The PlayStation 2 may have sold the most, and the PlayStation 4 may be the current and most powerful system Sony has released to date, but as far as “iconic” systems go, arguably none fits that category more than Sony’s first ever console. Released in 1995, it wasn’t the first home gaming system on the market, but with its CD game disks, sleek design and peerless graphic and sound design, it really felt like you were gaming in the future if you got your hands on one during its 5th generation life cycle.
However, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, a console lives and dies by the strength of its back catalog of games, and thankfully the PS1 had a litany of classic games that took full advantage of the hardware at their disposal. Expanding across a variety of genres, the original PlayStation ha something for everybody - be you a fan of JRPG’s, an arcade racer, a platform gamer, a person with a thirst for action or adventure, or just somebody who wanted to shoot and blow up a lot of stuff - there was a classic game or two within every genre. The PS1 can also be credited with spawning many now iconic game series’, with names like Gran Turismo, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and Resident Evil all making their bones on the grey box.
That same box is also home to some stinkers and disappointments, unfortunately, proving that there’s no such thing as a perfect gaming experience. So join me as we look back with reverence and regret at some of the high points and low points of Sony’s first gaming machine.
Having “the right idea with the Virtua Tennis approach” (PSX Nation,) this Infogrames title took an original concept, making a virtual volleyball game, and attempted to mould it in the vein of other popular and enjoyable games like the the aforementioned Virtua Tennis. And truthfully, they almost succeeded, with most reviewers giving props to the entertaining gameplay that “fits the sport very well” (Gaming Age;) unfortunately, it was the poor graphics and terrible frame-rate that prevented this from being a sports title on par with others of its generation.
“An improvement in every way over the original, which was arguably the best racing game previously made for the PlayStation," Game Revolution’s review and perfect score summed up the feeling surrounding the sequel to Wipeout. Praised for its blisteringly fast futuristic racing, it was a blast alone or competing against friends. Aside from the racing, the overall package was fantastic, with graphics that were incredible for the time, and brilliant sound design and music, which included artists like The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers to race along to at breakneck speed.
The mid-'90s to early-'00s, essentially the PS1’s life-cycle, was perhaps the most popular time for extreme sports. With the stunts on MTV and the clothing apparel in Nu-Metal music videos, these activities permeated all of entertainment, including video games. So when Ultimate BMX was released, fans were anticipating a game on the level of the Tony Hawk’s or Matt Hoffman series’. While “tasty and delicious” in the gameplay department at times (PSX Nation,) it just couldn’t compete with the two aforementioned giants of the sub-genre.
The greatest 2D game in the PS1’s back catalog, this action-adventure side-scroller - which helped spawn the new genre ‘Metroidvania’ - was an instant classic and the best entry in the Castlevania series. Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine summed it all up perfectly in their 100/100 review, praising the title for “featuring a massive quest filled with RPG elements, incredible 2D backgrounds, fantastic character artwork, an astounding soundtrack and some of the best Castlevania gameplay ever seen," ultimately declaring that “SOTN is a PS one classic that can’t be missed.”
Based on the comic of the same name, could Danger Girl have been a super hero game on par with the likes of Spider-Man? Unfortunately, no. While the game is “fun enough” (GamePro) with some “quite good…sound design” (Da Gameboyz,) the end product ended up hurting from an “engine riddled with technical flaws," making it difficult to play. The tone of the game, which was meant to be sassy, also failed, making it “a poor excuse for a video game and an even poorer excuse for [adult entertainment]” (Daily Radar.)
The only thing bigger than skateboarding at the turn of the millennium was professional wrestling, and with the success of the WWF and WCW video games on the PlayStation and other consoles, it makes sense that ECW - the home of the must brutal, hardcore wrestling on TV - would release a video game. However, much in the same way that ECW was watched by a relative minority of wrestling fans, with its inferior gameplay and presentation, Anarchy Rulz could be recommended “only to ECW fans.” (IGN)
Going now from a bad fighting game to a great one, Alpha 3 is “arguably the best version of Street Fighter to grace the [PS1]." Taking the colorful graphics and quick, intense but deep and addictive gameplay of Street Fighter II while adding a “plethora of extra game modes” (GamePro) maintaining the variety and longevity, what you have is not only one of the best fighting games on the system, but “one of the best 2D fighters ever made” (Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine.)
There were a variety of brilliant racing games on the PS1 - from fun, arcade-y titles like Crash Team Racing to the more serious driving simulations like Gran Turismo - that were vying for the attention of gamers in the marketplace. JMS20'00s combination of racing and extreme sports, therefore, should’ve been a success. Unfortunately, when the developers somehow “[forget] to make the game fun” (Game Fan,) and instead release a “bland” product which “lacks real variety (PSX Nation,) motorcross fans’ hopes were dashed.
