The strangest thing about the PlayStation Classic is trying to figure out the controls for games from the mid-90s. Will Ridge Racer use the shoulder buttons to accelerate? Why does the GTA guy move like a tank? And how on Earth am I meant to shoot the bad guys in Syphon Filter?
These days we have the luxury of established conventions, of analogue sticks and triggers that are clearly the only option for certain functions, but back in the 90s as developers were exploring the new frontier of 3D game development, it seems like anything and everything went. It’s a big part of the nostalgia that the PlayStation Classic can invoke as you delve into its roster of 20 games.
Unfortunately, that’s the first sticking point that many will have for a retro console that’s meant to bring back the console’s heyday. Where’s Tomb Raider? Where’s Croc? Why no Spyro or Gran Turismo? The twenty games on the machine cover a lot of bases, but as we established with all of ten seconds of effort, it feels nowhere near as close to being a comprehensive collection as Nintendo’s NES and SNES Classic Minis. Whatever the reasons, whether it’s music or vehicle licensing, it’s allowed for some clear oddities on the list. I’d personally never even heard of the Jumping Flash or Battle Arena Toshinden, and even when Sony have had to pick between packing in an original or sequel, it’s only raised more questions. Why Tekken 3, but the original Grand Theft Auto?
What it does have going for it is looks. This thing is adorable, easily a tenth of the size of the original PlayStation console, and featuring all three working buttons on the face with a satisfying amount of travel to them. Power and Reset do pretty much what you’d expect, turning it on and taking you back to the console’s main menu. The disc open button is more mysterious though. There’s no disc flap that can physically open (though I do think there should be with a little disc spinning round inside for no reason whatsoever), but it does have a purpose, to let you switch discs in the games, like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid, that need it.
On the front you’ve got what, at first glance, looks like the old combination of controller and memory card ports, but again, it’s mainly stylistic chrome, with the PlayStation controllers now ending in USB. Round the back, there’s a micro-USB port for power (no power brick is supplied, disappointingly) and HDMI output.
While the console itself looks the part, the same can’t really be said of the games. Though the console outputs at 720p, the games all run at the original 244p resolutions upscaled. When these games were being played on tiny 14″ CRT TVs, they were at the cutting edge, but blow that up to a modern 32″ or higher LCD TV and they do suffer from aliasing and shimmering textures. While it might be too much to ask of a mini console such as this, it’s still a shame that the emulation wizardry we see so often on PC and other consoles couldn’t be used to increase the render resolution, add texture filtering and enhance these games. Even on the more chintzy side of things, you’ve no options to fiddle with adding a background to replace the black borders around the 4:3 image or even slap faux CRT scan lines on the image.
The main system interface is similarly functional, with the 20 games presented on a carousel. Each is given a virtual memory card to access and when backing out of a game you’re given the option to create a resume point, allowing you to slip in and out and skip any loading times that remain on the console – I personally cannot wait for an inevitable Digital Foundry’s side-by-side loading time analysis.
But really it all comes down to the games. Without the likes of WipEout, Tomb Raider, Gran Turismo, Spyro, Crash and so many of the other games that helped make the PlayStation such a landmark console, it feels a tad disappointing. There’s still some great games on here, from Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII and the chaos of Destruction Derby, to grabbing a friend to play Tekken 3 or Street Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, but it feels like there’s something missing.