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Jeremy Jastrzab
23 May, 2011

Xperia PLAY Impressions - Part 2

Mobile Feature | It's all about the games.
So we talked about the Sony Ericsson Xperia PLAY, the smartphone, but PALGN is a gaming website, first and foremost, so there is a different question that needs answering: just how good is this phone as a gaming device? Yes, Sony Ericsson will tell you that it’s smartphone first and a gaming device second. It’s a fair call, but as gamers, we want to know whether this device provides a better alternative to the touch screen. And for anyone who has been playing games for a while, some of the questions have pretty obvious answers.

Firstly though, the Xperia PLAY is classified a ‘PlayStation Certified’ device; so what exactly is that supposed to mean? Basically, it’s any device that’s allowed to allowed to use the PlayStation Certified logo, allowed to used the PlayStation controller layout and have access to the PlayStation Suite. And the Xperia PLAY is the first device to have certified access to these features.

Certified.

Certified.
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The Gaming Device

The Xperia PLAY phone will still allow you to play your mobile games, just like on the iPhone or any other Android device. That is, purely playing with the touch screen. And as we’ve mentioned in the phone review, this 4 inch behemoth is pretty generous with its real estate. So it’s among the more comfortable devices to use the screen with.

However, it’s the in-built controller pad, which makes the device reminiscent of the PSPGo, which makes for a real talking point. While it makes the phone a fair bit thicker than most current smartphones, the design by the PlayStation team themselves is actually a very comfortable one. The face buttons and d-pad all have a great tactile feel and the L and R buttons felt like they were in just the right place. Given the difficulties faced with having a the single analog nub on the PSP, this phone looks to attempt some future proofing by having an elongated touch pad to try and act like dual analog sticks and a potential for future control implementations.

Only one of the games on offer took advantage of it for the moment – FIFA10, though we kept reverting to the d-pad. Currently, it seems like a long shot, but these touch-pad analog nubs could be an idea that will work if the developer handles it properly. Just like any smartphone, you game state will pause for incoming calls. Apparently, the Xperia PLAY was a phone that had been in the pipeline for some time. However, it wasn’t until the updated Android operating system 2.3, also known as ‘Gingerbread’ became available that Sony Ericsson was confident of releasing such a phone with dedicated games features.

Those in the smartphone know-how worry about how well the processor will hold up over time, especially now that dual-core processor phones have entered the market. However, the Xperia Play does one thing very well: maintain a silky smooth frame rate. It’s really something quite amazing – as the launch titles with this system pretty much out-do anything that’s been done on the PSP. Time may tell that it doesn’t quite have the same graphical grunt, particularly based on this first effort, but having a smooth frame rate is like mana from the heavens.

It's coming! Eventually...

It's coming! Eventually...
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PlayStation Suite/PlayStation Pocket

At the time of review, it was very disappointing that neither of these PlayStation Certified features was available to view, and makes it very difficult to form an opinion on the overall device and concept. It almost seems like the phone was rushed out the door before this could be properly implemented. The PlayStation Suite, for all intents and purposes seems like it’s an implementation of the PlayStation Network/Store on the Android market for Android devices. It is meant to have future PlayStation franchises such as God of War and LittleBigPlanet involved but it is unknown to what extent, and whether there will be any ties to your current PSN ID. PlayStation Pocket will be a download service for PSOne classics, slightly modified to be compatible for portable play. The current list of games is what will be available at launch:
  • Cool Boarders 2
  • Destruction Derby
  • Jumping Jack Flash
  • MediEvil
  • Syphon Filter


Unfortunately, PlayStation Pocket was not available for us to view either. Still, the Xperia PLAY will (apparently) come with one pre-installed classic, which in our case was…

Crash Bandicoot

This Naughty Dog classic, which has since gone to the dogs, is probably among the better titles to show off just how good this implementation might be. It’s a very clean emulation, which thanks to a smaller screen is not disgraced by the older resolutions. The game plays and runs just as you would have liked it to, and the controller pad is comfortable enough to support play sessions of a decent length. Suffice to say, Crash holds up extremely well after fifteen years. There are good emulation options, allowing for you to change the screen size, view a digital manual or stop on-the-go. Interestingly, there is no attempt so far to try and shoe-horn any touch screen controls.

Crash's back to the future.

