On the 24th anniversary of the PlayStation’s release in Japan comes the PlayStation Classic, a micro-console created to cash in on growing nostalgia for Sony’s first ever system. Following in the footsteps of Nintendo’s own NES and SNES miniatures, this plug-and-play PSX comes bundled with 20 pre-loaded games, spanning iconic brands like Metal Gear Solid all the way through to cult classics like Intelligent Qube.

The product, which comes packaged with two non-DualShock controllers, is a no-brainer as a novelty – but there has been some concern that the Japanese giant hasn’t given it the love and attention it deserves, with reports of open source emulation and a sub-standard selection of software. So is this a celebratory slab of plastic – or a shameless cash grab? We’re going to break down everything you need to know about the petite platform in our PS Classic review.

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PS Classic Review: Hardware

As you can see from the images, the PS Classic is inspired by the original launch model PSX, rather than the 2000 hardware revision, the PSone. Despite being 45 per cent smaller in terms of pure size, the device is a meticulous recreation of the iconic console, including every ridge, icon, and detail. So exact is the replica that it even includes the Parallel Port flap around the rear, despite the underutilised input being removed from later revisions of the console in the late 90s and beyond.

There are two ports around the back of the unit: one for the Micro USB power cable, and the other for HDMI output. On the top of the unit are all three of the PSX’s buttons, with the Reset button used to create “restore points” in games (more on that later) and the Eject button used to simulate the disc changing functionality retained in titles like Final Fantasy VII. The main Power button obviously turns the system on and off, with the booting process taking seconds.

PS Classic: Contents

  • PlayStation Classic console
  • Two original PlayStation controllers
  • USB power cable
  • HDMI cable

The physical buttons can feel a little bit squishy, and the lightweight nature of the system itself means that it can seem a little cheap in the hands. This is mostly just the nature of the beast, though: the plastics employed are more or less identical to those used in the original hardware, it’s just without an optical disc drive or any kind of internals the unit is lighter than a couple of custard creams. This does make it highly portable, of course – you could carry it in your pocket if you really wanted to.

There are two controller ports on the front which creatively connect using USB as opposed to the proprietary ports of the original PlayStation; this means that there’s the potential to use either of the two included controllers with a PC if you’re able to obtain the right drivers, opening up new possibilities when using emulators. While the memory card slots are replicated on the front of the system for authenticity, the console itself has a mammoth amount of on-board storage, so there's no need for any expensive extras.

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Image: Sony Computer Entertainment

We should add that the packaging is a nostalgia trip in and of itself, as it’s inspired by the console’s original box. Despite being a fraction of the size, the use of yellow and black colouring will definitely take you back in time, and the unpacking process has been lovingly designed, with the inner-box revealing the diminutive device inside once you pull it free from the wrapping.

In addition to the console and two controllers, you get a USB cable and a standard HDMI lead – but no plug adapter. Technically you can plug the micro-console into any USB power source and it will function, including the PlayStation 4 or a PC. Alternatively, you can use the kind of standard USB plug adapter that comes with a smartphone. If you haven’t got a spare one of these lying around, they can be purchased for peanuts from Amazon, so do keep that in mind.

PS Classic Review: Controller

As mentioned earlier, the PS Classic comes with two original PlayStation controllers. The pads come with ample cable and connect to the front of the micro-console via USB. It’s worth stressing that these aren’t the DualShocks which Sony first introduced in 1997, so there are no analogue sticks or rumble functionality included in the controllers at all. This is disappointing because it rules out software like Ape Escape, and also means that titles like Syphon Filter must be played with the d-pad, which can be fiddly.

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Image: Sony Computer Entertainment

It’s still an iconic controller, though, and it’s been manufactured to the same standard as the original device. The smaller size does feel unusual when moving from the larger, more refined DualShock 4, but it’s true to the original and the authenticity is key here. Sony’s used the premium parts that you’d expect to find in an official PlayStation pad, so the split d-pad feels just as good as it does on the PS4’s controller, while the face buttons are equally satisfying to push.

The famous dual shoulder buttons are also intact, though true to the original design once more the L2 and R2 buttons are slivers rather than the wider buttons that would later be adopted by the DualShock 2. Without any rumble functionality the controller feels extremely light, which can make it feel cheap, but the plastic is robust and it doesn’t creak or bend in the hands. Ultimately, it’s not the most comfortable controller in the world these days, but it’s more than capable of getting the job done.

