There Are no Sequels


I have a confession to make. Although I work for Pocket Gamer, until I visited a video game exhibition at some hip new glass-fronted art museum last week, I’d never actually held a PSP.

I started to think it was avoiding me because of all those hundreds of pixel miles I’ve drawn with a Nintendo DS stylus, but as it turns out we’d just been casually missing each other. As the elevator doors pinged closed to usher the PSP up to its swanky penthouse suite, the doors across the hall opened so I could leave the building. As the PSP glanced casually over its shoulder, I was tying my shoelace, oblivious.

I was suitably impressed. I don’t recall the game, but the PSP itself was quite smashing, and I’ve since found myself pondering a minor conundrum: Should I buy a PSP?

It’s not the kind of ponderable that’s going to keep me awake at night (or even during the afternoon) but I was raised by an iron fisted army man to approach any purchase involving three numbers and two decimal places with grave consideration. The sticking point here is that Sony, of course, is readying the PSPgo and I find myself hesitant for want of a hardware sequel.

However, the portable gaming industry is not a fan of sequels. Indeed, I can’t think of a single one. It’s an industry that seems to prefer incremental upgrades that only offer the bare minimum of a carrot on an increasingly lengthy stick. Why the manufacturers don’t believe we want a direct, feature rich, shameless technological advancement that will also fit in your pocket is beyond me.

You would think that the PlayStation 2, or the SNES, or the Game Boy Advance would be enough fiscal proof that a full brand evolution into the next generation of hardware is immensely desirable to gamers, while the Game Boy Color and the DSi raised little more than intolerant questions and a tighter grip on our wallets.

I want a Nintendo DS2 that features a pair of four inch widescreen, high-definition touchscreens, with voice recognition, a speech synthesizer that sounds like the computer aboard the Enterprise 1701-D and a high-speed cellular network connection to play an online FPS with 256 of my closest friends. I don’t care about a trivial upgrade that adds a web cam from 1996.

I want an iPhone with a bigger screen and proper controls, that connects wirelessly to my TV, plays an MMORPG with full voice chat and tracks my retinas so it knows where I’m looking on the screen. I don’t care about a digital compass (I still have the little plastic one I got from a Christmas cracker three years ago that I could glue to the casing if I felt so inclined).

Having finally fondled the PSP’s sleek plastic casing and swam in the ocean of its beautiful LCD screen, I’m forced to wonder what I would want from the PSP2. Because what the aging hardware really represents is massive, if currently unexplored, potential. The PSP2 could be everything the handheld games market is hinting at, without betraying its own brand. The large screen, the powerful 3D graphics, the built in connectivity, the video outputs – the PSP stands on the precipice of portable revolution, but the PSPgo suggests Sony isn’t going to jump.

So I believe I’ll wait. Whatever the reason behind the industry’s inflexible reluctance to put out direct hardware sequels, perhaps it’s better to jump on a brand new gravy train when it pulls into the gaming station. Microsoft appears to be putting together a device with pretty much all the elements I might desire from a (real) PSP successor in the shape of the ZuneHD.

True enough, we’ll undoubtedly never see a ZuneHD 2, but this appears to be the closest thing we’ve seen to an evolution of portable gaming hardware in the latter half of this decade. The time is right for some genuine pocket hardware progression, yet no manufacturer wants to tackle that killer device, despite having laid solid foundations that are supporting the games industry through global recession.

All I can hope for, it seems, is another new device, and another set of ponderables about which minor hardware upgrade to wait for.

Pocket Gamer is Europe’s leading source of news, opinion and reviews on mobile and handheld gaming.

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