Friday, 5 October 2012




Both the Nintendo DSi and the Sony PSP are getting on in years now, so what better time to pick up a cheap one and get yourself some homebrew and emulation in portable form.

In this feature I aim to compare the two to see how they stack up for the retro gamer who wants to play SNES or Arcade games on the train, or play some of the retail games that offer a retro experience.

Sure, there are great handhelds like the Dingoo, Caanoo, and the GP2X Wiz (and even the elusive Pandora). But for now I want to take a look at two consoles that are cheap, easily available, and have a great selection of exclusive games you won't find on the open source handhelds.

I was a bit of a late arriver with these handhelds. To be honest my preconceptions were that the PSP was home to mostly new games like Metal Gear Solid and such, games that didn't really interest me. The DSi, on the other hand, appeared too childish for my tastes and consisted mostly of pet sims and the like.

So I came to both with a fresh mind after reading several webpages about the best games for each system. It has been my mission for the last year or so to try to go through these two handhelds vast libraries of games.

This battle is from a Retro gamer's perspective.. I do enjoy new games and did play them all on these two systems but I am going from retro standpoint, games that are either remakes / compilations, or part of an established retro franchise.

I hope you enjoy this and it maybe inspires you to try some of the titles mentioned.

So without further ado...


Both systems look good, the two screens of the DSi working well in a lot of games. But the higher specs of the PSP make this a clear winner. Just playing Ridge racer 2 (PSP) vs Ridge racer DS (DSi) shows the immense gap in the two systems. We all know graphics aren't everything, and the DSi has some great looking games, but when you see Ridge Racer and Outrun 2006 in action you have to concede that the PSP's graphics are way better. 

Winner : PSP




Well this is pretty hard as both systems have different styles of game and therefore very different soundtracks. The PSP wins for me though as it is a better quality music player (to be expected, seeing as Sony make it), and the games have some kickass soundtracks (Wipeout and Ridge Racer), whereas the DSi has mostly twee music. To me Nintendo's newer consoles always seem to have music that appears to have been designed to be played in a psychiatric hospital in order to keep the more volatile patients sedated.   


Winner : PSP




I really love the DSi's look, the nod back to the classic Game & Watch handhelds is an instant win for me, but the PSP fights back with a sleek design with far more buttons and, of course, an analogue stick.

This being said, the amount of buttons make the PSP look quite 'busy' and the analogue stick feels like thumbing the end of a pair of headphones or a mini microphone (i.e. a bit weird), and the placing of it means, for me, it doesn't sit in as natural a space as the D-pad.

The PSP has a bigger screen which is lovely and clear, but then the DSi has two screens. also clear. The DSi XL has two massive screens, so is the best overall.

I think to be honest I would choose the DSi as in 20 years time it will still look cool and 'retro', but I think the PSP will date far more.

Then you get to the touch screen control of the DSi, implemented so well that it just opens up a whole new type of game and gameplay style to you. For this reason alone it would win, but in all honestly I think the DSi looks and feels better to use than the PSP. I do prefer the menu system of the PSP though.

Winner : DSi




A system lives or dies by it's software and thankfully both machines have some absolutely amazing games. There is also a fair share of detritus clogging up the catalogue of course, but when the games are good, they are really good!

As I said before this is from a retro standpoint, or simpler games that share the spirit of retro gaming.. I am not interested in your Metal gear Solids / God Of Wars / Final Fantasys, or PS2 style games.

The PSP has some epic retro compilations.. The Capcom classics, Namco, Activision, Midway, and Taito ones being the best. The DSi falls a bit flat in this respect unfortunately, being home to some cut down versions (Namco) with only a handful of the titles available on other systems, or just boring game selections with awful 'remix' versions (Atari retro classics), but it does have the brilliant Konami Classics which features Track & Field, Scramble and Rush N Attack!

The PSP has some great updates of old classics (or classic styles) in Gravity Crash portable, Super Stardust HD, Mega Man Powered Up, Ultimate Ghosts & Goblins, and the epic Outrun 2006 coast to coast, Ridge Racer 2 and Wipeout Pulse.

On the DSi side we have the usual high quality Nintendo updates of established franchises like Mario, Kirby, Zelda, and Castlevania. All up to the usual high standards, but there are many other updates available, some fantastic, others not so much (Rainbow Islands Revolution and Bubble Bobble Revolution, I'm looking at you). The updates of New Zealand Story, Tetris, Super Mario Bros, Mario Kart, and Dig Dug are all worthy of your time.

There are also point & click style games that implement the use of the stylus and touch screen perfectly, and even updates of older games like Theme Park that work beautifully.So I would say for exciting racing games the PSP wins hands down, also for compilations it fares much better and is worth having just for these. But overall I think the DSi stacks up more titles that are just damn good fun to play.. and this is before adding all the newer games on the system with the touch controls into the mix.

The DSi therefore is the retro gamer's platform of choice, but the PSP is well worth having purely for the excellent compilations and racing games alone. So a close victory for the DSi here.





