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Discovering the PSP in 2023

Photo of a PSP running Celeste

My wife and I were going through some of her old things at her parents’ place and we made some interesting finds.

She managed to track down her childhood Game Boy Advance SP along with all its games. A replacement battery was all it took to get it back up and running. I think she even managed to finish a couple of the games she could never beat as a kid. I thought about ordering a flash cart for it too but it looks like the good ones that people often recommend are so expensive that it’d be cheaper to buy a modern retro handheld and emulate.

We also found one of the original fat PSPs. This caught my eye because I was actually looking into handhelds a couple weeks back and, while I had thought about getting a modern handheld built for emulation, I learned that the PSP has a strong homebrew and emulation scene.

This PSP obviously hadn’t been used in some time. The battery had swelled noticeably, the thumbstick cap was missing, the charger was nowhere to be found… but these were all problems that were easy to fix after a quick Amazon visit. While I was at it I also grabbed a micro SD to memory stick pro duo adapter to take advantage of a spare 64 GB micro SD I had.

Getting Set Up

As luck would have it, I found that Modern Vintage Gamer had uploaded a PSP video just a week before and that’s where I started.

I followed the guide he mentions for installing custom firmware and was really surprised at how easy it was. Just copy a directory to a specific path on your card, find the new entry that shows up in your games menu, then launch it and wait about a minute.

Once it was done I could barely tell that anything had changed, but I was now able to run homebrew and PSP games saved to the card.

Impressions

I found a lot to like about the PSP pretty quickly after I started using it.

One of the major things I like so far unsurprisingly is just how easy it is to use for homebrew and emulation.

I like the form factor with controls on either side of the screen. I would still prefer a folding design for a couple reasons, but this is pretty comfortable to use.

Battery life so far seems good. If I were to guess based on my usage so far I’d say I could get 4-5 hours out of it.

It prefers to go into a sleep mode rather than fully shut down which is awesome. You can pull it out for a couple minutes and instantly be where you left off.

The weakest part is definitely the screen. The ghosting is really pretty bad and I can see why MVG recommends replacing it with an aftermarket one. The screen replacement sounds like a tricky one though and the ghosting isn’t hard to get used to on most games I’ve tried.

Games and Software

I’ve only been using this PSP for a couple days but I’ve already found a couple games I’m enjoying.

The first thing I did was copy over the gigabytes of retro game ROMs I’ve been hoarding for no reason in particular and install RetroArch. So far I’ve tested NES, which worked great, and GBA, which caused RetroArch to crash the system. I installed a dedicated GBA emulator and haven’t had any problems since. I’ve found this page about the states of various emulators on PSP to be a really handy resource.

One homebrew game that I think is really neat is a port of Celeste Classic from the Pico-8. It can sometimes be a bit tricky with the PSP’s d-pad but I think it’s still plenty of fun.

I’ve also been trying out a couple games made for the PSP, so far mostly ports of games I’m familiar with and that are old enough to make me slightly nostalgic.

One of the main ones is Lego Star Wars 2. I’m surprised that this so far seems identical to the console version I played as a kid, just with downgraded textures. It feels slightly lonely playing a Lego game by myself though.

Another one is Tony Hawk’s Underground 2. I played every Tony Hawk game as a kid from the first Pro Skater up to the first Underground. Even though I didn’t first play Underground 2 until much later, it’s similar enough that it still brings back memories of the older games. This is unfortunately one game that the screen ghosting is really hard to ignore on, especially when it turns to night in-game.

I’ve got a lot more games loaded up that I haven’t gotten to yet. One is Gran Turismo which I’m excited for since I played 3 and 4 on PS2 a lot. I’m still waiting on the thumbstick cap replacements to come before starting that.

If you know of any games I should check out or any emulation tips, let me know! I may do a follow up once I get a chance to try more homebrew and emulation.

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