Sony’s NGP: What needs to happen

Dual analogue sticks, a flashy high-res screen, two touch sensitive input areas, the power of a PS3 and not a UMD in sight. On paper, Sony’s new handheld codenamed Next Generation Portable looks like it could be the second coming of videogame Jesus. Sporting a quad core processor of unparalleled magic and a gaggle of games which are enough to grab the attention of the blindest cave dwellers of the Afghan mountains, it seems hard to think that it won’t sell like antidote at a poison tasting convention.

Five and a bit years ago Sony took their first steps into the mobile gaming market with the then technically impressive PSP, but it can be argued that it didn’t fare amazingly well – especially when you compare it to the life of the commuter party, the DS, with all of those hands grubbing up its touchscreen and tap-tastic stylus. With Nintendo’s leap into goggleless 3D gaming next month, what’ll it take for Sony’s handheld not to fail a technically bloated and untouched death of loneliness on shop shelves?

First and foremost I think the codename needs to change from ‘Next Generation Portable’ or NGP for short. How exciting and inspirational is that? It makes me think of something clinical or financial, not awesome next generation tech. Remember when the Gamecube was called Dolphin, or when the 360 was Xenon? Sony should’ve codenamed their device Eagle or Velocirapter. Hell, even PSP2 brings more chattery excitement to my teeth than NGP. How’s that meant to stir up trouser soiling speculation and passionate arguments in comment fields?

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My next point is a problem I have with the DS. I still haven’t tried either Zelda game on the handheld as pure touch screen controls do not appeal to me. With the NGP, please don’t force us to use gimmicky control methods in games that don’t call for them. I felt a wave of nervousness big enough to capsize an oil tanker when I saw the Uncharted demo of Nate climbing a rope. For those who don’t know, you have to rub the rear touch as if you were pretending to climb a rope to make the protagonist ascend and descend it.

Why make us do this when there is a perfectly good up and down motion available on an analogue stick? I don’t want to be sat on the bus rubbing the back of my console like I was molesting a Barbie doll. Please, please, please don’t underestimate the reliability of buttons and insist that we use the touch screen at every opportunity because you believe it is a gaming revolution. The same goes for SixAxis controls. They’ve been on the PS3 for over four years and nobody likes them.

I’m not here to kick the fanboy hornet nest, but Sony made a fair few mistakes when the PS3 launched. Specced to hell and back to make it the console equivalent of a mythological deity in a box, the asking price was loaded on the hefty side, with the electronics giant still making a loss on each sale. Despite this, retailers still had a job shifting them from shelves – with stockrooms stacked floor to ceiling with PS3s.

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If the NGP is to do well on launch the price has to be at least in line with the £230 3DS price tag, otherwise Sony are going to face the same limited market. I know the small gaming oval contains tricks comparable to what most orbital satellites can pull off, but the majority of gamers aren’t happy paying more for a handheld than they are for a home console. I’m intrigued by the multiple SKUs that Sony has mentioned, with 3G not on the standard models. I just hope the cheaper variants won’t turn out to be useless to the regular gamer, a la Xbox 360 Arcade.

Software is where consoles have classically led the pack or stumbled into the obscurity of oblivion. The titles we have seen announced already overshadow the kind of support the PSP initially got. An Uncharted game, Call of Duty, and even the possibility of a portable Metal Gear Solid 4. How awesome does this all sound? This doesn’t even cover returning franchises to Sony’s handheld range including Killzone, Wipeout and LittleBigPlanet. If names like this continue to pop up then the NGP could really be the handheld to have in your back pocket (or the bulletproof protective case if you are one of those people that fears scratches of any size, shape and depth).

The last thing of concern is the launch window. Sony have promised the console will be out in at least one territory (hello Japan) by Christmas, but with the 3DS ready to burst from factories, will the impatient mobile gamer be able to take it? With Ocarina of Time, Starfox, Pilotwings, Resident Evil and god knows what other oracles of gaming goodness appearing on Ninty’s machine over the coming months – not to mention incredible 3D technology – the temptation to jump the gun in the next gen handheld war is feeling ever so strong.

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The big question is: do we go for awesomeness now, or do we wait and see if Sony’s ace in the hole really is worth the wait? With the way gaming hardware prices can fluctuate from inevitable retailer wars, I’m going to sit on my fidgety hands and see how this one plays out. Currently I’m feeling very similar towards the NGP as I did towards the 3DS when it was announced at year’s last E3. Can these be the portable consoles that will actually steal major time away from our home consoles, or will they simply be left to slump in the ‘train journey’ inventory pile?

Whatever happens there’s still plenty more to learn about the PSP2 (I’m not going to keep up correcting that to NGP), and lots of time left for it to soar into gamers’ hearts and minds or to shoot itself in the foot like a drunk marksman in Ibiza during an earthquake. I’m two thirds excited with the remainder being made up from healthy scepticism. That second analogue nub looks gorgeous, doesn’t it?

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Written by Anthony H

Anthony has been playing games for far too much of his life, starting with the MS-DOS classic Mario is Missing. Since then his tastes have evolved to include just about anything, but his soft spot lies with shooters and the odd strategy game. Anthony will inspire you with his prose, uplift you with his wit and lie to you in his biography.

One comment

  1. KrazyFace /

    I’m very excited about this too, but it’s gonna be a long wait until it hits the street. Which I’m fine with, because I ain’t got the cash for it anyways! If I start saving now though, who knows. Anyway, I managed to dig up the specs for this baby a long time ago (and the 3DS) and couldn’t believe what they were preposing as a hand held, but it’s all come to light now and it seems my lucky Internet find was right on the button. Marketing, advertisement and all the other brain-washy things are what Sony need to get good at though, I’m not saying rent out Times Square or anything (who in their right collective mind would do THAT!? – oh, wait) but they need to get “regular” people excited about this too. I know the core market is salivating already, but to “win this war” (ugh) Sony really need to show Joe Soap why this machine is better than another DS.

    Good read, thanks.

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