Today, Sony announced the PlayStation Classic, a micro-console which comes pre-loaded with 20 games, is bundled with two full-size replica controllers, connects to your TV via HDMI and is powered by a humble USB lead. Sound familiar? Of course it does, because it's blatantly inspired by the NES and SNES Classic Editions. Even the imagery used to promote the new console – a hand holding the system aloft – is eerily similar to that used by Nintendo when it confirmed its own 'mini' machines.
This isn't the first time that Sony has copied the work of Nintendo, the company that, at one point, it was working with closely on the unreleased SNES PlayStation CD-ROM system. Of course, Nintendo has influenced many other players in the industry too, but it seems that Sony in particular loves to crib from the Kyoto veteran. Here are some more examples.
The PlayStation Controller
When Sony revealed the original 32-bit PlayStation back in 1994, it was pretty clear where the company's designers got the inspiration for the console's iconic joypad. The familiar diamond button cluster (with each button boasting a colour-coded symbol), the rounded corners and the shoulder buttons all screamed 'SNES pad', and more than a few people at the time commented at the striking similarity between the two.
This isn't all that shocking when you consider that Sony's staff will have been using the SNES pad during the development of the aborted SNES PlayStation; it makes sense that they would therefore choose it as the basis for their own controller. It was also a very sensible move because the SNES was, in Japan at least, the clear winner in the 16-bit console war. By adopting a familiar pad design, Sony was making it easier for jaded Nintendo fans to upgrade to the PlayStation.
While Sony used Nintendo's design as a template, it also added some welcome improvements; the prongs at the bottom of the pad made it easier to hold and by adding two more shoulder buttons, control options were increased. Sony has stood by the basic look of this controller for decades, and the modern DualShock 4 still has the same core design – proof that this is one of the best controllers money can buy. Good job Sony picked the right company to copy all those years ago, then.
Nintendo wasn't the first company to use analog control on a console as the standard interface – that honour falls to Audiosonic's 1292 Advanced Programmable Video System, released way back in 1976. Later, in 1982, both Atari and General Consumer Electronics released analog controllers for the Atari 5200 and Vextrex respectively. In the '90s, both the PlayStation and Saturn had their own analog controllers – the PlayStation Analog Joystick and the Sega Mission Stick – but these were bulky, premium accessories and not the standard controllers for each system.
Analog control was, up until the release of the Nintendo 64, seen as an optional extra rather than a core interface. With the N64, Nintendo made analog control the de facto standard on games consoles, and every single home system released since then has featured at least one analog stick, if not two.
It's hard to claim that Sony was 100 percent inspired by the N64 in this regard; as we've already touched upon, it already had an analog control option on the PlayStation and may well have been considering releasing a standard analog pad around the same time (the precursor to the DualShock, the Dual Analog Controller, launched in April 1997); even so, the iconic DualShock wasn't bundled with the hardware until the release of the PSOne in 2000, so you could argue that Nintendo's move gave Sony the confidence it needed to make analog control standard on PlayStation.
And while we're here, Nintendo was first with vibrating controllers (although admittedly, this was achieved via a special pack which bolted onto the pad itself).
It's easy to forget that when Nintendo revealed the Wii – or 'Revolution' as it was then known – many in the industry openly mocked the company. The notion of motion control was alien to pretty much everyone at the time, but once you'd played a game of Wii Sports, you were a convert.
It didn't take long for Nintendo's rivals to clone this approach; Microsoft invested millions into Kinect, a completely controller-free interface, while Sony released PlayStation Move, which used Wii Remote-style wand controllers that were made even more accurate by the fact that the PlayStation Camera tracked coloured orbs on the top of the controller itself.
Because it was an optional interface and not included with every PS3 system, PlayStation Move's success was limited; however, it's legacy has proven to be a long one, as the controllers are still used with PlayStation VR software.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
Of all the times that Sony has copied Nintendo, this has to rank as the most embarrassing. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a crossover fighting game just like Smash Bros., and attempts to pull together various characters from the PlayStation universe, such as Parappa the Rappa, God of War's Kratos (pre-beard and fatherhood), Uncharted's Nathan Drake and even a Big Daddy from Bioshock. If you think the eclectic cast of Smash Bros. feels disjointed at times, then the lineup here will absolutely do your head in; it ranges from 'WTF' to 'Who?' and never gels properly at all.
Questionable character choices aside, the combat system is reasonably enjoyable but lacks the nuanced depth of Smash Bros., which is largely due to the fact that Masahiro Sakurai and company spend months honing and tweaking every attack to make sure the game shines. PlayStation All-Stars may have sold over a million copies, but it would seem that Sony would rather you simply forgot about this shameless cloning effort.
While this range of collectable figurines isn't made by Sony itself, the majority of the examples released so far are from PlayStation properties, and they carry Sony's blessing – so the company is culpable in this rather cheeky attempt to cash-in on the amiibo craze. We refuse to hear otherwise, OK?
Crash Bandicoot, LittleBigPlanet's Sackboy, WipEout’s Feisar craft, Heihachi from Tekken… they're all here in plastic form, and while the figures are actually really well designed, they lack any kind of connectivity with the games which inspired them. You could argue that many amiibo collectors simply buy them to place on a shelf, so the lack of NFC-powered interactivity here is a moot point – and you could go further and rightly point out that Nintendo was by no means the first company to jump on the now-knackered 'toys to life' bandwagon. But saying all of that massively undermines the core intent of this feature, so you can take that pro-Sony talk elsewhere, sunshine.
We're Contractually Obliged To Mention...
...the times that Sony inspired Nintendo, of course. We've got to be balanced here.
Take memory cards, for example; SNK was actually the pioneer in this respect, with its Neo Geo AES and MVS system which allowed players to save data on arcade games and then transfer it on the home variant, but it was Sony's PlayStation which truly made the memory card the format of choice for save data. Poor old Sega opted for an internal battery within the Saturn console (although an optional memory cart was available), but Nintendo would include a 'Memory Pak' option which slotted into the N64's controller (even though most games had on-cart saves). It would also use the memory card approach with the N64's successor, the GameCube.
Then there are online subscription services; Nintendo has today launched its Switch Online program which asks people for money in order to secure things like online play, free games and cloud save support – something Sony did years ago. And what about the all-important 'Share' button, so widely questioned when the PS4 launched? Yep, Nintendo has copied that too, with its Screenshot / Video button on Switch.
You could also argue that Nintendo followed Sony (and the rest of the industry) by using optical media after stubbornly sticking with expensive cartridges during the N64 era. And what about Monster Hunter? When the series took off on Sony formats, Nintendo swept in and tied down Capcom's famous series as a 3DS exclusive. What about augmented reality? AR was a big deal when the 3DS launched, but Sony had been dabbling with the concept on the PSP a short time beforehand.
But we'll ignore all of that, because Sony copies Nintendo, not the other way around, right? Right!?