Opinions about the newly redesigned, download-only handheld from Sony seem to be polarized after its first week of release. While many fans are finding a lot to like about the PSP Go, retailers are complaining that they can’t sell games for it and some in the UK have even slashed the price of the console in an effort to move units.

Game Forward
had the opportunity to get a PSP Go during its launch window and despite a few shortcomings, we are very satisfied with our purchase. The system is sleek, light and surprisingly comfortable to hold during extended play sessions. The display is simply the best among the current generation of handhelds and the ability to use a PlayStation 3 controller with it essentially turns the PSP Go into an ultra-portable console.

At first I found the PSP Go a bit awkward to hold, because it’s rather thin when opened – about the thickness of an iPod Touch – and the button placement is a rather drastic change from the original PSP layout. I found that the unit quickly settled in my hands though and I adapted to it easily. The placement of the analog nub in particular feels perfect and I don’t have to scrunch up my thumb to use it as on the original PSP. The nub also has a wider gate than before and it feels more responsive.

The buttons and d-pad have also received a makeover. The face buttons are smaller than before, but not too small. The d-pad on the PSP Go is the same size as the original PSP, but the buttons that compose it are a bit thinner than before. Both the buttons and d-pad have a more “clicky” feeling to them and they remind me very much of the original Nintendo DS buttons.

The right and left triggers are easily accessible, but they suffer from a spongy, springy nature and feel like the cheapest component on the whole unit. The volume, brightness and music buttons are housed at the top of the unit between the trigger buttons and are tough to use while the system is open.

Of course, should you not like the new buttons or analog nub and you own a PlayStation 3, you can actually sync a SIXAXIS or DUALSHOCK 3 controller to your PSP Go via Bluetooth. This feature requires you to register the controller with it and the PSP Go connected to your PS3 via USB cables. Unfortunately the feature cannot be used by those who don’t have a PS3, but hopefully Sony will make it available to everyone in the future via a firmware update or through the Media Go software used to purchase content from the PlayStation Store on a Windows PC.

I cannot stress enough how much I love the controller sync feature. It alone was worth the upgrade cost for me and is something I will use often. When combined with an A/V out cable, the feature basically turns the PSP Go into a tiny home console and the ability to play on a TV without being tethered to it by a cord is fantastic. Unfortunately, the video out is still heavily windowed as it was on the PSP 2-3000. Though the XMB, video content and PSOne Classics all run in full screen, PSP game content does not and on our TV at least only covers about half of the available space.

A decent TV scaler can alleviate this problem somewhat, but it’s still annoying and I had hoped that the slight power boost the PSP Go got over its predecessor would allow it to output PSP game content in full screen.

Getting back to the controller sync feature, it has actually impacted my ability to play some games for the better. Regular readers of Game Forward are no doubt aware that I was born with mild Cerebral Palsy and have limited dexterity in my left hand. On an old PSP unit, I had difficulty playing God of War: Chains of Olympus. There are many quick time events in that game that requite spinning the analog nub quickly and I was simply unable to pass certain sections of the game because of my physical limitation. My left thumb often slips off of the analog nub and leads to much frustration.

Though the new nub on the PSP Go still doesn’t help me with that particular game, being able to grip a full-sized analog stick on a familiar controller certainly does and I was extremely happy to get past a part of a game I was stuck on for over a year. I doubt that the engineers at Sony were specifically thinking of gamers with physical limitations or disabilities when they were implementing this feature, but I can see it being beneficial to many such gamers in the future.

The PSP go is being touted as the first 100% digital handheld gaming system and brings with it an expanded PlayStation Store, wider digital distribution of titles available on UMD and the introduction of PSP minis, Sony’s answer to the Apple App Store. I won’t go into software here, but will in an upcoming edition of The FWD Download.

The fact that there is no UMD trade-in or upgrade program seems to have rubbed many consumers the wrong way because the PSP Go essentially renders their collections useless. I can certainly understand the concern and would have liked to see a solution for people who wanted to upgrade and leave their old PSP behind. It should be noted thought that all digitally distributed games, including PSP minis are playable on both the PSP Go and the original PSP series and apparently Sony has no plans to stop selling the PSP-3000 or pressing UMDs to sell at retail.

This is not an official review, so I won’t flat-out recommend the PSP Go or not. For us at Game Forward however, the ability to play games with a PS3 controller was worth the cost of the upgrade alone. The system’s smaller form factor, improved on-board controls and ability to pause a game and save its state are icing on the proverbial cake.