also buy Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2, again because I've been craving it.
Then I buy Motorstorm: Arctic Edge and PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe. I buy a couple of Minis, the $4.99 small-ish games that Sony is hoping will be akin to the small-ish games we are used to consuming on the iPhone. I buy Alien Havoc, Brainpipe and iPhone staple Fieldrunners.
The PSP Go tells me that I have 71 minutes remaining before my games have all downloaded. I look out the window and see some crows fighting over a piece of trash in the street. I sigh.
The PSP Go tells me that I have 70 minutes remaining. The trash fight is over. My coffee has gone cold.
[Later that day...]
That 16-gig hard drive isn't looking so roomy anymore. After my buying frenzy, it's already down to 11 gigs, which means I'll have to go back to Future Shop for a Memory Stick soon.
So far, in the past 12 hours I've spent about $100 on downloadable content, bringing the amount of money I've put into Sony's pockets up to around $350. And I have yet to play one second of a game.
Sony did toss in a few thanks-for-buying-this freebies: A lite version of Rock Band Unplugged and a Patapon 2 demo. Codes are included in the box, and when you enter the codes, you have to wait for the games to download. I can't help but think that a higher-quality pack-in game -- like God of War: Chains of Olympus ($15.99) -- would have made me feel better overall about my purchase.
I fix lunch. I play the radio. I pet my cats. I IM with Elise and Ryan.
Finally, after 13 going on 14 hours -- cue the bar mitzvah "You're Unbelievable" song -- I'm ready to game.
I go right for Chains of Olympus. Kratos looks weird in this game. His face is kind of elongated, and he looks more like a Hollywood Squares guest than a mythological bad-ass. "I'll take Kratos for the block."
The smaller screen on the PSP Go doesn't do the game any favors. During the opening levels, Kratos is sometimes literally only a few pixels tall. The sound seems richer and lusher on the PSP Go; the speakers are of a higher quality, or better positioned, or both.
But the analog nub-thing is tough to use. It's hard to find. It feels like it's buried. It's stubborn. There's no fine-tuning. Kratos flails about, but still manages to beat the Stove Top Stuffing out of everything.
After only a few minutes of gaming, I notice that the charge bar is already on the wane. Like with the iPhone, using Wi-Fi really seems to sap the Go's battery.
I plug in again. And I wait again.
For a machine with the word "go" in its name, it sure does seem to enjoy being connected to an electrical outlet.
I decide to go out into the world and take my charged-up, and now loaded with games, PSP Go with me. (I downloaded a bunch of PlayStation games earlier in the day, including Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, MediEvel and some snowmobile racing game.) Crispy Gamer Pro Tip: Turn the Wi-Fi off on your PSP Go. Your charge will last a lot longer. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT.
The two of us go to a local bar for an afternoon pint. Of the 10 or so TVs in the bar, hockey is on nine of them. On the 10th screen, off in a corner, the Twins and Tigers are tied up in extra innings, playing their asses off for a shot at the post-season. No one cares.
Welcome to Canada.
The bartender draws a pint for me, breaks a $20, and leaves my change. I have the Go right there out on the bar. He's indifferent.
So is the older man sitting next to me, reading the paper.
I hate whenever I see someone sitting alone in a bar reading a book. Go home and read, goddamn it. Don't do it in a bar. You look like a douche. Now I wonder if playing a game in a bar is far worse.
I load up Alien Havoc. This is the gist of Alien Havoc: I'm an alien trying to get sheep into my UFO. Farmers attack me. This is the biggest piece of bullshit gaming I have ever seen. I move onto Brainpipe. Brainpipe is some sort of trippy drive-the-cursor-through-oncoming-hoops-and-grab-power-ups game that feels like a low-rent version of Rez. I like the concept, but using the control nub to "drive" is impossible.
I wasted $10 on these goddamn games ($4.99 each). What shit.
Then I load up Fieldrunners ($4.99). I want to hate it, because I loved the iPhone version so much, but before long, the new control scheme becomes second nature, and I'm 20 minutes deep into a level and loving life again. It feels louder and brighter and more colorful on the PSP Go than it does on the iPhone, for some reason. I get to Level 99 on Grasslands when a swarm of helicopters manages to make its way across the battlefield past my defenses. I lose. I'm not unhappy.
When I look up, the old man sitting next to me has vanished.
Hockey is on 10 screens now.
