Playstation 20th Anniversary

Break out the Ridge Racer jelly mould and dust down your official Crash Bandicoot party hats, because this month sees Sony clock up one of its most dazzling milestones: PlayStation turns 20. The life-changing grey rectangle launched across Japan on 3 December 1994, alongside eight games that included Namco’s now-legendary speedster Ridge Racer, train sim AIV Evolution, and tile-fighter Mahjong Station Mazin.

Sony’s first foray into gaming transformed a pastime which had been dominated by Sega and Nintendo but what few realise is that PS1 was initially intended as a follow-up to the latter’s NES. Yes, PlayStation’s overlords once snuggled happily with Mario under a king-sized Yoshi duvet.

In 1986, Nintendo bosses keen to produce a disc-based sequel to it's 8-bit system began tapping into Sony’s expertise in the field, ultimately agreeing to collaborate after being impressed by a processor created by ‘Father Of PlayStation’ Ken Kutaragi. Five years later, however, Nintendo backed out of the deal and revealed plans to switch to Phillips-made hardware: a snub that cut Kutaragi and his bosses so deep they resolved to press on with the console alone. Three years on, PlayStation was
born and the jumping plumber’s loss was every gamer’s gain.

Main ridge
On reflection, and despite the presence of that Mahjong game, PS1’s day one line-up was anything but ‘mazin. Yet Ridge Racer provided a tantalising glimpse of what the console could do both cosmetically and AI-wise, immediately being tagged the most realistic driver ever.

The inaugural E3 conference in June of 1995 couldn’t have come at a better time, as Sony promised a future of, “easy access and better technology,” would swiftly bring the curtain down on the 16-bit era.

Successful launches on either side of the pond that September proved them right, as gamers jettisoned their Mega Drives and SNESes in droves. So long, 16-bit.

When the proper games came, they weren't merely good, but great. For the next two years, a stream of seminal titles saw rulebooks rewritten from scratch across every discipline UK launch game WipEout, for instance, changed both the racing genre and gaming culture.

Birthday Crash
Less than 12 months later, the console got a mascot and groundbreaking platformer all in one via that mischievous Naughty Dog bandicoot. Die Hard Trilogy crammed three games onto one disc for the first time, while Resident Evil outdid all of the above, popularising a whole new sub-category of gaming all to itself: survival horror.

Then there was Final Fantasy VII. Released in Japan on 31 January 1997, Square Enix’s colossal RPG saw 3D graphics and FMV utilised in the series for the first time, and blended a lovable cast with as epic a storyline as there’d ever been pressed onto a compact disc.

A good 17 years on, thousands still trumpet it as the greatest videogame ever made; its 10 million copies sold underpinning that lofty claim. Indeed, its legacy only seems to strengthen with each passing year, the adventure repeatedly topping polls for gamers’ most wanted HD remake.

From Tomb Raider to Uncharted via Metal Gear Solid, GTA and Gran Turismo, many other series would become synonymous with PlayStation over the ensuing two decades; but it wasn’t only the face of software that changed after Sony entered the fray. Two years following PS1’s debut, our means of controlling on-screen action also evolved thanks to the DualShock.

Tekken one for the team
Using vibration motors, we were finally able to feel what was happening on our TVs as well as see it. Who can forget the first time you got clobbered in Tekken 3 and sensed it through your fingertips? And who can forget Sony launching PS3 without a trembling pad? Thank the lord aka Kaz Hirai that problem was swiftly rectified.

By the end of the ‘90s, PlayStation had become a pop culture phenomenon, making cameo appearances across all entertainment forms naturally, Sony’s console took pride of place in Joey and Chandler’s apartment in Friends. But the turn of the century ushered in an even greater period of success for Sony.

PS1 sales topped out at an almost-unfathomable 102 million units, but PS2, released in March 2000, would go on to shift an even more brain-frazzling 155 million. It remains the biggest selling console in history, and games such as PES 2014 and Final Fantasy: Seekers Of Adoulin were still being released on it as recently as last year.

While PS3 and PS4 (as yet) haven’t been able to match those staggering numbers, the PlayStation name remains as iconic as ever, and is well placed to endure for at least another 20 years. (Barring any unforeseen disasters, that is what do you mean you made the birthday cake in the shape of a MiniDisc?)

Hence our insistence that you raise your champagne flutes once more to mark two decades’ worth of unforgettable nights in with Double K’s metamorphic magic box. But save some champers: we'll be serving up grander PS1 celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of its UK launch in September 2015.

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