The PlayStation Classic is out, and the general response has been tepid at best. Some folk are upset with its selection of built-in games, as nine of the 20 titles are represented in their European PAL forms, which run at 50 FPS, rather than their NA/JP NTSC forms, which ran at 60 FPS on the original hardware.
Others have very specific issues with the unit’s off-the-shelf open source emulation, which introduces frame stuttering and texture problems, among other quibbles. (It’s even come out that you can access the emulator’s settings by plugging a USB keyboard into one of the controller ports, though this does come with some risks.)
So! If one were irked by these problems to the point of buying an actual PlayStation instead of the PlayStation Classic, what games would be essential?
Klonoa: Door to Phantomile
Klonoa is one of the best action platformers ever made, and is my personal absolute favorite game on the original PlayStation. It’s colorful, charming, well-paced, and surprisingly emotional, with tight controls and challenging platforming puzzles. In an era where people were afraid to make side-scrolling games, Klonoa proved that old formulas could be successfully updated for the age of 3D games, and it did so with style and elegance.
As the true OG of console simulation racers, Gran Turismo set the bar for all hardcore enthusiast driving games to come. Vehicles and tracks were depicted with a level of accuracy that was unheard of in 1998, both aesthetically and mechanically, and the game’s “earn licenses to unlock cars, earn money to buy them” structure has been duplicated dozens of times. Driving enthusiasts would be remiss to exclude Gran Turismo from their PlayStation collection.
Parappa the Rapper
The PlayStation was instrumental in introducing rhythm games to the western world, and Parappa the Rapper was the gleaming tip of that spear. Granted, a lot of us didn’t really understand how to achieve “cool” levels of rappin’ back in 1996, but the concept of being good at games like that didn’t even register yet. Parappa the Rapper wasn’t about chasing scores or getting full combos, it was about playing a Saturday morning cartoon, with catchy songs and goofy animal characters and everything.
The recent remaster release for PlayStation 4 is a good port by all accounts, but there’s something to be said for playing the original game on original hardware, should you ever have the opportunity.
If you don’t remember Skullmonkeys, I can’t really blame you. Reviews were mixed upon its 1998 release, as was popular reception, but for me this claymation platformer remains one of the PlayStation’s standout classics.
It channels the spirit of Earthworm Jim while retaining the semi-creepy look of its predecessor The Neverhood, with a soundtrack that has few peers even today. Yes, it is frustrating at times, and yes, even by 1998 standards the platforming wasn’t revolutionary, but Skullmonkeys is weird in a very specific way that games just aren’t anymore, and for that reason it deserves to be seen.
Rival Schools: United by Fate
The PlayStation Classic’s inclusion of Tekken 3 is a solid choice, even if it is the 50Hz PAL version, but Tekken 3 is by no means the end all/be all of 3D fighting games for Sony’s first console. That honor goes to Rival Schools, which took the speed of something like Tekken and applied Capcom’s then-experimental tag battle machinations to it.
Players picked two characters from a cast of fighters that all looked like the protagonists of their own separate anime, and depending on who you picked, your had access to different assist moves and team combos. It’s also a rare example of a four-button Capcom fighter, rather than the traditional six, and is one of few 3D fighting games with a heavy emphasis on air combos. That strange existence as a funny, over-the-top halfway point between Tekken 3 and a Marvel vs. game is what made Rival Schools so unique, then and now.
Alright so, getting your hands on a copy of Vib-Ribbon that you can play on a stock North American PlayStation is basically impossible, since it was never originally released over here. It was released in Japan and Europe, so if you’ve got a PlayStation capable of playing games from either of those regions, you can experience one of the most stylish rhythm games ever made.
The protagonist, Vibri, walks along a line of shapes and contours as the player presses buttons in time with the music, corresponding to said shapes and contours. A loop, for instance, requires the player to press an R button at the right time in order for Vibri to safely traverse it — a pit would require pressing down on the d-pad, and so on.
These obstacles eventually combine and require multiple simultaneous button presses, and that’s when Vib-Ribbon really shines as an action-rhythm title. Parsing those shapes on the fly is surprisingly difficult, and the game eventually becomes an exercise in sight-reading music, though you’d never guess by looking at it.
When it comes to shmups on classic consoles, people generally talk about two games: Ikaruga on the Dreamcast, and Einhänder for the original PlayStation. I remember Einhänder as being brutally difficult, but its core concept — stealing weapons from enemy ships to customize your own — was so enthralling that I just kept playing and dying, over and over again.
In 2018 terms, getting power-ups from downed enemies is as routine as downing the enemies in the first place, and there were plenty of shooters that did essentially the same thing before Einhänder did, but none that did it with Einhänder‘s style. There’s this satisfying click whenever your ship’s manipulator arm grabs onto a new weapon, and the rush of endorphins that came with hearing it never waned.
Since the rights to Crash Bandicoot are no longer with Sony, getting the original PlayStation’s mascot back for the PlayStation Classic must have been insurmountably difficult. We can’t think of any other reason why Sony would forgo the inclusion of the console’s most iconic character, who carved his own 3D platforming niche in 1996.
It’s easy to look at something like Super Mario 64, which came out the same year, and conclude that Crash Bandicoot was a comparatively simplistic and far less ambitious game, and such comparisons wouldn’t be invalid. But to do so would also ignore how Crash Bandicoot succeeded, at a time when 3D platforming was in its most nascent state. Compared to other early 3D PlayStation platformers, Crash was a masterpiece.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
The game that put the “vania” in “Metroidvania,” Symphony of the Night fundamentally changed what it meant to be a Castlevania game. Rather than a linear progression of action platforming, as had been the case in all previous entries save for Simon’s Quest, Symphony of the Night gave players full access to Dracula’s castle and told them to figure it out on their own.
It was one of the first real action-RPGs in the modern sense of the word, and has been the blueprint for all Castlevania games since then, Lords of Shadowses notwithstanding. Given that Konami’s recent of Symphony of the Night re-release (as part of Castlevania Requiem on PlayStation 4) does not include the original translation or voice acting, both of which are key aspects of the SotN experience, we can only recommend playing it on original hardware.
Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout
Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout was, for anime nerds like me at least, the holy grail of PlayStation fighting games. It was printed and released in North America in 1997, a full year before the cancelled Canadian dub of Dragon Ball Z would appear on Cartoon Network and change a generation of perfectly normal children into anime people.
While the Japanese and European versions of the game (known as just Dragon Ball: Final Bout) were relatively easy to find as imports, the North American release was limited to a print run of just 10,000 copies, making it extremely rare and expensive at the time. The solution, for me and many others desperate to play this elusive, legendary game, was to import the Japanese copy and buy an external mod chip from some guy’s shady geocities website. It was only then that we discovered the inevitable truth, that Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout was an awful, awful game.
Eventually, Atari would reprint Final Bout in 2004, long after Dragon Ball Z had become the success that we all know it as. Copies of this reprint can easily be found on eBay for under $15, and at that price it’s extremely worth experiencing for the weird, mistimed relic that it is.