Japan In My Hand: Walkman, Talkman
Jonathan Ikeda takes an opportunity with the newest Japan In My Hand to take a look at the PSP "mess" and a possible savior in the guise of a blue parrot.
The PSP is a mess. A beautiful mess, admittedly, but a mess nevertheless. (Hey, that rhymes!) The question must be posed: What were the R&D hacks at Sony Corp thinking when they drew up the first PSP blueprint?
"Let's make a portable media center that can also play games." Possibly. "Let's make a games console that can also play movies and music." Not likely. "Let's make a wireless net browser that can be used offline for other stuff." Maybe. Frankly, the most plausible line of thought was probably something like: "Let's put all of our favourite things behind a beautiful screen!"
Fair play to those hacks. Unfortunately, though, game developers have used this diversity of the hardware as an excuse for a half-hearted approach to their work. Who really wants to pay again for a stripped-down version of the PS2 game they already own? With the exception of Minna No Golf fans, Japanese players haven't shown much interest in this expensive replay nonsense.
Hardware sales have been impressive (although nowhere near the phenomenal levels of the DS) but it seems that most users are content to play with the hardware and other stuff -- cough, cough, wink, wink -- rather than any software that is officially available. Quite, and so am I.
So it's about time Sony released Talkman. This is the kind of software that has propelled Nintendo's DS to pole position in the Japanese all-format Grand Prix. It's not a real game at all. But it's fresh, it's innovative, and it features a blue parrot. This is just what the PSP needs, honest.
In Talkman you can practice your linguistic skills in Japanese, Chinese, Korean and/or English. With a blue parrot. And that parrot -- a digital creation and therefore not susceptible to avian virii -- will talk back. Because that's what parrots do. Beyond that, he's also capable of judging the accuracy of your pronunciation in special tests. Talkman is like Seaman, but without the disturbingly lifelike human visage. It's destined for hit status.
And, speaking of the late, great Sega, I should concede that the sleeping giant actually beat Sony to the starting line. Sega's version of Professor Kawashima's Adult Brain Training was released on the PSP a fortnight ago. It's moved over 100,000 units already. Brain Training on the DS, for the record, has now sold over 700,000 copies.
This sort of thing -- trivia, IQ tests, education -- is what the Japanese now want and expect from portable games. It's just too bad for Sony that Nintendo has already established the DS as the platform of innovation and freshness.
Sony too should be commended for its efforts with Talkman and the other fresh games that are on the way (EXIT, Loco Roco), but why it's taken the best part of a year for software of this standard to appear is quite puzzling. I just hope there's no more complacency from PSP developers: in Japan, at least, DS is making PSP look like an ugly mess. It shouldn't be that way. The PSP should be, and can be, a beautiful mess.
I'll have more detailed impressions of Talkman for you next week. In the meantime, I have a parrot to talk with.