Nintendo wasn't the first company to wake up to the idea of repackaging its games in tiny versions of classic consoles – Sega and Atari (from a licencing perspective, at least) were there a long, long time ago – but its entry into this previously niche sector certainly made an impact. The NES Classic Edition and SNES Classic Edition have now sold over 10 million units worldwide between them, indicating all too clearly that there is a tremendous appetite for this kind of thing; little wonder then that SNK released a Neo Geo Mini earlier this year and Sega – after over a decade of allowing hardware partner AtGames to sully its good name with some seriously shocking clone consoles – finally seems to be taking the whole concept a little more seriously.
2018 is also the year in which Nintendo's rival Sony decided that its legacy was worth taking advantage of. The PlayStation Classic launched today and in many respects should be the kind of product that appeals to gamers of all walks of life, including Nintendo players. The original 32-bit system – borne out of Sony's failed agreement with Nintendo to produce a CD-ROM-based SNES console – was the very definition of a game-changer; when it arrived in 1994 it arguably heralded the beginning of the 3D revolution and established a brand which has remained at the forefront of console gaming ever since. To many players, the PlayStation supplanted the SNES as their go-to console thanks to its impressive third-party support, an amazing catalogue of RPGs and a slew of hits from the likes of Capcom, Konami, Eidos and – of course – erstwhile Nintendo devotee Square.
The first home console to ship over 100 million units worldwide, the status of the original PlayStation cannot be denied, making it the perfect candidate for the 'classic' treatment. But does the final product live up to expectation, and, if you have money to burn this festive season, is it a better buy than the SNES Classic Edition? Let's find out…
There's no getting around it, both the SNES Classic Edition and PlayStation Classic are utterly adorable. They're perfectly-recreated versions of the original systems but much, much smaller; they obviously lack the ability to play the original games but that doesn't make them any less appealing from a purely cosmetic perspective. In terms of looks, the one that appeals most to you personally will no doubt be based on your nostalgic connection to each machine, but we're sure there are a great many players out there who have fond recollections of both consoles, given that millions of us transitioned from the SNES to the PlayStation back in the mid-'90s.
One thing we do like better about the PlayStation Classic when compared to the SNES Classic Edition is the fact that the controllers plug directly into the front of the unit, whereas on Nintendo's machine there's a flap at the front which hides the controller ports. This makes the unit look a little odd when it's in use; we much prefer how the controller port is right on the front of the PlayStation Classic, and how Sony has shaped the plugs so they actually look like the real thing once connected.
Both systems are powered by an industry-standard Micro USB connection and neither comes with a power supply in the box – you'll have to use one of the USB sockets on your TV or the USB power block that you use with your smartphone or tablet. Both also use HDMI to connect to your television and both output at 720p.
Rather than try to recreate the internals on a physical level, Nintendo and Sony have opted for the emulation route when it comes to replicating the performance of these machines. Inside the SNES Classic Edition you'll find an Allwinner R16 system-on-a-chip with four ARM Cortex-A7 central processing units and an ARM Mali 400 MP2 graphics processing unit. The PlayStation Classic also takes the system-on-a-chip approach, boasting a MediaTek MT8167A with a quad-core ARM Cortex A35 running at 1.5GHz paired with a PowerVR GE8300 GPU. Both of these setups are pretty standard; this is off-the-shelf componentry rather than custom hardware, as was the norm back when the original consoles were released.
The SNES pad is iconic in that it has influenced practically every single controller released since. It was the first pad to use shoulder buttons, the inclusion of which gave players more input options without crowding out the face of the pad. Speaking of which, the decision to arrange the buttons in a diamond formation was a masterstroke and has since become the standard for the industry. The pad bundled with the SNES Classic Edition is practically indistinguishable from the real thing; it looks and feels fantastic.
The same can be said of the pad that ships alongside the PlayStation Classic; it's an utterly faithful facsimile of the original controller, which can also lay claim to being something of a design trendsetter. Sure, Sony copied many elements of the SNES pad (hardly surprising when you consider the origins of the whole PlayStation project) including the diamond button cluster and the shoulder buttons (now doubled from two to four), but it also gave players a more ergonomic design, with those two prongs offering the perfect grip. Like the pad made for the SNES Classic Edition, this controller feels like a quality product and when we picked it up for the first time we were hit with some serious nostalgia feels.
You can tell Nintendo invested a significant amount of time and effort in picking the games it included on the SNES Classic Edition; while there are a lot of 2D platformers included, pretty much every game is a highly-rated slice of gaming goodness which has stood the test of time better than you might expect.
Here's the full list:
- Contra III: The Alien Wars
- Donkey Kong Country
- Final Fantasy III / VI
- Kirby Super Star
- Kirby's Dream Course
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
- Mega Man X
- Secret of Mana
- Star Fox
- Star Fox 2
- Super Castlevania IV
- Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
- Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts
- Super Mario Kart
- Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
- Super Mario World
- Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
- Super Metroid
- Super Punch-Out!!
