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Sony PSP Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 June 2005
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Sony PSP
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The PSP is a small machine, so needless to say, the game discs need to be small as well. Utilizing a new disc format called UMD, which stands for Universal Media Disc, the games are just a little over one inch by one in diameter and are protected by a plastic outer shell with a small space on the back so the laser can read the disc. Many youngsters will be playing PSPs, so this is a brilliant way of keeping their often grimy little fingers off of the discs and will help prevent scratching if the games are not handled with care. They are far from indestructible, but this design should help them last longer, provided loose items do not fall inside the opening on the bottom of the disc.

As of this review, the Sony PSP official website lists 27 games as being available. Sports games have always been my favorite reason to play video games and the PSP has two real winners that anyone who is into sports games should rush out to buy first when picking up the PSP.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour (EA Sports) is an extremely enjoyable golf simulator that plays so much like its PS2 big brother, just on a smaller scale, that I was almost dumbfounded. The game has a cartoonish feel to it, with the rendering of the players ranging from Tiger himself to any user-generated player. Tiger Woods PGA Tour has a feature that will let you create a replica of yourself. I bought this game on the recommendation of my best friend who has a PSP and when I saw how closely he was able to replicate himself, complete with the same shape of eyeglasses and same length sideburns, I almost fell out of my chair laughing.

When playing holes on unbelievable golf courses like Pebble Beach and the TPC at Sawgrass, the accuracy of the layouts are staggering. Despite the slightly cartoonish look of the players and the courses, the level of detail that is worked into a game that is still 100 percent playable is perfect. All too often with sports games, the action is very disconnected from what is actually going on in the game. I can think of several golf games that feature better graphics, but ultimately the player pushes the right series of buttons and it cues a movie clip of the shot taking place. With Tiger Woods for the PSP, you can put subtle amounts of topspin on drives, hit an intentional fade or draw and can back the ball up on the greens by putting backspin on approach shots.

Just when I didn’t think the game could get better, it did. Linking up with my friend via the wireless network, we found ourselves wasting countless hours battling each other in head to head Skins game for big virtual money. Bathroom breaks were no problem as the wireless PSPs could go anywhere in my house and our signal was never lost. The potential for fun with race car, football, soccer, basketball or fighting games with multiple players each having their own screen is endless.

Baseball season is underway and, being a Dodgers fan, I was thrilled to learn that it is possible, thanks to the external memory cards, to play an entire season of baseball as the Dodgers and save the games as I progress through the year. MLB 2005 (Sony Computer Entertainment) for the PSP is bar none the best baseball game I have ever played in my life. Various X-Box and PS2 games have come and gone and up until playing MLB 2005 for the PSP, I considered World Series 2002 for the old Sega Saturn to have the best combination of playability and decent graphics. Now in 2005, all of the fine details of every park in MLB have been created with amazing clarity and the movements of the players on the field are just as impressive. If a player in the outfield fields a ball on the run and the throw button is pushed as the catch is being made, the player on screen keeps moving and makes his throw on the run as well. If the third baseman has to rush to field a bunt, he will make a sidearm diving throw to first. Players on base make slides to avoid tags by the infielders and the level of control that the game gives you when pitching is topnotch. All of this adds up to the one addictive game that I like better than anything I have for the X-Box or PS2.

Not only is the PSP a truly amazing handheld gaming machine, but it is also a portable MP3 player and, incredibly, it plays feature-length motion pictures. When I first heard that the PSP would have the ability to play movie discs, I figured that the resolution would have to be low and they would not be able to include much in the way of bonus features. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Using MPEG-4 video file format, the PSP almost blew my mind when I cued up the demo movie trailers included with the PSP.

Among the first wave of movie releases for the PSP from Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Columbia TriStar are box office stars like “Kill Bill” Volume 1," “Pirates of the Caribbean,” "Reign of Fire," “Hellboy, Director's Cut,” "House of Flying Daggers" and “XXX,” with many more currently available and more on the way. Looking through the decent-sized list of titles for sale, I noticed that almost all of them include bonus features of some type that I wouldn’t have guessed would be possible, given the size of the UMDs. Like the video game discs, the new disc format UMD is also used for storing the video and audio for the PSP movie discs.

It’s not exactly like sitting down at the local cineplex or plopping down on the couch in front of a big-screen TV, but with the head phones on, the lights dimmed and the sound cranking, the PSP delivers a pretty damn impressive cinematic experience when watching movies. As the vibrato guitar strums and the haunting voice of Nancy Sinatra sings “Bang Bang, He Shot Me Down” during the opening black and white credits of Quentin Tarrantino’s brilliant film “Kill Bill Volume 1” (Miramax), I almost forgot that I was looking down at a small gaming device. It made me think back to when I was chomping at the bit to buy a Nintendo Game Boy and the graphics were impressive to me at the time. Technology sure has come a LONG way.

”Kill Bill” has a mixture of black and white footage, color live action and Japanese anime. During the back and white scenes, such as the opening shot of Uma Thurman’s Bride character lying on the floor bleeding and clinging to life, the contrast ratio and depth of the image was so surprisingly strong that it made me wish my rear projection TV was as good. During the color footage of the Bride having a kung fu battle with Vivica A. Fox’s Vernita Green (codename: Copperhead), in a peaceful Pasadena, California home, knives and fists fly but there are very minimal motion artifacts. I was unsure if the PSP would be able to reproduce live motion effectively, but as the machine had done with games, it continued to impress.

On the special effects juggernaut “Hellboy: Director’s Edition” (Columbia TriStar), the PSP didn’t flinch, even in the darkest of scenes with gigantic computer-generated monsters. Hellboy is played by former “Beauty and the Beast” star Ron Perlman, whose red look here is a combination of prosthetic makeup and a bit of computer-generated imagery. In the very dark scenes where Hellboy’s red skin is in front of a black background, the level of shadow and detail is astonishing for such a small piece of gadgetry. The contrast ratios are not printed on the specs, but I can say with complete certainty that the PSP looks as good, if not better, than portable DVD players costing many times more.

Uploading some MP3 files to the PSP was as simple as drag and drop from the desktop of my PC laptop. I ripped the Deftones’ new self-titled disc (Maverick) to my computer and transferred the crushing metal song “Hexagram” to the PSP. The meta data for the track stayed intact, showing the track and band name on my screen and, despite a slight loss in audio resolution, the crushing guitar tone of Stephen Carpenter and haunting vocals of Chino Moreno were still in full effect. My stock media card is fairly small at only 32 megs and even with the largest two-gig card currently available, the PSP isn’t going to threaten the iPod as the king of MP3 players, but if you have the room, you’ll surely want to store some music on PSP. The stereo speakers on the front of the PSP are small and work better for games than music and movie soundtracks, so you’ll almost always want to use the included headphones, complete with a volume and disc control unit on the headphones cable or pick up a pair of aftermarket headphone that are comfortable.


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