PS Classic: Installation, Setup, and Operation

As a plug-and-play console, the PS Classic succeeds in taking seconds to get setup. All you need to do is power it via USB and hook it up to your television’s HDMI port, and you’re pretty much good to go. Upon playing the PSone’s bone rattling start sound, you’ll be greeted with a short instructional menu explaining how the physical buttons on the device itself work, and once you exit out of that you’re pretty much free to boot any of the 20 bundled games.

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There are no real settings or options to fiddle with here: you can enable a screensaver which will dim the screen after five minutes of no activity, which can help with burn-in on certain television screens. There’s also a power saving option you can enable which will shut the system down after a set period of time should you accidentally leave it running. Other than that there’s license information, and not a whole lot else to see in the menus.

Those of you expecting basic emulation features like the ability to stretch the games from their native 4:3 format to a widescreen 16:9 ratio may be disappointed to learn that there isn’t anything like that, although most televisions these days will crudely handle that for you. Naturally, there are no fancy border options either, and the PS Classic can’t connect to the Internet, so there are no Trophies or leaderboards. You can’t connect to the PS Store either, so don’t expect to download more games.

The user interface itself, while garish, has been themed after the original PSone’s menu screens, so you get multi-coloured buttons on top of a 90s spherical gradient. There’s an argument that Sony could have done more here, creating a flashier menu system that better represents each game, but we actually appreciate the attempt at aping the original PlayStation’s dashboard, and it’s incredibly efficient to use, getting you in and out of games in a flash.

The micro-console outputs in 720p at 60 frames-per-second, and while image quality purists may balk at the resolution, it’s worth remembering that the games have been untouched, and therefore output at sub-HD quality. In most games, pre-rendered videos retain the artifacting and compression caused by squeezing them onto the PSone's original CD-ROMS, and therefore you’re looking at seriously grainy footage. Honestly, you’ll either find this aspect endearing or archaic.

Each game also comes with its own individual memory card, so you have absolute mountains of space with which to store your games. One neat trick is that each time you push the Reset button on the hardware itself, a temporary “restore point” will be created on the micro-console, meaning that you’ll be able to pick up your progress later without needing to save again. You only get one of these, however, and they can be overwritten, so be mindful of that.

PS Classic Review: All Games and Software

When building the original PlayStation, creator Ken Kutaragi embarked upon squeezing technology ordinarily reserved for highly expensive computing rigs into a consumer electronic. Many dismissed the idea, but after a failed collaboration with Nintendo, the president of Sony at the time allowed Kutaragi and his team to continue working on the system in secret. It was an engineering marvel, which changed the face of video games forever.

PS Classic: Full Games List

For more on all the PlayStation Classic's games, click through the link.

Much has been written about the PS Classic’s software lineup, which is lacking iconic brands such as Crash Bandicoot, Gran Turismo, and Tomb Raider. However, there’s an argument that the PSone’s library is so vast and diverse that a mere selection of 20 titles could never please absolutely everyone; this author grew up on a diet of MediEvil, Theme Hospital, and WipEout, while others got their gaming education from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Chrono Cross, and Vagrant Story.

Whatever your thoughts on the micro-console’s library, there are some stone cold classics included here: Metal Gear Solid – the tactical espionage action title from Hideo Kojima – is present and intact, its crude polygonal visuals lending a je ne sais quoi to the cinematic ambition of the release; Resident Evil: Director’s Cut, with its hammy script and grainy voice acting, is still very much a survival horror masterclass; Final Fantasy VII, with its pre-rendered backdrops, is just as inviting some 20 years later.

But there’s no doubt that the rudimentary 3D visuals of the PSone have aged ungracefully, especially when compared to the slick sprites of the 16-bit era. In games like Battle Arena Toshinden, a launch title for the PlayStation – and not a very good one at that – you can almost slit your wrists on the jagged edges, as boxy character models float around pixelated arenas. Similarly in titles like platformer Jumping Flash!, it can be difficult to distinguish details such is the extent of the dithering.

But there’s a definite charm to these basic looks: Destruction Derby impresses for a 1995 title with the sheer amount of activity occurring on screen, while fellow racing game Ridge Racer Type 4 simply feels fast and responsive – something that many of the earlier PSone titles like Rayman struggle with, due to a hefty degree of input lag. Cool Boarders 2, developed in Japan by UEP Studios, controls similarly sloppily – but its ostentatious anime style makes up for its shortcomings.

