PlayStation Classic Plays Fine, But It's A Bare-Bones Experience

Gif: Sony

With the PlayStation Classic’s release less than a month away, I went to PlayStation HQ this week for three hours of hands-on time with Sony’s nostalgic mini-console. It plays its selection of 32-bit classics like Final Fantasy VII and Resident Evil: Director’s Cut just fine, but the features of the device are pretty much the bare minimum.

To be released on December 3, the $149.95 PlayStation Classic has 20 games from Sony’s first console and includes two controllers - not Dual Shocks, but the standard D-pad-only models that originally shipped when PlayStation first hit the shelves in 1994.

Like Nintendo’s NES and SNES Classics, the machine is a tiny, perfect replica of the original. Unlike Nintendo’s machines, Sony’s uses a standard USB connection for the controllers.

A PlayStation Classic sitting atop an original PlayStation. (Photo: Chris Kohler, Kotaku)

PlayStation Classic also replicates one of the slightly annoying features of Nintendo’s boxes: To get back to the game selection menu, you have to reach over to the console itself and press the Reset button.

The button that would have opened the disc drive on the actual PlayStation is functional on the Classic as well; you use it to change discs during multi-disc games. Power is still Power.

It’s never a guarantee that a plug-and-play system like this will get the emulation right, but from my time jumping around between the PlayStation Classic’s games, it seems like this part is good enough. The games look and sound accurate, their mid-90s jagged pixels looking like you could grate a block of cheese with them.

(A listing of licenses for open-source software accessible in the PlayStation Classic’s menu said that it uses the open-source PlayStation emulator PCSX ReARMed.)

Final Fantasy VII. (Game screenshots in this story were captured from video provided by Sony and are not direct feed from a PlayStation Classic. Our review of the final unit will contain full-resolution screenshots.) (Screenshot: Sony)

Some games display much better on an HD display than others. Ridge Racer Type 4 in particular has a blurry, dithered effect on its text that I imagine looked quite nice when run through a CRT, but is hard to read on a modern set.

Oddly, many of the games on the PlayStation Classic were the European versions. When I booted up Final Fantasy VII, for example, I got the classic “Licensed By Sony Computer Entertainment of America” splash screen. But when I ran Battle Arena Toshinden, Grand Theft Auto, or Tekken 3, the screen said “Licensed By Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.”

Grand Theft Auto. (Screenshot: Sony)

PlayStation Classic assigns a separate virtual Memory Card to each game. When you exit out of a game you’ve saved and go back to the menu, there’s a Memory Card icon below each one that will let you view or delete your save data, just as you did on the original PlayStation.

The save data icons that show up in this menu are just as they were on the original, so your first Final Fantasy VII save will be represented by an icon of Cloud, the second by Barrett, and so on.

I’m less impressed with the way the Classic handles its “save anywhere” feature. You only get one such slot for each game. When you press Reset, your game will be automatically saved in that slot.

Start the game up, play some more, and press Reset again, and you won’t be offered a second slot to save in. You’ll just be asked if you want to overwrite the game saved in that one slot. Nintendo’s systems have four save slots, which would have been nice to see here.

The original PlayStation’s controller (L) and the PlayStation Classic’s. (Photo: Chris Kohler, Kotaku)

“Bare-bones” is probably the most accurate summation I can give of the PlayStation Classic so far. There are no special screen borders or graphic display options. There’s a QR code that will load up manuals on the PlayStation website, but it wasn’t functional during the preview event.

There’s a screensaver option that will dim the screen after a few minutes. Even the game selection menu itself is strictly utilitarian; there’s no nostalgic theme song or other cute additions.

PlayStation Classic will, at least, get the job done. The controller feels excellent, identical to the original. The box itself is adorable. The emulation is accurate.

The game selection ... well, your mileage may vary on that one. If you want to go on a nostalgia trip and re-experience what games like Syphon Filter were like before dual-stick controls, PlayStation Classic will be here for you soon.


    Not surprising it screams massive money grab.

      Every mini console has screamed massive money grab... Nintendo managed to pull it off for that last two Christmas's, now its Sony's turn to try.

      Even if they sell "just" 1 million of em, that's $150m in revenue. However its split up, that's free money from what were previously dead products.

        Yeah, if you could add games to the console via an online store these would be purchases for me.

    Unlike Nintendo’s machines, Sony’s uses a standard USB connection for the controllers.I wonder if that means PS2/3/4 controllers will work... Or even just el generico controllers you might use on PC.

      I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that it won't support PS4 controllers, so I guess they've cut our it's ability to read any third party controller.

      Banking on this being hacked within a week and it letting us do more than just this 'bare bones' experience, including controller support. If they make the mistake of having a HD on it that can fit a lot more games than it comes with, there will be PS One Classics with 80 games on it in no time..

        I think I saw something along those lines as well now you mention it, but I'd be happy if the PS3 controllers worked tbh. I still use my PS3, but only need one controller which means the 2nd is just a dust catcher.

        I didn't hate the original PS1 controller, it did a lot of good for controllers in general, but it clearly got better as the new generations tweaked it. So it would be nice if those design improvements are an option, even if its not official Sony controllers.

        Given its USB, it suggests there are some controllers out there that will work. On the flipside, I wonder what these controllers will work with...

    Can't wait to see the tear apart and mod scene.
    Would be funny if it's just a psp or vita mobo in there, but using that emulator it seems more likely to be a generic SoC

    Wonder when Sony will be providing the source code since PCSX-Rearmed is licensed under GPL v2.

      Given that it will likely be running Linux (like the Nintendo classic consoles are), they'd have to deal with the GPL even with a proprietary emulator.

      In theory, the journalists who have advanced access could request the source code now because Sony has distributed binaries to them. I suspect Sony won't put up a public download page until the console is ready for public release though. Partly so they make sure they're releasing source code corresponding to the binaries shipped to customers.

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