Sony’s PlayStation Portable, or PSP, turns ten this year. And, just like the beneficent dictators of a Logan’s Run world, Sony has decided the PSP’s tenth birthday is the perfect time to stop manufacturing the ancient handheld. Sony pinned its handheld hopes to the PlayStation Vita over two years ago, and the PSP’s continued existence is—was—a weird anachronism.
As with the PlayStation 3, the PSP recalls an era when Sony thought pure tech-lust could win a console war. The PSP was a marvel upon release. It was thin, with a gorgeous LCD display to showcase graphics that at that point seemed impossible on a handheld—somewhere roughly between the PS1 and PS2’s graphics capabilities. It seemed like the future.
I remember sitting at lunch with a group of friends, huddled around a classmate who’d recently bought a PSP. He was playing through Metal Gear Acid—a weird hybrid between Metal Gear’s traditional stealth mechanics and a trading card game. (For that matter, Metal Gear Acid took place in the then-far-flung future of 2016.)
Our classmate demoed the game for us and we all marveled that such realistic graphics could be achieved on a handheld. The PSP’s competition was the Nintendo DS—an interesting system, but hardly a graphics powerhouse. Plus the PSP could do that cool thing where it shot the disc out of the slot if you ejected it a weird way.
And yet that kid with the PSP was probably the only person I ever saw using one in public.
Like the PlayStation 3, Sony threw together an incredible piece of hardware and forgot to support it with anything worth playing. The promise of the PSP was “console gaming on a handheld.” Instead, look at any list of the best PSP games and you’ll mostly find smaller titles—Lumines, Everyday Shooter, Half-Minute Hero.
Only a few console-esque standouts—such as God of War: Chains of Olympus, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and Persona 3 Portable—even came close to approximating their bigger console siblings. To add insult to injury, most of the competent PSP titles released long after the hardware launched, and the lack of a second analogue stick made most control schemes awkward at best.
The PSP’s other selling features—you can watch movies on-the-go!—died even faster. The proprietary disc format used by the PSP (UMD) prevented most people from buying in, because who wants to repurchase a film at the same or higher price as its DVD cousin just to watch it on a bus?
More than anything, the PSP was a victim of a future it could never have predicted. Huddling around that PSP in the school cafeteria, Motorola Razr flip phones in most pockets, who would have guessed that less than a decade later we’d all have devices in our pockets capable of running the most demanding PS2 games? And that it would double as an Internet browser and a video player and all the dumb multimedia features Sony crammed into the PSP?
The PSP was an also-ran system its entire life, but like the high school quarterback, at one point it seemed destined for a glorious future—enough so that it entranced a group of kids in a poorly lit school cafeteria. There was promise in the PSP.
It just took other handhelds systems to realize it.
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Hayden writes about games for PCWorld and doubles as the resident Zork enthusiast.