Speaking of Gran Turismo, here is the sequel! GT2 offered players the most realistic and downright graphically gorgeous driving simulator on the market when it was released in 1999. A true simulation with controls “that can seem downright impossible to master at first” (CheckOut) to match, once you come to grips with the complex realism, “the sheer breadth of [the] gameplay and the incomparable selection of cars offered sets [it] far above the competition.” (Da Gameboyz)
So, going from a bad racing game to a great racing game and back to another terrible one. PSX Nation described Quad Power Racing as “bland and boring [and] a game to avoid." Well, not a great start then. So why the hate? Try “insanely unoriginal options” and equally bland “play options” (CNET Gamecenter) where the the graphics are lackluster and, somehow, the music actually worse (Happy Puppy) turning what could’ve been an exciting off road racer into something more likely to put you to sleep.
One of the most iconic games on PlayStation, Metal Gear Solid flipped the action genre on its head by making evasion the priority as opposed to confrontation, popularizing the stealth genre in the process. Sneaking aside, though, MGS was action heavy where it needed to be, with its phenomenal gameplay and wide arsenal of weapons being implemented mostly during its many brilliant and memorable boss battles. The peerless presentation, sound design and fantastic music were used wonderfully to tell its complex, emotional and thought-provoking story about Snake and the many interesting allies and antagonists he encounters.
Descending from RPG royalty, even though this sequel to the SNES classic Chrono Trigger is considered the weaker of the two, it only speaks to the overwhelming quality of that first game because this title was universally acclaimed, and held up as a classic in its own right. Coming right at the end of the PS1’s life-cycle, this swansong title took the time-hopping aesthetic of the first game, creating a new adventure with a beautiful story, colorful graphics, classic turn-based combat and an outstanding musical score.
Probably the biggest shock on this list; not only the appearance of a lone Final Fantasy, but that it’s this, the final entry on the PS1 and not the mega-successful, fan-adored critical darling that is FFVII. However, FFIX merits its place on this list, going back to the series’ roots, seeing the return of “crystals…to the series, along with a four-member party, blue magic, and black mages” (GMR Magazine,) FFIX took inspiration from previous games, implementing them with gorgeous visuals, music and a great story to create “a true masterpiece” (GamePro.)
I’ve already discussed the sequel here, and while GT2 introduced a host of new vehicles and polished the visuals and gameplay further, it was the first in the series that made the initial, and gargantuan, impact. “One of the most exquisite racers ever to hit PlayStation," (IGN) players were wowed by the awesome graphics that had players doing “double takes to make sure [they] weren’t watching real racing footage” (GMR Magazine) and the vast litany of modes and challenges that kept players occupied “for months, if not years” (IGN.)
An example of an anticipated sequel to an established series falling completely flat, when Mortal Kombat first arrived in arcades and on consoles, it captivated and disgusted players with its addictive beat-em-up gameplay and graphic brawl-ending‘fatalities’. So when Special Forces hit with “poor graphics, controls and various plot holes” (All Game Guide,) it devastated series fans. “Devoid of any sort of fun whatsoever” (GamePro,) the consensus was clear, the series needed to “either end…or evolve” (CNET Gamecenter.) Thankfully, it eventually did the latter.
Another fighting game that could’ve been more than what it was. The 1990s was the peak for many things in popular culture, many of which I’ve already discussed like extreme sports, professional wrestling, and adult cartoons. Heavyweight boxing was also going through something of a Renaissance during this time. So while the “two handed boxing controls [gave you]] unprecedented freedom” (Sports Gaming Network,) it had a cool career mode and creation suites and, not to mention, the HBO license, it was ultimately a disappointment and a wasted opportunity.
An absolute classic and an icon of the beat-em-up genre, Tekken 3 absolutely blew its prequels away, and was considered by most to be “better than [the] arcade [version] overall” (Absolute PlayStation.) Giving players an unprecedented number of moves to be executed by a big and varied roster of iconic characters, Tekken 3 was equally as awesome and addictive played with friends or solo through its litany of game modes. As Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine so gracefully put it: “If you want to pick a fight, why not battle with the best of ‘em?”
If there’s one thing you’ve gotta give shock rockers KISS credit for, it's there marketing savvy: they’ve put their name on everything from movies to lunch boxes to action figures. So its no surprise that they would release a video game. Unfortunately, quality was not put ahead of financial incentive here, and the result reflects this lack of passion and effort. Summed up by GameSpot, “KISS fans will be disappointed by the distinct lack of KISS, and pinball fans will be disappointed by the distinct lack of pinball.”
As bad an example of a tie in game as you’re likely to find. After the runaway critical and commercial success of the Pokémon games, Dragon Ball Z fans were clamoring for a great video game to call their own. Ultimate Battle 22 was not to be this game. “One of the worst-looking titles ever released on PS1” (Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine) with “unresponsive…special moves” and combat that “lacks…strategic incentive” (Electronic Gaming Monthly,) the whole thing is just one big giant mess.
“The best skateboarding game ever and one of the greatest PlayStation games of all time” (CNET Gamecenter.) Is there anything else we can say about THPS2? With arcade skating gameplay that still hold up today, players grind, flip, and ollie their way through a dozen brilliantly designed levels in goal-orientated challenges, replaying levels in 2-minute bursts over and over again to collect everything accompanied by a killer soundtrack. Add in brilliant create-a-modes and some fantastic 2-player options, and you’ve got the most fun, addictive, and accessible game on the PS1.