First Impressions of the PlayStation Classic

Classic? Hardly. Panned by critics and gamers for falling well short of their expectations, the PlayStation Classic has failed to find an audience. Even after the price drops and promotions, these mini consoles continue to collect dust on store shelves.

But is the PlayStation Classic truly worth dodging at all costs? Once I saw the console on sale at 75% off its original retail price, I decided to buy one. Figured at that price, it’s at least a functional mini console with a few all-time greats, such as Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid. With greatly-reduced expectations and purchased at a price that won’t break the bank, I skim what it has to offer to see if the unit has any merit.

Roughly sharing the same scale as the NES Classic and the SNES Classic, the PlayStation Classic is a cute device that fits in the palm of your hand. One of the most curious touches to the device is that the Open button triggers the same disc tray open error that the original did, even though the mini doesn’t open. I wonder if it’s there for the sake of authenticity, or if it’s required in order to leverage the source code for each game. Either way, it’s one of the few places where this mini console goes all the way to maintain its authenticity.

Unfortunately, that attention to detail doesn’t manifest itself across most of the package. Though I have not spent much time with the PS1 controller, it immediately felt off when I held it. Passing it over to my wife – whose all-time fave console is the PS1 – confirmed that sentiment. Comparing it to her original controller, the one that comes with the PS Classic feels lighter and seems to be made of a cheaper-feeling plastic. The controller is perfectly functional, but it’s inauthentic feel is noticeable to even a passerby like me.

Also, why does this console come with the original controller design instead of the trailblazing DualShock? Besides being the template for modern controller design, its exclusion limited what games could be ported to this console. Certain games, such as Ape Escape, were unable to make the jump due to the exclusion of the DualShock.

Turning on the console will greet you to the iconic boot screen that triggered all of the feels from my wife when she heard it. After that, you’re dropped into a garish menu. You get access to the console’s 20 games, its virtual memory card, only one save state per game (not to be confused with traditional save files generated by the game itself) and not much else. Only one save state is disappointing, especially when Nintendo’s mini consoles offer four per game. You also don’t get any sort of display options. Every game is presented in 4:3, with no options for stretching the image to 16:9 or borders to at least fill up the blank space when playing in 4:3.

Cut corners with the console’s build quality or feature set would be easier to swallow if the console’s 20-game lineup was stronger. Considering how legendary of a library the PS1 has, that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Well…

I’m willing to give some leeway here. Much of the PlayStation’s success came from third-party games. Getting everyone on board requires navigating a minefield of legal red tape, especially in cases like Gran Turismo or Tony Hawk where the licensing for certain people, cars, or music have long expired. I also understand that it’s impossible to appease everyone with one set of 20 games.

Unfortunately, what we ultimately got is a lopsided mix of deep cuts, legitimate classics, a lot of filler, and even more questions about games that failed to make the cut. For reference, here’s the full list:

  • Battle Arena Toshinden
  • Cool Boarders 2
  • Destruction Derby
  • Final Fantasy VII
  • Grand Theft Auto
  • Intelligent Qube
  • Jumping Flash
  • Metal Gear Solid
  • Mr Driller
  • Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
  • Rayman
  • Resident Evil Director’s Cut
  • Revelations: Persona
  • Ridge Racer Type 4
  • Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
  • Syphon Filter
  • Tekken 3
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six
  • Twisted Metal
  • Wild Arms

In a vacuum, that’s not the worst list. Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII, Resident Evil, Twisted Metal, Tekken 3, and Rayman are slam dunks. Intelligent Qube, Jumping Flash, Syphon Filter, and Battle Arena Toshinden are neat relics that never lived beyond the PS1 era. Heck, I’m even okay with the inclusion of Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo over any other Street Fighter game of that era, as ports of Capcom’s 2D fighters at the time often took a dip in performance relative to their arcade counterparts.

But then you start to think about the notable absences and what they’ve been replaced with. No Crash Bandicoot? Tomb Radier? Spyro the Dragon? Parappa the Rapper? The list could go on and you can’t ignore it. I’m sorry PS1 version of Rainbow Six, but it’s a cringe-worthy inclusion considering what got left behind.

Worse yet, almost half of these games are their PAL versions, which are notorious for running slower than their NTSC counterparts. Because of this, you’re getting the versions of Resident Evil, Grand Theft Auto, and Tekken 3 among others that probably play worse than how you remember them.

My experience with Tekken is limited, but I know enough to realize that playing the PS Classic version of Tekken 3 felt off. The sensation is like fighting through molasses and I don’t ever want to do that again. You can compare the top video running on original hardware, versus my video below from the PS Classic and see the difference. Certain PAL games hold up better than others, but at its worst, using the PAL version of certain games like Battle Arena Toshinden and Tekken 3 render them unplayable for me.

There is a fix to this issue, but only if you have certain keyboards. It’s been proven that plugging a Corsair K75 keyboard into the PlayStation Classic and hitting the escape key opens a hidden menu that allows you to switch to the NTSC versions of PAL games. However, that keyboard is almost $200 US and most other keyboards won’t open the menu. Sadly, I did not win the keyboard lottery, as mine was unable to open it.

I’m almost more upset that this “option” is even in the console if you can only access it through specific keyboards. If one truly believed that the PAL version was the way to go, only give us access to the PAL version. If one wants us to freely switch between the two, make it an easy option that doesn’t require us to go beyond the bounds of what a gamer would expect to use in order to utilize their gaming hardware to the fullest. How it works now is asinine.

If you’re like me and you’re completely off-put at the idea of playing the PAL versions of these games, then you’ve been reduced to a much shorter lineup. Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Twisted Metal, Rayman, and a few deep cuts. I played a bit of Rayman and really enjoyed it, even if it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be. Never played Mr. Driller before, so that’s been a pleasant surprise. At some point, I will finally cross Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear off my bucket list.

Regardless of how much I paid for it, I can’t help but feel disappointed in the PlayStation Classic. From the cut corners on the controller, to the sparse feature set, to the questionable lineup of games, to the maddening mix of PAL and NTSC games that compromises half of the titles in a big way, it doesn’t even do the few things it attempts to do well. At the bargain basement price I paid for it, this investment will probably be worth it in the end by the time I play through the handful of NTSC games I actually want to play. I still won’t feel good about having paid for the privilege of playing these games as part of this particular package though.


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3 thoughts on “First Impressions of the PlayStation Classic

  1. Pete Davison May 15, 2019 / 12:32 PM

    This whole thing was a real disaster. I have no idea how they managed to get it so wrong, but at least people are getting on with modding it and adding new games to it — and it’s cheap to get on board with that now!

    • Jett May 15, 2019 / 1:08 PM

      It would have been fascinating to sit in those meetings to see how they got to this point.

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