For myself and many others, 2019 was the year of the Nintendo Switch. But in 2020, it’s looking like it’s going to be the year of the PSP! This is how I’ve been spending my mornings before work, right after walking the dog in the cold morning air here in Jersey:
How I came to acquire my PSP is a bit of a tale, but what ultimately resulted was a decent little collection of 12 or so games, all acquired for mere pennies on the dollar. As the PSP allegedly fell victim to widespread piracy in its later stages of life, in modern times with modern internet speeds, downloading PSP roms is as simple as can be. Despite Sony’s best efforts in creating a frustratingly annoying new disc standard known as “Universal Media Discs”, or UMD, the system was very easily pirated.
Add to that the fact that the UMD disk drives had a tendency to fail, and that the act of finding a working PSP with a functional UMD drive is a by itself, and one can understand why downloading ROMs is the preferred route, particularly in 2020.
The result is that you have a console that’s very lucrative to a collector like myself: the boxes and discs themselves are just dirt cheap, and you can easily obtain ROMs and install them on to a hacked console. This method is also perfectly legal, as if you already own a copy of a game, downloading a digital backup is well within your rights. So, I’ve got physical boxes on the cheap for the collection aspect, and a digital copy for the convenience of changing games and not dealing with bulky UMDs. It’s the best of both worlds, like it should be on modern systems!
Keep in mind that removing the necessity of using the UMD drive means two big important things: the battery life is increased, due to not needing to ever activate the drive, spin a motor to read the disc, etc, and your load times are markedly shorter due to reading from much faster form of media. It truly is the best way to enjoy the PSP.
Hacking your PSP
If you have a PSP and want to get some hacks going, it couldn’t be any simpler. While I don’t typically discuss emulation here, hacking is another case, but I’ll just direct you to the site I used to hack my PSP 2000: Wololo.net. It seems to be one of the best sources that I could find for this sort of information, so bookmark it and you should be set.
There’s also the memory cards that are an issue, or at least they were considering Sony used Yet Another Memory Card Standard. Lucky for us, you can buy adapters on eBay for as little as $7, slip a microSD card into it (which can be had for pennies on the dollar, my 16GB microSD card cost $10), and you are ready to load the thing up with whatever your heart desires.
What Can I Play on this Thing?
I got into PSP games for an admittedly short-lived time – the Switch had released a few months earlier and I was still mostly into my 3DS and Vita at the time. The PSP games that I had, however, were from one of my favorite eras of gaming, the Playstation 2 era of ~2004, and that was enough to lure me away for a while.
I didn’t play very many games, but recently I’ve been spending a lot of time with this little gizmo, and the games I’ve come to acquire have shown to be a lot of fun. The fact that my PSP is also hacked and therefore lets me load up the SD card with games makes this a perfect travel companion – no matter what generation of games you want to play!
That’s right – the PSP boasts an emulation scene. If you want to play Super Nintendo, Gameboy Advance, Sega Master System, or go all the way back to Neo Geo and Atari, there are emulators for those systems.
I haven’t dabbled much in the emulation aspect, due to having plenty of PSP games that I haven’t gotten into yet, but while writing this article I gave it a shot. It was super easy to install the emulators, and the games ran pretty well. I will say that if you want to play Gameboy Advance games, there was a bit of frame-skipping going on in the games I tried (DOOM and DKC3), so I’d recommend sticking to timing-insensitive games like JRPGs and such. Super Nintendo on the other hand ran much better, and I can only assume anything less graphically-intensive would also run just fine.
PSP Games I Recommend
I’ve been having a blast with this thing lately, and I do have some recommendations that may push you over the edge if you are considering picking one up any time soon.
If you had some fun times with the Playstation 2 and want to relive those moments portably, Daxter is a perfect example of a game that’ll let you do just that. As you can probably figure out from the title, Daxter is a spin-off game from the Jak & Daxter series that has you platforming around completing missions as one of the series’ main protagonists, Daxter. The game’s as well-polished as they come, the platforming is very tight, and it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.
Daxter’s moveset is complex enough to stay interesting, and the puzzles remain fresh to keep you involved until the end. I put together a longer review on this game, so for more information, give that one a read!