Given the talent that resided at Nintendo back then – and continues to reside to this very day – it's no shock to see that the majority of the games are first-party releases. Super Mario World remains one of the best 2D platformers of all time, while Zelda: A Link to the Past is effortlessly one of the finest action adventures ever made. Super Mario Kart and F-Zero use the console's Mode-7 visual effect superbly, while Star Fox – developed alongside UK studio Argonaut, who also created the Super FX accelerator chip – gave many gamers their first taste of 3D gaming.
Nintendo did include some third-party efforts, such as the sublime Contra III and Castlevania IV from Konami and the likes of Final Fantasy III, Secret of Mana and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars from Square. Capcom's Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, Mega Man X and Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts showcase how well the company adapted to the 16-bit system. With the possible exception of Kirby's Dream Course, every single game included on the SNES Classic Edition is worthy of being considered a must-play experience; sure, there are many amazing games that didn't make the cut but ultimately, this is as good a selection as you could reasonably hope for – and the fact that Nintendo went the extra mile and included the previously unreleased Star Fox 2 is simply the icing on the cake.
Given that the SNES and PlayStation are from two different hardware generations, it might seem like a foregone conclusion that Sony's machine wins out in this particular category – especially when you consider that the leap from 2D to 3D is perhaps the most revolutionary the industry has ever seen. The 32-bit era allowed for increased immersion and realism thanks to the introduction of powerful hardware which was designed with real-time, three-dimensional graphics in mind; the resultant titles offered a visual boost that left 16-bit machines like the SNES and Mega Drive in the dust – although, as many critics commented at the time, it was often the case that fancy 3D was used to mask the fact that a great many 32-bit games were no more playable than their 2D forerunners.
Even so, the PlayStation library is packed with truly amazing pieces of software – and narrowing down the selection of 20 games included with the PlayStation Classic would be a thankless task in anyone's book. Much has already been on the games Sony has picked for this machine, suffice to say it's a varied – if perhaps not definitive – snapshot of the console's legacy.
Here are the games included on the western version of the machine (the Japanese variant has some slight differences):
- Battle Arena Toshinden
- Cool Boarders 2
- Destruction Derby
- Final Fantasy VII
- Grand Theft Auto
- Intelligent Qube
- Jumping Flash!
- Metal Gear Solid
- Mr. Driller
- Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
- Resident Evil Director’s Cut
- Revelations: Persona
- Ridge Racer Type 4
- Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
- Syphon Filter
- Tekken 3
- Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six
- Twisted Metal
- Wild Arms
Before we stick the boot in as so many others have already done, it's worth noting that there are some solid-gold gems on offer here. Final Fantasy VII is widely-regarded as one of the best video games of all time, while the original Metal Gear Solid remains playable and atmospheric, even if its subsequent sequels have drastically enhanced the core premise of 'tactical espionage action'. Ridge Racer Type 4 presents some blissfully enjoyable arcade racing, and Revelations: Persona – a proper cult classic which is made even more interesting when you consider how popular the series has become in the west of late – will keep you glued to the console for weeks. Tekken 3 is also a solid choice and shows that the core gameplay of Namco's famous fighting series is almost timeless.
Furthermore, while titles like Jumping Flash, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Mr. Driller and Intelligent Qube might not be everyone's idea of must-have AAA PlayStation releases, they're incredibly fun and could well rank as some of your most-played games if you do decide to invest in this machine. We have a soft spot for Jumping Flash in particular, thanks largely to the fact that it was the game we got with our PlayStation back in 1995 and is one of the first 'true' 3D platformers, pre-dating even the mighty Super Mario 64.
However, when you start to dig a little deeper into the PlayStation Classic's line-up, the cracks really start to show. We can't imagine there were many people who considered Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six to be an 'essential' purchase back at the time of release, so we're at a loss as to explain why it's included here. Likewise, Battle Arena Toshinden was attacked at the time of launch for putting showy visuals above actual gameplay, and the passage of time has only served to lessen the impact of its graphics and expose its terribly clunky mechanics even more clearly. Destruction Derby is fun in short bursts but feels like a relic, while Cool Boarders 2 pales in comparison to Nintendo's 1080 Snowboarding, its contemporary rival.
Meanwhile, Syphon Filter, Twisted Metal and even the legendary Resident Evil have all aged surprisingly badly, a consequence of the fact that this evolutionary period in gaming is packed with crude 3D graphics that were simply accepted back then because we didn't know any better. While the 2D games seen on the SNES Classic Edition lack that sense of immersion, they've aged a little better thanks to their clean presentation; the same unfortunately cannot be said for the warped textures and boxy, low-polygon models seen in many PlayStation games.
