1995 was a big year for gamers, it marked the transition from 16-Bit consoles, to the new CD based 32-Bit consoles (bar the N64!) and 3D gaming. The Sony PlayStation had been long hyped, especially with it originally launching in Japan the year before in December, but finally on the 29th September 1995, the Sony PlayStation launched in the UK and the rest of Europe.
The PlayStation is now quite rightly, considered a classic which changed the course of gaming, but did things always look as though it would become the behemoth it ultimately did?
Now as we know, a console is only as good as the games it offers, the PlayStation in Europe offered 9 games at launch.
- 3D Lemmings – Psygnosis
- Air Combat – Namco
- Battle Arena Toshinden – Sony Computer Entertainment
- Jumping Flash! – Sony Computer Entertainment
- Kileak – The Blood – Sony Computer Entertainment
- Novastorm – Psygnosis
- Rapid Reload – Sony Computer Entertainment
- Ridge Racer – Namco
- Wipeout – Psygnosis
There is one thing I have noticed looking back at these launch titles,and becomes a recurring theme especially with early PlayStation games. It’s the FMV intro! Almost a hangover from when we started to see CD based media introduced, the increased storage of CDs meant FMV video intros were an easy way to impress – You’ll see as we go along how most of these launch games went down this road too.
Anyhow, we already know at least a couple of these are classics, but how did the other launch titles fare up? Let’s take a look….
3D Lemmings – Psygnosis
The idea to bring the Psygnosis classic Lemmings straight to the PlayStation at launch was not a bad one in principle. It was by this time a hugely popular franchise which had much success on the 16-bit systems.
Once you get past the intro and the quite nice presentation, we jump into the game. This is where I had a bit of a moment, wondering what the heck am I doing! I mean, I get the premise of Lemmings as a game, but what am I doing with all of these buttons on the screen!
Fortunately, 3D Lemmings does give you a practice mode so you can get to grips with the games mechanics, but what you do have to get to grips with yourself are the hugely frustrating camera controls! It may well have been easier to adapt when playing for the first time, but coming back to an early 3D game, where 3D controls had not yet been mastered just proves hugely frustrating!
But overlooking the camera controls, 3D Lemmings is actually a half decent game. It has a lot of the charm of the original games, but just forced into a 3D environment. There is fun to be had here, you just need patience to overcome the primitive controls!
Air Combat – Namco
A port of the 1993 arcade game, Air Combat is a combat flight simulator by Namco. After a brief rendered FMV intro, you’re met with a quality Namco arcade style title screen and some rocking arcade style music! This is what people wanted from the PlayStation, arcade style presentation and audio!
Kicking off into the game, you can select an aircraft and are briefed on your first mission. The missions in Air Combat tend to follow the typical approach of destroying a bunch of enemy aircraft and ground targets, but in a much more arcade style gameplay rather than precise, drawn out missions of the 16-bit flight sims.
Like with many games released early in a consoles life, there are odd graphical glitches and below average draw distances and so on, but I wouldn’t have been disappointed with this had it been a day one purchase, it certainly impresses, especially if you have come from somewhere like the Amiga as your previous computer, like me.
To be fair to Air Combat, it does exactly what it sets out to do, exploits the modern hardware of the PlayStation and delivers some action packed, fun combat flight sim action.
Battle Arena Toshinden – Sony Computer Entertainment
The PlayStations first fighting game, Battle Arena Toshinden arrived on launch day promising to be a Virtua Fighter beater, which had been wowing gamers on the Sega Saturn.
Battle Arena Toshinden is a 3D weapons based fighting game, which has 8 main playable characters. Much like with Virtua Fighter, the 3D environment allows players to move around the fighting area, avoiding attacks using the shoulder buttons to rotate the level around.
The fighting mechanics are fairly primitive by today’s standards, but given this new generation of games succeeded the likes of Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat, expectations were high, but unfortunately Battle Arena Toshinden just lacks the fast paced, combo approach mechanics that made it’s 2D predecessors so successful.
Battle Arena Toshinden along with Virtua Fighter, helped usher in the new realm of 3D fighters, which have now become a classic genre in itself, The game proved popular upon launch, but with the likes of Tekken that followed a couple of months later, it meant that Battle Arena Toshinden had already peaked.
I’ve never been a huge 3D fighting game fan, but Battle Arena Toshinden would have ticked the box for a while on a new console, but it’s not aged particularly well.
Jumping Flash! – Sony Computer Entertainment
J umping Flash is definitely the quirkiest game that the PlayStation launched with, and unsurprisingly starts with another rendered FMV intro!
You play as a robot rabbit searching for jet pods around 3D levels. The game is played in a first person mode which sees you hop around at great heights to collect items in order to progress to the next level. There are numerous enemies to avoid and shoot, but the main focus of the game is for you to position and time your jumps correctly, collecting all the jet pods before you run out of time.
It’s a simple premise, but one that is very fun to play and received a sequel the following year which proved just as popular. It was originally conceived as a tech demo in early 1994, but further developed into a full game. It’s simplicity and quirkiness is what makes this game still shine over 25 years after it’s launch.
Kileak – The Blood – Sony Computer Entertainment
Doom inspired games and clones were the order of the day back in 1995 and Kileak – The Blood is unfortunately, just another Doom inspired first person shooter, but without any of the qualities Doom offers! Although it does not let us down in respect of a rendered FMV intro!
This is a classic example of now having the technology available to develop 3D games, but forgetting to add a game to it! Maybe I’m being a little harsh as there are some elements of gameplay to it, although it is very repetitive. There are some puzzle elements as you proceed through the levels trying to find your way through locked doors, but sadly that’s about it!
