While Sony could’ve followed in Nintendo’s footsteps by releasing a retro console that plays it safe, the PlayStation Classic is somewhat of a maverick: it doesn’t include the console’s greatest hits - games like Crash Bandicoot, Tomb Raider or Final Fantasy 8/9 - and instead opts for some cult classics among a few well-received titles.
Using Sony’s retro console is therefore a lot less like walking down memory lane, an experience we had with the SNES Classic and NES Classic Mini, and a lot more like a sample platter of what the PlayStation had to offer 20-some-odd years ago.
If that sounds like it could be divisive, you’d be right.
Fans on both sides of the fence have already taken to Twitter to praise/deride the console for including/snubbing their favorite games - us included. But after playing with it for ourselves, it’s easy to see both sides. Would we have liked to see personal favorites like The Legend of Dragoon or PaRappa the Rapper on Sony’s first retro console? Absolutely. But do they deserve a spot over the likes of Jumping Flash or Rainbow Six?
Actually, yeah, they probably do.
But some folks might have a real attachment to games like Destruction Derby, Ridge Racer Type 4 and Intelligent Qube - and if that's you, then the PlayStation Classic is going to be everything you've ever wanted in a retro console.
That’s the Sony PlayStation Classic in a nutshell: it’s a retro console with some of the PlayStation’s best games - Twisted Metal, Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII included - but then there’s a handful of games that just might not live up to expectations, either because they’re cult classics rather than mainstream hits, or because the gameplay and blocky 3D animations just don’t hold up in 2018.
But getting to use the PlayStation Classic for a few hours was an entertaining experience, one where we got to play new games that completely slipped past us 20 years ago and even got to relive some childhood memories of going toe-to-toe while playing a friend in local multiplayer. Sure, it’s not exactly the retro console we expected, but we might respect it more for being something of a nonconformist console.
Regardless of how you feel about the game library, you’ll be moderately impressed with the package Sony has crafted to carry its software - the Classic is a nostalgia-inducing piece of plastic. It looks identical to the original PlayStation 1, shrunken down of course, with a few modern touches like HDMI out, a power USB port and even USB controllers.
After seeing them next to one another, the PlayStation Classic is a dead ringer for the original PlayStation, down to the little details. It’s exactly like the rectangular, gray hunk of plastic you remember spending hours with as a kid... just a bit smaller. (According to Sony, it's about 45% the size of the original.)
It’s not only smaller but, as you might expect, a lot lighter, too.
That could make it incredibly easy to pack up and take with you. Thanks to the now universally supported HDMI port too, you won’t have to worry about finding a TV that still supports legacy composite connectors.
Just like on the original, along the top side of the Classic you’ll find three buttons: Power, Open and Reset. These buttons mostly do what you’d expect.
Power turns the console on and off, while Open allows you to switch virtual discs in multi-disc games like Final Fantasy VII. Reset is slightly different though, in that it takes you back to the game selection menu and creates a resume point for the next time you want to jump back into that game - similar to the system found on the NES/SNES Classic but with just one save slot instead of four.
The big difference between the original console and the Classic is that the latter doesn’t play actual discs. That shouldn’t be a big surprise or even news to you at this point, but it’s worth pointing out now to avoid the inevitable comment of “Can it play my old PlayStation games?”
The other small difference can be found on the controllers themselves. While all of the buttons return from the original, you’ll find that the controller terminates in a USB port. That could potentially mean that the controllers will work on your PC if you have an emulator, but it definitely means that Sony isn’t introducing a proprietary port exclusively for the retro console.
As you might’ve noticed already, the controllers are obviously from the pre-DualShock days. That means you’ll have to use the directional pad as your primary form of locomotion in games and forgo the arguably better control schemes for Resident Evil Director’s Cut and Tekken 3. That’s not a deal-breaker, obviously, but it might not have hurt Sony to announce a DualShock controller variant alongside the true-to-the-original package.
Lastly, and this is a really minor detail, the controllers plug directly into the front face of the console and don’t require you to remove a faceplate like you do with the SNES and NES Classic. This ultimately give Sony’s console a cleaner look and serious style points.
Game library and performance
PlayStation Classic 20 Games
Battle Arena Toshinden
Cool Boarders 2
Final Fantasy VII
Grand Theft Auto
Metal Gear Solid
Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee
Resident Evil Director's Cut
Ridge Racer Type 4
Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six
The PlayStation Classic’s game library and performance continue with that design ethos: keep things the way they were, for better or worse.
What we mean there is that not only will these games play exactly as you remember them in terms of control schemes, but they also haven’t been given an HD update - you’ll get the gritty, grainy FMVs you know and love on TVs that weren’t even conceivable when these games came out 20-plus years ago.
In some ways, it’s kind of charming to see jagged polygonal models in 2018. We’ve become so accustomed to seeing polished games that the pop-in pop-out textures in Cool Boarders 2 is actually both fun and funny. It’s a reminder of where 3D games have come from, and that’s really inspiring.
On the other hand, it can also be absolutely eye-searing to look at these games on a 1080p or, god forbid, a 4K TV. The console doesn't even attempt to upscale the games and the years haven't been kind to sub-HD graphics.
That double-edged devotion to nostalgia can be found throughout the PlayStation Classic's game library. Sure, these games are exactly as you remember them, but even back then using R1/R2 as a stand-in for a right analog stick (in the case of Rainbow Six) wasn’t much fun. What’s more frustrating is that several of the included games have a modern remastering but because Sony stuck the original ROMs on here, you’re forced to suffer through the clunkiness for nostalgia’s sake.
Of course, not every game is in 3D and not every game on the console has clunky controls. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo looks absolutely fine and plays great. The same could be said for Rayman (mostly) and Mr Driller. These games, due to some key design decisions made 20 years ago, look and play just fine on the PlayStation Classic.
The other upbeat comment we’d make is that despite not playing some of these games growing up, we found ourselves engrossed with some of the more niche titles on the PlayStation Classic. The two that come to mind are Revelations: Persona, the first entry in the now ultra-popular Persona series, and the more popular, but still not quite widely renowned Wild Arms. Buying a PlayStation Classic would give gamers like us who missed these the first time around a second chance at experiencing the console’s sleeper hits.
If you're here for the classics like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid, they look and play exactly as you'd expect and for most, they're the crown jewels of the collection. Considering that these two games alone often cost $10 apiece on the PSN Store, you're actually getting a small bargain by Sony including them with everything else.
While it’s easiest to compare the PlayStation Classic to Nintendo’s retro console revivals, the SNES Classic and NES Classic Mini, Sony’s nostalgia-inducing hardware adds a new dimension to the mix. Literally. As most of the games on the PlayStation Classic are in 3D, it faces upscaling issues and problematic control schemes that simply weren’t a problem on Nintendo’s sprite-based consoles.
Still, in spite of those issues, the PlayStation Classic brings something new to the table - a willingness to go for sleeper hits and games that Sony feels gamers need to know about. Some of these decisions will be divisive, but their inclusion speaks volumes about Sony's willingness to tread its own path.