Friday Slide: The Playstation Phone’s Retro Appeal

Last week Engadget published exclusive photos of what they’ve confirmed is the Playstation Phone, an Android-powered handheld with a pop-out controller that’s hitting stores soon. Is taking us back to the Playstation’s glory days Sony’s best answer to the iPhone?

The key to the Playstation Phone seems to be an alliance between two Apple competitors: Sony and Google. Sony’s providing the hardware, and the worldwide Playstation brand, and Google’s providing the Android 3.0 operating system.

The Android Marketplace is growing incredibly fast, but it’s still behind the times compared to the App Store. iPhone developers like Gameloft have been jumping into Android development, releasing ports of games like Modern Combat: Sandstorm, which already has a sequel on iPhone. Since these games started out on the iPhone, we have trouble picturing how their controls will benefit from the Playstation Phone’s combination of a d-pad and analog touchpad.

Let’s say we want to play Modern Combat on a Playstation Phone. Is it really better to move in four directions with a D-pad, look around with a central touchpad, and then switch to the buttons to fire your gun? I’ve got high expectations for the Playstation brand, but I also remember trying to play the original Medal of Honor with a digital controller, before Dual Shock twin joysticks became the standard. I don’t think Playstation 1 is the system Sony should be trying to recreate here.

On the other hand, while iPhone games like Modern Combat, Samurai II: Vengeance, and Street Fighter IV have proven that touchscreen controls can work, I’m not going to discount the fact that they might work better on a Playstation Phone’s tactile controller.

After years of Apple requiring developers to accommodate the iPhone’s buttonless design, the Playstation Phone is going to give them, and gamers, an easy answer: Here’s gaming like you originally remember it. I suspect that ports of games that were originally designed for a controller, like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, will work better on the Playstation Phone.

In addition, among the Android Marketplace’s top downloads are emulators that let you load up on (illegal) ROMs of NES, SNES, Genesis, and other classic console games. Mega Man 2 was always meant to be played with a controller, not a touchscreen, and the Playstation Phone’s hardware seems awfully inviting to an old-school gamer.

The real question for the Playstation Phone is this: Which Sony franchises are coming along for the ride? Will we see LittleBig Planet and God of War on the new mobile device? Or is Sony saving those big guns for the PSP2, and letting the Android Marketplace define the Playstation Phone? At this point, we just don’t know.

One thing is certain– competition is healthy. If Sony and Google are joining forces to make a phone for gamers, it’ll make Apple work harder to keep its users happy. Game Center could certainly use some upgrades, and maybe Apple will get smarter about promoting the very best iPhone games instead of just dumping them into the App Store heap.

I can’t wait to try out the Playstation Phone, with its classic controller, because even though gaming on my iPhone still feels like the future, sometimes I also want to revisit the past.

Andrew Podolsky is the Editor in Chief of Slide To Play and Padvance.

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