The Good, The Bad And The Fingerprinted: My Five Years With The PSP

Five years ago today the PlayStation Portable went on sale in North America, and I was one of the first people in line for Sony's gorgeous new handheld gaming device. Four months later, I traded it back in.

Five years and one day ago today I was desperately rifling through my video game collection, looking for games I could sacrifice to the trading gods in order to secure myself a PSP at launch. I wasn't planning on purchasing the PSP initially, not because the system wasn't attractive, but rather because I couldn't find room for it in my budget. It wasn't until the prospect of a long car trip on the weekend following the launch that I finally made up my mind.

I was working part time at my local GameStop at the time, so securing a reserve wasn't a problem. The employee discount helped me secure a few launch titles I otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford. Come midnight, March 23, I was the proud owner of a new PlayStation Portable, Spider-Man 2, Wipeout Pure, Ridge Racer, and Lumines.

I remember sitting on the floor of the GameStop, opening up the package while the relatively short line of preorder customers dwindled. I put in the pack-in Spider-Man movie, powered on the system, and then proceeded to spend 20 minutes wiping off my fingerprints with the included cleaning cloth.

That cleaning cloth went with me everywhere. Sony used the most beautiful plastic for the PSP, a plastic so unfortunately sensitive to dirt that it picked up the fingerprints of people passing within three feet of it. Police detectives could have used it to fingerprint crime suspects without them knowing.

It wasn't until I was on the road, heading from Georgia to New Jersey to pick up a friend, that I realized the fatal flaw in my road-tripping PSP plans. As the sole driver on this exhibition, my chances to play the PSP were few. I did manage to deliver the first dose of portable PlayStation gaming to several truck stop restrooms along the way, but the bulk of my PSP's use occurred on the way back to Georgia, as I watched my friend play Lumines and handed her the cleaning cloth at key moments, i.e. whenever she touched it.

The Good, The Bad And The Fingerprinted: My Five Years With The PSP

Over the next couple of months I would burn through the PSP's initial line-up. Rengoku: Tower of Purgatory, Smart Bomb, Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee, Tony Hawk's Underground Remix, Mercury – I played them all, and, quite frankly, I wasn't impressed.

It always came back to Lumines, and when that game grew cold and the PSP started collecting more dust than usual, it was time to trade the handheld in for games that I did want to play.

As launches go, it probably wasn't the best. There were a fair number of titles available, but between poor quality and extremely long load times, there just wasn't enough entertainment there to keep my interest.

The Good, The Bad And The Fingerprinted: My Five Years With The PSP

It wasn't until early 2007, after I started writing for Kotaku, that I returned to the PSP. By that time the platform had matured somewhat, and with Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII in the pipeline, I couldn't afford to be without one, I've not been without since.

The PSP and I have had some good times, even though many of my favorite titles on the platform are remakes of older games. The double-team of Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness and Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions account for nearly 100 hours of play time alone, while rhythm titles like Rock Band Unplugged and my beloved DJ Max Portable have both be responsible for me sitting quietly by myself, chair dancing with headphones on. I've also found that I enjoy sports games much better on the PSP than I do consoles, perhaps because no one can see me fail.

Nowadays I'm rocking the PSPgo, Sony's UMD-less "upgrade" to the original PSP, and by rocking I mean it sits in the bottom of my backpack, much like a rock would. Sony introduced this updated version to North America on October 1 of last year, and morbid curiosity led me to pick one up in early December.

When I'm browsing the shelves at my local game store and see a PSP title I've desperately wanted to try, I can't buy it. Without UMD support, I'm forced to connect to the PlayStation Store and pray that the game I'm interested in is available for purchase…or repurchase, in some cases.

I very much doubt you'll be seeing an article like this covering the PSPgo in four and a half years' time. At least not one filled with fond memories.

The Good, The Bad And The Fingerprinted: My Five Years With The PSP

But rather than looking at the lukewarm reception the PSPgo has received as a negative thing, look at it as a testament to the staying power of the original PSP and the lighter, faster variations of the same theme Sony has released over the past five years in the PSP-2000 and PSP-3000.

Sony certainly seems to be aware, with new game bundles featuring limited-edition colored PSP-3000's showing up on a regular basis, with nary a PSPgo bundle in sight.

What does that say to me? It says Sony got it right the first time, more or less, and five years later the PSP is stronger than ever. It's a platform that's growing up, instead of growing old. It may never be as big as the Nintendo DS in terms of sales, but it's managed to survive five years, which is more than we can say for any other non-Nintendo handheld gaming system.

So here's to another five years of the PlayStation Portable. Long may our fingerprints smudge its shiny screen.