PSP? GBA? Nintendo DS?
June 12, 2005 3:51 PM   Subscribe

My son wants a PSP. I am leaning in that direction, but for the price, it needs to do more than act as a gaming system. What else can it do, and how well does it perform? Also, what are the best games for it? If you know, how does it compare to Nintendo DS or Game Boy Advanced? Thanks!
posted by mischief to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total)
I have a Gameboy Advance SP and I love it to death. There are a ton of games (more than for pretty much any other platform), the little guy is super rugged, and it's cheap enough that I won't be too sad if it I lose it or manage to kill it.

The PSP is really nice, comes with a gorgeous screen, and is very sexy, but it also seems very delicate. And it's pricy. And there aren't a ton of games out for it.

It'll play music and movies from UMD discs or from memory sticks, but the UMD discs are an unknown quantity that aren't anything like a universal standard, and memory sticks really suck, at least in comparison to standards like SD or CompactFlash.

I guess the big question I'd ask is: how old is your son, and how responsible is he? You could get him a Gameboy SP, an iPod Shuffle and several games / accessories for what you'd pay for a PSP and end up with a much more rugged set of devices.
posted by bshort at 4:04 PM on June 12, 2005

You're probably better off waiting a few months; most of the games won't be coming out until fall.

But it is a sweet piece of gaming machinery, that's for sure. I love my PSP.
posted by cmonkey at 4:08 PM on June 12, 2005

Response by poster: He's 12 and more than a bit negligent. Number of games available is his biggest concern. He doesn't listen to music at all. Basically, we will be travelling until school starts and then moving across country. The deal is we would sell his XBox and buy a portable game system so he has something to do between destinations.
posted by mischief at 4:11 PM on June 12, 2005

In that case, I'd definitely recommend the Gameboy. By the way, the battery life is also awesome, so if you're traveling you won't have to worry about charging it all the time.
posted by bshort at 4:21 PM on June 12, 2005

If you DO get a PSP, Lumines & Mercury are must have games. Also, consider getting a higher capacity storage card, like a 1GB, if you want it to do more than play games. You can store a divx compressed movie (if you're a bittorrent type of person) on it for subway rides, airplanes, etc) in about 600 to 700 MB.
posted by jonson at 4:37 PM on June 12, 2005

I have a Nintendo DS and love it. The clamshell design keeps the screen from getting scratched while it's in my pocket, it plays both DS and Game Boy Advance games, and once the online network becomes available later this year classic games such as Mario Kart will be playable over the Internet.

The PSP does have a larger screen and can do more than the DS or GBA, but it is very fragile. It also costs twice as much as a DS (approximately). I've held off on picking one up because of the price and the game library (nothing the PSP can play interests me), but if I did have one I'd never take it out of the house because of the expensive and fragile nature of the unit.
posted by Servo5678 at 4:39 PM on June 12, 2005

The PSP's really, incredibly fragile. As much as I love mine, I really think Sony should have rethought a lot of the design before release - the UMD drive, analogue nub and screen are all delicate, and the build quality (while good) probably wouldn't stand up to careless use. Right now, there are really only a handful of decent games available (with Ridge Racer and Lumines at the top of the pile, and Wipeout Pure, Ape Escape, Tony Hawk's 2 and Everybody's Golf coming in close second), with an incredibly uninspiring lineup until a few big names show up at Christmas. The PSP's video playback is excellent (although transcoding movie files from your PC is a hassle, and you'll need a bigger Memory Stick Pro Duo than the one that comes in the box, which increases the cost), and it works wonderfully as a portable reader for scanned/downloaded comics, if your son's interested in that.

As far as the GBA and DS go, I wouldn't consider the GBA for a second - the DS can play any and all GBA games, really isn't much more expensive, and has vastly superior screens and controls (plus all the touch-screen fun). The US silver shell looks a bit cheap and tacky, so you might want to think about looking at importing a pure white or graphite black one from somewhere like Play-Asia. The US lineup is a little weaker than the PSP's at the moment, with Wario Ware, Mario 64 and Kirby: Canvas Curse being my picks for the moment. But, since it's compatible with GBA games, you'll have the whole hundreds-strong Mario/Metroid/Zelda/everything else back catalogue to pick from, and (unlike if you bought a GBA), you're also set for the fantastic new Advance Wars, 2D Mario, Mario Kart (etc!) games coming out later in the year. The DS is a stunning, fun, incredibly robust bit of hardware.
posted by terpsichoria at 4:41 PM on June 12, 2005

