Should You Buy A PSP?

Sony's PlayStation Portable is the first handheld gaming device to survive a battle with Nintendo, but is it worth your money? On paper, it seemed like such a good idea. [UPDATED for the pre-NGP/3DS era.]

This is our best advice — updated regularly — about whether or not you should buy a PSP, what games to get for it and what to watch out for.

(This post was last updated on February 25, 2010 and will be updated if events, news, games, prices or acts of nature cause our opinion to change.)

Should I buy a PSP now?

ANSWER UPDATED, 2/21/11

No. Look, the PSP is/was a great system. It had lots of good games. But this is 2011 and there are several major portable gaming options either out now or on their way, even a new PSP — and none of them plays PSP disc games. So why jump on the PSP train now? It's about to be sent to the yard. Wait for the express.

This is a change. Back in November we were still recommending the machine. For posterity, here's why:

Sure, but we recommend buying the cheapest model you can find. Consider buying a pre-owned PSP, given the right deal. There are a lot of very good, very cheap games available for the PSP and there is still no clear information about when or if a successor to the PSP will be released. While the PSP's future release list looks a little barren, there's a strong software library—including original PlayStation games released as "PSone Classics" available on Sony's online PlayStation Store—that will make owning one worthwhile. We know that the rumbles of the PSP2 are getting louder, but we don't expect that system out until deep into 2011, at the soonest.

Since November, we got an amazing ramp-up of iPad/iPhone gaming through releases like Infinity Blade and Dead Space HD, a sign that much of the PSP's appeal — hardcore games on the go — might be co-opted by other machines this year. Much more importantly, we got a look at the NGP, a Sony portable with near-PlayStation 3 levels of power and so many of the features people have wanted from a PSP2, including dual thumbsticks. We even got to play games on it. We don't know when the NGP will be out or at what cost, but that's all the more reason to start saving.

I don't care what you say... I'm buying one. Which one should I get?

Should You Buy A PSP?

There are several models available, including the original chunky PSP, which you can get cheap for about $100 USD. It's not a bad machine, though the PSP 2000, a slimmer model, is less of a brick. The PSP 3000, the newest model of the regular PSP has the same-sized screen as the earlier two models but some people are convinced it has an inferior screen. You can get it for about $200, bundled with a new game, perhaps the God of War two-game bundle? That's a decent deal.

What isn't a decent deal is the $250 PSPgo (pictured all the way up top) that adds cost to the system while offering a smaller screen and no disc-drive. Sure this makes it the littlest PSP, but it's not an impressive enough unit to command a console-sized price. Sony has made owning a PSPgo financially more attractive recently, throwing in three free downloadable games for North America and ten for European customers, but publishers are beginning to drop support for the device, with Square Enix's recent release, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, unavailable for digital purchase.

Hold up... I have a PSP... I just want to know if I should "upgrade" to a newer model

Should You Buy A PSP?

Nah. The PSPgo has a nice compact design, but if you trade up to it, all your PSP games on UMD will be rendered unusable. You can't jam them into the thing and will either have to re-buy them or hang on to the older PSP too, which kind of defeats the purpose.

What are the best games on the PSP?

ANSWER UPDATED, 2/21/11

There are lots of good games, most of them available on disc or as a digital download for any PSP or PSPgo with enough free memory for them (games can be half a GB or more… big files). Most genres are well-represented on the system. You've got good action games (God of War: Chains of Olympus), good puzzle games, (Lumines), good fighting games, (Tekken: Dark Resurrection), good platformers (Daxter), good throwbacks (Mega Man Powered Up), good games about being a no-good lowlife (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories), good role-playing games (Half-Minute Hero), basketball games that can be played like Advance Wars (NBA: The Inside) — even good games about rhythmic armies of little dot-like guys who fight dragons! (Patapon)

It even has some experimental Metal Gear Games (Metal Gear Solid Ac!d, Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker), some Final Fantasy VII spin-offs (Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII and Japan's favorite game series of recent times (Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, Monster Hunter Portable 3rd).

Should You Buy A PSP?

Sony released a new God of War for the PSP in November (God of War: Ghost of Sparta), adding to recent big releases of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep and Sega's Valkyria Chronicles II. A handful of very cheap games, branded as PSP Favorites or PSP Essentials, depending on where you live, includes good deals like LocoRoco 2, Patapon 2 and PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe. This program keeps expanding, so keep an eye on which PSP greats are now 10 bucks.

Original PlayStation games like Metal Gear Solid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Final Fantasy VII-IX are available in most regions as PSone Classics, most of which cost less than $10.

Which ones are the worst?

There are some problem sectors of PSP-land. First, watch out for games that look like ports of console cameos. These are often bad, the result of shaky porting or, worse, developers who didn't solve a riddle. That riddle is this: How do I turn a a game designed for a twin-stick PS2/PS3 controller into a game for a one-stick PSP? The answer to that riddle is: Horrible idea… don't do it, because most have failed abysmally except the folks who made Resistance: Retribution (good game)! Don't let anyone tell you there are good first-person shooters on the PSP either. They are lying.

One more warning, offered with heavy hearts: the download-only PSP Minis are, so far, only as uniformly good as iPhone games. And if you know anything about iPhone games, then you know that ain't so hot.

So if I buy a system, what are the first three games I should get?

1) God of War: Ghost of Sparta because it still breaks some of the above rules and provides an even stronger adventure for the vengeful war god Kratos than its excellent predecessor, Chains of Olympus.
2) Lumines because it was one of the first PSP games and one of the coolest puzzle games ever made, a techno riff on Tetris.
3) WipEout Pure because a high-speed, stylish widescreen racing game is just the trick of gaming hypnosis the PSP was made for.

But you're saying not to buy a PSP. Does that mean there aren't any big games coming out for it anymore?