Capcom Classics 1 & 2
Taito legends Power-up

SNK Arcade Classics
Activision Arcade Hits
Midway Arcade Classics
Gravity Crash Portable
Super Stardust HD Portable
Outrun 2006 Coast To Coast
Ridge Racer 2
Metal Slug
Mega Man Powered Up
Pipe Mania X
Ultimate Ghosts & Goblins
Prinny : Can I Really Be The Hero
Parappa The Rapper
Wipeout Pulse
Loco Roco

Impossible Mission


Konami Classics
Retro Game Challenge
Namco Museum DS
Bubble Bobble Revolution (For the original arcade version)
Advance Wars DS
Mega Man ZX + ZX Advent
Castlevania Series (Dawn of Sorrow / Portrait Of Ruin / Order Of Ecclesia)
Monster Tale
New Zealand Story Revolution
New Super Mario Bros
Mario Kart DS
Giana Sisters
Tetris DS

Impossible Mission
Metal Slug 7


A hard category to summarise perhaps but I think when comparing two systems with one being higher spec and graphically more impressive, it is good to not only look at the games themselves, but also the creativity behind them and the innovation behind the machine.

The PSP is a great handheld with cracking titles but it feels like it is playing it safe somehow. Releasing tried and tested games but with better graphics than the last generation, or ports of existing games on PS2. Of course Nintendo are more guilty of this than anyone, seeming to release updates of existing games every year, but they always seem to add something new and innovative to the mix to keep things fresh.

The DSi is the clear winner here due to the marvelous touch controls, the fantastic double screens and 'game & watch' style design, and the sheer creativity behind some of it's titles. Even old titles like Kirby and Mario vs Donkey Kong use the DSi platform perfectly to bring something new to the table.

I think it will be up to the Sony Vita to show us what Sony can do with motion & touch style controls on a handheld, but Nintendo always seem to lead the way in this field (Wii's motion controls years ahead of xbox 360 and PS3 for example) and they aren't afraid to target casual audiences to bring whole new genres of games in to the mix. Heck the 3Ds is another innovation in itself.

Winner : DSi



Ok, so you opened up a whole new world on your handheld by installing flash carts and custom firmware, now what do you do? Well firstly you should check out what homebrew games and software are on the platform and then check out emulators for older systems.

As a die hard obsessive homebrew and emulation fan I have tried out as much stuff as I can. Emulation on both systems is pretty good. The DSi emulates many systems reasonable well, but due to the aspect ratio of the screens, the visuals often look crushed or slightly off. Though the NES emulation is very good, I could never get it to fit the screen quite right. Gameboy emulation is very good, and suits the DSi perfectly thanks to the retro feel of the console in general. Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) emulation is pretty decent, though again, many games don't fit the screen properly. SNES emulation is just about acceptable, with some games working well. But most run very slowly, or have serious graphical issues. For the really retro among you, the DSi has a brilliant ZX Spectrum emulator with fantastic touchscreen keyboard. Also worth mentioning are the awesome single emulated versions of two of my all time favourite arcade games, Bomb Jack and Mr Do.

The emulation on the PSP is far better, with NES, Game Boy, PC Engine, and Mega Drive all performing really well. Even Game Boy Advance games play very nicely indeed. Arcade wise, the PSP has MAME, though it only runs certain games at an acceptable level (or at all). 

Homebrew wise there is Doom, which runs well on both systems, but is slightly better on PSP due to it's added grunt processor wise. The DSi has a neat little Rick Dangerous remake, a 2D platformer based on the hit FPS 'Portal', and Lemmings, which can be controlled via the stylus / touch screen. It also has SCUMMVM, allowing you to play classic point and click adventures using the stylus. The ability to play Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island with the stylus is fantastic.

The PSP has the ability to run original Playstation games, meaning Wipeout, Castlevania Symphony of The Night, and Road Rash (to name but a few) can be played on the go - Win! 

With the far superior emulation quality on offer, the PSP is the winner here.

Winner : PSP




They are both great handhelds that have some amazing games. The PSP is a graphical beast and has some brilliant racing and action games, some really great retro compilations, and top notch emulation. The DSi, while the clear underdog power wise, shines due to it's great selection of retro games, including some fantastic platformers, innovative puzzle games, and excellent updates of the Nintendo favourites. It's flip top lid is much better for carrying around and it just looks nicer.

It's a really tough call to make as they are both great and I thoroughly recommend you try all the games in the list above, regardless of platform. They are both so cheap these days that it's best to play it safe and get both. The DSi has brilliant and quirky titles, and the stylus, when used well, is awesome. But then the PSP has the fantastic racing titles, awesome retro packs, and solid emulation.

Winner : PSP (but only by a tiny margin)

They both put up a good fight, but the PSP claims victory due to better emulation and some amazing retro compilations. They are both great consoles and can be purchased incredibly cheaply. My advice? Get both and enjoy their respective strengths!


Happy gaming everybody!