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
For another great example of portable PS2 bliss, we have a prequel title to the Vice City installment of GTA3. This game places you in control of Victor Vance as you carry out odd jobs while employed in the Army, until things naturally spiral out of control.
Like all the Grand Theft Auto games, it’s pretty over the top in every conceivable way, from the absurd dialog to the caricature “criminal” characters that come off as a mix between Scarface and the Three Stooges. It’s still just as fun as the PlayStation 2 games and if the idea of 3D GTA in your pocket thrills you half as much as it did me, this is definitely one you want in your collection! Nothing was left on the cutting room floor to scale this down for the PSP.
I’ve gone pretty in depth and gushed about the criminally unknown Ys series, but this title was the first that saw the series changing it’s minute to minute gameplay in a fresh new engine.
Where in previous installments you played as series protagonist Adol, Ys Seven changes the formula which allows you far more depth in weapon and armor customization, as well as switching between three concurrent playable characters at a time.
It’s also right at place on a handheld console – it’s got save anywhere functionality which is very important when playing on the go, and you can make good progress whether you play 15 minutes or several hours.
As is typical for the series, the music is downright phenomenal and greatly complements the action packed and satisfying combat. You will never get bored of this game, it’s Ys at it’s finest and no doubt one of the RPG highlights on the console.
Tony Hawk’s Project 8
I’ve only begun to delve into this title, but I had a random hankering for a Tony Hawk game. I haven’t played anything in the series since THPS4 on the PS2, and so I was excited to put to use the muscle memory of playing these games that still existed deep within my finger muscles. Let me say, it absolutely paid off, and I’m so glad I got back into this series.
Each level has just so much damn stuff to do in it, but most of it gets you rewarded when you aren’t even trying. This can come in the form of finding gaps, or unlocking special events within the level by grinding special areas, doing combos between different features – every inch of the damn map is packed with surprises. I honestly am not sure how they managed to cram so much good stuff into these levels. The levels themselves play more like an open-world in which an eventual goal becomes getting you into the next level.
I can go on about this game, but I’m going to end up writing a Thoughts On piece about it because it’s so mind-bendingly fun. Like I sat down for an hour and played a 14 year old skateboarding game on a little screen and had an absolute blast. What games, particularly sports games, can stand the test of time that well? Games that are just oozing fun seem to be a rare thing these days, and Tony Hawk Project 8 still manages to capture what it made it a winning formula decades ago.
I had this game recommended to me on TheWellRedMage‘s website on a similar article about PSP games, and I bought it sight-unseen based on the premise alone. The idea is that you play an “escapologist” named Mr. ESC, and you have to help rescue trapped people from various and increasingly complex situations.
What really shines about Exit is how it almost plays like a turn-based game. There are certain rules that are gradually introduced, ex. how big of a gap children can jump vs. their adult counterparts, how far Mr. ESC can fall before it’s game over, etc. But each command is issued roughly one at a time, be it to Mr. ESC or to one of the companions, and can take several seconds to complete. It’s all very deliberate and dare I say strategic – you’re not running around rescuing people; Exit is slow and methodical. You instruct companions to do things for you and it’s immensely satisfying when everything works out.
It really winds up in difficulty around Situation 3 (the game is divided into 10 Situations, with 10 levels each. A quick series of inputs on my TI-89 tells me that’s 100 damn levels and they are by no means quick or simple. There’s a lot of content here, I will say that.
It does have a bit of a trial & error aspect to it which can, at times, be a little frustrating, as the ever-growing importance of the order of operations can leave you having to restart a level for the umpteenth time. For example, pushing a box off a ledge before one of the people you’re trying to rescue can use it to climb up. There’s no going back in time, and there’s no room for error. Then again, the same thing can be said for an actual house fire, so it gets points for realism.
I hope this has been enough to convince you to entertain the idea of getting a PSP! It’s an excellent system with so many sleeper hits that quite frankly, I’m a bit overwhelmed by my eBay orders that are now being delivery multiple times per day. Much like the Vita, until you look into it you may not think there’s anything for you, but look around a bit and you’ll definitely find some winners. Heck, every game I’ve listed here is in a completely different genre, so that should tell you something.
Thanks for reading!