Playstation Classic review: A far-from-classic experience
- Kyle Orland
- 11/27/2018 8:28 pm
- Categories: GamingView non-AMP version at arstechnica.com
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Without a size reference, the only “tell” that this isn’t a real Playstation is the USB controller ports. Fun fact: the eject button is used to change virtual “discs” in multi-CD games.
The Playstation Classic controller (top) is well-built and authentically sized, though missing those mid-generation analog sticks.
Following the success of Nintendo’s hot-selling series of “Classic Edition” plug-and-play HDMI systems, Sony is jumping into the fray this week with the Playstation Classic. Unfortunately, the 100 emulation box, collecting 20 early CD-ROM games, is a bare-bones experience that comes with a lot of compromises that get in the way of even nostalgic appreciation for the era.
It starts from the moment you turn the system on, with a pixellated, no-frills menu that doesn’t even offer placeholder background music while you navigate. Don’t go looking for on-screen game manuals or any sort of museum-style, behind-the-scenes features either—the best you’ll get is a QR code link to an online manual (which returns a 404 error as of this writing).
Playstation Classic game selection (US)
Emulated from 50Hz PAL version
Despite running on a pretty robust open source emulator, the Playstation Classic also doesn’t offer any of the improvements or tweaks you might be accustomed to from PC-based emulation. There’s no way to tune the default graphical or audio settings (such as adding filters to recreate CRT scanlines, for instance), and you can’t rewind and/or speed up the emulation itself, either.
Every title on the Playstation Classic gets its own dedicated “virtual” memory card, meaning you don’t really have to worry about running out of space for “legit” saves made through the games’ original interfaces. Unlike Nintendo’s Classic Edition hardware, though, the Playstation Classic only offers one automatic “suspend point” save state per game. When you hit the reset button on the box to stop a play session, you have to decide whether to overwrite that save state with new data. It’s a baffling decision considering how little it would cost to put the extra storage space in the box.
Speaking of the box, the hardware is housed in a lightweight and accurate miniature replica of the original Playstation itself. The only apparent visual differences are the HDMI port and USB power on the back and the USB controller ports on the front. Be warned, though: the unit doesn’t come with a USB power converter for a standard wall outlet, and it doesn’t work with any USB controllers other than those that ship with the system itself.
Those included controllers also lack analog sticks, which didn’t become standard for the Playstation line until midway through the original system’s lifespan. From a modern perspective, controlling 3D games with that distinctly ancient control scheme feels like a bit of an anachronism. It’s especially noticeable in driving games like Twisted Metal and R4: Ridge Racer Type 4, where constant tapping on the d-pad feels like a distinct step back from simply tilting an analog stick. Shooters like Syphon Filter and Rainbow Six also feel almost painful to control without the now standard dual-stick move-and-aim approach.
Uneven games, uneven graphics
This is as close as you’ll come to on-screen instructions for any of these games (and the link is currently broken).
Destruction Derby, on the other hand, shows how some early Playstation developers still had a lot to learn about 3D graphics and gameplay.
So much has already been written about the Playstation Classic’s uneven selection of “classic” games. I won’t bother with detailed reviews of every title on offer; if you’re in the market for the system, it’s likely because you already have fond memories of some of the included titles, and finding contemporary reviews for the others is not difficult.
Just before the Playstation Classic was released, Sony revealed in an FAQ that fully half the games on the system are being emulated from PAL versions, which were designed to run at 50Hz rather than the now-standard 60Hz of NTSC.
I wasn’t able to detect much of a visual issue with this change, even though more technical frame-by-frame analyses do detect some differences. That said, the slight timing change does seem to affect the tight move timings in a game like Tekken 3.
What I will say, generally, is that many of these games have probably aged worse than you would expect. This is especially true of the sizable chunk of the Classic lineup that comes from the earliest years of the Playstation’s life cycle (1995-96). That’s the era when console developers were still getting a handle on the very basics of how to make 3D graphics and gameplay comprehensible with limited hardware power, and it shows.
A few of these early titles, like Jumping Flash, manage to hold up thanks to strong, brightly colored character design and deliberate pacing. Others, like Twisted Metal and Destruction Derby, end up as hard-to-control, muddy messes with frustrating camera work. The incredible stiffness of the characters in games like Battle Arena Toshinden and Cool Boarders 2 don’t come off well over two decades later, either.