Oh, I forgot to mention - if you do end up picking up a PSP, Logitech sell a case called the Playgear Pocket (I assume it's available in US stores - I'm in the UK, where we've not even been favoured with a PSP launch yet, so I imported mine from Canada) which is nigh-on indestructible and should save the console from any accidents. Until mine arrived, I lived in mortal fear of knocking the PSP off the arm of a chair or something, and having the thing explode.
posted by terpsichoria at 4:45 PM on June 12, 2005

Response by poster: OK, the kid's latest objection is that the GBA/DS games suck. He can eat an XBox game in 3 or 4 days, so he definitely needs something that will challenge him.

How challenging are the GBA/DS games? Is he just trying to pull a fast one?
posted by mischief at 4:53 PM on June 12, 2005

It depends on what he wants to play. I played Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for many many many hours and spent probably 80 hours on the new Zelda games.

The classic Mario games are also uniformly awesome.

There are lots of crap games for the GBA, but enough fantastic games that he'll probably be happily occupied for as long as he cares to be.

Also, the Gameboy Micro is coming out at some point (it was shown at E3) and it's tiny. Not that much bigger than the cart.
posted by bshort at 4:58 PM on June 12, 2005

Hmm... that's a tricky one. GBA/DS games (most of the classics being by Nintendo, who tend to live in a slightly more whimsical age than the rest of the world) certainly look and feel a lot more primary-coloured and childish than their PSP equivalents - obviously that doesn't affect gameplay or difficulty, but it's the sort of thing that really matters to a 12-year-old, I'll bet.

To be honest, a lot of GBA/DS games (the DS ones in particular) are pretty short and content-light, with a lot of the focus being on beating your best scores or whatever - typical handheld material rather than long-session games, I guess. On the other hand, PSP games like Ridge Racer and Tony Hawk's 2 (specifically) are an awful lot more content-rich and long-lasting, and tend to be harder too. The PSP games tend to be equivalent to 'full' Xbox-style console games, whereas DS and GBA games, on the whole, are more aimed at little-and-often play on the move.
posted by terpsichoria at 5:06 PM on June 12, 2005

(...but then the DS is so much cheaper that you could probably afford more than twice as many games for the same price. Sorry, I know I'm not making this any easier.)
posted by terpsichoria at 5:09 PM on June 12, 2005

OK, the kid's latest objection is that the GBA/DS games suck

Feh, it's all image. PSP has an aura of cool around it because it's "mature". GBA/DS has that Nintendo fun-for-all-ages thing going on and isn't supposed to be a shiny geegaw. It's supposed to play games, something it does very well. It is definitely fun though and I wouldn't trade it for anything. And for the record, I'm 24. Buying a game or game console just to fit in with a cool image has never been for me.

As a professional game journalist I had the opportunity to cover the big Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show last month. I played some of the new games that will be released later in the year and, for me, the DS had the better selection and fun factor.
posted by Servo5678 at 6:00 PM on June 12, 2005

Well, let me put it this way. PSP is faster, plays videos, and is fully hacked (if you get one with the older BIOS). Since it's a BIOS hack it's not even gonna cost you money. :-D You'll probably be able to play backed up games in the near future on it.

The Nintendo DS, AFAIK, isn't as well hacked as the PSP. I believe you can still play GBA backups from flash carts, but I'm not sure. Someone managed to back up a game or two through the wireless, but I don't think anyone managed to play a DS backup on a DS yet.

Since both of them use proprietary cartridges (or discs), there's no point buying based on that. Sony's UMD is dead out of the door due to the everlasting Sony curse, IMHO.

Remember, he's a kid and these games are mighty small. They're gonna get lost easily. Backups are important.
posted by shepd at 6:19 PM on June 12, 2005

I'm reminded of a question that was on AskMe a while ago about somebody's tween girl relation and the iPod she wanted.

I think that both the GBA and the DS are a better value. They've both got bigger (and, to my mind, better) game libraries. Besides that, they're also more durable, and there are other advantages (and disadvantages) that have been covered pretty well already.

