It has been a few months since Sony announced they were following in Nintendo’s path of releasing a small, cutesy, plastic, emulator box to the world hoping to revel in some fraction of the prosperity Nintendo set up with its NES Classic and later with the SNES Classic. It’s been a few weeks since Playstation finally revealed the full list of 20 games that will appear on the system after initially just releasing a handful of games when the Classic was announced. There are clear omissions from the list (seriously we’re not including Castlevania SoTN here Sony?), there are odd inclusions that I find it hard to believe conjure up much impact on the nostalgia front with the likes of the original Persona game and Battle Arena Toshinden (though I’m glad they are included), and there are some true elite tier classics like Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII, and Resident Evil. But my confusion with this things’ existence has nothing to do with the games they decided to include or leave off. It’s certainly not confusing to understand why they’d want to take a stab at this market after Nintendo has had nothing but success and Microsoft is still relatively too new and absent the library to consider any type of “classic” console (not to mention you can play many of their old titles with backwards compatibility). My confusion comes with what they are trying to sell at the price they are trying to sell it at.
In many ways, modern gaming has its roots soaked in the essence of the PS1. They standardized 3D gaming, moving to cheaper and easier CD formats, constructing the basic form of what controllers have been for the past 20+ years among many other things. Sony’s first PlayStation was a landmark moment in this business I have endless interest in. Sony was trying to break into a new industry that was dominated by Nintendo and to a lesser extent Sega and knocked it out of the park with the original PlayStation. The initial showing of the system made quite evident that Sony had figured some shit out and provided a platform that moved the home gaming output forward in ways Nintendo failed with the Nintendo 64 and Sega utterly failed with the Sega Saturn. The PS1 is steeped in important history and truly classic experiences never experienced with a home console before. The main problem is, this era of games is the era that has aged out the worst. SNES and NES games still work today because the limited art assets available never tried to invoke realism which allows games like Super Mario World to visually stand out, unlike a game like Jumping Flash, which was sort of an astounding tech demo thing early for the PS1 but looks like a 5-year-old dropped a bunch of polygonal shapes onto a blank Microsoft Paint screen. Syphon Filter looks like someone digitized a generic action figure from the Dollar Store and had him run around a diorama with printed out JPEGs attached to the cardboard walls. At the time it was amazing controlling an action game in 3D and nobody was complaining about the visuals because this is what top of the class realistic graphics looked like. The games are a hard sell to younger gamers that may have missed the PS1 in the ’90s and simply don’t hold up like the 8 and 16 bit systems that preceded it.
Another appealing factor about the NES and SNES Classics was the controller was limited while providing everything needed for the games on those systems. The original PlayStation controller isn’t all that far off from the SNES controller, but it didn’t take long for Sony to realize that for the games they wanted on that system, finer control of the camera in 3D was needed which birthed the Dualshock controller providing dual analog sticks. This then created a controller with more than a dozen buttons and two sticks when not 5 years previous people were using a controller with essentially 2 buttons and directional control. It’s a big change from a fun thing that is easy to wrap your head around, to complex buttons everywhere having to control 2 joysticks. I know when trying to get my sister to play something she just leers at the controller with utter confusion, but if we break out the old NES she’s able to hop into a game of Super Mario Bros. because of the controller. So when Sony decided to include 2 controllers with this Classic it actually made sense to me why. They were trying to make it as easy looking as possible to appeal to the mainstream and/or kids perhaps playing their first games. Though the logic is easy to understand, it’s still a terrible decision. If you’re appealing to nostalgia, most kids that grew up with the PS1 used the Dualshock controller. Not using it for the Classic also limits the type of games you can include, so it’s not necessarily displaying the classic games from the console's lifespan, it’s limited to the games that work with the lesser controller. Also, while making the controller easy for the mainstream, not having the Dualshock is a non-starter for folks like myself from wanting this system at all.
There is no doubt that Sony considered both controller options and decided to go with the original controller because it was less intrusive looking, but I also have to assume that cost played a role in the decision too. I have absolutely no idea how much more it would have cost to manufacture controllers with sticks, but it probably would have ruined the selling price point. If they wanted to keep it under $100 (selling for $99.99) perhaps they needed to cut the Dualshock design to save money. I feel like a better solution would have been to not included controllers at all and allow the thing to accept a Dualshock 3 or 4 via USB connection and try to come in at the $60 - $75 range. That price to me, for what they are offering, makes it a more pliable impulse purchase or stocking stuffer material. Also, I have done rudimentary searches of Craigslist, LetGo, and Facebook Marketplace out of pure curiosity, and, you can find a PS3 Slim for like $60 or at least well under $100 used. And to those that may have forgotten, that thing plays PS1 discs on top of being able to play apps like Netflix and the like and Blu Rays. Not to mention the PS3 provides visual settings for PS1 games like smoothing (if you’re into that) that the Classic won’t have. My astringent advice for anyone interested in the PlayStation Classic would be to buy a PS3 for less money and have wireless Dualshock controllers that can play any PS1 game you’d like. If you paid $60 or $70 for a PS3 and walked into a used game store with $30-40 asking where their PS1 game section was, they would treat you like royalty, eagerly willing to unload whatever thousand of PS1 game stock are lining their shelves.
In the end, they are selling the worse PS1 hardware bundle that still comes in at $20 more than the SNES Classic which is loaded with all-time great games. And the games Nintendo forgot to include are, **ahem**, not difficult to include yourself. In fact, this lack of difficulty to all of sudden see Chrono Trigger magically appear on my SNES Classic was the reason I wanted a SNES Classic. While every game Nintendo decided to include stock on it were fantastic games in their own right, the software flexibility of the NES and SNES Classics was the real appeal to me. I have a hard time believing the PlayStation Classic won’t receive the same flexibility, but if the console only accepts the controllers bundled there’s kind of no point in that flexibility. Along with software flexibility, people are going to have to work on hardware flexibility with this thing to probably do what I mentioned before, accept USB inputs from Dualshock 3/4 controllers. The only thing I’m really interested in post-launch of Sony’s Classic offering is how easily and quickly will this thing get opened up allowing these necessary hacks to provide any value to this product.