Crash's back to the future.
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Android games

Every game that is currently available on the Android marketplace will be available for you to play and with the touch screen too. We tried out the free versions of Angry Birds and Stupid Zombies, and both play just as you would have expected them to. As most would know by now, most of the games are of the ‘time passing’ variety, with a handful of gems will keep you occupied for longer periods. Like with any self-respecting handheld ‘gaming’ device, this one came preloaded with Tetris.

Xperia Play optimised

The huge difference with the Xperia play though, will be the availability of the ‘Xperia Play optimised’ market. Easily accessible via a dedicated search button in the Xperia Play app, there are over 50 Android games that have been modified or enhanced to be playable with the controller pad.

Not all of them are likely to be successful at this stage, such as Guns & Glory, which looks like it won’t be particularly good either way, regardless of whether they have multiple control options or not. Another very simple (and free) game, I Must Run actually played much better with the control pad as opposed to the touch screen. Dedicated Guitar Hero players are probably used to being gouged by now, but while the Guitar Hero 6 demo played better with the controller pad, but seemed nasty on the microtransactions. In time, we’re likely to see an improvement of gameplay implementations with this controller pad option, but there looks like there will be an early teething stage.

You don't need dedicated controls to still get your fix.

You don't need dedicated controls to still get your fix.
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The Rest

Otherwise, we’ve had four dedicated portable games to play – games that allow you to use either the touch screen or the controller pad, but have much more substance to them with similar content depth to a PSP game. And by all accounts, none are meant to be too much more than $10, so we’re hoping for some future value prospects. As mentioned above, all titles (bar one) run at an amazingly smooth frame rate. It ought to be also noted, that after downloading Asphalt 6, it asked for a further 470mb download, which would have destroyed anyone’s phone bill had they actually tried to apply this update.

Bruce Lee: Dragon Warrior

This was a very visually impressive game, with lightning load times and a pseudo cel-shaded style, it both moves and runs extremely well. It’s definitely a great sign for future games that use the Xperia PLAY or future PlayStation phones. A traditional 3D on 2D fighter, it comes with all the basic fighting game features that you’d expect, as well as a cartoony Bruce Lee story to play through and a heap of characters from that journey. However, the AI is incredibly aggressive and occasionally cheap, which undermines how well the game actually plays.

FIFA10

A slightly more archaic version of the popular football franchise, it doesn’t quite match the PSP in terms of aesthetic detail but as mentioned, it definitely runs well enough. Mechanically, it isn’t quite as advanced, but it plays a functional enough game of football, though later versions are likely to improve much more. At least the feature set and team lists were quite plentiful and respectable. It was the only game that allowed us to test the ‘touch pad analog’, and while it worked well enough, the d-pad was much more preferable. It will be up to future titles to show its true usefulness.

The proper controls work MUCH better.

The proper controls work MUCH better.
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Star Battalion

This was probably the most impressive title on display, as it was easily the best looking, the best running and it also allowed you to control using the phone’s gyroscope. An arcade space combat title, it doesn’t really do much in terms of story or feature lists, but it plays well enough that you can ignore those deficiencies. It doesn’t really last very long either, but definitely leads the way for what titles on the Xperia Play or PlayStation phones can offer in the future.

The best looking of the bunch so far.

The best looking of the bunch so far.
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The Sims 3

Of all the games that were tried in this initial phase, The Sims 3 was by far the worst. While it’s admirable that the developers have tried to keep as much of the game intact, it’s either been a rushed job or a sign that the machine isn’t good enough. But given the performance of other titles, it points to the former. ‘Playable’ with both the touch screen and controller pad, the game has terrible input lag and excessive load times that will test the patience of even the most seasoned Sims player. Hopefully this is just launch title jitters, though as most will testify, The Sims has never worked well off the PC.

Not the best example...

Not the best example...
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Overall

As a gaming device, the Sony Ericsson Xperia PLAY paves an interesting path for hybrid portable devices. The intention for both Sony and Sony Ericsson is for more of these devices to catch on in the future, and as far as playing games on it goes, two things are abundantly clear. Firstly, most games are way better with a controller pad and face buttons, even a lot of those throw away titles used to pass time. Secondly, the majority of the games so far were playing at wonderfully smooth frame rates, which puts anything ever seen on the PSP to shame. If there is any concern, it will be how well the touch pad is implemented into games, as the launch line up opportunities didn’t really showcase it too well.

