Can anyone command the same amount of fervour and excitement for a retro mini console as Nintendo? It’s something that Sony are trying to put to the test with the PlayStation Classic, but with mixed success. After our recent hands on preview with the console, we’ve now got an adorable little original PlayStation to review, but can it change our opinion?
Long story short: no. Really, when a system like this pushes this close to the £100 barrier, it’s going to start depending on the games that are on the system, and the PlayStation Classic sadly comes up short. Now this isn’t entirely Sony’s fault; original publishers will have gone bankrupt, rights to reproduction can have been lost over time, and music licenses from the dawn of disc-based video games will be an almighty pain to renew for certain titles. So, sure, that might be why there’s no Gran Turismo or Rollcage, but what of Spyro, Crash or Tomb Raider? You simply have to look to the PlayStation Store to find many of the missing, but no less iconic games available to download and play on PS3, PSP or PS Vita.
That said, the selection of games does still tick a lot of boxes. You’ve got Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII and Syphon Filter, Ubisoft is represented with Rayman and Rainbow Six, there’s Tekken 3, GTA, Ridge Racer 4, Resident Evil Director’s Cut. The omissions also make room for games like Wild Arms, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, and Revelations: Persona and Intelligent Qube, not to mention the bizarre first person platforming of Jumping Flash.
While the roster is lacking in some areas, the actual hardware is fantastic. The form of the PlayStation Classic has been perfectly shrunk down – it’s actually smaller than the mini SNES – and it goes right down to the vents on the bottom and the detailing of a fake Parallel port cover on the back. There’s a satisfying feel to the power, reset (to return to the main menu) and open (used for software disc switching) buttons on the top. The controller ports have been replaced with basic USB, while around the back are micro USB for power and HDMI for a straightforward connection to a modern TV.
You get two controllers in the box, styled after the original PlayStation controller – no, not the Dual Analogue or DualShock controllers, sadly – and they’re perfect recreations, again with great button feel and a lightness that harks back to their simplicity. The problem, as with all of these retro controllers, is that the cables are too short. At around 1.4m, you’re forced to sit pretty close to the TV, with the console itself caught at the median of HDMI, power and controller cables. Thankfully, unlike Nintendo’s mini consoles, you’re looking for a standard USB extension lead to get a bit more distance.
We haven’t cracked it open, but inside the box is a mobile ARM chipset running games through the open source emulator PCSX ReARMed. It uses this for 1:1 emulation. There’s no running these games at a higher resolution, there’s no anti-aliasing, no enhanced texture filtering, just a straight up emulation. That’s from one point of view, but when these games were running as low as 244p on small CRT screens and are now being blown up onto TVs a dozen times bigger, you can feel it a lot more than with the 2D pixel art that the NES and SNES leant on. A lot of the games actually hold up rather well despite the aliasing, but given the possibilities that 3D emulators offer to clean up the games being played, it’s a shame they couldn’t be taken.
The system software is pretty straightforward too, with just a carousel of games to pick, a single snapshot save per game (compared to the four snapshots you can make on the SNES mini), and not much else. There’s no screen filters or colourful borders that you often find on these kinds of emulators, for one, and you don’t even have the game manuals on the system, instead being sent off to a website to view them on your phone.
What’s going to be most interesting, going forward, is seeing if and how the consoles can be opened up by users, in the same way that the NES and SNES minis were. There might be certain options to tweak in the emulation, there could be ways to sideload games onto it (so long as you legally own the discs, of course), and create the mini console that the PlayStation really deserves. Alternatively, if you’ve still got a PS3, PSP, PS Vita or even a PSTV, you might get more mileage from a trip to the PlayStation Store.
This is really meant as a stocking filler for Christmas, and there’s just enough nostalgia to warrant that, even if it feels a bit dear at £90 and you’ll be thinking of the classics that didn’t turn up to the party.