He describes it as sex in his hands: "I turn it on and it starts humping away."
I bite my lip. "Can I see it?"
This was last week. Two of our best friends had come over for an evening of takeout and GameCubing, but I was not in a social mood. I was preloaded with work-related dread-and, of course, with laziness-related anxiety about not having any ideas for my column, which was due in two days. Sure, the awesome new "handheld wars" were on-Nintendo DS and Sony PSP going head to head in the deadly octagon-but there wasn't a chance in hell that either Maisonneuve or I could get a hold of one of these machines to review. And we'd already written a column about how we couldn't get review copies of cool swag. In mankind's darkest hour, however, the bells of hope rang out in the form of a friend's impulse buy.
"You got one? You actually got one? Can I see it?"
He gently lifts it from the box. It is smaller than I expected, but also heavier. Its glossy surface pokes out of the end of the cloth sleeve in which it's swaddled. Embossed into the cloth are the boxy, futuristic letters "PSP." I ease it out of the sleeve and move the power slider to "on," and Sony's latest gaming device springs to life.
My mind races with superlatives. It's the most beautiful electronic device I've ever touched. The screen of the gods. Graphic prowess that can weaken sphincters. "The Sony PSP made me shit my pants and die," the headline will read. Ah, but my friend came over to socialize, not to watch me drool on his toy. Got to put it away and talk to him and his spouse about the vacation from which they've just returned.
"So, what about Cuba? Tell us about Cuba!"
"Marketing genius! They play the Canadian angle so well! 'You are the sensitive souls of the North American continent, you understand our r-r-r-revolución.' These guides go to propaganda schools for years before they're allowed anywhere near a bus."
In their box of souvenirs are a set of bongos, a thick stack of photos and a bottle of syrupy rum whose label, roughly translated, reads, "Lucky you, you are holding the jewel in Cuba's rum crown." As we discuss these items, I deftly move the conversation back to my new favourite topic.
"So where did you get the PSP?"
"And the bongos? You got the bongos too?"
"Well, that's why I was there."
"Are we going to have a drum circle?"
Our dinner arrives, and, plenty of rum in us already, we cram in front of the GameCube. They sit me down in front of the TV with the bongos and turn on Jungle Beat. At first I'm all protest-"But, but ... the PSP"-but I guess that's anti-social or something, because I am strongly encouraged to feel the Jungle Beat with everyone else.
We hoot, we holler, we prove that gaming is not necessarily a solitary activity. The only negative thing I can say about Jungle Beat is that it's not the PSP. Imagine a fast-paced side-scrolling platformer like the first few Sonics, where the object is to run around collecting as many of a particular item as possible-rings, coins, fresh fruit, whatever. Then imagine playing it with drums, while others scream and yell at you. Right drum means "go right" ("The right one, hit the right one! Look out for that watermelon!"), left drum means "go left" ("Go back, you missed all those bananas!"), and clapping the all-purpose "action button" makes you do everything else ("Clap, fucker, clap!"). You steer Donkey Kong around the screen, grabbing bananas and stomping on bad guys. It's a lot of fun, it's an excellent source of dirty-hippy jokes, and it goes perfectly with the jewel in Cuba's rum crown. By the end, my hands are numb from the clapping.
But it is not the precious. When my turn ends, I sneak the PSP back out of its sleeve and power up anew. Ah, I'm home.
Now, any reading about this device will reveal that it's not just a gaming system but also a portable media player. It's a substitute for your Palm Pilot, it's a wireless Internet browser, it's the cure for cancer. But who cares? I can get my cancer cured at the hospital. To me, it's a gaming device, and a very impressive one. The LCD screen is unbelievably clear-from any viewing angle-and the controls will feel familiar to anyone who has held a Dualshock.
The game presented to me is Wipeout Pure, a souped-up PSP-only version of the Wipeout anti-gravity racing series. The Wipeout games have always milked the underground; they combine oblique graphic design, electronic music and gameplay so fast it seems better suited to the reflexes of an android. When you play Wipeout, you feel as though the future is happening right now and you are a special and privileged part of it. This is what makes Wipeout a perfect match for the PSP: they both derive a healthy portion of their appeal from this suggestiveness. I could describe it to you all day, but you need to hold one and see. Well, let's not say "need." Nobody needs a PSP, but, for the sake of argument, let's pretend somebody named David D'Amico might. Hold it and see; it really does feel like the future.
The games I tried (the aforementioned Wipeout and Dynasty Warriors, a game about riding around on a horse and perforating your enemies with a spear) are quite impressive. Sure, blow the games up to television dimensions and they might look more like PS One games, but because they only have to look good at the handheld scale, Sony's little black box is pushing pixels that look as pretty as anything you've seen come out of your PS2.
As in any contemporary article about gaming, it is my duty to here advance the notion that whatever the benefits of the hardware, they're not enough. Sure, these games may look better than anything you've ever seen on a handheld device, but what good are the graphics if the games are ass? From my limited point of view, I'd say we're running about fifty-fifty. Of course, there's no way in hell I can make any sweeping statements from my experience since I've played a grand total of two games. I will say, though, that Dynasty Warriors didn't quite set my heart ablaze, but Wipeout, despite being a rehash of a years-old PlayStation franchise, is the real deal-fast, fun and immersive.
On the not-so-great side: You will spend lots of time polishing fingerprints off the PSP's shiny chassis. Also, the launch has been plagued by manufacturing defects in the screens (my friend returned his thrice before landing one with no dead pixels). Finally, only half of the promised launch titles have hit the streets thus far. And, alas, it doesn't really cure cancer.
Another caveat: too much rum and you can actually start getting into the bongos. Somebody calls my name, and I slide the PSP back into its sleeve, sample the jewel of the rum crown anew and return to the drum circle. Apparently, a gorilla wearing a necktie needs my help collecting some bananas.
In memory of our girl Marzipan (2003-2005)
David and Vanessa currently live and toil in Toronto-for, respectively, a large technology corporation and a large e-commerce vendor. They met via their blogs and were married in the winter of 2002. They have two dogs, but no yacht. NerdWorld appears every other Monday.