Though retail estimates would suggest that the launch of the PSP Go hasn’t been as successful as the PS3’s recent mid-life reset, Sony’s decision to release a download-only handheld is nevertheless a direct challenge to Apple’s current dominance with the iPhone. On the iPhone, bite-sized nuggets of quality gaming are available at a fraction of the price.
But just how does Sony intend to unseat Apple at the top table? Should any loyal App Store fanatics be worried that they’ve backed the wrong horse?
The general opinion from most commentators, analysts, and journalists alike would appear to be no. According to the editor of UK magazine Retro Gamer, Darran Jones, Sony’s decision to take on the iPhone with the PSP Go, though a committed and valid threat, may well have come too late.
‘PSP Minis is an obvious knee-jerk to the success of Apple’s App Store, much as Natal and Sony’s new ‘magic wand’ are to the success of Nintendo’s Wii,’ Jones told us. ‘The games industry is built on copying of the success of others and, in this respect, PSP Minis is no different.’
Indeed, though the PSP Go has a big user base to chase down, Jones believes Sony does have a few advantages when it comes to taking on the App Store’s elite: namely, the Japanese giant’s ability to play the long game.
‘Say what you like about Sony and its copycat approach, but it’s great at shaping existing products until they’re more desirable to consumers– just look at the PS3,’ he says.
‘It has dropped the ball with pricing, especially when you consider that perfectly good full price releases like Mercury are available for the same price, but this is bound to change in the future. While the Minis are still in their infancy, one of the biggest benefits certain games are showing is that a virtual joystick is no match for a physical one. Fieldrunners feels a little clunky, but the likes of Hero of Sparta benefit greatly.’
Hero of Sparta actually benefits from a physical joystick.
Despite some initial reviews to the contrary, Jones believes that the one area you can’t fault the PSP Go is when it comes to its games line-up, going so far as to say that numerous titles have already impressed him, with a special mention going to platform-puzzler Kahoots. ‘Despite its simple premise,’ he says, ‘it’s been put together with so much skill and, indeed love, that you can’t help but fall for it.’
Such quality will be essential in the coming months. Pricing and promotion will both play a major role, but the key to this battle, according to Jones, is each format’s software.
‘Pinball Fantasies is every bit as good on the PSP as it is on the iPhone, and if rumors are true, then the likes of Pac-Man Championship Edition and Space Invaders won’t be far behind,’ Jones claims. ‘Having said that, Sony has all but neglected classic retro games like Gauntlet 2 and Rampage on its main online store, so maybe it feels there just isn’t enough interest in them. You’ve only got to see the huge popularity of the likes of Worms and Monkey Island on the App Store though to realize that this just isn’t true.’
So, even though both formats clearly have merit, does he see the PSP Go mounting a serious challenge to the iPhone in the long run? ‘I’d imagine that ultimately Apple is going to win this particular battle,’ he concludes. ‘Sony has arrived at the party far too late, with a near identical model that’s based on the few updates we’ve seen so far. It’s never going to offer the sheer variety and choice that has been managed on the App Store.’