It’s twenty of the games of your youth in one package – but is the Playstation Classic worth the price tag? Sam Brooks had a swing at the new-old console.
Nostalgia is a potent poison – and one that big companies have learned how to effectively weaponise. There’s a reason why one of the biggest selling games of last year was Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy, which was later ported from its traditional Playstation home to every possible console in order to maximize sales. It’s the same reason why Spyro the Dragon is getting the same full remaster makeover this year (this week, in fact!), and MediEval is getting the same treatment. Nostalgia doesn’t just win over hearts, it wins over wallets.
The Playstation Classic is Sony’s latest grab for the nostalgia dollar. It’s a pint-sized version of the bulky grey box from the 90s, it’s ideally placed as a quick Christmas gift for that cousin you know who might play Fortnite, or your uncle who you know played way too much Tekken while you were outside playing with the flowers or whatever it is children who went outside did.
The concept is simple, and it’s one that is pretty much a copy of The Super NES Classic: it’s a small version of the original console, and it comes with twenty preloaded games – that means no disc-changing! Some of these are ubiquitous and readily available elsewhere, others you’ve never heard of, some you’ve heard of but haven’t played in twenty years, and still others you’ve heard of and never played because they were as rare as obscure JRPGs were in the 90s. To give you an idea, you’ve got your Final Fantasy 7, your Revelations: Persona, your Tekken 3, and your Wild Arms. (There’s a full list of games at the bottom of this piece, should these four not already send you wildly clicking for a new tab.)
I got the chance to play the console for two hours at Sony HQ last week, and while my initial temptation was just to add two hours to my thousand hours spent already in the world of Final Fantasy 7, I decided to explore what else was on offer. This turned out to be a good move, especially because Final Fantasy 7 is available in many shapes and forms, including on whatever device you happen to be reading this article on right now.
The first thing that struck me when I randomly booted up Rayman was that, wow, older games didn’t feel the need to ease you in at all. If you didn’t read the manuals that came with the disc, you were your own. Thankfully, the manuals for all twenty Playstation Classic games are readily available online. It took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out how to play Mr. Driller, and it was a reminder that two decades ago I would’ve been able to figure it out by breathlessly reading the manual (remember that new manual smell?) in the car on the way home.
The second thing I noticed was how well some of the best games have aged. Despite the game’s now comically low polygon count, the opening of Metal Gear Solid has rarely been matched in the series, and even in the office environment of Sony HQ, I was totally invested in this game once more – the plight of Solid Snake on Shadow Moses felt palpably real.
Still, no amount of nostalgia can cover up the fact that, uh, these games have aged. This is most obvious graphically – many of these are not pretty games to look at now (Ridge Racer 4 is damn fun, but it doesn’t scale up well to a big television). But even mechanically, some things we take for granted now didn’t seem to occur to developers until a few years after the release of most of these games. Menus and interfaces can be clunky, the voice-acting is dodgy at best and, as I found out while playing Metal Gear Solid, the values are outdated. I could do without hearing Mei Ling’s clearly fake and exaggerated Chinese accent for a few years, and could do without the creepy flirting between her and Solid Snake forever!
Nostalgia is the ‘in’ for the Playstation Classic, but once you’re there it’s the convenience that keeps you playing. Unless you’re a serious nostalgia hound with enough room to keep around your Playstation 3 (which still has a robust and deep slate of Playstation Classic), let alone your Playstation 2 or Playstation 1, chances are this is the best, if not the only way to be able to play the vast majority of these games. God knows how else I would be able to play Revelations: Persona in the year of our lord 2018 – it’s a completely offbeat inclusion even as hard-to-find RPGs go. The same is true of Tekken 3, a game tied up with so many strange licensing requirements that it’s never been re-released after its 1999 debut.
Which brings us to the one legit criticism of the system, which borders on unfair: The omissions.
The Playstation was arguably the console of its era. There’s no way that you could encapsulate it entirely with twenty games, and the killer apps have been replicated or re-released elsewhere: You can get Final Fantasy 7 on any device short of a fridge, Metal Gear Solid has been remade, remastered and re-released, and so on and so forth. You could argue for the inclusion of Crash, Spyro or MediEvil, but they’re already being remade and why would you want to play the old, clunky versions? Hell, off the top of my head, I could name five games that could’ve been included: Ape Escape, Suikoden II, Parappa the Rapper, Tomb Raider, Crash Team Racing.
But as far as these twenty games go, it’s a fairly decent throw at the dartboard. Not the full 180 points, but you’ve got one of the better third person shooters of this era, the best fighting game of the era, one of the best roleplaying games of all time, the defining stealth game of all time… you get the point. They’re doing a good job.
It’s hard to look at the range of games the Playstation Classic, some of the best ever released on the system, and not think about the state of gaming now. Even though technology has leapt forward like a steroid-boosted long jumper, the biggest games are homogenising into one thing: open world games with graphics that are trying to ape realism rather than push artistically into something else. Back in the 90s developers had to work within the limits of the technology to create satisfying, charming and engaging experiences. Now, in the age of Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 and the crunch, so long as you have human bodies and oxygen to put into them, you can do pretty much anything – and ‘anything’ just isn’t as interesting.
It’s also telling that some games have not actually come that far at all. Grand Theft Auto, one of Rockstar’s first games, is a prime example of this. I’d wager the entire disc space of this game wouldn’t even be equal to one of the hats on Arthur Morgan’s head in Red Dead Redemption 2, but the missions aren’t that far off. Steal a vehicle here, plant it here, blow it up there. The only difference is that in one the vehicle’s a wagon, and in the other it’s a car. The more things change, the more you realise things stay the same.
I’m not saying that games were better back then – lord knows that however much I enjoyed Syphon Filter as a nine year old, it does not hold up in an age when you don’t need to go into two menus just to change your weapon – but the Playstation Classic is, if nothing else, a reminder of where games were and where they are now. It’s not that artistry has been replaced by technology – there are a tremendous amount of talented artists working on great games now – but the charm that games used to have to have to win a player over has now been replaced by technology.
These games felt like novels, where you had to invent and imagine the rest of the steps that brought them into your reality: you were given sixteen polygons of Cloud Strife, a dodgy translation and some gorgeous music, and out of that you built Final Fantasy 7. But now? You’re given the hyper-realism of Red Dead Redemption 2, where if your horse so much as steps on a rock you’re flown flying. The player doesn’t have to do any work, put in any imagination, any invention – everything is spoonfed to them. This is the game, this is how you play it, this is how you enjoy it.
I can’t think of a moment in gaming this year that rivals the charm of the Golden Saucer, the Psycho Mantis boss fight, or whatever the hell Gon is.
If you want to think that deeply about games, the Playstation Classic is a shiny invitation to do so. If you want to play Tekken 3 for the first time in twenty years and marvel about how easy it is to own your friends with button-mashing at Eddy, the Playstation Classic is also there for that. And if you just want to relive your misspent youth, it’s definitely the most cost effective and convenient way to do that too.
The author played the Playstation Classic for two hours at the Sony HQ offices. The Playstation Classic releases on December 3 for $169.99 RRP. The twenty games available on it are as follows:
- Battle Arena Toshinden
- Final Fantasy VII
- Intelligent Qube
- Jumping Flash!
- Metal Gear Solid
- Mr. Driller
- R4: Ridge Racer Type 4
- Resident Evil: Director’s Cut
- Revelations: Persona
- Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
- Tekken 3
- Wild Arms
- Cool Boarders 2
- Destruction Derby
- Grand Theft Auto
- Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
- Syphon Filter
- Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six
- Twisted Metal