PSP: Console of 2008 so far?

Sony’s having a funny old generation. The PS3 has gone from being cut adrift to right back in it, and despite being the DS’s whipping boy since they came out in 2004, the PSP is now doing respectable numbers (in hardware, at least), is still gaining features through firmware updates and impressive interoperability with the PS3, and, for my money, has had the best games of all the systems so far this year.

I’ve already blogged about the charming Patapon and phenomenal(ly short) God of War, and I’m sure you’re familiar with those recent gems. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is out in the States and looks insanely good for a PSP game; it takes a while to get going and progress from being a fairly monotonous button masher (never thought I’d accuse a Final Fantasy game of being that) to something unique and extremely playable, slightly reminiscent of the real-time-but-not-quite combat of Final Fantasy XII. The strange things that Square’s been doing with this series makes me extremely curious – not to mention anxious – about what FFXIII will do.

Technically it’s a 2007 release, but I’ve also been playing Silent Hill Origins, which is a technically impressive and extremely solid entry to the series, that anyone worried about how a Western development team will handle Silent Hill V should take a good look at. That handful of games, together with the always-excellent homebrew community (check out the brilliant Rorschach to see what people can do), have ensured that the PSP has been my most played machine for the first few months of the year.

Just like the Wii is never going to be in any danger of being caught by the PS3, the DS and PSP are barely really in competition in that respect. But while the Nintendo machines have had a handful of recent good games – Smash Bros. on the Wii; Apollo Justice and Professor Layton on the DS – the Sony machines have shined this year. Nintendo really doesn’t have much confirmed beyond Mario Kart, while we all know about the PS3’s 2008 lineup and the PSP, while perhaps not having much of its own beyond Crisis Core, will profit from association. Bionic Commando Rearmed, for example, is confirmed to be playable on the PSP via Remote Play.

It may be that tepid software sales and rampant piracy has a detrimental effect on the PSP’s future as an independent system, and it’s been accused of being little more than a PS2 port machine in the past (the ironic thing being that several high profile PSP games have now been ported back to PS2), but with any luck its recent software successes will keep the fires burning. Whether as a games machine, a PS3 accessory, or a portable media player (watching films and TV shows on it is great, if occasionally unflattering to the screen’s poor refresh rate), the PSP has been showing itself as a late bloomer.

God, this year’s Sony praise is making me feel a bit sick. I’ll be sure to compensate once Ninja Gaiden 2 is out.

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