The Sony PlayStation was one of the first big steps in proving that video games weren't just for kids.
The fifth console generation (the 32- and 64-bit era that also included the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Saturn) heralded a massive shift in gaming.
Optical discs and 3D graphics let developers create much more complex, detailed experiences with voice acting and even movies.
Games became more mature because of the stories they could tell and how they could tell them.
The PlayStation brought us Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil, and reignited interest in Final Fantasy.
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The legacy of Sony's first console made the announcement of the PlayStation Classic genuinely exciting.
Think about it: The idea of the PlayStation getting the same treatment that Nintendo gave the NES and Super NES? The best console video games of the late 90s, made better-looking and playable on modern TVs? All in a $99.99 package that looks like a tiny version of the original PlayStation we all remember and love? It sounds like an easy recipe for success.
Unfortunately, a strange mishmash of games and disappointing software presentation mean the PlayStation Classic doesn't really do justice to the classic PlayStation.
A Classic Design
The PlayStation Classic is a scaled-down gray block of a console measuring 1.3 by 5.6 by 4.0 inches (HWD), about half the size of the original PlayStation.
Sony reproduced the contours of its first game system with the same attention to detail Nintendo gave the NES and Super NES Classic Editions, including the prominent round optical drive door (non-functioning) on the top, molded memory card slots (also non-functioning) above the controller ports, and even the vertical ridges along the sides.
The paint job is also immaculate, with a dark gray Sony logo and four-color PlayStation logo on the drive door, green and blue text for the Power and Open buttons, and the words Memory Card printed neatly on the recess of the memory card slots.
It's a gorgeous device for classic console fans, just as worthy of shelf space as the Nintendo systems.
The Power, Open, and Reset buttons on the top of the console work similarly to the buttons on the original PlayStation, with some obvious tweaks to accommodate an emulation-based system with no optical drive.
The Power button turns the system on and off, making the indicator light under it switch from amber to green when it's running.
The Reset button jumps back from whatever game you're playing to the main menu, just like the Reset buttons on the NES and SNES Classics.
The Open button opens a disc change menu, letting you change discs when prompted while playing multi-disc titles like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid.
The controller ports on the front aren't scaled-down versions of the nine-pin ports on the original system, but instead recessed USB-A ports (that are completely obscured by the thoughtful plastic caps Sony put on the ends of the included controllers to look just like the gray plastic tabs of the originals).
The back holds a micro USB port for power and an HDMI port (cables are included, but no wall adapter; the system requires at least 1A of current, so your TV's USB port might not be enough).
The PlayStation Classic comes with two full-sized PlayStation controllers.
These are old-school gamepads, from before Sony released the original DualShock controllers to replace them halfway through the console generation.
This means they have no rumble and, more importantly, no analog sticks.
You have a direction pad, four face buttons, four shoulder buttons, Start and Select buttons, and that's it.
It's a shame, because several games on the PlayStation Classic support the DualShock controller.
Nintendo figured out that an analog stick was better than a direction pad for navigating in 3D when it launched the Nintendo 64, but Sony took a few years after the PlayStation was released to come to the same conclusion (though to be fair, Nintendo didn't realize the value of dual analog sticks until the GameCube).
The controllers have five-foot cables similar to the SNES Classic's controllers; longer than the bizarrely short NES Classic cables, but still inconvenient if your couch is a decent distance from your TV.
20 games from the original PlayStation are included on the PlayStation Classic, and it's a very strange mix of big names and esoteric hits.
The three most notable games are Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, and Resident Evil: Director's Cut.
They represent a massive shift in how video games were seen, and were some of the most significant first steps toward embracing 3D games after decades of sprite-based 2D gameplay.
They're shaky first steps, especially when compared with their sequels and remakes, but in the late '90s they were the vanguards of modern gaming.
Tekken 3 and Battle Arena Toshinden represent fighting games on the PlayStation Classic, with the puzzling lack of any 2D fighters at all.
The PlayStation wasn't the biggest system for 2D fighting games, but the fact that neither Street Fighter Alpha 3 nor Darkstalkers are present, but Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo is, is downright baffling.
Speaking of which, the Classic includes some genuinely excellent puzzle games, like the aforementioned SPFIIT, Mr.
Driller, and Intelligent Qube.
Besides Final Fantasy VII, the Classic's RPG selection also features Wild Arms and Revelations: Persona.
Wild Arms is a beloved role-playing game that uses sprite-based art like 16-bit RPGs instead of Final Fantasy VII's 3D models.
Revelations: Persona is the first game in the now wildly popular Persona sub-series of the Shin Megami Tensei series, and it's pretty archaic compared with the more modern Persona games.
In that respect, it's similar to another game on the PlayStation Classic—Grand Theft Auto.
Like Persona, Grand Theft Auto is an extremely popular series that only really caught on with its third installment on the PlayStation 2.
To most fans, Persona 3 and Grand Theft Auto 3 are the first "modern" takes on their respective series, and the previous installments are effectively obsolete.
Racing and sports fans will be disappointed by the PlayStation Classic.
The system features Cool Boarders 2, Destruction Derby, Ridge Racer Type 4, and Twisted Metal.
That's a snowboarding game, two racing games, and a vehicle combat game, and neither racing game is a Gran Turismo or a Wipeout.
There are no Madden or Tony Hawk games, either.