Mid-generation 3D Playstation titles like Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, and Tekken 3 have aged a bit better, both graphically and in terms of game design. But even with these titles, the “upgrade” to HD graphics doesn’t do many favors. All these games were designed for standard-definition CRTs, where the inherent blur of scanlines and phosphors helped smooth out rough edges. Blown up to a big-screen HDTV through the Playstation Classic, though, you can see every jagged polygonal edge and rough color-gradient texture in stark contrast.
Text that was aliased to look good on those old screens often looks muddy and hard to read on an HD screen as well. And while all these graphical problems are a bit reduced if you sit farther away from the screen, the Playstation Classic‘s 1.5-meter controller cords make that difficult to do.
Given all these problems, the standouts of the Playstation Classic library might just be the purely 2D games. Titles like Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Mr. Driller, and Rayman pop with detailed, vibrant sprites and tight controls, even when blown up to modern TV scale. These games serve as highlights of a robust 2D game-design tradition, rather than the rough beginnings of a 3D era that was far from maturity at the time.
If you’re looking for an excuse to replay Final Fantasy VII or Metal Gear Solid and don’t have any other convenient way to access them, you could certainly do worse than the workman-like emulation of the Playstation Classic. For 100, though, we expected more than the anemic game selection and suite of options on offer here. If a PS2 Classic is forthcoming, we can only hope Sony will put a little more effort into both areas.
Not even the promise of nostalgia can save the Playstation Classic
- Mostly dull selection of games
- No analog sticks on controllers
- Missing USB AC Adapter
- High price point for what you get
Classic mini-consoles, a trend Nintendo set on fire with the NES Classic, are the perfect blend of nostalgia and modern technology. You get a compilation of your favorite classic games on an adorably compact platform that easily connects to your TV. There’s no need to buy confusing wire adapters or surf eBay for games.
It’s no wonder gamers love the concept, but Sony’s Playstation Classic doesn’t quite meet the expectations set by Nintendo’s hugely successful mini-consoles. In fact, it doesn’t even come close.
Dude, where’s the games?
Feed your nostalgia
When the Playstation Classic was first announced, the hype was real. Finally, my favorite console company would be putting out their very own collectible mini console. Visions of playing all my favorite retro platformers and Japanese role-playing games swam through my mind. Even without knowing the full list of games, I was positive I needed to have it.
Then the list came, and it was…disappointing. A few noteworthy titles like Metal Gear Solid, Rayman, and Resident Evil Director’s Cut speckled the collection, but overall, it was underwhelming.
Where are games like Suikoden 2, Valkyrie Profile, Crash Bandicoot, Gex, Tomb Raider, and Tomba? These are the titles that helped define the PS1 era. Sure, I could turn on my PS3 and play those games for a small fee, but what’s the point of a Playstation Classic if it doesn’t have the games that make it a classic? Without an option to even download PS1 games purchased in the Playstation Store, it makes you wonder who Sony had in mind when putting this list together.
Names like Grand Theft Auto, Twisted Metal, and Revelations: Persona might stir up a glimmer of excitement, but these games do not hold up well and, in the case of Grand Theft Auto and Revelations: Persona, seem included only because more recent titles in each respective series are mega-hits. The likelihood you’ll play any of these again once you realize that is slim.
In a league of its own
I could overlook the dull collection of games if the Playstation Classic shined elsewhere, but it stumbles just about everywhere else the other mini-consoles shined.
Playstation Classic Games List
- Final Fantasy VII
- Battle Arena Toshinden
- Cool Boarders 2
- Destruction Derby
- Grand Theft Auto
- Intelligent Qube
- Jumping Flash!
- Metal Gear Solid
- Mr. Driller
- Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
- Resident Evil Director’s Cut
- Revelations: Persona
- R4 Ridge Racer Type 4
- Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
- Syphon Filter
- Tekken 3
- Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six
- Twisted Metal
- Wild Arms
The NES Classic comes equipped with 30 signature titles and a vibrant side-scrolling menu with bubbly chiptune music. Each game has four save states and can be played in three different display modes — CRT, 4:3, and Pixel Perfect — each of which looks great on an HD screen.
The Playstation Classic, on the other hand, only comes with 20 mediocre games, an uninspired, silent menu with only one save state for the entire system, and no cool display modes (or any bonus features to speak of).