But there are better mp3 players than the iPod, too. And a twelve-year-old probably has different selection criteria than I do. If the kid wants a PSP, that's what he wants.

(Also: I disagree with terpsichoria's point that GBA/DS games are shorter and easier than PSP games. Even if it were true on average, and I don't think it is, the GBA/DS's vastly-larger library means that the GBA/DS probably has more long, difficult games than the PSP does.)

On preview: The PSP with the 1.0 firmware is rather difficult to find, and the DS can play GBA games via a flash cart. PSP and DS hacking are both pretty much in their infancy, though.
posted by box at 6:28 PM on June 12, 2005

Actually, I believe that the 1.0 PSP firmware is Japan only -- everything here in the States is 1.5 and requires signed code or something so that the hacking is a bit more tricky. On top of that, some of the games are reqiring the newer firmware or automatically patching it, I can't remember which.

I love my GBA-SP, though I haven't played it for a while. I got a rom cart and loaded it up with the NES emulator so that I had a ton of old games on there. There is also a SNES emulator of the GBA, but it lacks sound and doesn't necessarily work with all games so I never messed with it; the DS, however, should have a working SNES emu before long.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 8:32 PM on June 12, 2005

The B of T is right on. The only hacks that have been successfully done on non-1.0 PSPs, if I understand correctly, involve using the web browser built into Wipeout.

Again, though, this kind of stuff moves fast. On the other hand, getting unsigned code to run on the 1.5 firmware is currently the holy grail of PSP hacking, and I don't believe it's happened as of this writing.
posted by box at 8:42 PM on June 12, 2005

It may not be the cheaper option to give him an SP or a DS, he may simply not play it. Sounds as if the kinds of games he enjoys are on the PSP.

The DS is more robust, has more games due to backward compatibility with the GBA, and better battery life, but can you get him to name even a handful of games on the DS he would be interested in? If you can't, then maybe it's a lost cause.

The XBox was the most powerful console graphically and had the most racing games/FPS and the like, and the PSP looks to be the closest to that experience in the handheld division. The games are more like the console games he would be used to playing and yes the games (at least those it sounds like he's interested in and excluding tactical turn based RPG's and the like) will generally be longer.

What I'm looking forward to most for the PSP is some sort of app for reading ebooks and just an easy way to surf the net. I wish Sony would get their butt into gear and bring out more add ons.

If you do pick one up, then grab a screen cover and carrying case.
posted by lucien at 1:37 AM on June 13, 2005

i'm almost 30, and we have all three systems (well, actually, 2 GBA SPs, 2 DSes, and a PSP) in the house. there just aren't any really good games for a kid on the PSP yet, and only a few for the DS that i'd recommend. The GBA SP isn't as sexy, especially with that age bracket, but the games are hella cheaper and a lot more fun. (Hello, Super Mario Bros 3)

I'd recommend holding out for the GBA Micro, which should be out soon, as it is truly tiny and has the "coolness" advantage of being new, at least on the outside. Plus you could get the GBA Micro and a whole buncha games for the price of a PSP and its requisite accessories. If you want to trick out the GBA, get a compact flash adapter for it, and you can put movies, music, or pictures on the tiny little thing.
posted by anildash at 2:27 AM on June 13, 2005

box and the Bishop: we should (hopefully) be seeing the first software using a firmware 1.5 exploit released this Wednesday. That'll open up homebrew and emulation for all PSPs, at least until Sony released the next firmware revision.

box: I didn't say DS games were easy, I said they were short and content-light and I stand by it. Nintendo's broken port of Mario 64 aside, the US-released DS classics can be counted on one hand - Yoshi Touch & Go, Wario Ware Touched and Kirby: Canvas Curse. Of those, Wario and Yoshi are entirely score-attack focused, with the game 'finishable' (in terms of seeing all the content) in a couple of hours. Kirby has more levels, but is still nowhere near the length of something like Mario World or Yoshi's Island. I absolutely adore all three of these games and consider them classics, but I'm a score-attack addict and would be wary about recommending them for mischief's kid in case he loses interest, having 'finished' them once he's seen all the levels. It's equally true of the recent Japanese releases - Meteos and Nintendogs are structured in much the same way. True about the back-catalogue of great, challenging, long GBA games, though.
posted by terpsichoria at 3:37 AM on June 13, 2005

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