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PSP: in crisis?

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Patapon 2 and LocoRoco 2. While I’ve known about the latter for some time, the former announcement came as a complete surprise to me. Neither of the first games sold a hugely profitable amount for Sony’s handheld, in spite of their critical acclaim and enthusiastic fanbases. Outside of commercial appeal, then, I don’t see why Sony commissioned a sequel. Was fan response really that strong towards the two games, or is this Sony’s act of desperation in the midst of a PSP software crisis?

After all, 2008 has been an embarrassing year in the handheld’s lifespan. While Monster Hunter 2G continues to keep the PSP afloat in Japan, now with over two million copies sold, the West isn’t snapping up an awful lot of software for the console. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII is almost certainly the console’s biggest release of the year, yet after a mere week at number ten in the UK all-format charts, it dropped out of sight. This is in spite of an aggressive, several month-long marketing campaign that encompassed a limited edition FFVII PSP, a special pre-order version of the game and tons of advertising space in videogames publications.

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With Crisis Core: FFVII and God Of War: Chains Of Olympus now released, there are few AAA titles to justify a purchase of the hardware– Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep and Final Fantasy Dissidia being the exceptions. Comparatively, the DS has BioWare RPG Sonic Chronicles, Rareware’s Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise, remakes of Final Fantasy IV-VI and Pokemon Platinum, a special edition of last year’s best-selling Diamond and Pearl titles. The list, of course, could go on. With the PSP, the line-up seems to be an endless stream of budget games, PS2-suitable titles and non-commercial efforts that will doubtlessly earn critical acclaim, but will fail to attract new users to the console.

Untested functionality, like Sky’s video-on-demand service could bring a wider range of users to the handheld, should the pricing and functionality be well received. For gamers, though, it’s rare to see developers and publishers taking it seriously.

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Now, we see Ready At Dawn– arguably the PSP’s strongest supporter, with GoW and Daxter under its belt– turn in its PSP debug kits, almost as an act of self-cleansing. Sony should work harder to bring third-party developers to the console, and avoid being directionless for the remainder of the PSP’s lifespan.

Patapon 2 and LocoRoco 2 represent good intentions, on the part of Sony, but these are the titles that will only be remembered by a select few. Without a full-scale Dr. Kawashima-sized monster hit on their hands, the PSP could end up as a black spot on Sony’s timeline; still, we’d like to believe that it’s not too late to turn things around.