Worse, many games on the Playstation Classic don’t hold up well when scaled up to 720p. The major sellers of the console like Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII, and Resident Evil Director’s Cut will all have you squinting at muddy polygons as you try to make out what exactly you’re looking at. Some custom display modes and a more sophisticated upscaling method could’ve partially resolved the problem.
If you do manage to squint your way past the graphics, you’ll be exasperated by the controllers, which have no analog sticks. Playing games that require more precise movements, like Tekken 3 and Syphon Filter, can become incredibly frustrating.
Even the SNES Classic, which comes with two controllers and 20 games, has a clear advantage over Playstation’s mini console. With the same number of offerings, it’s priced at a tidy 80, while the Playstation Classic comes in at a whopping 100. That’s a steep price point for a mini console that doesn’t even have the courtesy to include its own USB AC adapter.
A missed opportunity
The Playstation Classic comes with two wired controllers, an HDMI cable, and a USB AC adapter cable that works with just about any cell phone USB charging plug. The mini model sports faux memory card slots but uses a virtual memory card for in-game saves. The power, reset, and open buttons are functional, though the disc drive doesn’t open. Instead, the open button is used to virtually switch CDs on multi-disc games.
The Playstation Classic isn’t all bad. Some of these features are clever, and if the software was there, it could make for a pretty nifty console. It’s a cute replica of the PS1, about 45 percent smaller than the original. And you’ll find some gems tucked away in its list of games. Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Rayman, Jumping Flash, and Wild Arms are fun, memorable games even today.
It might seem like I’m being unfair, especially to those who might see the Playstation Classic as a neat trinket to keep around the house as eye Candy or the occasional party trick. Yet its price makes it hard to justify as a novelty, and it lacks key games that true Playstation loyalists would want. It feels like Sony didn’t consider its audience when putting this console together.
The Playstation Classic lacks some signature titles that defined the PS1 era, and it offers no exciting bonus features that might make purchasing it worth the 100 price tag. Poor design choices like a lack of additional save states, a missing USB AC adapter, and controllers with no analog sticks, give the impression the Playstation Classic was slapped together with no love for its legacy or consideration for its fans.
It’s a missed opportunity by Sony, and a disappointment to those who anticipated an ode to an era of games they loved.
Is there a better alternative?
Yes. The Nintendo mini consoles are not only cheaper, but of better value and long-term worth. Sony also makes many original Playstation titles available on other consoles through re-releases or Playstation Now, and that’s a better way to enjoy them.
How long will it last?
The Playstation Classic loses its appeal once you’ve sampled its selection of games. Replayability for most of the titles is low, and while the console is cool to show off, it has low entertainment value overall.
Should you buy it?
No. Don’t buy the Playstation Classic if you’re looking for an ode to an incredible era of games because you will be sorely disappointed. It’s a fun collectible, but nothing more.
Born in ’89 and raised through the 90s, I experienced what I consider to be the golden age of video games. At an early age, I…
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Playstation Classic vs Playstation One: Which should you buy?
All things considered, the original Playstation One is still well worth your money despite being over two decades old. You just have to deal with the risks of buying used.
The Playstation Classic is a great gift for a person looking for something convenient, but it leaves a lot to be desired.
What’s the difference?
Visually, the original Playstation and Playstation Classic are identical upon first glance without any size reference. This is what Sony was aiming for: a replica console. However, if you hold them side-by-side, you do notice that the Playstation Classic is a lot smaller, approximately 45 percent smaller. Its physical size isn’t the only difference though. Both machines have their own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to running older software on televisions meant for today’s market.
|260 mm × 45 mm × 185 mm||149 mm × 33 mm × 105 mm|
|No (Yes with adapter)||Yes|
What these features mean to you
If you’re unfamiliar with any of the above terms or what role they serve when playing games, I’ll break down what these features mean to you so you can make an informed decision when purchasing whichever suits your needs best.
Physical memory card support
This aspect doesn’t really affect first-time Playstation buyers, but it’s incredibly important to people who played on the original when they were younger. If you want to jump back into your old save games, you’ll need to do so on your original Playstation One console. The Playstation Classic does not support physical memory cards, nor does it support any other peripheral devices. While it does feature a virtual memory card, you cannot simply pop in your old card and pick up a game where you left off.
Runs thousands of games
This is a bit self-explanatory, but the original Playstation runs more games than the Playstation Classic. Though the Classic will contain some of the most popular games from back in the day, including Final Fantasy VII, it only comes with 20 games total. In comparison, nearly 3,000 games were released for the original Playstation over its lifetime.
