PlayStation - Hip or Hype?

For months we've been hearing about how the Sony PlayStation is going to rule the next gen system wars and redefine gaming as we know it and realign the planets and starch your underwear (of course, it seems most of the media in their infinite wisdom have seen fit to ignore the Ultra 64, another potential earth shaker). This crap aside, me and the Mrs. got ahold of an import PSX about a week ago to see if the whole mess was worthwhile, or if Andrah was going to be converting PlayStation CDs into attractive earring sets or peculiar articles of clothing.

Here's a quick overview:

Name: Ok, they call it the "Sony PlayStation X", or "Sony PlayStation", or just "PlayStation", or for the grammatically challenged (most high school sophomores), the fairly simple "PSX". We call it expensive, at $450 - $800 Japanese import cost; price varies depending on how much the butthead you ordered it from is trying to soak you for.

PlayStation picture Sony PlayStation

Physical Appearance: You've seen pictures (above). If you haven't, you probably aren't going to care much, anyhow... It looks a lot like a CD based game system.

a href="controller.gif">PlayStation controller PlayStation controller

Control Interface: Two really cool ten button controllers that are incredibly comfortable and control better than anything out there. I wish I could plug them into my 3DO.

Power Source: It plugs into the wall. Who knew?

Games!: We tried out five different games... here's what we discovered:

Motor Toon Grandprix:
Curiously enough, this was a top-rate title. Choose from five jello-mobiles and race on three one-player or ten two-player tracks. Hyper-fast frame rate, fabulous scenery & multiple race views make this sort of a "Daytoona USA". A bit too easy but fun none-the-less. Somebody was asleep at the controller during debug time because the music consistently faltered and quit during each race... Anyhow, this one is Andrah's favorite.
Toh Shin Den:
I hate polygon fighting games. Never liked them. This aside, Toh Shin Den is a joy to watch (in fact, the visuals here are downright spooky in that the characters move so realistically you'll have a hard time believing it). A good variety of characters, excellent 3-D rendering, dramatic camera angles and a healthy dose of special effects make this the ultimate Virtua Fighter killer. But again, another walk-through title... Most will have this one beat within two hours.
Ridge Racer:
Picture the arcade game with four cars and two race views to choose from and you get the idea... It's that good. Unfortunately, it suffers the same thing as the arcade version... One track that you'll blow through like a sneeze through a spiderweb even on the hard setting (has anyone noticed a trend yet?) Still... it's very impressive.
Cyber Sled:
A texture-mapped version of the arcade game... A cut above the original. Two hoversleds, with enough firepower to cut down Rush Limbaugh's ego, face off in a 3-D arena complete with obstacles. Good control, sound, graphics, options... Better grab a friend though because - AGAIN - the one-player mode is a 15-20 minute exercise in target practice that my mom was able to master. The game's strength is in it's two-player mode... It's a great way to solve marital disputes (although I'm still on the losing end of that one... When your wife is a former hovertank commander for the 62nd Arcturan Armored Cavalry... You get the pictures).
Who on this planet hasn't played this game on one system or another? It's old (5 years old) and overhead shooters are not good choices for first generation software. We ignored this one.

So, what does all this mean? The Sony PlayStation is a great piece of hardware... It does some fantastic stuff. Would we buy one? If it was about $200, maybe. Fact is, as mind bending as some of the software available is, most of them are just too short, too easy and over too quickly. More challenging games are going to be needed... quickly... in order for Sony to compete with Sega (not a big problem), Nintendo (a very big problem) and 3DO (with the M2 upgrade being touted as having system specs five times that of the PSX and the 500,000 + 3DO users out there, this could get interesting. Also of note: Nameco is rumored to have 3DO versions of Ridge Racer & Cyber Sled in development). Sony would be wise to release the PlayStation sometime in May or June to get a few months head start before the Ultra 64 is release. Because if the U64 rumors are true, I can see a major shakeup. If Nintendo releases the Ultra 64 ($200 - $250) in September when the PlayStation ($300 - $400 est.) and the Saturn ($400 - $450 est.) are released, I guarantee you that folks are going to flock to the cheaper Nintendo unit which is rumored to be four and-a-half light years ahead of anything else out there. If this happens, Sony's sales will drop through the floor (along with Sega) while Nintendo steams ahead, and the existing 3DO user base will cut into Sony's sales as well (it's unlikely that 3DO owners are going to shell out another mega-hundred bucks for a PSX when an M2 upgrade will give them 64 bits for $150 - $200).

On the other hand, the supposed Mortal Kombat III exclusivity contract Sony has may help out. Last word has it that the PSX will have MK3 in Sept - Oct of '95 while the other systems will have to wait until February of '96 to get it. Me, I couldn't care less. But there will undoubtedly be hordes of Kombat Drones who won't be able to wait 5 - 6 extra months and will have to have the system just to play the game. It's this sort of impulse-driven purchasing frenzy that Sony can use to it's advantage by getting the systems into the homes quickly and in mass quantities. Smart move.

So there it is. Let's hope Sony takes my Advice. The PlayStation is an awe-inspiring system that deserves a chance... But the window of opportunity is going to slam shut real fast. Best of luck, guys.

-Dr. Otto


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