Backwards compatibility – whereby video games made for obsolete hardware are made compatible with a contemporary system – is a feature I long for, angrily demand, tantrum over and, when it’s finally given to me, almost comprehensively ignore.
Still, I want it, dammit. It’s important to know it’s there; to be assured that, if I had the urge or inclination to fetch that cardboard box of old games from the attic, those memories, places, old friends and loveable foes would be easily reachable. New hardware brings with it new degrees of separation from our past avatars, unfair, considering they live right here in our houses, etched in the zeroes and ones of estranged discs and cartridges.
For hardware manufacturers backwards compatibility is an expensive gift. It wasn’t long before Sony castrated its earliest PlayStation 3 units, removing their capacity to play PSOne and PS2 games – and the accompanying strained fan-wheeze of effort required to play them.
The company did this not only because it reduced the cost of the system’s wiry innards, but also because it allowed them to sell digital versions of those games back to us, wringing new drops of profit from games long consigned to the dust and neglect of history.
But there’s no sense of muted resentment when it comes to last week’s Vita upgrade from Sony, allowing PSOne ‘classics’ to be enjoyed on its voluptuous, weirdo handheld. The games can be played in their original dimensions or, happily, stretched to fit the expanse of the Vita widescreen and, in the main, they look wonderful.
The shortlist of downloadable ‘classics’ (as Sony describes them) is short, but stocked with some of the big ticket titles of the era, from Final Fantasy VII to Tomb Raider to Metal Gear Solid.
There are also a number of strange, yet welcome choices included, some of the lesser-known classics of the era.
Here are the ones you should investigate.
Bishi Bashi Special
Predating WarioWare by some years, Konami’s ebullient minigame collection plays on the sometimes tired and tiring OMG-JAPAN-LOL style, but with such warmhearted generosity and creativity that you cannot help but be pulled into its ball pool of silliness.
This somewhat obscure scrolling shooter from Warashi was ported from the arcade to the Saturn before finally landing on PSOne (and now Vita). It’s not the strongest example of its genre from the mid-90s, but its competence and rarity warrant the £3.99 asking price.
Cho Aniki’s inclusion in the launch list of PSOne classics is pretty extraordinary given it’s a homoerotic curio shoot ‘em up that’s rarely seen outside of Japan. Still, in a year in which the games industry has taken a (largely deserved) kicking for its lack of diversity, Cho Aniki thrusts a taut man-boob in the mouth of critics.
Front Mission 3
Squaresoft’s mecha-based series moved away from its Tactical RPG roots last year, to a collective groan of consternation of its strategy-minded fans. The third game in the series is widely considered one of the best, as you customize your team of bipedal tanks and gun your way through its twisting story.
Buy this early PSOne 3D cop-shooter not just in loving memory of the Psygnosis team that was disassembled at Sony Liverpool last month, but also for its Blade Runner-y ambiance and often-met ambitions.
Ridge Racer Type 4
Namco’s most colourful and characterful arcade racer, R4 is a blaze of excitement and technical accomplishment. Its soundtrack and lens-flared vistas may be of their time, but the effect is timeless.
Yasumi Matsuno’s complex action RPG stuns on the Vita screen, its stylish visuals, directed camera angles and eloquent script shaming many contemporary fantasy efforts. Download to see the Final Fantasy Tactics team at its most assured and to scratch the itch left by Dark Souls.