Is a Phone all the PlayStation Portable Needs?

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Is the PSP Go's missing link really just cellular service?

Add phone service, clap on a touchscreen, and presto, the handheld gaming device we always wanted? You know, as opposed to the phone-less PSP Go, Sony's overpriced, undersized gaming handheld no one's buying?

More, Meet Same

The PlayStation Phone cometh early next year according to the latest rumors, this one from Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper. The paper claimed yesterday that Sony's long rumored PlayStation Phone would essentially be a PSP Go with phone service, and would launch spring 2011.

Of course we've "known" that much from leaked pictures and loose tongues for months.

What we don't know is anything of import, like: Will Sony offer free cell-service-based multiplayer? Or will playing Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker online wipe out your data plan? Will developers offer new platform-enhanced games at launch? Or will we just grab current fare from the PlayStation Store? Will games cost $40, like current PSP titles, or between $1 and $10, like Apple Store apps? And if the latter, how's Sony going to wash that with current PSP and PSP Go owners?

Sony won't comment. I wouldn't either. It must be frustrating to have so many employees playing gossip blog "peek-a-boo" with the company laundry.

The internet. What can you do?

Great Zeus!

What do we know (or at least think we do)? That the so-called prototype PlayStation Phone looks more or less like a PSP Go with altered button placement. It's supposedly an Android OS derivative phone, codenamed Zeus Z1, with the PSP's trademark d-pad on the left and four-button diamond cluster on the right.

Unlike the PSP Go, the prototype crams the START and SELECT buttons below the button cluster instead of to its left.

That leaves space for either an oblong touchpad or two analog thumb nubs. The latter could address a longstanding complaint about the PSP's inability to handle game's that more or less require dual joysticks: One for moving, the other for looking around.

That's an essential pairing for first-person shooters, one of the least visited, worst represented genres on Sony's gaming handheld. If you've fumbled through the PSP versions of Brothers in Arms, Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, or Rainbow Six Vegas, you know what I'm talking about.

Add the second thumb nub and you entice developers to create better versions of those games and others. You also end up with an experience the iPhone, Android, and Nintendo 3DS can't deliver, an experience derived from deterministic multi-button, multi-analog motion input.

The "core" gaming experience, in other words.

Add a touchpad, by contrast, and you're back to imprecise "casual" gaming. If you've fumbled through the Nintendo DS version of Mario 64, you know what I'm talking about. I'm not saying a touchpad couldn't work, just that it wouldn't be something "core" gamers are going to be into.

Next: PSP Go Phone, or PSP 2?

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