Nintendo opened the floodgates two years ago. In November 2016, the company launched the Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition worldwide, a mini-console recalling the nostalgia of the original NES. Now Sony is taking a step into the ring with the PlayStation Classic, a homage to the console that saw the company enter the market in 1994. It sticks to the same ideas established by Nintendo's mini-console, offering a tiny, toyetic version of the PlayStation. With the final version of the PlayStation Classic in my hands, I'd say that Sony failed to provide a perfect window into PlayStation history. In certain areas the system is rather half-baked, most notably in its lineup of games and a completely bizarre choice of release formats.
Build Quality - Solid Construction, Solid Nostalgia
The PlayStation Classic is a small thing. It measures at 5.8″ x 1.3″ x 4.1″, coming in at a lower volume than even the Super NES Classic Edition. It's extremely light at only 6.0 ounces. Like its competitors, the PlayStation Classic is definitely just a circuit board in a shaped plastic shell, but it doesn't feel too hollow or fragile. I've already dropped the poor thing on my floor once or twice and it doesn't seem the worse for wear. And hey, a lack of moving parts means the PlayStation Classic doesn't need to be turned upside down to cool off the system, like certain iterations of its predecessor.
The back of the system loses the A/V ports of the original for a single HDMI-out and a Micro-USB port. The PlayStation Classic comes with an HDMI cable and Micro-USB to USB cable, so you can hook everything up, but the package is missing an adaptor so you can plug the system into a standard wall socket. A wall charger, like the one that comes with many phones these days, works just fine.
The PlayStation Classic's front panel drops the memory cards and controller slots of the original for two USB controller ports. It uses two USB replicas of the original PlayStation controller, instead of the later Dual Analog or DualShock. (They do appear as "Controller" when plugged into a Windows PC.) The cord on each controller is 4.92 feet, which was rather short in my living room. In comparison, that's shorter than the 6.56 feet of the original DualShock, but slightly longer than the 4.5 feet of the SNES Classic controllers. The controllers are surprisingly light, but their shells use the same hard plastic as the current DualShock 4 with a matte finish. The controllers are the first misstep in the mini-console's conception.
The lack of analog makes business sense: adding analog control or vibration feedback would increase the cost of the package over the $99.99 retail price. There are very few PlayStation games that required the Dual Analog or DualShock—Ape Escape comes to mind—but no analog support means even if games like Ace Combat 2, Gran Turismo, Gran Turismo 2, WipEout 3, Spyro the Dragon, and Need for Speed were included, they'd lack their best control schemes. It not a hard knock, but it is a missed opportunity.
Finally, there are the buttons on the top of the system itself. The power button turns the console on and off like before, but the Reset and Open buttons have been repurposed. Since there's no disc drive, the Open button now allows you to change the virtual disc for multi-disc games like Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII. The Reset button quits out of a game in the middle of play, creating a resume save and returning the player to the system interface. There's no way to replicate this function on the controller, so if you want to switch games, you have to get up and touch the system.
User Interface - Utilitarian at Best
If you're expecting the full nostalgic experience of turning on the original PlayStation, it's not quite a part of the Classic. You get the Sony Interactive Entertainment logo and the classic loading sound, but then it jumps right to the game carousel. Each game in the collection has its North American box art, a virtual memory card with fifteen slots, and a single resume save slot.
And that's it. There's no game manual, no additional art or information for each title. There aren't even any visual options, like original aspect ratio or stretch-to-fit. (720p is the resolution for most of the games.) No background art to go with the pillarbox presentation of each game. The PlayStation Classic interface works, but it's decidedly sparse in terms of extras; it's a shame that there's not more to this supposed celebration of PlayStation history.
The Lineup - 20 Games That Have to Represent PlayStation History
We here at USgamer mentioned the PlayStation Classic lineup before, when we offered up a wish list of games that we thought should be on the system. Instead, the final list of 20 games is a bit underwhelming as final testament to the history of Sony's first console. Here's the full list:
- Final Fantasy VII
- Intelligent Qube (2P)
- Metal Gear Solid
- Mr. Driller (2P)
- Revelations: Persona
- R4 Ridge Racer Type 4 (2P)
- Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo (2P)
- Syphon Filter
- Twisted Metal (2P)
- Wild Arms
- Battle Arena Toshinden* (2P)
- Cool Boarders 2* (2P)
- Destruction Derby* (2P)
- Grand Theft Auto*
- Jumping Flash!*
- Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee*
- Resident Evil Director's Cut*
- Tekken 3* (2P)
- Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six*
I'm not going to mince words here: this isn't a great list. Some classic PlayStation titles are missing completely, like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Final Fantasy Tactics, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, Silent Hill, Tomb Raider, Crash Bandicoot, or Suikoden 2. Of the series that are represented on the lineup, some aren't even the best of their series. Resident Evil 2 and Twisted Metal 2 would've been a better fit overall, considering the finite lineup available here.
Worse, not all the games are available here in their best versions. If you look in the list above, you'll see that certain titles are marked with asterisks. Those games aren't available in their NTSC versions, instead coming as PAL releases. It's a baffling choice, considering the emulation here is rather basic. In the case of a game like Tekken 3, it runs at a slower speed than the NTSC release, making it useless to the hardcore aficionado. The PAL versions have flickering as well, due to the lower refresh rate.
On a per-game basis, there are some winners in here. Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, and Wild Arms are as good as I remembered them. I had a blast with Intelligent Qube, which backs up its puzzle action with trippy audio cues and an entirely too-epic soundtrack. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo is an absolute winner of a puzzle game and playing it made me sad that Capcom followed it last year with a mobile entry. Rayman is still a delightful little platformer overall. Cool Boarders 2 is no SSX, but it was enjoyable taking a look into the past. And for around half of the games, you can enjoy local two-player multiplayer; Puzzle Fighter excels in two-player puzzle fun.
The rough spots stick out though. I count myself as a fan of Twisted Metal, but replaying the first game was like pulling teeth and I wish Twisted Metal 2 had been included instead. I've wanted another Syphon Filter game from Sony for some time now, but it likewise hasn't aged well in terms of playability and presentation. And the PlayStation version of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six is as bad as I remembered. All told, it feels like the PlayStation Classic needed a little more discussion between Sony and other publishers in order to really deliver on the promise of such a system.
So what we have here is a system with a remarkably solid design, backed up by a spartan user interface and a library of games that could use some improvement. The PlayStation Classic doesn't hit the high bar set by Nintendo with the NES and SNES Classics. Instead, it's an offering that feels like it's missing a real passion for PlayStation; more of a business decision than a creative one.
Part of making these mini-consoles is providing the perfect window into the heyday of a system. The PlayStation Classic should be a representation of the PlayStation at its best. Instead, it's an accurate representation of the PlayStation's actual library: some blockbuster standouts, a few quirky hits, some sore spots, and a bit of mediocrity. And for the 24th anniversary of the original PlayStation, I expected better. I think everyone did.