When the PlayStation released in 1995, the system represented a sea change in video games in everything from the way games were made to how they were marketed. The PlayStation brand represented game design without limits; a chance to reach into the game world and pull out the sparks of a revolution in gaming. Twenty years later, Sony is hoping to revitalize that nostalgia with its own take on a miniconsole, the PlayStation Classic, a tiny replica of the 1995 original pre-loaded with games from the console’s library. We got to go hands-on with the system for the first time ahead of its December release and test drive its set of chosen games.
Similar to other minconsoles like Nintendo’s own NES and SNES Classics, the actual design of the system hews as close as possible to the original console, complete with the same functional Power, Reset, and Tray Open buttons. Power turns the system on and off, while Reset is the only way to get you back to the home menu to select from the game library. While the Tray Open button doesn’t actually open the tray, as the molded plastic simply doesn’t have an opening there, it does change virtual discs when the game prompts you to do so. For the vast majority of games this won’t matter, but certain titles like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid required the player to swap out the discs, so this is the system’s way to handle that.
The back of the system also matches comparable miniconsoles, with a USB power port and an HDMI port, keeping it as simple as possible for people to plug-and-play the devices. While it can be plugged into a power outlet, the PlayStation Classic we got our hands on was plugged directly into the TV’s USB port for power.
Unlike other miniconsoles, however, the controller ports are not proprietary. While Nintendo reused connectors from its Wii Classic Controller on their systems, the PlayStation Classic’s controllers are simply USB standard sticking out of a stubby bit of plastic at the end of the wire. Sony told us that this doesn’t mean the controllers will be able to work natively on PC, nor will other PC controllers be able to work on the PlayStation Classic, though.
We compared the PlayStation Classic controllers with the original PlayStation controllers and found them to be identical in shape and weight. The biggest difference is the cord length and build. The original 1995 controller had a thicker cord that was also longer by about a foot. If you pulled the original PlayStation controller to its full extension when gaming 20 years ago, you’ll need to mentally adjust one foot closer to the TV.
In terms of menus, the PlayStation Classic is surprisingly barebones. The system’s interface is designed to mimic the original console to a fault, down to low-resolution fonts and rainbow-colored buttons for deleting memory card saves. The 20 games float in a circle over a blank purple screen without music or any frills. Each game does have a save state, as well as save management, which gives a virtual PlayStation memory card to each title to be handled individually. The charmingly low-res save icons from the original titles are still viewable, which means those who have a preferred save slot in Final Fantasy VII corresponding to their favorite character can still obtain that save icon.
The options are similarly frill-free, with pretty much nothing to adjust the experience of playing the games. The most customization comes in the form of a Screen Saver option to dim the screen after a period of inactivity, with options for language and power saving just below. There are no options for borders for the games, opting instead for black bars for each of the PlayStation’s 4:3 titles. You also won’t find any display options to stretch, play in the original resolution, or apply filters. While maybe not options most people would avail themselves of, their absence is noticeable.
There are still some cool aspects to the way the system plays games. When every game launches, the classic PlayStation booting sound fills your ears. For fans who really want a nostalgic experience, hitting power while a game is running and then turning the system back on boots the console back up to that game from the beginning, identical to when you powered the system on in the 90s.
Saving a state is also easy and you’re not going to end up in situations, like with the SNES Classic, where you accidentally fail to save your state after hitting the menu. When pressing the Reset button, a menu prompts you if you want to save the state and moving the menu away from it leaves the state there for you to save or dismiss. Trying to overwrite a save state prompts another message, so you could theoretically keep trying a tough part of a game and reloading the original save state if you wanted.
The games’ load times seem faster, which makes sense considering the data is not being read from a disc. For better or worse, however, the games do still have the same memory card access times, meaning you will have to wait at the main menu for some games for the title to recognize that a Memory Card is plugged in, even virtually. There’s room for pangs of nostalgia even in skeuomorphic inconveniences, it turns out.
The games may be the hardest aspect of the PlayStation Classic to report on, as they seem functionally the same to their releases decades ago. This adherence to their idiosyncrasies can feel dedicated to a fault, as they have in no way been updated beyond the system’s internal scaling. That means you will occasionally need to mentally adjust for things like the system menu using X to confirm and Circle to cancel, while games like Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid use the reverse, before Sony made the changes between regions official. The Final Fantasy VII PlayStation 4 port on PSN adjusted the buttons to the modern method, which can mess with your memory if you’re used to the original.
We also asked Sony if the Resident Evil: Director’s Cut incorporates the game’s infamous Resident Evil 2 demo, which allowed players to exploit glitches to access a surprisingly large and unfinished part of the game. The answer was a point-blank no.
The PlayStation Classic serves as a reminder to an era of consoles where it felt like the ground beneath your feet was movable when you booted up a game. For many players, the PlayStation was their first system, and the waves of nostalgia the Classic gives off will definitely be enticing to a number of different audiences.
The PlayStation Classic releases worldwide on December 3.