Jetsetter: Sony teases the return of the PocketStation, proving weird never dies

Sony Pocketstation

Technology from big corporations tends to lean towards homogeneity. Whether it be in gaming hardware, smartphones, or tablets, competing hardware tends to be similar in its design. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 aren’t dramatically different pieces of hardware in truth, and the Wii U is in many ways similar to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Apple’s latest iPad may have its beefy custom CPU, but the machine itself isn’t so different at a nuts and bolts level from the Surface, Nexus, or any of several touch-based mobile devices. Software changes the usability of these devices – dramatically in many cases – but by and large, competing hardware all retain certain similarities. Usually. 

Jetsetter, Digital Trends weekly column devoted to import gaming, knows that the in international gaming, the same rules in technology don’t always apply. The PS4 and Xbox One may run the same version of Call of Duty thanks to similar hardware, but the proud tradition of weird hardware lives on outside the US. Just look at Sega. It stopped making hardware yeas ago, but that hasn’t stopped its legacy from living on in the weirdest ways. 

The Sega Dreamcast, for start, has been living its retirement out in China thanks to a number of intrepid techies that turned it into a cumbersome portable. Sega stopped manufacturing the Sega Genesis, or Mega Drive as it was known around the world, in 1997. But not only does the old Genesis continue to be manufactured in clone form in Russia by companies like Magistr Drive, numerous games continue to be made for the console that would work on your old, dusty Genesis taking up space in your parents’ basement. Want to play Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End on a Mega Drive? Head to Russia. (Sure, it’s just a ROM hack of the old Cutthroat Island game, but can you tell the difference between a pixelated Gina Davis and pixelated Orlando Bloom? Don’y say yes. I’ll know you’re lying if you say yes.)

Admittedly, the opportunities to play weird new hardware from the big dog video game manufacturers are fewer and fewer these days. Sony is now the only major console maker that persists in making unusual gaming devices that aren’t guaranteed to come out in the United States. Take the PS Vita TV, a little box covered extensively here in Jetsetter. It’s a set top box that plays PS Vita games on your TV, uses a DualShock 3 controller rather than the fancy new DualShock 4, and will only be released in Asia as of this writing. In a world where the PS Vita is finding its greatest success with indie gaming fans and the hardest of hardcore niche gamers, the PS Vita TV is an unusual gambit from Sony, the sort of thing you’d expect a third-party company like Magistr Drive to make years after the Vita died.

The PlayStation brand is always showing up on bizarre little gadgets. Back at the turn of the century, Sony released a series of unusual add-ons for the original PlayStation, like a tiny 5-inch LCD screen compatible with the PSOne model. It didn’t exactly make the PlayStation portable, but it made it portable-ish.

Truly portable though, was the PocketStation, arguably Sony’s first true portable gaming device. Released some five years before the PSP tried (futily) to take Nintendo’s portable gaming throne, the PocketStation was more Tamagotchi than Game Boy. It was a battery powered, egg-shaped memory card with a wee LCD screen and controls, not unlike the bulky VMU memory cards supported by the Sega Dreamcast. Unlike the VMU, PocketStation let you play little miniature games when used in conjunction with some of the most popular games of the time. Ridge Racer 4, Street Fighter Alpha 3, and the illustrious Final Fantasy VIII were just a few of the games that supported the PocketStation. Although save for importers not afraid of a language barrier though, no one outside of Japan ever got their hands on the device. 

Weirdly enough, the PocketStation may be getting a second lease on life. Sony released this video (via Siliconera) to the web this week, with a mysterious truck rolling around Japan. At the end of the video, a sign in the background reads “November 5, 2013; there will be a big announcement regarding PocketStation.”

See? The wide world of weird hardware will never die, no matter how homogenous the hardware at home seems to be getting.


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