Nintendos future under attack by PSP

By Gus Bode

The new version of Xbox will be out by Christmas (rumored to called anything from Xenon to NextBox), Nintendo plans to reveal its Revolution console in May at E3 and Sony will unleash the Playstation Portable upon the United States in a few weeks.

If you’re not hip to the PSP, you will be by the end of March. If the mini-PS2 is as popular as Sony is hoping, we’ll all be tossing our iPods and Game Boys away real soon. The PSP is set to launch March 24 for $250 – nearly $50 more than expected. But the reason for the hefty price isn’t because of the machine; it’s the force-fed bundle pack Sony is cramming down our American throats.

In Japan the PSP retails closer to $180, but here we’ll have to settle for a grab bag of random items with no way to snag a PSP unit on its own. For $250 you’ll see the handheld itself, a 32MB memory stick, headphones with (oh so necessary) remote control, a carrying case with cleaning cloth, battery pack and the full length “Spider Man 2” film on the PSP’s tiny UMD format.

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It’s worth mentioning now why all that crap is there. Sony doesn’t want us just to play games on the go with the PSP. It wants the device to replace everything you’d normally carry around. It’ll play MP3s, movies and maybe even have some word processing abilities in the future. All these functions only serve to chew battery life, which now is said to last mere hours per charge, with performance dependent on what type of game you’re playing and how bright the screen is (among other factors).

Another onion in the proverbial ointment is deluge of technical complaints the PSP is seeing in Japan. Dead pixels and total system crashes aren’t uncommon, though it’s obviously unknown if these problems will plague our precious do-it-all portables in March.

Despite the price and possible malfunctions, the PSP will undoubtedly give Nintendo its first wave of handheld competition in a decade. Most of the games slated for launch day put the Nintendo DS’s entire lineup to shame, and third parties are falling all over themselves to climb on board the PSP ship. We’ll have a new “Metal Gear, ” “Wipeout,” “Spider Man” and “Ridge Racer” right out of the gate, all boasting near-PS2 quality visuals. And the screen … oh, the beautiful screen. Pictures don’t do it justice.

So what is Nintendo doing to fight back? Practically nothing. Even though it has said the DS is not meant to compete with the PSP, it will, and the DS will lose everytime. Its graphics already look antiquated, and the touch screen has yet to be used in a truly unique way. Big N fans are eagerly awaiting the next Game Boy (known on the ‘Net as Evolution), which is supposed to be a portable Gamecube. This is quite a step up from the quaint but still enjoyable Game Boy Advance.

The DS’s release list is short and has no marquee title. The promised “Animal Crossing” and “Mario Kart” still aren’t here, and the WiFi feature hasn’t begun either. There’s a lot of promise in the DS, but promises aren’t tangible. Games are.

At this point only a few things are certain. The future of handhelds will never be the same, that’s definitely one. Nintendo’s last domain of unchallenged rule is now under full attack by an able enemy; that’s another. And the final is probably the most obvious of all:It’s going to be another expensive year for gamers.

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