We take the Xperia Play for a spin

I finally got my hands on Sony Ericsson’s upcoming “PlayStation Phone,” the Xperia Play, and after a solid play session I am hooked.

I’ve been a mobile gamer since before most people knew there was such a thing. I’d kill my spare time playing Crab Catch on my monochromatic display in the late 1990s. I actually paid money to connect to the Internet and download games to my old flip phones from the early 2000s.

And perhaps the most humiliating admission – I owned a Nokia N-Gage, the wannabe revolutionary gaming phone that was far ahead of its time. Sony Ericsson, meanwhile, is bringing out its game phone at just the right now.

The Xperia Play is a powerful phone in its own right. It has Android 2.3, a 1 GHz processor, front and rear facing cameras, and the best part of all, a PlayStation-style slide-out controller.

There will be dozens of games available for the Xperia Play when it comes out in the US in “early Q2,” according to a Sony Ericsson rep we spoke to. Six games will come pre-loaded, and we tried out a couple: Asphalt and Crash Bandicoot.

Asphalt, a racing game, opens with a cinematic sequence that is so visually attractive, there’s almost no way you’ll be able to skip it when playing for the first time.

When it comes to actual driving, you can use the onboard directional buttons or the touch pad in the middle of the device. The touch pad takes some getting used to, but once you get it right it flows extremely fluidly.

All real-time animations look very crisp and I experienced no framerate issues at all.

Fast forward to Crash Bandicoot, one of my favorite PS One games. It’s been emulated in all its original glory for the Xperia Play, and it plays quite smoothly.

Comparing Crash to Asphalt underscores just how much the industry has changed over the past decade. Crash Bandicoot doesn’t look that amazing, but it has been touched up a bit, but it’s nothing short of crazy how much better an Xperia Play-optimized game like Asphalt looks than a game that was top-of-the-line for a home console setup in the not-so-distant memories.

The mobile gaming market is just now starting to jump out of the nest and fly on its own. Success stories abound on the iPhone. But all the exciting mobile stuff is largely related to cheap, 99-cent games that have a large attraction but no weight in the games industry as a whole.

The Xperia Play will question the status quo, and it might be just the right time to do it.