September 9th, 2015 will mark 20 years since Sony’s PlayStation console made its debut in the United States. It’s been one heck of a run for the Sony and the PlayStation brand since, with the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 each outselling their console competition in their respective time periods and with the PlayStation 4 well on its way to another Sony victory in this generation of consoles.
For me, the PlayStation was a big deal. Although it wasn’t the first new console that I had bought myself (that was the SNES back in 1991), it was the first new console that I bought on launch day. I had to skimp, save, and even trade in some console hardware to be able to afford the PlayStation, two games that I wanted, and a memory card. All told, I had paid more than $450 to Electronics Boutique at the Holyoke Mall to secure my launch-day purchase, and I had scattered it over the course of 12 weeks.
Launch day was quite the adventure for me. What happened? This video covers it (as well as some other PlayStation memories):
The first two games that I bought for the PlayStation were Ridge Racer and NBA Jam Tournament Edition. Ridge Racer was the first PlayStation game that I had ever played, so getting to enjoy it at home was pretty special. Ridge Racer is a pure arcade experience, with replay value derived from trying to win special head-to-head races against the best cars in the game. The Galaxian minigame that can be played while the game is loading is a fun test, and shooting down all of the enemies nets players a cool surprise. The graphics are colorful, the music is upbeat, the announcer is over the top, and the play controls are easy to learn. Some of my favorite moments in the game come from having close encounters with an omnipresent helicopter that follows the racing action; during the races with faster cars, hitting jumps at just the right speed can launch you so close to the low-flying chopper that you can almost touch it.
NBA Jam Tournament Edition was a must-have for me back then. I was– and, admittedly, still am– a huge NBA Jam fan in the mid-1990s. I had already dumped dozens of tokens into NBA Jam and Tournament Edition coin-ops. I had bought the Genesis and SNES versions of both games, too. The PlayStation version of Tournament Edition, however, was promised to be as close to owning the coin-op at home as you could get (without paying thousands of dollars for one). I remember reading about it in video game magazines and my PlayStation Buyer’s Guide, and I really keyed on Tournament Edition to be my go-to game at launch. Unfortunately, while the game does look and sound great, Tournament Edition for the PlayStation isn’t quite what it could have been. The on-screen action is almost too fast and CPU opponents spend more time shoving and knocking players down than focusing on scoring points. This leads to inflation of the Injury stat, which slows players down to a crawl and dings the overall experience by making it a more physical game instead of a higher scoring game. The secret to success in this version is to beat up computer opponents early and then blow by them due to their lack of speed late. It’s okay… but playing the coin-op and the 16-bit versions of Tournament Edition yields better results.
The next five years of my life in video games largely revolved around the PlayStation. The rest of 1995 saw notable releases in Jumping Flash!, Destruction Derby, Warhawk, NFL GameDay, and Twisted Metal. While I did buy a Nintendo 64 at launch in the Fall of 1996, it generally took a back seat to Sony’s machine, which had already built a formidable library by then. Then came 1997, which remains my favorite year for video games of all time. 1998 was highlighted by Metal Gear Solid, Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, Einhander, Xenogears, and Parasite Eve. 1999 saw the release of Ape Escape, Medal of Honor, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and UnJammer Lammy. Even the Dreamcast– which I also bought at launch in 1999– occasionally played second fiddle to the PlayStation into 2000, thanks to the might of Squaresoft and games like Vagrant Story, Legend of Mana, Chrono Cross, and Final Fantasy IX. These games are just a fraction of what I played over that five-year span; it was an amazing run of releases for Sony’s first console. I owned original PlayStation hardware until 2004, when I traded it in towards the purchase of an Xbox. Thanks to backwards compatibility in the PlayStation 2, owning a PlayStation felt redundant and I needed to have an Xbox to review games on. In retrospect, it was a move that I regretted… and finally rectified this year by getting another console for my retro library.
On a personal note, I also associate the PlayStation with some meaningful life events during my mid and late twenties. In 1997, my purchase of a GxTV was driven in part by wanting a better sound for my PlayStation games. I got my first video game retail job in 1998 with FuncoLand, and we played a lot of PlayStation games during my tenure there. I have fond memories of playing a ton of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater in the weeks leading up to my wedding in the fall of 1999, and that helped to keep me centered when stress was high. Admittedly, special memories like these do add a bit of weight to feelings about the system. I guess that spending time with PlayStation games makes me feel a bit younger… or, at least, it takes me back to when I was younger.
As I reflect on the PlayStation after these 20 years, I genuinely consider it to be one of my five favorite home video game platforms of all time, along with the NES, the SNES, the PlayStation 2, and the Dreamcast. Right from launch day, the PlayStation offered games that I not only enjoyed back then… but that I still enjoy playing today. Arcade ports, sports games, racing games, role-playing games, platformers, first-person shooters, and more genres are represented within the vast library of titles that the PlayStation has to offer.
Collecting PlayStation gear is still pretty easy, if you want to check out the console and games for yourselves. The average price for a PlayStation console is about $20, although I paid a little more than that for mine at a video game store. Owning the original PlayStation hardware isn’t a requisite to enjoy PlayStation games, as long as you own either a PlayStation 2 or a PlayStation 3. It’s worth noting, however, that a small number of games do have issues running on anything but native hardware. Most of these issues are graphics glitches, although a handful of games have more serious problems or don’t run at all.
