I have never been a big believer in digitally delivered comic books. I’ve tried a number of services in the past, from official avenues to homebrew solutions, and I’ve always found the experience lacking. While reading dead-tree books is an activity I’ve long enjoyed, I’ve long felt that the electronic equivalent just comes up short.
Still, ever since Sony announced that it was working on a Digital Comics service for the PSP, I’ve been cautiously optimistic. Despite my misgivings about both e-comics and Sony’s recent design decisions regarding the line (read: the new PSP Go), I’ve still got a lot of faith in the PlayStation Portable as a mobile entertainment device.
Last weekend, after upgrading my old PSP 1000 to the recently released 6.20 firmware, I was pleased to discover that the new service has at last been rolled out. Moreover, I was even more pleased to find that, though no titles will be made available for sale until next month, Sony has partnered with IDW Publishing to provide four free preview comics for American PlayStation Network users:
Transformers: All Hail Megatron #1 (download code: EC2N-9HBR-HJD6)
Star Trek Year Four: The Enterprise Experiment #1 (download code: 724K-A4BG-JLD7)
Aleister Arcane #1 (download code: 63N8-R2BF-9E4D)
Astro Boy: Movie Adaptation #1 (download code: FF3N-H7B6-M2JF)
After activating the Digital Comic reader component and waiting for the aforementioned books to download – a lengthier than anticipated process, as is sometimes the case with the PSP – I settled in for a little light reading.
I found the Digital Comics interface to be wholly intuitive, and a perfect match for the PSP’s large, bright screen. A central hub allows users to browse titles by series and genre, and even includes a “Recently Added” category that should prove useful for those planning to use the service regularly.
Navigating from page to page and panel to panel – certainly the most problematic issue inherent in shrinking down comic books to fit on a portable screen – is handled easily by the application’s “AutoFlow” function. Using the right directional button, the reader simply advances through the comic by auto-zooming in on each subsequent panel. Even splash pages and oversized panels are easily surmountable thanks to an intelligent system that pans across both text and images in a manner that is both functional and dynamic, adding subtle nuances such as lingering on a cityscape or shaking slightly during an in-panel explosion.
The left directional button likewise moves the camera view back a step, while the left and right shoulder buttons can zoom further in and out respectively. Also, you can use the analog stick to directly control the camera’s pan function. And multi-taskers will be pleased to know that the Select button can be used to access the PSP’s MP3 player to add a little background music to the proceedings.
You can page forward and back using the up and down arrows, while the triangle key snaps the action back into the last viewed panel. The circle button is used to exit to the root menu, and the square button brings up your controls list, which is important during your first couple of outings. Lastly, the Start button handles the all-important task of adding and viewing bookmarks, which makes it nearly impossible to lose one’s place.
Sony and IDW have done a wonderful job of providing high-resolution page images, which look great at any zoom level. Moreover, the selection of freebies – from the old school nerdery of the Transformers and Trek titles to the macabre horror Aleister Arcane to the more kid-friendly Astro Boy – are gorgeously rendered and a joy to read.
Though questions of how much officially released titles will cost and how soon after their physical analogues they’ll be released to the PlayStation Network remain, I can say with some certainty that the Digital Comics service is a viable option for reading comic books on the go. At the very least, I’d encourage current PSP owners to give the preview books a whirl, as you have nothing to lose but a few minutes of download time. And, if nothing else, the free comics available may prove a valuable diversion as you stand in those interminable Black Friday checkout lines.
(Hat-tip to Joystiq reader killdash9 for the comprehensive code list)