Nostalgia is a pair of rose-tinted glasses and, like many of you, we're more than happy to put them on from time to time and indulge in a bit of reminiscing. Gamers of a certain age, and even those who like to explore things that are a bit before their time, have been well-served as of late via a growing number of retro-themed consoles hitting store shelves. Sega has been doing it for ages, Nintendo caught on and made a killing entertaining us with its systems, and then the C64 came along and reminded us just how broken 8-bit PC gaming actually was. Now it's Sony's turn to have a bite at the retro market with the PlayStation Classic.
First, some history. Back in the mid-90s, the PlayStation represented a major step change for the gaming industry. It was Sony's first entry into the console space after a collaboration with Nintendo that went south, and it proved to be a turning point in more ways than one. With hindsight, the gap between the generations and the capabilities of the PS1 when compared to the SNES wasn't miles apart, and the crude 3D graphics of early PS games weren't that much better than those we saw from the old 16-bit consoles once developers had worked out how to squeeze them for every drop of juice. That said, the extra space on the disc meant considerably more room for the presentation around the game and all of us were dazzled by the seismic improvement to cutscenes via CGI and FMV, as well as dramatically better sound effects and music, a change that opened up countless new possibilities to developers in terms of storytelling.
And so, armed with all that context, it's time to take a closer look at what the PlayStation Classic has to offer, with Sony's mini-console primed to land under many a tree in late December.
In terms of how it looks, there's no denying that all of these mini-consoles are super cute, and the PS Classic is no different in this regard. It's proportioned very similarly to the original, just scaled down to fit in the palm of your hand. The console looks exactly how you remember it, coming complete with two controllers, and although they're connected by short USB cables they're finished with a wide grey connector that mimics that of the original. The only really frustrating thing is the length of the cable; you're going to want to buy extensions (either two USB or maybe one HDMI) unless you don't mind sitting close to the television.
More to that point, the controllers themselves are rather fun. The evolution of the PlayStation controller has been quite a storied one, and the current DualShock 4 is an extremely capable input device, however, the original was just as impactful back in the day, if not more so. There are two in the box, and they're pre-analog stick, which takes just a little getting used to. At the same time though picking one up felt like putting on a comfy old jumper and it didn't take too long to feel right at home with one in our mitts. It has to be said that playing in first-person was a bit of a challenge given how directional controls are limited to the D-pad, but most games felt fine, even if the more complicated titles were more of a hassle to learn.
When it comes to what happens on the screen, of course we're returning to a time before HD gaming, before our screens went widescreen, and that squared image of old returns. There's little in the way of characterful borders and backgrounds around the games - just two strips of black space either side of the action in the middle - but it's not a major gripe, and the games scaled well enough to our modern 4K television. Indeed, the emulation seemed pretty solid and true to the originals, but we're not sure why they chose to use PAL versions of nine titles and leave the rest NTSC. It's a little inconsistent and surely Sony could have gone with NTSC across the board.
Similarly, if you're hoping for some sort of visual filter to really immerse you in the '90s vibe, alas there doesn't seem to be options in this department either, and we were left wondering why the platform holder didn't go the extra mile. The UI is also rather straightforward, with all twenty games on a wheel that you can easily scroll through, accessing the game, save data, and external links with ease. You can also use a virtual memory card to save your games, and your progress is held via a suspension point that lets you jump right back into the action where you left off; a touch of modernity that we certainly appreciated.
There isn't that much to bridge the generations, and maybe more could have been done to celebrate these classic games and make them even more accessible and relatable for those who haven't played in years (or even at all). There's a screen saver, for example, but it's just a dimming of the screen rather than a cool montage of gameplay from the different titles. The games are presented much as they were, warts and all, but a bit more polish around the titles themselves could have made this an unforgettable nostalgia trip.
As it stands the PlayStation Classic is a very matter of fact product that doesn't really revel in its own glorious history; rather it presents it to you as it once was with very little fanfare beyond its pint-sized proportions. It's simple to set up via the HDMI and micro-USB cables that come in the box, and apart from perhaps an extension cable of some sort, everything you need is there. On the right there's a button to mimic the disc change function, and on the left the power button sits just in front of another that lets you jump back to the main menu at any time - although this can actually get a little annoying because if your Classic is a distance away from you, every time you want to play a new game you've got get up out of your seat. First world problems.
Of course, every mini-console relies on the games that come packed in, as these are typically closed systems that can't be enhanced with new games post-launch. With this package, we get 20 titles for players to explore, and they cover a wide range of genres. That said, there are some notable absentees that are missing from the lineup which stops it from being a definitive collection that truly embodies the PlayStation era.
Let's not be too downhearted though, because there are some very good games included, and if you don't mind some janky controls and the sandpaper textures, you can relive the likes of RPG masterpiece Final Fantasy VII, action-horror classic Resident Evil (the Director's Cut), and the stealth spectacular otherwise known as Metal Gear Solid.
The representation of the racing genre is a strange one because the likes of Gran Turismo and Wipeout are absent. Instead, we're treated to arcade racer Ridge Racer 4 (which is great but very simple), battle-heavy Twisted Metal (which hasn't aged well at all; they picked the wrong game from the series in our opinion), and perhaps the best of them all, Destruction Derby (which we've had on our PS Vita for years anyway). Fighting fans, on the other hand, have Tekken 3 (which is still very playable for casual players) and Battle Arena Toshinden (which isn't quite as good but is still perfectly passable).
There are two solid 2D platform games in there, namely the original Rayman (which is a surprisingly tough nut to crack) and Oddworld: Abe's Odyssey (which, like Rayman, is still as charming as hell, even after all these years). Presumably, Crash's recent remaster ruled him out, which leaves this part of the offering feeling just a touch light, and we certainly missed a particular purple dragon too. Third-person adventures fare a bit better, with the aforementioned Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil joined by Syphon Filter. Tomb Raider is a big miss, though, and we'd have loved to have seen Lara's first outing included (actually, scrub that, we'd have preferred the second, it's been too long since we visited Venice).
The original Grand Theft Auto, complete with its old-school top-down view, is another of the games included, and perhaps more than any other title on there shows just how far we've come. Rainbow Six was possibly the most painful experience (and, incidentally, one we were really looking forward to revisiting) as the complexity of the controls made for a frustrating return to action. JRPG fans are also served quite well, with Wild Arms (a cute top-down pixel affair) joined by Revelations: Persona (not the best choice in the series, granted) and one of the platform's truly defining games, Final Fantasy VII.
Rounding things off are the likes of the quirky and colourful Mr Driller (which is one of several games to offer two-player action), Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo (also two-player and still excellent fun; puzzle games always do make the transition between the ages with good grace), and Intelligent Qube (well, nearly always, we could have lived without this puzzler if we're honest). Jumping Flash is another game that we wouldn't have missed, although its gameplay holds up much better than Twisted Metal and it ended up being a surprisingly engaging experience. And then, finally, there's Cool Boarders 2, a fairly uninspiring snowboarding game to round things off that really should have been Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.
As you can see, there are some great games included in the PlayStation Classic, but there are also some big gaps in the collection that we can't help but miss. The lineup is solid - there's no denying that - but it doesn't have the library to make this mini-console as definitive as we were hoping for. Similarly, having access to these great games all packaged up in a cute miniature case with two super-cool controllers is a real nostalgia kick, which makes it a shame that some of these brilliant and genre-defining titles weren't celebrated with a touch more enthusiasm. In general, though, we liked it, and Sony's little machine would look great on any fan's display shelf, with a decent number of the titles that are still fun to play even in 2018.
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