To its credit, it does run smoothly and again would impress any 16-Bit console gamer coming to the PlayStation on launch day, but with games like Alien Trilogy and Doom that would be ported the following year, this is another launch title that just felt like a bit of a tech demo for 3D FPS potential.
Novastorm – Psygnosis
Novastorm is a port of a game that was originally released on the 3DO and Sega Mega CD, and it shows! Again, not forgetting the now standard treat, the rendered FMV intro, Novastorm then proceeds to offer even more FMV backgrounds in game, much was the thing to do with CD based games on the likes of the Mega CD, 3DO and Amiga CD32.
The game is essentially the same old affair as Microcosm which was released in 1993 on the aforementioned consoles. An on-rails shooter that runs over an FMV background.
It is reasonably fun for 10 minutes I guess, but it can be very frustrating and there is only really one tactic, keep rotating around the screen shooting blindly at anything that moves.
Novastorm was certainly one of the worst launch titles for the PlayStation, It feels like Psygnosis published this one just to capitalise on a new console launch.
Rapid Reload – Sony Computer Entertainment
Releasing a 2D platformer shooter was perhaps a risky strategy for a console that marketed itself as a 3D powerhouse. But on the flipside, with it being the only traditional 2D game being released at launch, possibly could have it’s benefits too. This game is also notable for being one of only two games on the list without a full on FMV intro!
Rapid Reload wears it’s influences on it’s sleeves. It has a similar look and feel to the likes of Gunstar Heroes and Metal Slug. You run and jump around using a range of weapons to relentlessly blast away enemies.
One of the main game mechanics is the weapon power meter, which decreases like a timer as you play the game. Destroying enemies will see them drop power ups which top up the power number, meaning your weapons are more powerful. It is a good incentive which keeps you moving quickly through the game to ensure your weapon is always as powerful as possible.
It’s not a bad game, it also is not as intense or challenging as something like Metal Slug and could have been an excellent launch game, but it just didn’t have the wow factor that gamers were looking for at that point in time with new powerful hardware.
Ridge Racer – Namco
Now this is where things become more serious! Ridge Racer is a name that many more will be familiar with! Ridge Racer is a conversion of the popular Namco arcade game and created waves of excitement with its previews and earlier Japanese release in December 1994.
Right from the off, Ridge Racer shows off it’s Namco arcade roots with a Galaxian minigame whilst the game is loading. Immediately kicking off into the game we can see there is excellence in store for us. Ridge Racer for the PlayStation has all the feel, looks and sound of the arcade, jam packed into the modest sized console.
Ridge Racer is a slim game by today’s standards. The whole game is based around variations of a single track and there are just a handful of cars available. But that didn’t matter! Ridge Racers gameplay is unique, with an aggressive on rails like grip that can be converted into an extreme drift, which once you get a feel for is extremely fun!
2D arcade conversions was one thing in the 16-Bit era, but quality 3D arcade conversions had now truly become a reality with Ridge Racer. Arguably the Sega Saturn had gotten there first with Sega Rally & Daytona USA, but it was apparent the Sega Saturn struggled slightly with the 3D side of things, whereas the PlayStation seemed to handle things more effortlessly. Oh, and it also showed that no FMV intro was necessary for it to be a great game!
Ridge Racer is certainly one of the standout titles of the PlayStation launch, it has stood the test of time well and remains great fun to this day – You were missing you if you didn’t get this at launch!
Wipeout – Psygnosis
It’s almost as if we’ve saved the best couple of games until last!
Wipeout is without doubt one of the must have titles at launch for the PlayStation. A futuristic racing game where you take part in what is the anti-gravity racing league, battling it out against other crafts racing for the win. There are weapons and power ups that can be collected along the way to help you slug it out in this really challenging racing game.
That is where I have to first mention it’s difficulty levels! It is REALLY hard to get good at this game. The controls are simple enough in that you control the direction of your craft, accelerate, brake and also use left and right boosters to angle your craft with the shoulder buttons, but to actually master tackling corners smoothly is where you will need to practice. But don’t let that put you off because once you master the feel for the game, it is a very satisfying experience.
Wipeout is also notable for its soundtrack, utilising credible artists such as The Chemical Brothers, Leftfield and Orbital, although the commercial tracks are only available in PAL versions of the game – Otherwise the electronica styled soundtrack is still extremely good and fits the game well.
Wipeout became part of the cultural shift in gaming around this time, mainly thanks to it’s soundtrack and also the way the PlayStation was positioned as a console for older gamers, this is apparent with the lack of too many cutesy type games at launch. It spawned many sequels and is still a game people want to see more of today.
You were truly missing out if you did not buy this at launch, a classic when it was released and still a classic now.
So, were the PlayStation’s Launch Title’s any good then?
So that’s it, 9 games at launch, probably 3 or 4 really worth owning. WIthout doubt Ridge Racer and Wipeout were must haves, but I personally would have also tried out 3D Lemmings too, being such a fan of the original games. To be honest, it’s only in retrospect that we can now say that the controls for 3D games like 3D Lemmings were pretty terrible, I remember playing Croc for the first time and didn’t have any issues back then, but now it’s a very frustrating experience as we now have more refined control methods baked in to us!
Although I didn’t get a PlayStation myself until 1998, I got to play some of these launch games on friends consoles and remember Ridge Racer being the one that everybody was blown away by. The jump in 3D technology was the key factor here, the Sega Saturn had taken the wrong route by opting for a 2D powerhouse and levered in 3D features at the last moment. So with Sony not only undercutting the likes of the Sega Saturn price at launch, the PlayStation was also built from the ground up for 3D and is one of the deciding factors that led to the dominance of the PlayStation.