Twenty years ago today the PlayStation first launched in Japan starting a new saga in console gaming. Here are the games we look back on that wowed us most.
Nineteen-ninety-four was quite a year for new consoles, the Atari Jaguar arrived in Europe and Japan as did the 3DO, and one month prior to the PlayStation’s launch in Japan, Sega had brought out the Saturn.
Now, 20 years later it is Sony that has arisen strongest from the melting pot of competing 90s consoles to live on three generations down the line, while machines from some of the old guard have fallen by the wayside.
With the PlayStation came the evolution of a standalone console into an all-in-one media player with games that came on discs (although it wasn’t the first to do so), as opposed to cartridges, a format unfavoured by previous market leaders, Nintendo due to the fact people could pirate games, but one that also gave less limitations.
Despite later competition from Nintendo in the fifth generation with the N64 and its more powerful processor, the PlayStation became the highest selling console of the era, smashing the rest of the field sales-wise. In total,102 million units of Sony’s flagship console sold, over three times that of the second best seller, the N64 and double that of the SNES in the previous generation.
As the PlayStation grew in stature, games become increasingly more complex, 3D graphics better looking and a market for more mature games arose. The feeling at the time, as we were being wowed by what Sony’s ‘computer entertainment system’ could do was that we were looking into the future and a bright one at that.
Behind the scenes at HITC we’ve been debating the games for the PlayStation which we remember most fondly. The games we’ve included below aren’t a top ten, or collection of best sellers but the ones that as gamers had us thinking, ‘this is awesome.’ We realise that not all the games we’ve listed were just out on the PlayStation but nonetheless they did much to define the console during its lifetime.
Tomb Raider’s brand of archeological puzzling brought with it one of the most iconic protagonists of the era with Lara Croft, who appealed to both the genders. We can still well recall the hours whiled away in search of a hidden ledge to shimmy along accompanied by the relative silence of a hidden tomb. The experience was immersive and engaging in a new way that has given way in the present to out-and-out action, but at the time was much more about problem solving and exploration. Tomb Raider, for a single player game was also one of those rare experiences where you could have a group of couch spectators helping you along and getting as sucked into the game as you were playing it.
One of the games from the early PlayStation days, Destruction Derby could accommodate up to twenty cars on screen simultaneously, something which only Daytona USA had previously achieved. Bundled together on pretty small tracks this made for some hilariously addictive mass pile-up action and the crunching collisions you got in the game were really well done. You had car deformation and pretty good physics, but the great beauty of the game was that it wasn’t just a straight racer (although there were racing modes) to be the don of The Bowl required good strategy and this game wasn’t the giant chaotic mess it could have been as a result.
Final Fantasy VII
For so many in the West Final Fantasy VII was an introduction to the JRPG genre that first brought the now familiar stylized, spikey-haired lead and convoluted, epic fantasies of the series. The game launched amid some controversy in that Sony succeeded in coaxing Squaresoft away from Nintendo exclusivity and the pay-off for Sony was massive. The game had a great combat system with some seriously over the top animations and. for us was the first example of endless random encounters and level grinding that remains a game against which all other JRPGs will be compared.
Wipeout oozed futuristic sentiment from the high-speed, difficult-to-control, anti-grav racers to the bombastic techno soundtrack. A truly unique new racer at the time, Wipeout did well at targeting 90s club-going 20-somethings and became a stalwart of after-party entertainment. For the time the game had some beautiful graphics and stunning lighting effects which really pushed the PlayStation, we haven’t had a new Wipeout since 2008 on PS3 and just discussing the original makes us yearn for a new one on 8th gen.
Another game which grabbed your attention with impressive 3D graphics, Tekken had an easy to pick up combat system in comparison to Virtua Fighter’s complexity that gave it a broad appeal - from the button-bashers to the combo masters. For us Tekken replaced games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat in the ‘winner-stays-on’ local multiplayer fighter space. The game had some compelling (although often wholesale nicked from movies) characters and grandiose narratives that taught us early on that trying to fathom exactly what the plot is in titles of its ilk is sometimes better left to the imagination.
A game which pretty much kicked off a genre. Resident Evil wowed us with sense you were playing your own movie, albeit a B movie with notoriously bad voice acting. You had to be thrifty with your supplies and played with a constant tension, remaining wary of the jump scares just around the next corner. Blending these elements with puzzle solving created the survival horror niche that still thrives today.
PaRappa the Rapper
Kooky, weird and overtly silly, PaRappa the Rapper evolved button bashing into rhythmic gameplay that again (as with Resident Evil) started the ball rolling for a new genre - the rhythm game. Even in this early stage you were able to freestyle in order to impress the game and make it think you were cool, something which broke the game out of the constraints of its own structure that’s rarely seen these days, as rhythm games become locked to the mapping of a specific track. The game also came with its own Iconic rapping dog and bendy 2D characters that were echoed in Paper Mario.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
THPS had a great control system combined with levels that had a free-roaming explorative feel, and the game epitomised the cool of extreme sports which were beginning to take the world by storm in the late 90s. But skating wasn’t as easy as the Rodney Mullens and Steve Caballeros of the world made it look, so plying your skating skills in-game became a great draw, not only to established skaters but those that wished they could be. You could even try and ‘out-cool’ your mates with the game's multiplayer. We remember well the sensation of going out into the real world after a lengthy THPS session and looking at stair rails and pavement slabs in a whole new light, planning in your head how you could grind off them. The fashion for extreme sports sims has waned a little in recent years but we’d love to see THPS make a comeback, we don’t even care if it doesn’t come with a fancy skateboard peripheral.
Gran Tourismo came to PlayStation and moved racing away from instinctive arcade twitch play into the realms of the driving sim. You got loads of models of real cars to race and customise and being good at the game required some considerable skill. Gran Tourismo was also the PlayStation’s biggest selling game and fans of the series have stuck with Sony’s consoles since. If you can’t go out and splash out hundreds of thousands on a souped-up sports car with shiny alloys this is the next best thing, kind of like fantasy football for petrolheads.
Those that were with PlayStation from the beginning will remember Ridge Racer well and when you're talking about games that defined the console you've got to give a nod to Namco's fast and furious racer. Having the game felt like you'd brought the arcade into your home and the graphics, smooth fast-moving frame rates and soundtrackc served to accentuate the experience. Just like Gran Tourismo. Ridge Racer has kept on going over the generations, testament to its greatness as a game that helped launch PlayStation to stratospheric fame.
So there’s our pick of ten games that made the PlayStation the success it was. There’s so many more though. Also considered for our list are such greats as Metal Gear Solid, Crash Bandicoot, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, Silent Hill, Spyro the Dragon, Medal of Honour and Music. The list can go on from there though. Jump in and leave us a comment about the PlayStation games that were your favourites.
We’ll be back later in the week to share some of our personal PlayStation favourites so stay tuned.