For more than a decade, Nintendo was the undisputed king of the video game industry. It’s first console, the Nintendo Entertainment System, was enormously popular in Japan upon its release in 1983. It even revitalized a collapsed North American video game market in 1985. Sega did it’s absolute best to take down this titan with incredibly aggressive advertising tactics, but the NES and the subsequent Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) maintained their top spots for many years. It seemed as if no company could ever take Nintendo head on as a legitimate competitor. That is, until Nintendo started talking with media company Sony Computer Entertainment about creating a disc-based add on for the SNES. The project ultimately fell through with Nintendo dropping out and Sony deciding to create their own console. It is from the ashes of the failed SNES-CD project that Nintendo’s greatest rival was created: the PlayStation. The PlayStation completely upended the industry and gave then champion Nintendo their first real taste of defeat. Since then these two companies, and eventually Microsoft, have been embroiled in a heated battle to take the top console crown. Nintendo already stepped into the eighth generation last year with the Wii U, but now Sony has entered the fray with the PlayStation 4. I’m a huge PlayStation fan so naturally I’ve decided to focus on the legacy of this line of consoles for this week’s Remembering the Classics.
The PlayStation first took the gaming world by storm in 1994 on Japanese shores and it came to countries beyond almost a full year later. It was a smash hit right out of the gate. Even though it wasn’t the first game system to use a disc-based format, it was the first that was actually successful. People began to take notice of the graphical superiority of the CD compared to cartridges which set into a motion an industry shift that eventually pushed cartridges to only handheld systems. There was also a definitive focus on more mature gamers as well, a demographic that most people didn’t particularly associate with Nintendo’s family friendly Super Mario or Legend of Zelda titles.
By the time the Nintendo 64 came out in 1996, the PlayStation had already dominated the market. The Sega Saturn didn’t even stand a chance against Sony, which meant the PlayStation went relatively uncontested for a solid year and a half. Obviously Sony’s already established image as a major entertainment company worked in its favor. For many, the biggest drawback of the PlayStation was its two controller limitation, making people flock to the Nintendo 64 if they wanted a real multiplayer experience. With eventual titles like Super Smash Bros., Mario Cart 64, Mario Party, and GoldenEye 007, there were plenty available. But this unfazed the PlayStation which “won” the fifth generation with legacy making titles Final Fantasy VII, Crash Bandicoot, Gran Turismo, Resident Evil, and Metal Gear Solid, among many others. If anything, this was an eye opening moment for Nintendo when they realized that they can, in fact, be beaten.
Sony wasn’t content taking down their former partner and ruling over the industry only once however. They had a lot of positive momentum coming out of the fifth generation that they immediately set their sights on making the sixth generation something to truly remember. Enter in the year 2000 and the PlayStation 2. If people thought the PlayStation was a groundbreaking console with its ability to play music CDs and impressive graphics, the PlayStation 2 was an Earth shattering system like no other. The graphics were better, the games were more mature, and it boasted the first ever DVD/video game player combo in history. DVD’s were rising in popularity and Sony immediately hopped on the wave to victory. It ushered in a new era of media convergence that would become staple of future generations. This was the moment that people began looking at consoles in a totally different light.
With over 150 million systems sold to date, the PlayStation 2 is the number one selling console of all time. Established franchises released mega hit titles like Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Grand Theft Auto III, and Final Fantasy X which gave people plenty to play. New franchises also became instant hits with titles like Kingdom Hearts, God of War, and Devil May Cry. All of this cemented the PlayStation 2’s dominance on the sixth generation. However, not learning their lesson from the first system, the PlayStation 2 still only allowed two person multiplayer. Sure there was the multitap, but by that point everyone was already enjoying the Nintendo GameCube and Microsoft’s newcomer the Xbox for their multiplayer needs. It was a such an incredible oversight for an already forward thinking company that made people jump to other consoles at the drop of a hat. Still, Sony reigned supreme once again, and it accomplished something Nintendo never could: complete Sega destruction. The earlier released Sega Dreamcast didn’t stand a chance, and after getting knocked to the bottom in terms of sales two generations in a row, the company permanently bowed out of the console making business.
The first PlayStation and PlayStation 2 are two of my favorite consoles of all time. I was already a huge Nintendo fan, some of my most treasured memories ended up being on the Nintendo 64, but Sony’s first two systems introduced me to a whole new world. It’s where I became a Final Fantasy superfan with Final Fantasy VII, first experienced the glory of Grand Theft Auto with Grand Theft Auto III, actually beat a Mega Man title with Mega Man Legends, and ripped apart Greek Gods with God of War. I saw firsthand what Disney and Square could create when they came together and experienced graphical prowess unlike anything I had previously seen. I owned and thoroughly enjoyed the Dreamcast, Nintendo 64, GameCube, and Xbox, but Sony’s systems were always special to me.
It’s undeniable that Sony stumbled in the seventh generation with the PlayStation 3’s rocky and high priced beginnings. Microsoft really came into its own with the Xbox 360 (though that was problem plagued too) and Nintendo quietly returned to its former glory with the Wii outselling every other console on the market. Battle lines were drawn and gamers either sided with Sony or Microsoft while everyone universally accepted Nintendo. I’m definitely on Sony’s side when it comes to consoles, but honestly appreciate a great game regardless of system. With the eighth generation officially kicking into high gear, Sony looks like it’s ready to take back the top with the PlayStation 4. Only time will tell if it can fend off the Xbox One, but that’s a story for another day.