Nostalgia for retro consoles has been growing over the last several years. Nintendo kicked off a wave of plug-and-play style systems with 2016's NES Classic Edition, and followed up with last year's equally popular SNES Classic. Now Sony is throwing its hat into the ring with the PlayStation Classic, a small console that includes a collection of 20 original PlayStation games, set for launch on December 3. We spent some time with the system and have early impressions of the hardware, the menu system, and of the included library of games.
If you own an NES or SNES Classic, the PlayStation Classic will be very familiar to you. It's a miniature version of the original 1994 system, featuring an HDMI port and Micro-USB for power in the back, and a slot for two controllers in the front. The back of the console even features a nod to the first system's back panel with a non-functioning parallel port cover. The system also features the standard three physical buttons, some of which have been given slightly different uses. The power button does what you'd expect; it turns the system on and off. Just like Nintendo's systems, the reset button brings you back to the main menu.
However, the open disc button is where things get interesting. The original button on the PlayStation would open the optical disc tray, but it's now used for games that have multiple discs, allowing you to swap to the next one when prompted to by the game. It's certainly neat that Sony found a way to emulate the physical act of switching discs, rather then just having it happen automatically. It's also a nice reminder of how things were back in the day when some games were just too big for one disc.
As for the controllers, the classic Playstation pads now plug in via USB. These are the original gamepads that came before the DualShock, meaning they don't feature analog sticks or rumble support. We brought one of the original controllers with us for comparison and the classic's version feels very faithful. It's just a touch lighter in weight and the buttons feel more clicky, but that's probably because we are comparing them to a 20-year-old controller that's seen lots of use. Sony has stated, however, that other devices won't be usable, and you won't be able to use the included controllers elsewhere.
It's somewhat admirable of Sony for wanting to stick to the nostalgia of the original hardware, though you won't much argument against the clear improvements that Dualshock offered over the original design, and it's disappointing that we won't have the option to play with analog sticks or rumble. In fact, without rumble, it will be impossible to fully appreciate iconic moments like the Psycho Mantis fight in Metal Gear Solid. This will be especially apparent when the villain attempts to read your memory card to look for save files from other Konami games--MGS is only one in the collection.
The game select screen features many callbacks to the original PlayStation's aesthetic, sporting a cool blue background and that memorable rainbow paint splatter behind the text. When it comes to settings, the Classic is very barebones. The system runs at 720p with no options for alternate resolutions or aspect ratio adjustments. There are no borders or filters either--so forget about simulating the scanline look that other retro consoles offer. While scanlines are often a novelty feature for classic game bundles, many of these games haven't aged gracefully, and an option to place a filter could help make them look less harsh. The PlayStation Classic is designed to just plug in and work with no fuss, which is respectable. Though if you were looking for a bit more control in your presentation, you're not gonna get it here.
Thankfully, the Playstation Classic has support for save states. When you quit out of a game with the reset button, a suspend save point is automatically created that you can use to pick up where you left off. Unlike the NES and SNES Classic there's only one suspend save slot and each time time you reset you're asked if you want to overwrite that save. There are, however, internal memory cards that function like the original system. They even use the same game icons from the classic PS1 memory card interface, which is a great little touch.
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The PlayStation Classic comes with 20 games, and when you consider that there were over 2,500 games released during the system's 10-year lifecycle, there's no way everyone's favorite games would make the cut. Of course, there are big names like Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII, Twisted Metal, Resident Evil Director's Cut, and even Tekken 3--which all hold up quite well. There are also some neat cult classics like Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, and Wild Arms.
Even with that in mind, we can't help but be a bit disappointed in the selection, which is missing iconic games like Crash Bandicoot, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Tomb Raider. Games such as Destruction Derby and Cool Boarders 2 are fine, but they don't really shine when compared to other classics in the lineup. Revelations: Persona is one of the more niche games in this batch, showing the bizarre beginnings of Atlus' JRPG series--which easily earns its spot in the collection. Unfortunately, many of these early 3D games haven't aged well, and your nostalgia is gonna be a big factor in your enjoyment for games like Rainbow Six or Jumping Flash.
Thankfully, in our brief time with the PlayStation Classic, the available games seemed to run as we remember them. Polygonal models hold up when scaled on a modern TV, but the same can't be said for certain UI and other static images. The rendered backgrounds in Resident Evil suffer and text in Ridge Racer Type 4 is so blown out it can be difficult to read. This isn't really the fault of the PlayStation Classic but rather further evidence of how poor some of the early games of the 3D era have aged. Again, this is a case where a scanline filter might have helped out.
Overall our early impressions were pretty mixed. The PlayStation Classic does exactly what it's supposed to do; let you play a limited selection of PlayStation games at 720p over HDMI. However, it does feel a bit barebones, especially with the lack of DualShock controllers. With that said, it certainly did a solid job of evoking that sense of nostalgia when first booting up the Playstation, with the iconic system startup theme bringing you right back to a very special era of gaming.
There's much more to come for our coverage on the Playstation Classic. Check back with us in the coming weeks for our deep dive with the mini console, where we'll put it through its paces and test out each game.