This adorable miniature PlayStation looks the part, but lacks too many big names to be considered an essential greatest hits compilation of the era.
One of the earliest marketing slogans for Sony’s first video game console was “Don’t underestimate the power of PlayStation.” It’s now 24 years later and it’s the power of nostalgia that can’t be undervalued, particularly when you first turn on the PlayStation Classic and are instantly teleported back more than two decades by the iconic Sony Computer Entertainment splash screen and sweeping synth sound. Unfortunately, this nostalgic jolt doesn’t last past scrolling through the short menu of just 20 included games, as this adorable miniature version of the most popular gaming console of the ‘90s lacks too many big names to truly live up to the ‘Classic’ label.
That’s not to say there aren’t some heavy hitters in the 20 games included on the PlayStation Classic roster, and certainly such a short list could never be absolutely definitive when culled down from the thousands of games that were released over the system’s six-year lifespan. But a lineup of ‘classic’ PlayStation games without a Gran Turismo, Tomb Raider, Wipeout, or Crash Bandicoot, to name a few of the most glaring omissions, makes for a compilation that feels decidedly incomplete and not really reflective of the system at its best, particularly at its relatively high price point ($99.99USD/£89.99GBP/$149.95AUD). It’s basically the gaming equivalent of getting front row seats at a Guns ‘n’ Roses concert and having the band not play anything off Appetite for Destruction.
Here’s the full list:
- Battle Arena Toshinden
- Cool Boarders 2
- Destruction Derby
- Final Fantasy VII
- Grand Theft Auto
- Intelligent Qube
- Jumping Flash
- Metal Gear Solid
- Mr Driller
- Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
- Resident Evil Director’s Cut
- Revelations: Persona
- Ridge Racer Type 4
- Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
- Syphon Filter
- Tekken 3
- Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6
- Twisted Metal
- Wild Arms
All 20 games come pre-installed on a pint-sized recreation of what remains, in my mind anyway, the most iconic piece of hardware that Sony’s ever produced in terms of aesthetic (unlike the series of largely featureless black slabs that followed). The two controllers plug neatly into the front of the box, there’s thankfully no inelegant controller port flap like on Nintendo’s SNES Classic, and the 1.5m controller cords can be extended using off-the-shelf USB extension cables rather than proprietary ones. Meanwhile, the system’s rear features ports for HDMI and USB power with cables for both included in the box (although despite the premium price point, you still need to supply your own wall adapter). And although you can’t pop an old memory card into the physical slots, the PlayStation Classic features a virtual memory card for each game in its onboard memory.
All of the buttons on the top are functional. Aside from the self-explanatory power button, the reset button returns you to the main system menu (just like the NES and SNES Classic), which is a fairly bland carousel of box covers that doesn’t do much to inspire nostalgia. The open button is used to swap virtual discs for the couple of included games that originally spanned multiple CDs.
Playing 3D games without analogue sticks feels pretty cumbersome in 2018,
Such commitment to hardware authenticity extends to the design of the two controllers, which are more or less exact recreations of the original digital-only, non-vibrating PlayStation joypads. However, in this case it’s to the detriment of the experience overall, since playing 3D games without analogue sticks feels pretty cumbersome in 2018, despite the fact it’s a handicap the games included were originally designed to accommodate. This clunkiness is felt most keenly in the racing and shooting genres to varying degrees, but while Syphon Filter’s stilted third-person running and gunning is made bearable by its lock-on targeting, Rainbow 6’s rigid button-based reticule movement makes it borderline unplayable, to the extent that it seems baffling as to why this game was included at all.
The primitive controls create a slight barrier to the fun, but it’s the visuals that I found to be the most off-putting. The graphics of these games simply haven’t aged well, particularly when you stack up their low-polygon characters, textures, and environments against the ultra-detailed, high-definition game worlds of today or the still superb pixel art of the finest Super Nintendo games.
I had to pick out the shards of rose-tinted glass that had been smashed into my eyeballs by an angry mob of jagged polygons,
But what really magnifies the problem, quite literally, is the fact that 3D games just don’t seem to upscale as well as the sprite-based games from the 8 and 16-bit eras when played on the large 1080p or 4K panels found in most households in 2018, to the point of being pretty uncomfortable to look at for prolonged periods. Previously jagged edges look positively serrated when blown up on a modern big screen, and although I fondly remember Ridge Racer Type 4 as looking state-of-the-art 20 years ago, I wasn’t even halfway around the first lap of the grand prix mode before I had to pick out the shards of rose-tinted glass that had been smashed into my eyeballs by an angry mob of jagged polygons formerly known as the Helter Skelter racing circuit.
Perhaps the harshness of the upscaling could have been mitigated had Sony included any alternative visual filters, such as a CRT simulation, to soften the image as found in Nintendo’s rival micro machines. But sadly, there are no visual settings to adjust whatsoever, which is disappointing.
It’s also worth pointing out almost half of the games included in the PlayStation Classic’s library are the PAL versions, including Tekken 3 and Jumping Flash!, which means they might run at a lower framerate than you remember them depending on your region. In the case of Tekken 3, that 10 frame-per-second loss might significantly dampen the kind of precision that NTSC gamers were afforded back in the ‘90s.
The 2D games hold up a lot better visually, and perhaps that’s why I spent most of my time with the PlayStation Classic returning to beat my best scores in Mr Driller and Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, which both remain as wonderfully addictive today as ever. I was also delighted to return to the original Rayman to find that it’s still a fun platformer, largely because its main character and enemies endure by being so endearing.
Then there are the headliners: Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid. Both are landmarks for their respective franchises and comfortably among the best games of the era – if not all time – so not much else needs to be said. Although in terms of the latter, it is a shame that the lack of controller rumble means you’re robbed of one of the greatest fourth-wall-breaking moments in gaming history during the Psycho Mantis boss fight.
This system will ultimately go down as something of a missed opportunity.
Still, it’s these top-tier games that, along with Tekken 3 and Resident Evil: Director’s Cut, perhaps best live up to the ‘Classic’ moniker, so it’s just a shame that there aren’t more of their ilk included. There may be a number of reasons as to why the likes of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night didn’t make the grade, but no matter what the behind-the-scenes circumstances may be the end result is that the PlayStation Classic just doesn’t feel as fully-formed as the NES Classic and SNES Classic. And since, like all the similar Nintendo and Sega classic systems, there’s no support for additional game downloads, this system will ultimately go down as something of a missed opportunity.