Greetings, friends… and welcome to another installment of Consoleation. As always, I really appreciate you taking the time to check out my work, and I hope that you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.
20 years ago at this time, the console video game sphere was preparing for change. The 16-bit era had been enjoying a great run, but during E3 in 1995, we were introduced to what was next– the SEGA Saturn and the Sony PlayStation. While Nintendo had delayed the release of its new Ultra 64 machine to 1996, SEGA and Sony were set to begin writing history. SEGA had fired the first shots of the new console war by launching the Saturn at select retailers during E3, which was nearly four months ahead of its originally targeted date. The follow-up to the Genesis had a price tag of $400 and launched with a handful of titles. Sony, on the other hand, maintained a September launch date… but Sony Computer Entertainment America president Steve Race played a trump card that SEGA was seemingly unprepared for. When Race made his way to the podium and simply said “two ninety-nine”, the war was definitely on. Sony undercut SEGA, and, combined with strong third-party support and surprisingly solid first-party games, the Saturn’s fate was sealed early.
My history with the PlayStation didn’t begin with a bang. In fact, I really wasn’t all that interested in Sony’s freshman console over the course of the first few months of 1995. I was in a really good place with the consoles I had at the time. I was playing a lot of SNES games, including Donkey Kong Country, Chrono Trigger, and NBA Jam: Tournament Edition. My 3DO was also competing for playing time as it was the most recent console that I’d purchased and games like Road Rash, Twisted, Gex, Super Wing Commander, and Need For Speed still captivated me. My personal life was also in flux at this time, as I had just begun work at a new job as an office clerk after a lengthy period of unemployment that resulted from getting laid off from my job as a long-distance operator. New consoles weren’t really important to me, and I often skipped past gaming magazine articles about them to get to reviews and previews of current-console releases.
As luck would have it, though, I got invited to a special after-hours event at my favorite video game store a couple of weeks after E3 1995. The owner invited a handful of regular customers to come in and check out a console that he’d imported from Japan, called a PlayStation. I was more interested in going to this event just to hang out at the game store; my new job was a 9-5 job and that schedule meant that I often couldn’t get down to the store before it closed. I mean… sure, the PlayStation (or whatever it was called) was going to be there, but I could also look around at games that had just come in and could catch up with the staff. That’s exactly what I did for the first half of the event, too; while others were taking turns with the new console, I was checking out the SNES and 3DO games and planning out what my purchases were going to be when I got my next paycheck.
“Hey,” the owner said as he tapped me on the shoulder. “Come on. I want you to try the new system. I think you’re gonna like it, man. You’re an arcade guy, and the game in it is an arcade game.”
So I followed him to the TV and sat in the chair. After giving me the controller, he went to reset the system. “What a weird controller,” I thought to myself. “Square button? Circle Button? X button? And what’s with the extra triggers?” I wasn’t ready when Galaxian showed up on the screen. Was… this the arcade game? I wasn’t able to shoot all of the Galaxians before the Ridge Racer title screen came up. Upon hitting the Start button, the sound kicked in, with upbeat music and that now-infamously obnoxious announcer pumping me up as I selected my car. Racing games weren’t really my thing, but maybe this would be kind of like Virtua Racing…?
Ridge Racer blew my mind.
It might be hard to believe that, given how the dated the game looks compared to what we see and play now, but Ridge Racer was a pretty big step up from the SNES and the Genesis, and it even made the 3DO look a bit silly in comparison. Ridge Racer was colorful. It was fast. The track layouts weren’t punishing, but they were set up to reward familiarity, practice, and the right balance of speed and drifting. The techno music was catchy… and then the game store owner surprised me by popping in an Offspring CD and I found out that I could race to that. It was a short experience, but it was a fun experience. It felt like an arcade game… in fact, it was an arcade game. I beat the first series of tracks in less than 30 minutes, but then I gaped when I saw “LET’S PLAY EXTRA GAME!” after the credits.
“So,” the owner asked, “Are you convinced?”
I grinned and nodded like a little kid, and then quizzed him on what he knew about the PlayStation.
How much was it going to be? “$300. Less than a Saturn.”
When is it coming out? “September 9th.”
What games were coming out for it? “You like NBA Jam, right? Imagine having a version that looks just as good as the arcade game. There’s a Street Fighter game coming out, too… and some other stuff.”
That was it. I was in. Unfortunately, as a small independent game store, there wasn’t a guarantee to get any on launch day… but I could check at the Electronics Boutique at my local mall. I also came to a realization that $300 was a pretty significant amount for someone who had just rejoined the workforce and was catching up on his bills. Wanting a PlayStation was one thing, but working out how to get one was something else entirely.
One thing was for certain: Come hell or high water, I was going to own a PlayStation on September 9th, 1995.
Next time on Consoleation, in order to achieve my goal of getting a PlayStation, I had to learn about preorders and how to make certain sacrifices… some of which I still regret to this day. In the meantime, I invite you to reminisce with the rest of the Retroware community in the comments below and share your first PlayStation experience. Did you read about it? What game or games convinced you to buy it? Did you get one at launch? Until the next time, friends… take care.