As with other systems, sports games are the most inexpensive titles to buy for the PlayStation (usually $1-$5), and they’re the cheapest way to add games to a collection quickly. On the opposite end of the scale, some games can be quite expensive; examples include Tail Concerto ($75 and up), Suikoden II ($100 and up), and The Misadventures of Tron Bonne ($150 and up). There are also in-demand and popular games that will command a bit of a premium, including Final Fantasy VII, the Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon games, and the Resident Evil games; thankfully, these usually aren’t prohibitively expensive… but you might wind up paying a little more than you might want to in order to own them. Thrift stores, flea markets (or swap meets), and yard sales are the best ways to find PlayStation games at decent prices, but I’m sure that Pat the NES Punk and The Game Chasers have taught us all that lesson by now.
If you are looking to build a PlayStation library of your own, here are some PlayStation titles that are personal favorites of mine and (generally) won’t break the bank:
The Namco Museum series: These five compilation discs house many of Namco’s best arcade games. The emulation can be imperfect at times, but each game plays just like its coin-op counterpart. I practiced on several games– including Galaga, Dig Dug, and Bosconian— that I would find in arcades so that I could improve my scores and set personal records. Namco Museum also keeps detailed stats for each game played, and each game has its own museum exhibit hall that contains related items (including artwork and PCBs). Volumes 1 and 3 are the most popular, and they’re also the most inexpensive games in the series, with a cost of $5 or less for each. These volumes contain Namco’s most familiar games, such as Pac-Man, Galaga, Pole Position, Rally-X, and Dig Dug. The other three volumes have more obscure coin-ops and are worth more if you’re looking to buy them today; in fact, Volume 5 is valued at nearly $45 USD for just the disc! Despite the expense for some of the volumes, the Namco Museum games for the PlayStation are worth keeping an eye out for; while compilations for later consoles offer many of the same games, none of those have the museum or stat-keeping features that the PlayStation discs offer.
Ace Combat 2: Of the three games in the Ace Combat series that came out for the PlayStation, this second game stands out the most. While the storyline is still forgettable, Ace Combat 2 boasts smoother control, better visuals, and a more diverse soundtrack. If you have the Dual Analog controller (like GameDave does), this game supports it and actually plays better with it. There’s considerable replay value here as well, thanks to branching mission paths, enemy aces to hunt down, and medals to be earned. It’s not possible to unlock everything in one playthrough, which is fine since the game is so much fun to play. Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere also falls short of Ace Combat 2, mainly due to poor localization and a focus on more futuristic aircraft instead of using more real planes. Adding Ace Combat 2 to your PlayStation’s library will run you between $10-$15 USD for a complete copy, on average. I consider this to be the best game in its genre for the PlayStation, so it comes highly recommended.
NHL ’98: NHL ’98 is to the PlayStation what NHL ’94 is to the Genesis. It was an amazing step forward for the series after the rather droll NHL ’97, which focused more on FMV and polygons and less on gameplay. Although the FMV sequences with John Davidson from NHL ’97 were dropped, presentation was improved everywhere else. Running commentary was introduced for the first time in the series, while pertinent stat overlays during stoppages in play made NHL ’98 feel more like a telecast than ever before. NHL ’98 is a fast game, and the offense is driven by deadly one-time shots that light the lamp with excitement. This game is the apex of the series for the PlayStation and it’s still a blast to play today. The $5 USD (or less) asking price is worthwhile… but make sure you have a memory card to save your season progress.
Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko: Sure, I could have easily listed one of the Crash Bandicoot or Spyro the Dragon games here, but I honestly have more fun with the Gex games– especially this one. Admittedly, the humor is part of the attraction for me here; Gex’s one-liners generally revolve around pop culture references for the time, but there are a few sight gags that make me laugh, too. Humor alone doesn’t make a enjoyable game, though… so it’s a good thing that Deep Cover Gecko is as fun to play as it is to listen to. Although the camera can be annoying at times, it’s easy to move Gex around and navigate him across gaps and platforms. The game isn’t terribly difficult, and there are quite a few extra lives to be found for some challenging sections or boss battles. Deep Cover Gecko is also fairly cheap, with the average asking price hovering near $10 USD. (Don’t worry if this is your first Gex game, either; no catching up is required.)
Rage Racer: In 1997, Namco changed up its racing game formula after two arcade hits with Ridge Racer (1995) and Ridge Racer Revolution (1996). Those games don’t really have much replay value and are easily “beaten” within a couple of hours, at most. Rage Racer is an original racing game for the PlayStation that incorporates new cars, new tracks, a new progression system, and currency that is awarded, based on a player’s finish in a race. This earned currency is used to improve cars that players already own, as well as to buy better cars to race with. It’s a much deeper game than its predecessors, and it’s more difficult, too. Fans of the bright and colorful visuals from the earlier Racer games might be a little disappointed here, as the game is darker and a bit more gritty. The music is more varied than in previous Racer titles, including some guitar work on some tracks and more of a drum & bass feel on others. A complete copy of Rage Racer is going for less than $10 USD, and it’s worth a look if you enjoy arcade-style racing games and are looking for a longer-lasting experience.
That wraps up this Consoleation column. Thanks, as always, to all of you for checking out my work. If you’d like to share your own PlayStation stories, memories, or favorite games, please feel free to do so in the comments section below.
You can also meet me– as well as fellow and alumni members of the Retroware family plus a cast of others– at RetroWorld Expo in Wallingford, CT on October 3rd. Tickets are just $25 for the day, and it will be a memorable one. Hope to see you there!