The action games have aged the worst. To be fair, Syphon Filter, the spy game from eventual Days Gone developer Sony Bend, is a surprisingly enjoyable third-person shooter, with its multi-faceted missions clearly inspired by GoldenEye 007 at the time. You can almost taste the Uncharted in the set-piece sequences, and playing it back-to-back with the original Grand Theft Auto – a cumbersome, unwieldy open world arcade game – it’s hard to believe what Rockstar’s series has gone on to become.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, a first-person shooter with a tactical twist, is perhaps the most curious addition on the list; there are some likeable ideas here – like the fact that you can switch between operatives on the fly and design your own mission techniques – but it just doesn’t feel like a classic in any sense of the word. The same could perhaps be said of Twisted Metal, which was the poster child of the mid-90s car combat boom – although was massively improved upon by subsequent sequels.

Tekken 3 – an iconic fighting game at the time – deserves its place among the PS Classic’s roster, but it too feels slow and unwieldy compared to the fluidity of modern fighting games. It’s actually the puzzle games that fare best, then: Intelligent Qube looks basic but it’s got a nice concept, while Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo is perhaps the most overlooked inclusion here, transposing all of the pizzazz of Capcom’s one-on-one brawler to a tightly executed colour matching contest.

The remaining games, like Mr. Driller and Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, are recognisable but perhaps somewhat uninspiring inclusions – and the same could be said for the JRPG options in Revelations: Persona and Wild Arms. You definitely get a taste of the origins of Atlus’ mega-franchise in the former, while the latter carefully bridges the gap between SNES era role-playing games and a new-fangled polygonal future, but you can’t help feeling that there could have been better picks here.

Ultimately, though, we reckon Sony’s done an adequate enough job of mixing-and-matching genres and countries of origin to effectively showcase the diversity of the PSone’s catalogue. There are a handful of titles here that feel like they’re padding, and none of the games necessarily hold up to modern scrutiny, but as a snapshot of the PlayStation, it’s not bad – albeit lacking when it comes to some of the console’s biggest and best household names.

We should note that all of the games appear to run and play as we remember them, although Digital Foundry addicts may want to look elsewhere for a more technical analysis of how the titles perform. It’s curious that some of the games utilise PAL code while others are licensed by Sony Computer Entertainment America – especially seeing as there appears to be no real rhyme or reason to it. This does, inexplicably, mean mean that some of the software isn't in its optimal condition, although only real audio-visual aficionados will be able to tell.

Update: There's a thorough technical analysis on Digital Foundry now, which you can read through here. The results aren't pretty but it's perhaps worth maintaining perspective: these types of articles are extremely thorough and the average player shouldn't really be deterred by them. That said, it's clear that the emulation could have been better, and the inclusion of PAL releases is an inexplicable oversight.

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Image: Sony Computer Entertainment

PS Classic Review: Should You Buy It?

As a plug-and-play micro-console, the PS Classic is generally successful at achieving what it sets out to do – but there’s an argument that Sony could have done more here. The device looks good, and it does exactly what it says on its nostalgic box: it takes you back to the nineties and allows you to play some of the defining experiences from the era in their original guise. The hardware’s well made, and the user interface is basic but functional.

By limiting itself to just 20 games, the same as competing miniature systems, the Japanese giant was always going to have its work cut out delivering a library that accurately reflects the PlayStation generation, and while key titles like Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil: Director’s Cut are present here, others like Crash Bandicoot and Tomb Raider are unfortunately absent. In the case of Gran Turismo and WipEout, with their licensed music, this is understandable; others less so.

You could make a case that Sony could have built something on a much grander scale than the likes of Nintendo here, enabling access to the PS Store for future expandability and even including online functionality in the form of Trophies and leaderboards – but all of this would have added to the overall price of the system. As a relatively cheap, cheerful stocking stuffer, there’s more than enough nostalgia bundled in here to please players for a few weeks.

So it depends what you’re hoping to get out of it. We’ve had fun cycling through the software, reliving lines like the “master of unlocking” and commentating with family and friends how far PlayStation has come. While you can play through all of the games in their entirety, it does feel like this product – similarly to its contemporaries – is banking on novelty. And as novelties go, if you grew up with a PSone like so many millions did, the PS Classic offers a fine trip down a poorly textured memory lane.

[ Photography: PlayStation Blog ]

Will you be buying the PS Classic? Which games are most looking forward to playing on the micro-console? Do you have any questions about the system? Go back to 1999 in the comments section below.