It’s hard to believe now, given the current shape of the console landscape, but Sony was once seen as an underdog in an industry dominated by Nintendo and Sega. It’s not like Nintendo and Sega were the only games in town; other consoles came and went during the 8 and 16 bit years, but none were successful enough to challenge the dominance of the big two. Many observers, myself included, believed that Sony were likely to be one of these interesting, but ultimately unsuccessful, challengers.
Initially working with Nintendo to develop a SNES CD-ROM add on, Sony struck out on their own when the partnership fell through. Nintendo continued down an ill-fated path of CD-based development with Philips, but this only resulted in some very off-brand, non-Nintendo developed and often (rightly) derided games for Philips’ own CDi console.
Sony’s efforts, however, resulted in their first ever console – which of course became the Sony PlayStation. Nintendo’s spurning of Sony resulted in the creation of their biggest competitor, whose consoles have, in many instances, completely outshone and – crucially – outsold them.
Four consoles – with a fifth on the way – and twenty five years on from the release of the first PlayStation, I wanted to take a look at it from my own, personal viewpoint.
I first saw the PlayStation in CeX, as was often the case with consoles in the early to mid-90s. Trips to the West End of London weren’t complete unless I popped into their Rathbone Place store for a look at their import stuff; back then, when launches were staggered across the globe by months, it was a tantalising glimpse into the future. I distinctly remember seeing Battle Arena Toshinden running on a Japanese console, next to Deadalus (which eventually became known as Robotica upon release outside of Japan) playing on the Sega Saturn and FIFA on the 3D0. Though impressed with all of these, having been used to playing on the SNES for a few years by that point, it was the PlayStation’s vibrant colours and lovely looking 3D effects that really caught my attention.
I wasn’t able to afford one until well after the UK launch, however – the price dropping to £199 made it affordable to me in 1996, though this was two years after I first saw the console running in CeX. When I got mine, I only had two games in mind – WipEout and Alien Trilogy, which had launched that year. I got hold of both games when I bought my console and spent countless hours playing them. It was an incredible leap, going from SNES to PlayStation, and there was a feeling that everything was changing – had changed, even – very, very quickly. It really did feel like a new era and I don’t think we’ve ever had such a game-changing generation since.
There were some absolutely groundbreaking games on the first PlayStation. For me, the WipEout games – peaking, in my opinion, with the glorious WipEout 2097 – felt like gaming spreading its wings and growing up. They were no longer to be seen as ‘toys’ or the preserve of nerdy teenagers who should have grown out of them (that was society’s view at the time, not mine) – instead, they were being sold as edgy, fashionable experiences with an entirely new demographic being targeted.
In the case of WipEout, with its soundtrack of cool electronica – actual band names on the cover was a bit of a novelty, especially of the calibre of those featured – it was clubbers and what was then known as the ‘post-pub’ audience. It was suddenly not just ok to be playing games, but actually cool to do so.
The next massive shift for me in realising what was possible on the then-cutting edge console – in my opinion – was the first Resident Evil. Zombies were not the ubiquitous presence they are now – it’s arguably Resident Evil that first brought them closer to the mainstream, following George Romero’s cult trilogy of zombie movies in the preceding decades – which perhaps gave it a lot more horror value at the time. It certainly was a masterfully constructed game with some spectacularly unforgettable moments (I always recall the dogs smashing through the windows, of course – doesn’t everyone?). Sure, the FMV was awful, the script and voice acting equally terrible; however, this did give it a real B-movie quality and at least gave us some laughs between scares. I took the day off work (sick, ahem) to pick it up and play it on launch day – time well spent!
There were other big PlayStation games that had a larger impact on gaming in general – Metal Gear Solid, Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy 7, for example – but for me, the most interesting stuff at the time were the smaller games that caught my attention. Worms was a game that I had countless of those aforementioned ‘post-pub’ sessions on with friends; wonderful times that never seemed to get old. Being a massive fan of pinball, I also spent an unreasonable amount of time playing Ocean’s magnificent True Pinball, which is all but forgotten these days, sadly.
Vib Ribbon and Parappa the Rapper are notable mentions as brilliant musical concepts that were made possible by using disc media; Vib Ribbon being able to generate levels based on any music CD being played was jaw dropping at the time – though I didn’t make life easy for myself when choosing Aphex Twin albums to play along to.
There’s plenty more, of course, but these are the ones that really made an impression – that truly stuck in my mind. Do you have any memories of lesser known PlayStation games that had an impact on you? Let me know in the comments below!
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