While Nintendo's selection of games for the SNES Classic Edition arguably cannot be faulted, Sony's picks are, in many respects, head-scratchingly bizarre. Why wasn't at least one Wipeout entry included, for example? This racing series defined the PlayStation brand for many players, combining amazing visuals with an intense techno soundtrack. The same could be said of Gran Turismo and its sequel, two technically groundbreaking racers which are conspicuous by their absence – the original Gran Turismo is officially the biggest-selling 32-bit PlayStation game of all time, so why omit it? Likewise, there's no Crash Bandicoot, Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy Tactics, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Spyro, PaRappa the Rapper, Silent Hill, Everybody's Golf or Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. And what about all those fringe classics? Personal picks such as Tomba, Rival Schools, Einhander, R-Type Delta, Raystorm, Lunar: The Silver Star Story Complete, Vagrant Story, Alundra, Xenogears, Ape Escape, Suikoden, Klonoa, Bushido Blade, G-Police or Colony Wars? There's an embarrassment of amazing games on the PlayStation – a fact that pained many a Nintendo stalwart back in the '90s – but you wouldn't necessarily know that from the PlayStation Classic's awkward software selection.
Now, we're fully aware that licencing issues will have prevented many of these titles from appearing, even those owned by Sony itself – Wipeout and Gran Turismo, for example, are packed with music from real artists that would presumably require licencing agreements to be renegotiated – but surely some kind of deal could have been struck? While the list of 20 games included isn't a total loss, it does rather feel like Sony simply picked them at random without considering which titles were seen by fans as the most iconic PlayStation releases.
Given that both of these machines use software emulation to replicate the original hardware, it is by no means a given that they'll be 100 percent faithful to the real thing – the accuracy of pure software emulation varies massively, even with the power of modern hardware. The off-the-shelf nature of the components used naturally means the software side of things has to be fine-tuned to extract as much performance as possible, and that's precisely what Nintendo did with the SNES Classic Edition; Nintendo's European Research & Development (NERD) created a bespoke set of emulators which run not only standard SNES games, but also titles which used the aforementioned Super FX chip, as well as other enhancement hardware. By adopting this approach, Nintendo has been able to create an incredibly accurate level of emulation.
Sony, in comparison, has taken a slightly different strategy. Rather than create its own emulation software for the PlayStation Classic, it has licenced the pre-existing PCSX ReARMed, which is an ARM port of the popular PCSX emulator. Sony therefore avoids the cost of developing its own emulator from scratch – a task that should never be taken lightly, especially when working to a tight production deadline – and gets a tested and proven piece of software.
The issue, as discussed at length by our friends over at Digital Foundry, is that PCSX ReARMed isn't the most accurate emulator available. Sure, it offers decent performance on relatively humble ARM-based devices, but if you look (and listen) close enough, you'll spot plenty of visual and audio inconsistencies that weren't present on the original console. To make matters worse, Sony has used the 50Hz PAL versions of some games, which – when you consider that the console outputs at 60Hz – creates an ugly 'judder' effect. Digital Foundry does a much better job than we could ever hope to do when it comes to explaining this sorry situation, but the ultimate conclusion is that the PlayStation Classic presents these games in a manner which leaves much to be desired.
It's reasonable to expect some slight variances between the PlayStation Classic and the original hardware; emulation, as we've said, is rarely infallible – and you could argue that most players won't even notice anything is amiss unless both are set side-by-side. However, the performance does feel slightly off, and initially, we were tempted to put this down simply to the fact that nostalgia had perhaps softened our view on these titles, making them seem worse in the cold light of day than they did back in the '90s. However, when you play a game like Tekken 3 – which was silky-smooth on the original hardware – and find that irksome frame drops get in the way of you putting together those finely-honed combos, you realise that something is rotten at the heart of Sony's execution here, rather than your memory sugar-coating reality.
Of course, it's worth pointing out that emulating the SNES and emulating the PlayStation are two very different challenges and even the talented individuals at NERD may have baulked at the prospect of getting an off-the-shelf SoC to reproduce the performance of Sony's 32-bit system to the high standard they usually expect to hit. We guess a true test of Nintendo's approach will come when it inevitably releases the Nintendo 64 Classic Edition, but our gut instinct tells us that with a little more effort, Sony could have made a much better job of this. Will the average person notice, however? That's another question entirely.
It might not be tremendously surprising to find that a site devoted to celebrating Nintendo thinks you should pick the SNES Classic Edition over the PlayStation Classic, but we should point out that like a great many gamers who grew up in the '90s, we owned Sony's machine and have many, many happy memories of playing it. The conclusion we've come to here isn't borne out of brand loyalty, but the simple fact that Sony has badly fumbled this particular release in what we can only assume was an attempt to keep costs down; by avoiding the expense of developing a custom emulator and licencing specific titles, it has ended up releasing a product which, while capable of offering plenty of enjoyment, nevertheless feels compromised in a great many ways. And we take no joy in stating this; as we said, the PlayStation is a legendary piece of gaming hardware which is home to some of the finest pieces of software ever made – it's just a shame that Sony chose not to include more of them, and that it cut corners on emulation to present its 20 games in such a lacklustre fashion.
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