Action games are an odd hodgepodge, with two more baffling omissions.
Stealth and shooter fans get Syphon Filter and Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, 2D platformer and exploration fans get Oddworld: Abe's Oddysey and Rayman, and 3D platformer fans get…Jumping Flash.
I have a soft spot for Jumping Flash and would love to see Robbit return in a modern remake or reboot, but Robbit isn't Crash Bandicoot or Spyro the Dragon.
For that matter, neither Gabe Logan nor anyone in the Rainbow Six team is Lara Croft.
This is a "classic" machine that doesn't have a Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, or Tomb Raider game.
For any gamer who remembers the late '90s, that's absurd.
Jagged Polygons and Muddy Sprites
Beyond missing games, Sony built the PlayStation Classic with a fatal flaw: It's an upscaling 720p system.
Every game renders at the PlayStation's native resolution (480i) and upconverts to 720p.
At that point, it relies on your TV to upconvert the video further to 1080p or 4K (depending on your TV).
That's two massive jumps in upscaling from a rendered resolution that's a tiny fraction of what your television is capable of.
Emulators can work wonders with old 3D games.
Whether they're lazy Steam ports or legally dubious console emulators, rendering 3D games at 1080p (or the native resolution of your display) makes them look worlds better.
The textures might still be blocky, but the contours of polygons end up looking clean and smooth, which greatly helps improve the look and feel of the game.
Rendering older games at a higher resolution than they originally were released in instead of relying on two massive jumps in upconversion to can make old titles look new again (as fans of Mario 64 emulated at 4K can attest).
Even 2D games can look excellent on modern screens with the right emulation settings and upconversion, as Nintendo's classic game systems have shown with their pristinely upconverted pixels.
The PlayStation Classic doesn't bother to do this, which results in extremely jaggy, ugly polygons and smeared, fuzzy sprites.
That the sprite-based Rayman on the PlayStation Classic looks far worse than Super Mario World on the SNES Classic due to muddy sprites is simply unacceptable.
Puzzlingly, the PlayStation Classic doesn't offer any graphics options.
You can't toggle any smoothing effect or simulated scanlines, or even change the aspect ratio.
All games are simply upconverted to 720p and displayed in 4:3 with black pillar boxing on the sides.
There aren't even any frames you can use to perk up the pillar boxing, like the NES and SNES Classics' different skins.
The presentation simply looks lackluster.
The games run just as well as they did on the original PlayStation, for better or worse.
Tekken 3 is still a fantastic game, but after Tekken 6 it feels very sluggish and floaty.
Final Fantasy VII is a classic I still go back to every so often, but controlling Cloud with only a direction pad and no analog stick feels very imprecise.
Metal Gear Solid holds up as a cinematic 3D reimagining of the original Metal Gear, but after playing MGSV: The Phantom Pain, MGS3: Snake Eater, and even MGS2: Sons of Liberty, the tactical espionage action feels stilted.
The only emulation trick you'll see with games on the PlayStation Classic is the now-standard save state system.
Pressing the Reset button jumps from whatever game you're playing to the main menu, automatically saving your position if it's the first time you're playing the game or asking whether you want to overwrite the position if you already have a state saved.
There's only one save state slot per game, a step down from the four slots the NES and SNES Classic offer.
The PlayStation Classic uses the open source PCSX ReARMed emulator to run its games.
PCSX ReARMed is an ARM-compatible fork of the PCSX Reloaded emulator, which itself is a form of the PCSX emulator that ceased development in 2003.
Barring the seemingly minimal modifications Sony made to run the emulator on the PlayStation Classic, this is a nearly four-year-old emulator with almost all options and features stripped out.
PCSX and its forks are very stable emulators with wide compatibility, but the use of open source and the barebones implementation of the emulator feel like Sony didn't put nearly as much effort into the PlayStation Classic's software as it did its physical design.
On the bright side, the use of an open source emulator almost certainly ensures that modders will be able to eventually load their own PlayStation ROMs onto the system, as they've done with the NES and SNES Classic.
Of course, the process of acquiring those ROMs and implementing the modifications to use them has its own technical and legal hurdles, and is certainly not supported by Sony.
Not Quite a Classic
The Sony PlayStation Classic could have been another must-have nostalgia game system, celebrating the fifth console generation as faithfully as the NES Classic celebrates the third and the SNES Classic celebrates the fourth.
Unfortunately, Sony made too many bizarre and disappointing choices with the system for it to feel worthwhile to die-hard fans.
The three biggest games (Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, and Resident Evil) already have ports, remasters, or remakes that look better than they do on the PlayStation Classic.
The other games depend on taste, and the full list has too many major holes to be considered a faithful compilation of classic PlayStation titles.
Add a lazy presentation that makes almost no effort to make these early 3D games look better than they did at 480i 20 years ago, and pre-DualShock controllers that make several of the games on the system feel worse to play than they should, and you have a miniature PlayStation that looks good, but only until you turn it on.
Sony could have done so much more here with just a little extra effort put into the emulation code and presentation, and a little more thought put into the game list.
To be clear, the PlayStation Classic isn't a bad retro game system.
But considering the original PlayStation's legacy, it's a disappointing one.
The Bottom Line
A strange selection of games and muddy upscaling keep the PlayStation Classic mini retro game system from doing Sony's first console justice.