Jennifer Locke has been playing video games nearly her entire life. You can find her posting pictures of her dog and obsessing over Playstation and Xbox, Star Wars, and other geeky things.
Playstation Classic vs. NES Classic Edition
With a few mini retro consoles released over recent years, allow me to compare Sony’s and Nintendo’s debut bite-sized hardware.
│ Nothing causes more disappointment than hype so at Video Chums, we avoid hyping games prior to playing them for ourselves.
For starters, both of these consoles are very similar: they each have power and reset buttons, they both don’t open, and they’re powered by micro USB and have HDMI output. The Playstation Classic also has an open button which is usable in Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII when you’re prompted to change discs. Both consoles look great and are perfect representations of their original hardware. The only major difference is the controllers and both of them are fantastic and feel authentic. However, the controller ports on the Playstation Classic look much cooler and have a more universal USB connection while the controller ports on the NES Classic Edition stand out like a sore thumb. On the plus side, you can plug the NES controllers into a Wii Remote in order to play Virtual Console games. Although it’s close, I’d say Playstation Classic has better hardware by a slight margin. v1d30chumz 192-162-82-130
Both consoles have similar interfaces as they each allow you to suspend and resume your game and easily cycle through the games. One thing I find annoying is that the consoles don’t have any game manuals. Instead, they show you a URL and QR code in order to access them which feels cheap. Anyway, the Playstation Classic features a virtual memory card for each game which is quite nifty. However, the NES Classic Edition allows for up to 4 suspend points per game as well as various display options while the Playstation Classic has none. Although I appreciate the authentically styled menus of the Playstation Classic, the NES Classic Edition easily wins here.
The Playstation Classic includes a bunch of top-notch experiences such as the awesome Metal Gear Solid, the super-fun 2D platformer Rayman, and the classic RPG Final Fantasy VII. Plus, Tekken 3 and R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 remain 2 of the best examples of arcade fighting and racing games. Also, being able to revisit the origins of Persona and Resident Evil as well as the vehicle-based mayhem in Twisted Metal, Destruction Derby, and Grand Theft Auto makes for a ton of fun.
Meanwhile, the NES Classic Edition comes with many games that you’d expect such as the 8-bit Super Mario Bros. trilogy, both Legend of Zelda games, Metroid, and Kirby’s Adventure. Some unexpected yet welcome additions are the first 2 Castlevania games (although Simon’s Quest isn’t the best), the highly underrated Kid Icarus, the frustrating yet fun Ninja Gaiden, the timeless racer Excitebike, and even Mega Man 2. Because the NES Classic Edition contains so many timeless classics, it wins here although it’s a close call.
First up, the NES Classic Edition contains a few incredible hidden gems such as the Zelda-inspired StarTropics as well as some cool arcade adaptations such as Bubble Bobble, Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr., Gradius, Galaga, Balloon Fight, Tecmo Bowl, the original Mario Bros., and Pac-Man. On top of all that, there are a few games that are great fun with friends like Dr. Mario, Super C, Ice Climber, and Double Dragon II. On the other hand, the Playstation Classic includes a couple of the best puzzle games ever made: Mr. Driller and Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. Additionally, the often overlooked Jumping Flash is a superb first-person platformer, Intelligent Qube is a highly addictive practical puzzler, and Wild Arms is a wonderful old-school RPG. It’s a difficult decision but the Playstation Classic wins this category although all of the arcade game adaptations on the NES Classic Edition are definitely awesome.
This is the most difficult Versus piece I’ve written so far as both consoles are fantastic but I have to pick a winner and that is.
Winner NES Classic Edition
Although Metal Gear Solid, R4: Ridge Racer Type 4, Mr. Driller, and Rayman are some of my favourite games of all time, there’s no denying that the games in the NES Classic Edition feature more lasting appeal. In other words, if I was stranded on a deserted island then I’d rather play the original Super Mario Bros. and Zelda games. I’m also a sucker for arcade games and the NES Classic Edition definitely has its fair share of retro high score chasers. If the Playstation Classic contained 10 more games and had as many features as the NES Classic Edition then it may have won but as it is, it doesn’t quite live up to its 8-bit counterpart.
That’s just my opinion. Agree? Disagree? Vote now!
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