At the moment, the selection of games isn’t particularly endearing though. There are a lot of them, but a lot of the ‘enhanced’ titles were nothing that a serious gamer would even begin to think about. However, the selection of PlayStation One titles is actually quite solid at the moment – and they are emulated quite well on the system. If both the quality of original games is up to scratch and there is a solid ‘pipeline’ of PSOne re-releases (assuming the emulation on them is solid), then dedicated handheld gaming devices might have something to worry about.

The real sucker punch though, is the lack of PlayStation Suite at launch and the inaccessibility of PlayStation Pocket. It makes the launch of this device feel rushed and takes away the major advantage and incentive of the phone, particularly anyone who wants to properly play games on the phone. So if you’re buying the phone now, you’re buying it with a promise of what will be available in the future, as well as the promise with the phone’s unique hardware features.

Related Content

Xperia PLAY Impressions - Part 1
18 May, 2011 Taking a closer look at Sony Ericsson’s new dedicated gaming phone.
Series Link #2: Final Fantasy (Part 2)
07 Mar, 2010 From Cloud Strife to Ivalice.
PlayStation Network Reviews A-Z
08 Jan, 2008 We take a look at every game on the PlayStation Network.
10 Comments
2 years ago
I would play a heap more games on my Android if it had a D-Pad. That's the best thing about the Xperia in my opinion. The controls do make the phone a little thicker than a regular one... I'll wait and see if they can improve on this with future generations of the phone. It'll be a while before I upgrade regardless, but I'll keep an eye on the Xperia.
2 years ago
Playstation Pocket including CoolBoarders 2 is good! It's a shame it won't be available right away, I spent a LOT of time on that game. The thing is, though, all the grabs required use of the shoulder buttons, including combination of L2 and R2. Are there four shoulder buttons on this phone, or only 2? I'm sure this isn't the only game that requires use of all four shoulder buttons from the PSone era.

Crash Bandicoot as a pre-installed game is also awesome.
2 years ago
sobriquet835 wrote
Playstation Pocket including CoolBoarders 2 is good! It's a shame it won't be available right away, I spent a LOT of time on that game. The thing is, though, all the grabs required use of the shoulder buttons, including combination of L2 and R2. Are there four shoulder buttons on this phone, or only 2? I'm sure this isn't the only game that requires use of all four shoulder buttons from the PSone era.

Crash Bandicoot as a pre-installed game is also awesome.
Coolboarders 2 is available at launch so you wont miss out from day 1 along with

Destruction Derby
Jumping Flash
MediEvil
Syphon Filter

Yes there is only 2 shoulder buttons L1 and R1. But some developers do configure the analogue pads for L2 and R2, i have played a few games from the Android market like this already. I havent played Coolboarders 2 as yet but will do and come back to you about wether there is a L2 & R2 solution.

Just to add all of the PSone games for the PLAY are the full version, so you get all the classic features of all of these. Cheers JB
2 years ago
Did L3 and R3 exist in the psone controller days?
2 years ago
Yes (in the 3rd revision, the DualShock) and No (first two revision). Check it out here (ask.com)
2 years ago
Thanks for the link, very informative.

JB@SE wrote
Yes there is only 2 shoulder buttons L1 and R1. But some developers do configure the analogue pads for L2 and R2.
Thankfully hardly any psone games used the L3 and R3 buttons.
2 years ago
kind of a massive bump but holy shit.
There's gonna be minecraft on this thing!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jO-y5wzmK4E&feature=player_embedded
2 years ago
Benno wrote


Next up is the n64 icon_smile.gif
Did Google put N64oid back up on the official Android Market page, because it wasn't their when I went to buy it?

http://www.androidpolice.com/2011/05/30/n64oid-snesoid-and-other-emulators-pulled-from-the-market-developer-suspended-are-emulators-soon-to-be-banned-content/

I'm so glad for aptbackup and SlideMe.
2 years ago
are there any prepaid plans ?
2 years ago
mikezilla2 wrote
are there any prepaid plans ?
Yep....Both Optus and Telstra give you the option to purchase the Xperia PLAY outright, allowing you to then choose a prepaid plan that works for you.
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