- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I finally have begun to understand why Sony Computer Entertainment’s PlayStation Portable, or PSP, exists.

When it was released last year, the hand-held gaming and media center was expensive compared to its competitor, the Nintendo DS, and lacked inventive games and proprietary possibilities.

Now, however, PSP owners can rejoice, thanks to an influx of digital entertainment (nearly 350 films and TV programs) supporting the system’s UMD format and a much better selection of games that are geared specifically for it and appeal to the entire family.

The PSP still dazzles because of its 4.3-inch, 16:9 widescreen, high-resolution TFT LCD screen, which unleashes 16.8 million colors on its user. Other features include wireless capability, support of digital music playback, a slick control stick, Internet browsing and the use of a Memory Stick Duo storage system for owners to save content and quickly move their media to computers and other PSPs.

A price drop last week (from $249.99 to $199.99; owners also will need a memory stick at about $20 for 32 megabytes of storage) makes this a good time to jump aboard the PSP bandwagon, and here are some of the best reasons why.

Games

• Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror (from SCEA, rated M for Mature, $39.99). The stealthy third-person adventure returns as Gabe Logan must stop a group in control of a weapon of mass destruction. The ease with which the hero can be maneuvered through hostile environments is a refreshing breakthrough for hand-held systems. Wireless capabilities allowing up to eight players (with a PSP and cartridge) to take part in the missions cement the deal.

• Exit (from Ubisoft, rated E for Everyone, $39.99). Controlling a professional escapologist named Mr. Esc, the player roams through an Irwin Allen nightmare in more than 100 mission chunks to rescue on-screen folks from a variety of emergencies. Stylish art design and myriad mazes combine with cartoony 2-D graphics and a fashionable comic-book hero to deliver some puzzle-based excitement.

• Daxter (from SCEA, rated E for Everyone, $39.99). The orange otter-weasel hybrid takes a break from helping his pal Jak to star in a solo platform adventure that truly allows the PSP to shine. Beautiful graphics, clever dialogue and fun missions quickly burst from the screen as the player controls the pest-exterminating Daxter. The game also can be connected to the PlayStation 2 to unlock content for Jak X: Racing Combat as well as its own set of secrets.

• Metal Gear Acid 2 (from Konami, rated M for Mature, $39.99). Call it the premier virtual collectible card game for the PSP. A player controls the moves, attacks and equipment of elite soldier Solid Snake using 500 cards in this combination turn-based and real-time adventure. Konami tosses in a 3-D viewer, so the action pops into the peepers, and some interactivity with the PS2 title Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence just to show off.

• Mega Man Powered Up (from Capcom, rated E for Everyone, $39.99). The Blue Bomber’s original adventure for the Nintendo NES gets a face-lift and gives PSP owners a chance to control a classic hero from the video gaming world. The cuteness factor will capture hearts as the big-headed hero performs his side-scrolling missions within a format that even allows the player to design his own levels.

Digital video

After releasing an avalanche of titles, movie studios are starting to shy away from the UMD format because of a drop in sales and the arrival of the new high-definition disc formats. My problem with watching a movie on the PSP is that I am so acclimated to the bonus-laden DVD experience that I would never want to watch a blockbuster with no extras on such a small screen.

Also annoying is the flip-flopping of aspect ratios by companies such as Warner Home Video. Do not give me “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” ($19.99) in an unadjustable 2:35:1 aspect ratio (which causes those annoying black bars at the top and bottom of the screen) when visual real estate is at a premium. I might take “Batman” ($19.99) and its 1:85:1 ratio, which will completely fill the screen — and looks pretty good, by the way.

However, I think the PSP will find a sustainable niche in the cartoon. The latest animated titles, such as “Ultimate Avengers: The Movie” (Lions Gate Home Entertainment, $19.99) and “Night Warriors Darkstalkers: Revenge Alpha” (Capcom, $19.99), jump out from the screen.

Also, this spring, Konami has begun creating interactive comic books for the PSP of game titles Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid to offer another type of visual experience.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected])

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