I drain my beer.
I snap the PSP Go shut, stick it in my pocket -- it feels sturdy enough to be pocketed -- then head out to the street.
I head for a nearby mall called Pacific Center. Vancouver has tons of these shopping malls hidden away around the city. I can't tell you the number of times I've walked into a building and thought, Holy shit, there's a whole goddamn mall in here. Pacific Center smells like popcorn and perfume. I sit on a bench and snap open my PSP Go, and play a couple rounds of a PlayStation game called Sno-Cross Championship Racing.
A guy sits down next to me and leafs through a magazine. I choose my snowmobile, then race three other snowmobiles (which is not very many for a racing game) on a track through a virtual Aspen. I come in last place and am given this message: YOU DID NOT QUALIFY FOR THIS EVENT.
When I look up, a tall girl walks over to the guy sitting next to me. She's pretty, with brown eyes and dark hair. She smiles when she sees the guy. They walk away holding hands, clearly boyfriend and girlfriend, and I feel the all-too-familiar pang in my chest.
It's another event that I didn't qualify for today.
I head for the local EB Games. If there's one place where the world won't be indifferent to me and my new PSP Go, it's there.
I roam around the store with my PSP Go out in plain sight. No one notices. I want someone to ask me about it. I want someone to say, HEY IS THAT A PSP GO WHAT'S IT LIKE, MAN?
No one does.
A Chinese guy is buying a copy of NBA 2K10. I observe the transaction. The cashier is a short woman with heavy-looking eyeglasses. She asks the guy if he wants to buy the no-scratch disc guarantee for the low, low price of $3.
I nearly cheer when the guy says no.
"There's a Collector's Edition of this game," she says. She's trying to up-sell, but she's doing a rotten job of it.
"I'm OK with just the game," the guy says.
I decide to jump in. "It's actually pretty cool," I say.
The short woman says to the guy, "Do you want to take a look at it?"
Now the guy is in kind of a bad place. "Um, OK, sure," clearly indulging me and the woman. The woman disappears into the back.
When she brings out the Collector's Edition, I immediately regret getting involved. The Collector's Edition comes with a huge, hideous locker-thing that you can store your games in. "Oh man," I say to the guy. "Are you sure you want that in your house?"
The Chinese guy laughs, and goes through the motions of looking it over.
A guy behind the counter with a lanyard around his neck asks if he can help me. I tell him that I don't see any PSP Gos in the store, and ask if they have any in stock. "Yeah, let me grab you one from the back for you," he says.
That's when I hold up my PSP Go (which I had on the counter in front of me) and practically wave it in his face. "I already have one!" I say.
Why doesn't anyone ever notice this goddamn, cursed thing? Man!
"Oh!" he says. "I didn't see it there! Ha, ha!"
I'm buying a couple other things -- I always end up buying something when I go to the game store -- and as he's ringing me up, I ask him how the Gos are selling.
"Sales have been kind of slow so far," he says. "People are really confused about it. They come in saying they want to upgrade to the Go, but when I explain that they can't play their old games on it, they get confused, and wind up leaving. I think Sony could have done a better job explaining the Go to people. Most people just don't understand it, or how it works."
Once our transaction is complete, I see the Chinese guy walking out of the store dragging his Collector's Edition of NBA 2K10 behind him in a plastic bag. I can't believe he actually bought it. EB Games owes me the commission on that one.
As I'm leaving the store, I notice a small PSP Go kiosk set up near the door with the words "IT'S GO TIME!" prominently displayed on it. The whole thing isn't plugged in, which is why I failed to notice it. Worse still, the kiosk is designed for the PSP Go, but had an old-model PSP in the try-me slot.
Seems Sony isn't the only one not doing a good job of explaining the Go to consumers.
Seems the world around me isn't the only one indifferent to the PSP Go. In the days after writing this story, I've also stopped noticing it. It drifts around my apartment, moving from table to table, shelf to shelf, room to room; but I'm not really using it. Mostly I'm just moving it around as I think about using it.
I'm sure I'll take it with me on a few trips; I do like having all those games on the hard drive, and not having to worry about locating UMDs all the time.
But after a few months, the PSP Go will probably go to the elephant graveyard for all old gaming peripherals and handhelds: the bottom drawer in my kitchen. I'll make room for it between the Wii Wheel and the Game Boy Micro.