The question machine has plunked a spinning, golden question in front of me:
My 8 year old son is very keen to purchase either a PSP or Nintendo DSi …however his parents have no idea which is the better option – if there is one? We would appreciate any information you can give us – even if it is just a website where we can compare the two machines. Thanks for your help.
Firstly, I must warn you: by asking this question you are raising one of the most fervent religious battles of our time. The religiosity of the Sony-Nintendo-Microsoft console fanboy battle makes Christianity vs. Islam look like an angry game of mini golf. At each corner of the battlefield, you will find acolytes willing to claim that their console of choice is capable of curing cancer and ending world hunger, while asserting that the competing consoles are built from the carcasses of innocent kittens.
And so I beseech you, check carefully if your son has a preference for one brand over another. If you choose not to heed this warning, you may risk unleashing the wrath of a fanboy scorned. One possible way to check for a preference is to casually drop the name of some “exclusives”: games and characters that exist on one brand of console, and not others. Here is a handy list:
- Nintendo DS(i): Mario, Zelda, Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum
- Sony PSP: Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Grand Tourismo
- Microsoft (who don’t have a portable console): Halo, Master Chief, Forza Motorsport
If you get a rousing Huzzah! regarding one of these “exclusives”, you may have solved your question there and then. If on the other hand all options raise equal (dis)interest, then you have a hard road to travel. In this case, to help you (and perhaps your son) I’m going to try to outline the general ‘vibe’ of each console below, and add a spanner into the works too, just to make life hard.
The PSP is unquestionably the graphics powerhouse in the current crop of handheld consoles. The 3D graphics look about as good as a previous-generation full-sized console, which is rather amazing given the size of it. The button layout (incuding analog joystick), coupled with the graphics tend to point the PSP towards more “action” oriented gamers. Think car racing games (e.g. Need for Speed, Ridge Racer) and first- or third-person action/adventure games (Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid).
With this great processing power, the PSP tends to be a little more heavy on battery usage, but not so much that you’d really worry about it. The PSP can browse the internet, play music from a memory stick, and play movies that may be available on its proprietary UMD format.
- Sony PSP best-selling games (which confusingly also includes UMD movies)
- CNet PSP Review
- Price: $329
Compared to the PSP, the DSi could be explained as more “cute” than “powerhouse”. This is not to say that it can’t play some quite nice action 3D games. However, you will find the combination dual screens, touch sensitivity, and built in cameras, coupled with Nintendo’s more “casual” approach to games, results in a tendency towards fun, unique games over games that are all action and bling.
The DSi’s media and internet capabilities have had an upgrade over the previous DS model. The options for playing around with sounds, voices and images are pretty neat, and I imagine might result in some pretty intense giggle-fests when a couple of 8 year olds take photos of each other then morph them into crazy hall-o-mirrors shapes.
Apple iPod Touch (the spanner)
I’d be remiss not to include the iPod touch here too. Judging by the success of the iPod and iPhone as gaming platforms, they are probably putting a spanner in both Nintendo and Sony’s works, not just your decision making. Even the earliest games on the iPod were producing graphics up there with the PSP, and the latest ones are blowing my mind. The iPod completely blows the PSP and DSi out of the water when it comes to internet and media capability. The main downside however, is the lack of physical controls. You’ll notice from those videos that most control comes in the form of tilting the device and touching the screen.
When you consider that some of the best games on the iPod are all of $10 (and some brilliant ones are much cheaper), while Nintendo wants $90 for theirs, it starts to become a pretty difficult call. In fact one of the downsides of the iPod is how easy it is to buy hundreds of $2 games just because they are so cheap (don’t worry, you can put a password on the iTunes account to stop your 8 year old from going wild). Admittedly, you won’t get the same giant exclusives on the iPod, but as the installed base grows, large game studios will be more and more tempted to create true blockbuster games for the iPod.
As it stands, I spend more time playing games on my iPod than I have on any other portable gaming device. But I’m 30mumble years old, so am probably not the best indicator of the portable gaming zeitgeist.
- I’d like to link to the top 100 games for the iPod, but you need iTunes installed to view it. Try this.
- Price: from $389
So there you have it. You asked me to tell you which of two consoles to choose, and I’ve outlined three options. I’m nothing if not helpful right? I think you hinted at it in the original question regarding the better option “if there is one”? I honestly don’t think there is one right option.
Here, how about this: If I imagine my 5 year old as an 8 year old, I’d probably be tempted to get him a Nintendo DSi, because it’s just plain fun, and I have a soft place in my heart for the old-school Nintendo Game & Watch, after my Dad brought back an original flip-out Donkey Kong from Japan for my brother and I when we were probably about that age. The frugal “Current Economic Situation” guy in me would baulk at the game prices though.