Handhelds have been around longer than I have, but I feel wonderful knowing I saw the handheld market grow and bloom into what it is today. From the Jaguar Lynx to the New Nintendo 3DS, we have come a long way and made leaps and bounds in the gaming and tech industry to get here. Even on mobile phones games look so good that we are seeing PC ports and console ports on them. There is one particular handheld that I have fonder memories of more than GameBoy, DS, and even the Sega Game Gear. It’s the Sony PlayStation Portable. It was an ambitious monster of a system that sold millions of units and has one of the most dedicated followings of all time that is strong even today. While pirating and custom firmware is what ultimately made the PSP so strong, it still had amazing games and was one awesome system.
I remember seeing the PSP back in late 2004 when images showed up online. I remember thinking it was the slickest damn thing to ever be invented and I HAD to have one. The problem was I was a 14-year-old teenager with a measly allowance and broke parents. How was I to afford a $250 console ever? Well, pre-orders, of course, were a thing back then too and it was like a layaway program. Thankfully I got my pre-order in 8 months before launch as Sony only shipped one million units worldwide and there were none on store shelves after release. The anticipation was palpable and I remember making wallpapers (the one below has followed me from 2005 and sadly our PC was ancient and had an 800×600 resolution), talking on forums, watching videos, and just staring at images of the darned thing. I put $50 a month on the system until finally, I had enough for the console, sales tax, and Ridge Racer. I remember leading up to the last week of the release I talked about it to death with my family until they hated me.
Two days before the system was released games were already available to pick up. I remember picking up Ridge Racer ready to go. I was so fascinated by the UMD and held that little thing in awe as I read the manual page for page. I had the game and was so ready for the system and it couldn’t come sooner. March 24th rolled around and I remember not being able to sleep that night, it was like Christmas. There was no midnight launch for the system as there weren’t enough pre-orders for it, but I had my mom drive me to GameCrazy about 30 minutes before the store opened, about 9:30 AM. I stood in a line of about 50 people and waited patiently for my turn as I had paid for the system in full when I picked up the game.
As I stood in line I watched people walk out with those big boxes and as I got into the store the employees all had theirs out. I felt my heart race as I saw the system for the first time in person from afar. It is literally still one of the most beautifully designed systems ever made. I got up to the counter and saw my box there staring at me. I remember I had to pay one penny as for some reason it was short a cent. I remember everyone in the store laughing but I didn’t pay attention. I got a penny from the car and ran inside, threw that sucker down, and grabbed the box. The car ride home was tense despite only being a few minutes. I ran inside and tore the box open and remember holding the system for the first time through that anti-static styrofoam paper. The original launch system came with a 32MB Memory Stick Pro Duo (mainly for saves), a white leather wrist strap, a cleaning cloth, and a pair of headphones. It was gorgeous and beautiful. After playing with the system settings I popped in Ridge Racer and was just blown away by the game, and the rest is history.
This intimate moment I had with my PSP was a cherished moment in my childhood as I didn’t have that many. I look at my PSP units now and take them for granted as they are about $30 a pop and can be found anywhere. I grew even fonder with my system as homebrew was around the corner just a couple weeks after launch and before Sony even released the first firmware update. I remember how fragile hacking and downgrading and flashing the PSP units were. Thankfully I read things carefully and QJ.net had an amazing community that Dark Alex and other famous modders posted on. I never bricked a single unit, but I did break a unit. About 3 or 4 months later I attended driving school and while in line at a Subway during lunch I pulled out the system to check the time and I saw spider-web cracks along with the screen. I had put the unit in my front pocket and then sat down causing the material to stretch too tightly over the unit and crack it. My father knew an electrical engineer who could solder a new screen, but after paying $70 for it and him frying the motherboard it didn’t do any good. I was without a PSP for several months until the launch units were under $200. I got my new unit back and was more gentle with it than you could ever imagine.
Fast forward over 10 years later and I have had a PSP-3000 unit, and now own a PSP Go. I have added custom faceplates, taken the entire system apart and put it back together, and downgraded and modded the thing to kingdom come. I want to now talk about my personal favorite PSP games — a top 10 if you will. These are games I have played personally and I know the system has a massive library of over 3,000 games, but I have only played a fraction.
- Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror — This was one of the first game I ever purchased for the system. I pre-ordered this game and tore it open when I got home. I even wrote a complete in-depth walkthrough for the game which was insane. Little did I know this would become one of the best games on the system and sadly, one of the last for the series. I played this game 100% and unlocked everything it was so damn good.
- Ridge Racer — The first game I ever purchased for the system and one of the most memorable. The sense of speed was amazing, and the soundtrack was so good I downloaded it and listened to it elsewhere. I completed this game 100% as well and probably put dozens of hours into it.
- God of War: Chains of Olympus — By the time Kratos made his way to the system I was already working and buying $40 games was nothing at the time. I pre-ordered this game and was probably never more excited for a game on the system. It was epic, felt just like the PS2 versions, and was the first game to use the 333Mhz in the processor and it looked gorgeous. It could be beaten in about 4-5 hours, but multiple playthroughs every so often are worth it.
- Race Driver 2006 — One of the longest games I ever rented on Gamefly and for good reason. This game featured so many faces and classes of cars from rally to racing semi trucks. The graphics were incredible and the physics were amazing.
- Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 Remix — One of the first games I ever bought for the system. I never got a chance to play THUG 2 so picked this version up. It’s one of the best games on the system and sadly the only good Tony Hawk game on the system. It featured rad music, excellent visuals, and smooth controls.
- Mortal Kombat Unchained — This one was hit or miss with some people. I waited year after year for the next Mortal Kombat announcement and hoping one would be released on PSP. After Ultimate Mortal Kombat was announced for DS I lost all hope. When Unchained was confirmed to be a port of Deception I was all right with it as it contained the entire game. What got people mad was the lack of online play which helped the continuity of Deception on consoles. The game also featured badly compressed audio and the graphics were downgraded quite a bit. Konquest mode is one of the ugliest things to grace the PSP.
- Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep — When Square announced a Kingdom Hearts game for PSP it was no surprise. Shortly after the success of Kingdom Hearts II they thought it was a good idea to split the story and make it even more confusing. The game looked amazing and was a fully fledged KH game on the go. If you have CFW get the Final Mix version with undubbing and more added content.
- Burnout Legends — This was one game I never actually owned. It was one of the most highly anticipated games on the system and for good reason. The sense of speed from Burnout 3 carried over to the portable at a solid 30FPS and was packed with content. The only downside was no online play, but it sure did look amazing.
- Daxter — One of the first epic adventures on PSP that had the PlayStation touch. Fresh off the heels of Jak 3, Daxter put you in the shoes of the otsel and sent you off on a short but sweet adventure.
- Tomb Raider Anniversary — When I realized my PC couldn’t handle Anniversary I was bummed, but the PSP version turned out to be an amazing port and was one of the best looking games on the system. The controls worked out well and the entire game made it onto the system. Play this over the mediocre Legend ports.