DS vs. PSP: Five Ways Nintendo Clobbered Sony
PSP was the must have portable system, and then a few months later, it wasn't.
December 12, 2004 was the last day we went bonkers for something that released in Japan.
Said product was Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP), the captivating handheld that was supposed to uplift us from the "handheld gaming ghetto" (Sony's words) and deliver a console quality experience in the palm of our hands.
Suffice to say, the machine was dead sexy. We had never seen anything so powerful. Yes, the battery life was abysmal, and sure, the lack of a second analog stick was a downer, but neither of those things mattered while playing Ridge Racer, Lumines and even Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee. It was almost a portable PlayStation 2. We imported units immediately.
A lot of things were said the second we experienced PSP. Among them was the obvious: Nintendo's finished. The company's DS had debuted in the U.S. just a month prior to PSP's Japanese release, and Sony's machine made Mario and Co.'s system look outdated and childish. Handheld gaming ghetto? That sounded right.
Fast forward seven years later, and we own multiple DS systems and a healthy library of games. Meanwhile, those PSPs have either been sold or currently collect dust in our attics.
Simply put, DS won. DS won big. Nintendo absorbed the criticism and managed to not only sell over 120 million systems, but also make PSP undesirable, though to be fair, Sony's own mistakes (months without new software, PSP Go) had a lot to do with that.
On that note, we decided to reflect on key moments that defined the current generation's portable war.
Lite the world on fire
The original DS (nicknamed DS Fat for obvious reasons) looked awful. DS Lite, on the other hand, was a revelation. Nintendo almost completely redesigned the system, transforming it from a bulky mess into a sleek and stylish device, complete with a slimmer body and glossy finish. It still lagged behind PSP in terms of power, but when it came to aesthetics, this critical move put both systems on par with each other.
First party assault
For a little while, it seemed like Sony's first party games would trump anything from Nintendo. Then all of a sudden, the Japanese went nuts over a relatively unknown title called Brain Age, which managed to sell over 18 million copies in its lifetime.
Then came an all out blitz of titles that didn't just move two million units, but over 20. We're talking about New Super Mario Bros., Nintendogs and Mario Kart. DS was hot, and there was no stopping it.
Then again, it's no wonder why DS took off. Nintendo managed to achieve the same milestone it did with Wii: make the system attractive to casual audiences. PSP was and still is a hardcore system. DS, on the other hand, has a more user friendly image, with games designed for players of all skill types (Tetris DS, Nintendogs, Brain Age, Art Academy). We could play New Super Mario Bros. in the morning, Mario Kart at lunch and then use America's Test Kitchen to make dinner.
Key third party losses and snubs
With all that processing muscle under the hood, PSP seemed like an ideal fit for the biggest franchises. Then Square Enix and Level-5 moved Dragon Quest IX onto the DS (after wowing critics with Dragon Quest VIII on PS2), and it's like Sony's Japanese fan base let out a collective cry of anguish. DQ may not be as huge in the U.S., but in Japan, the good folks over there go nuts over each installment. Having part IX DS exclusive was huge.
Then again, so was Square Enix in general. The publisher flooded both DS and PSP with games, but you have to figure that some of those DS exclusives (the Final Fantasy III reboot) convinced PSP owners to also buy Nintendo's system. Capcom has been generous with Monster Hunter on PSP, but DS received the only portable Resident Evil (Deadly Silence) of this generation.
[Editor's Note: This is no knock on the PSP library, which has a ton of phenomenal video games from a variety of talented companies.]
Touching is good
At first, the DS touch screen was a bit odd and perhaps gimmicky. It seemed like all companies could do was ask players to frantically rub the screen. Over time, though, imaginative developers made better use of the technology. Turns out, people really dig touch screens, and will sacrifice power for poking stuff.
Of course, having franchises like Mario, Zelda and Pokemon don't hurt, either.