PlayStation Portable gets warm reception

Gamers got their first chance to lay their hands on Sony Computer Entertainment's highly-anciticipated PlayStation Portable (PSP) at the Tokyo Game Show on Friday and initial reactions were mostly positive.

People who already own a PlayStation 2 (PS2) said the PSP faithfully translates the larger console's environment.

"The performance is quite incredible and the buttons are comfortable. ... It's just like the PS2," said Cody Pang, a 30-year-old gamer who traveled to the show from Hong Kong. Pang, who likes to game on large screens, said he felt that the PSP screen was clear and sharp, and faithfully rendered "Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater."

Pang, who owns a PS2, said he thought the PSP device was a little big for his pocket. But in contrast, Fujiko Yamanaka, a 26-year-old gamer from Japan, was impressed by the PSP's form factor and said it would be a big selling point for Japanese gamers.

"It's so cute! It's so cool!" Yamanaka said. "To me it's almost like my mobile phone, and I feel I can put it in my handbag and carry it around. It's going to be popular with girls."

SCEI has yet to announce the exact launch date of the PSP, but it will be on sale in Japan by the end of 2004 and internationally in the first half of 2005, according to Sony spokeswoman, Masami Nakamura. Ahead of this, however, the company has announced just over 100 game titles for the Japanese market. A further three from Atari Japan, and one each from Konami, Square Enix and Success, are under development but do not yet have titles, according to SECI.

Even Sony's gaming rivals were impressed with the PSP, according to a developer for Microsoft's Xbox games console attending the show who preferred not to be identified. "The visual fidelity is there, the control schematics are faithful to the PS2, the frame rate is fast and the picture crisp, with the frame rate only showing a lag during particularly heavy combat fire," the developer said.

While PSP's hardware performance received a thumbs up from the floor of the Tokyo Game Show, one hurdle the handheld may face is a perceived lack of original titles, gamers said. For example, while Pang said that he'd be happy if SCEI managed to port most of PS2's extensive list of games onto PSP, some gamers were looking for more.

"What I really wanted to try, was to play "Spider Man 2," and it wasn't there," said Yoshihiro Sakita, who said he was visiting the show for his tenth year in a row. "I want to play games on the train, and I want to play movie titles," he said.

While Sony gears up for its assault on the handheld console market, Nintendo is not showing its Nintendo Double Screen (DS) handheld console at the Tokyo Game Show. That did not stop gamers and developers from expressing positive opinions about the Nintendo device.

The Nintendo DS's touch screen is arousing particular interest, as is the price. It will sell at about US$150, or about half the price of the PSP.

"I have a PS2, but it's my private secret that I am looking at the DS, and the touch screen looks very, very interesting," said Takafumi Izawa, a 22-year-old gamer. "In terms of performance, the PSP will win. In terms of price, the DS will win," he said.

The Nintendo DS had only two games on display, according to a Tokyo Game Show list. One is "Eggumonsutah Hero" by Square Enix, and the other is "Project Rub," a provisional title, by Sega Corp. Despite the lack of titles on display at the show, a flood of games is coming, according to developers, who said they are anxious for both Nintendo DS and PSP to succeed.

Hudson Soft is developing its Bomberman series, already announced for PSP, but is facing some issues redeveloping the game for Nintendo DS's dual screen, said Taeko Makanae, a Hudson spokeswoman.

Some developers suggested that Nintendo DS and Sony PSP may suit different markets in Japan, with PSP seen as scoring heavily with hardcore gamers who have a little more money to spend and who expect higher performance. The Nintendo DS may be more popular with younger players, according to Koji Suga, chief of Square Enix's sales and marketing division.

"The DS will make a big success, we think, because Nintendo understands what children like, and they have Mario and Zelda and Pokemon," he said. Square Enix did not have its "Eggumonsutah Hero" game on display.

Sega will put its "Project Rub" game for the Nintendo DS on sale in Japan in December, said Takeshi Shimizu, Nintendo DS marketing manager. Beyond this, the company is planning a big release of games for the console, but it cannot say when, he said.

"The DS has a different screen size and spec than the PSP, but the dual screen also opens up new possibilities for games developers, so we are very positive about developing games for both consoles, for the whole market, from kids to adults," Shimizu said.

Against this, Sony's key to success after launch will be to come up with original games titles and content that will narrow any perception amongst gamers that the PSP might be too expensive, according to the X-Box developer.

"The biggest challenges are going to be the retail price of US$300 and how fast and how good Sony can move away from porting games from the PlayStation 2," Shimizu said.

The Tokyo Game Show runs September 24 to September 26 at the Nippon Convention Center (Makuhari Messe) in Chiba, Japan.

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Paul Kallender

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