Sony PlayStation Classic review: A fine line between ‘classic’ and ‘old’

Who can blame Sony for trying to capitalize on the success of Nintendo’s year-after-year must-have holiday gifts? The NES Classic and SNES Classic proved that the nostalgia market was ripe for the picking — and the NES Classic’s initial sparse inventory didn’t hurt things either.

In many ways, the PlayStation Classic follows Nintendo’s replica playbook page by page. It’s an adorable miniaturized version of the original 1994 (1995 in the US) Sony console, down to its buttons, slots and vents. It’s available Dec. 3 for $100.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

But where the PS Classic stumbles has little to do with the hardware and everything to do about the games themselves. First off, there’s the PAL/NTSC issue. For some reason we don’t understand, nine of the 20 games in the Classic are presented in the international PAL video standard, which plays at an inherently slower refresh rate (50 Hz). Long story short, these titles will appear to have lower frame rates compared to their NTSC (60 Hz) counterparts when played on US TVs. (Here’s how that plays out side-by-side.) Sony acknowledged the situation, telling us, “The North American and European PlayStation Classic has a mix of NTSC and PAL based games. We have no details beyond this to share.” Too bad, though, if you’re a fan of Tekken, which slows down the action just enough to be annoying

Even on the games where that’s not an issue, however, you realize that this collection of titles stretches the word “classic.” Simply put, this wasn’t really the golden age of console games. These first-gen PlayStation games don’t seem to hold up as well as the 8- and 16-bit classics that predate them. The PlayStation represents a time in games in which the jump from 2D to true 3D was still shaking out. That transition resulted in a lot of rough-looking titles that by today’s standards barely resemble anything cohesive onscreen.

That’s not just me saying, “Oh, some of these original PlayStation games look like garbage now and are basically unplayable.” OK, maybe that’s a little bit of what I’m saying, but there’s a reason we don’t see indie developers lovingly paying homage to this time period. Most retro-inspired titles borrow aesthetics from the NES and SNES days, re-creating sprites within side-scrolling environments. What we don’t see are retro games attempting to show off crude polygonal constructions with blurry textures and mosaiced backgrounds. That style just doesn’t make sense now.

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Coolboarders 2. Bleugh.


Screenshot by Jeff Bakalar/CNET

Not all of the 20 PlayStation Games included with the Classic suffer from this, but you’ll find those that seem to hold up visually aren’t attempting lofty 3D ambitions.

And that’s fine. The PlayStation Classic feels more like a time capsule than a system you’d be relying on for daily gaming anyway. For what it’s worth, many of the NES and SNES Classics out there are probably gathering dust, too, though the ability to modify those systems is also an attractive proposition. I don’t know if the PS Classic can be hacked, but I’d bet it will be.

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