PlayStation Classic Review: A Fun But Forgettable Trip Down Memory Lane

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When Sony announced the PlayStation Classic earlier this year, it didn’t exactly come as a massive shock to anyone; after all, Nintendo had already laid the foundations for this kind of venture with its NES and SNES Classic Editions, and companies like Sega and SNK had also jumped on the bandwagon. However, given how groundbreaking the original 32-Bit PlayStation was when it launched back in 1994, this new micro-console announcement certainly captured the imagination of players; can Sony’s effort leave up to the hype and perhaps even topple Nintendo’s sterling efforts? Let’s find out.

PlayStation Classic Review: The Hardware

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Coming in at around 45 percent smaller than the original console, the PlayStation Classic is a pint-sized yet perfectly-formed recreation of the iconic grey box. Naturally, there’s no optical drive this time around and all of the games are stored in internal memory. The buttons on the top of the console also behave slightly differently; ‘Reset’ is now used to create restore points in games (more on that in a moment) while the eject button – which, on the original console, would pop the CD drive lid open – can be used to play multi-disc titles, such as Final Fantasy VII.

In terms of inputs, there are two USB sockets at the front into which you plug the bundled controllers, while around the back we’ve got a USB connection for power and HDMI-out. There’s no power block included with the machine, so you’ll either have to power it using a USB port on your TV or use one of the many mobile phone chargers you no doubt have lying around your household. It might seem mean-spirited of Sony, but it’s honestly not a huge deal.

PlayStation Classic Review: The Controller

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Were it not for the USB plug on the end of its lead, you’d swear this was an original PlayStation pad from way back in the day. It’s such a convincing facsimile of the authentic controller that we were instantly transported back to our teens when we picked it up, our minds flooding with warm memories of playing Ridge Racer and Tekken while bunking off from college.

Everything feels just right, and despite lacking creature comforts such as force feedback and analog control (those wouldn’t come until the Dual Shock was released in 1997), there’s no denying that this is one of the most iconic controller designs of all time; you only need to look at the similarity between it and the PS4 pad to appreciate that. It’s a timeless design which ticks all of the right boxes.

The absence of the twin analog sticks does create some headaches, however; we could have potentially seen classic titles like Ape Escape and MediEvil included on this machine, but alas, we’re stuck with digital control.

PlayStation Classic Review: The Interface

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Sony has kept things very simple with the PlayStation Classic’s UI, partly because it has tried to mimic the menu system seen on the original machine (at least, the menu you saw when you booted without a disc in the drive). It even uses the same (rather dated) rainbow-splash text which practically screams 1995. Naff? Yes. Authentic? Undoubtedly.

While the menu might not get pulses racing – why should it? – it gets the job done well enough. A carousel of games can be navigated through, and each one has its own ‘virtual’ memory card for standard save data. You can also use the aforementioned restore system to pause a game and then jump right back in at any point.

In terms of options, this is a pretty bare-bones experience. You can’t change the aspect ratio of the image the console outputs, so it remains an old-school 4:3 – which is how it would have been back in the day. There are no filters or display options, so you’re very much at the mercy of how your television upscales and handles 720p content. Having said this, the image is crisp and colourful, and any complaints you may have about the quality (such as terribly grainy full-motion video) lies with the original software and how it was compressed to fit on a CD.

PlayStation Classic Review: The Games

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This is perhaps the most important element of the whole package; what good is a tiny PlayStation if the selection of games is rubbish?

The complete list is as follows:

  • 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
  • Rayman
  • Resident Evil Director’s Cut
  • Revelations: Persona
  • Ridge Racer Type 4
  • Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
  • Syphon Filter
  • Tekken 3
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six
  • Twisted Metal
  • Wild Arms

Now, there are some solid-gold classics in that line-up. Tekken 3 is one of the best fighters of its generation, while Ridge Racer Type 4 is arguably the best arcade racer on the PlayStation and still plays like a dream today. Metal Gear Solid may feel crude compared to more recent entries in the series but it has a fantastic story and tight gameplay, and we don’t need to justify the inclusion of Final Fantasy VII – it’s one of the best RPGs ever made, and also one of the best games ever, full stop.

Titles like Jumping Flash, Wild Arms, Resident Evil, GTA, Intelligent Cube and Puzzle Fighter are also hard to disagree with as they’re all entertaining titles, even if they’re perhaps not the very best the console had to offer in their respective genres.

However, entries like Battle Arena Toshinden, Cool Boarders 2, Destruction Derby, Twisted Metal, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six and Syphon Filter feel like filler and many of these are quite frankly painful to play in 2018 (Battle Arena Toshinden was hardly much fun back in 1994 and was an early example of a 32-bit fighter using its visuals to impress rather than its gameplay, which was largely naff).

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While you could argue that there will be some fans out there that will have fond memories of these games, they’re a long way off being the best the PlayStation has to offer. What happened to Wipeout 2097, Final Fantasy Tactics, Gran Turismo, Tomb Raider, Colin McRae Rally, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Spyro The Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, PaRappa the Rapper, Silent Hill, Xenogears, Vagrant Story, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Suikoden, Tomba, Klonoa, Bushido Blade, or any of the many other PlayStation classics that really should have been included here?

It also doesn’t help that even with the really good games, it’s clear that this particular era of video gaming hasn’t aged all that gracefully. The PlayStation was the first home console that pushed 3D gaming as standard, and it shows – the graphics have a certain charm but they’re undeniably crude in a way that 2D visuals – as seen on the SNES Classic Edition – aren’t.

Sony was never going to please everyone with the PlayStation Classic lineup but it really does feel like some of these games were selected almost entirely at random; we assume that licencing issues may have prevented some titles from making the cut and there’s the topic of timing (Crash, Spyro and Castlevania: SotN have all had re-releases on PS4 recently), but even so, this console is supposed to represent the best the 32-bit PlayStation had to offer – what we have here is a smattering of good games accompanied by some you’ll boot up once, if at all.

To make matters worse, Sony has decided to use the PAL versions of some games, which means they actually run slower than the NTSC editions. We can only assume this has something to do with the included languages in each game (the PAL versions will have supported more languages) but it’s an odd choice which means we’re not getting the best editions of all these games; even in the US, the affected games are in PAL format. It’s a puzzling decision that smacks of laziness on Sony’s part.

PlayStation Classic Review: The Verdict

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The PlayStation Classic had the potential to be something truly incredible; given the vast library of amazing titles on Sony’s first console, it was fair to expect a stunning product – and while the PlayStation Classic still manages to impress in many regards, it feels like a missed opportunity as well. There are too many non-essential titles included to make this feel like a true representation of the sheer amazingness of the console’s software selection, and with no means of downloading any other title officially, we now live in hope that hackers will open up the machine so we can install the games that truly deserve to be present – as has happened with the NES and SNES Classic Editions.

If you’re a hardcore Sony fan than we doubt our negative impressions will do much to put you off, but we’re seriously bummed out that Sony didn’t make more of an effort to include better games here, and the fact that it has used the inferior PAL versions of selected games only adds insult to injury.

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