NEW QUESTION, ADDED 2/21/11

Should You Buy A PSP?

Actually, there will be a few cool ones to tide over people who have the system. The 3rd Birthday, an action-shooter sequel to Parasite Eve is coming out soon, as are sequels to Patapon (Patapon 3) and Final-Fantasy fighting game series Dissidia (Dissidia 012[Duodecim]).

The PSP isn't only a gaming system, right?

Correct! You can download movies and music to your PSP, browse the Internet using the system's WiFi, use Skype on newer PSPs that include microphones. In some regions you can even use the PSP as a radio player or TV tuner, but check to see if that's available in your market first. If you want to make the most of your PSP, you'll want to tap into a lot of the system's lesser-publicized features like these.

What are the big drawbacks of the system, the stuff they don't tell you?

Should You Buy A PSP?

Battery life on PSPs won't usually last you a long flight, though the system is ok for normal commutes. Older PSPs have battery-life indicators that will be hidden by your thumb while you play. That can be a problem, so keep checking the power levels.

More and more games are made available for download through the PlayStation online store, but releases often lag behind in-store releases by a few days, so download-minded folks will need to have some patience.

This can't not be avoided, though many people will not consider this a drawback: Sony and some PSP users are in something of an arms race with each other. PSP users can hack their machine so that it can run (with questionable legality) pirated versions of games from many classic gaming consoles. On the other side, Sony regularly upgrades the firmware of the PSP, preventing new games from working with cracked systems. For the non-hacking consumer, this means that you will often discover that the new game you are starting to play on the bus ride home requires you first to wait several minutes while the firmware is upgraded — hopefully that firmware is at least saved on the disc that contains your new game, but sometimes you have to download it.

Any hidden costs?

You will want a case of some sort. Lots of people get hard-shell cases, but even a soft one will protect the PSP screen, which tends to get covered in scratches and fingerprints fairly easily.

You also want to be sure you're got a big enough memory stick for the PSP. These memory sticks are, unfortunately, not compatible with many other electronics. A 4GB to 16 GB stick could run you $35-$90, though note what stick the PSP you're buying is already bundled with. You might have enough in the box. The PSPgo has 16GB of memory already in it.

So, this NGP is really worth waiting for?

NEW QUESTION, ADDED 2/21/11

Should You Buy A PSP?

We don't want you getting mad at us in a year, so please be advised that there is some guesswork going on here, but consider what we know: the so-called PSP, currently code-named the Next Gen Portable, or NGP — is a beast of a machine, rivaling the Xbox 360 and PS3 in certain tech specs, has a beautiful five-inch touch-sensitive OLED screen, two-thumbsticks, two cameras, rear touch panels and so much more. Sony is throwing their portable development weight behind the machine, promising to release it in at least one major market in 2011 (which means the U.S. might not get it until 2012) and, well, if you thought the PSP was cool because it was kind of like having a portable PS2, the NGP is supposed to make you feel like you are walking around with a PS3. The big question is how much Sony is going to charge for it. We don't know. Check out our exhaustive coverage of the NGP's Toyko unveiling from January 2011, when we got some hands-on time.

What about the 3DS?

NEW QUESTION, ADDED 2/21/11

Nintendo's next portable machine, the 3DS , is coming out in Japan, U.S. and Europe over the next several weeks, hitting all those regions by the end of March. The PSP and DS were rivals, and some gamers had to choose between the two. We're not sure whether that'll be the case between NGP and 3DS. The Nintendo machine, which offers glasses-free 3D (NGP won't), will cost $250 in the U.S. But we're so in the dark about its software line-up, that we can't even tell people how soon they'll need to buy that machine. For now, keep an open mind and pay attention to which games are announced for which systems. Neither machine seems like it'll be a phone, mind you.

Oh, isn't there a PSP Phone now?

NEW QUESTION, ADDED 2/21/11

Should You Buy A PSP?

Sort of. We've long been expecting a PSP Phone. What we got, only recently made official is Sony's Xperia Play. It's an Android phone coming out this spring that will emulate dual-analog controls with twin touch-pads. It will be able to play original PlayStation games (not PSP games, as far as we know). It's actually just one of what Sony says will be multiple Sony-authorized phones that will have what they're calling PlayStation Suite.

Essential Facts For The Sony PSP

The Sony PSP is the most powerful gaming-centric portable device on the market today. It includes a single analog nub and a directional buttons, either of which is typically used for character movement. It also sports face buttons and shoulder buttons, to allow for comfortable mapping of early PlayStation One-era control styles. The system's defining characteristic is its big and beautiful screen.

All PSP systems include both short-range wireless communication and WiFi online access, but games have to be programmed specifically to use either feature. Sony calls short-range system-to-system connections "ad hoc" play; the company labels WiFi-connected modes as "infrastructure" mode. Weird, but now you know.

Each PSP contains its own internal, rechargeable battery. Battery life varies based on the model of the PSP. Better batteries can be swapped into the system.

The PSP has been promoted by Sony as an adult gamer's portable device, something you grow out of, they would say, when you're done being a kid and playing a DS. Fair marketing slant or not, that is how the system is positioned, with a high number of teen and mature-oriented games. Frequent firmware upgrades have also expanded the system's non-gaming functionality, allowing users to download music and movies to the machine, use it as a radio, a Skype device and other things.

Currently available models: PSP 3000 ($170 $130, as of Feb 27, 2011), PSPgo ($250), PSP Slim [used] ($120)*, PSP Original [used] ($100)[recommended models marked with an asterisk]
Price of new games: $30-$40
Discount line of games: PSP Greatest Hits ($20) PSP Favorites ($10)

Need more shopping advice? Take a look at Kotaku's other video game hardware buyer's guides.