If there’s an easier system to pick up and start collecting for than the original Sony PlayStation, I’ve yet to find it. The biggest entry point obstacle to collecting on old school systems is usually buying the console itself, but the PS1 is so ubiquitous and inexpensive it’s absurd. Twenty years ago, putting a PlayStation in your living room would have set you back a few hundred dollars; today you can find these systems almost everywhere classic games are sold for around ten bucks. Part of the reason for this is the sheer number produced–Sony sold well over one hundred million of them around the world–but the rest of the blame lies solely on the PlayStation 2. With its built-in backwards compatibility, the PS2 offered gamers no reason to hold on to their old hardware when it came to trade-ins. Sony literally obsoleted their own tech five years later, and that means the original PlayStation is one of the least expensive and easiest to find consoles in history. With inexpensive, mass-produced hardware also comes inexpensive, mass-produced software that still holds up today, and with that in mind, here’s my personal list of a baker’s dozen must-have, easy-to-find, not-so-expensive, tons-of-fun games available for the little grey rectangle, presented in no particular order.
Just to be clear, I’m not claiming these are the best games on the system, although some of them definitely belong on a similar list. Rather, these are great games, across a variety of genres, nearly anyone can enjoy for next to nothing out of pocket. Most can be had for under $10, and none of them should set you back more than $20 (with one exception, but I think you’ll agree it’s worth it). I’m from the US, so if you’re gaming in Africa, Asia, South America, Australia, or Europe you’ll want to do your own research and make sure they’re available locally before paying outrageous import fees.
Find me a launch title for any other 8-, 16-, or 32-bit system that looks as beautiful when compared to later releases as Rayman does. I’ll save you time: you can’t. Rayman is a drop-dead gorgeous platformer from Ubisoft that proved the PS1 hardware could easily handle 2D as well as 3D graphics. While most of the early software for the PS1 looks downright amateurish in light of what developers were squeezing out of the system five years later, Rayman is one of those lucky bastards that will never look its age. Gamers who ignored this one because it wasn’t pushing polygons like Ace Combator Battle Arena Toshinden made a gigantic mistake. Fortunately you don’t have to follow their example, as you can pick this one up for under five bucks and enjoy one of the slickest side-scrollers to appear on a CD-based system.
12) Twisted Metal 2
There were a total of five Twisted Metal games released for the original PlayStation hardware, but not all Twisted Metal games are alike. While the first two were developed by SingleTrac, the third and fourth were given to 989 Studios and the results were…not pretty. The original Twisted Metal was a launch title and made for a compelling experience in demo kiosks all over the country, but Twisted Metal 2 is better in every way imaginable. Featuring more playable cars, levels scattered all across the world, and way more weapons, secrets, and power-ups, TM2 raised the bar for the car combat genre and is a defining example from the 32-bit era which still holds up today.
11) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Neversoft made skateboarding cool and accessible to all with the original Tony Hawk Pro Skater, so how could they possibly top it? Well, more skaters, more levels, more tricks, more secrets, and a build-your-own-park level editor, if you must know. THPS2 has a ridiculously absurd 98% rating on MetaCritic, and while I don’t advocate basing your gaming decisions on MetaCritic scores alone, if there’s any game you could do so with, it’s the second Tony Hawk. If, for some reason, you can’t find Pro Skater 2, there are three other entries in the series for the PS1 you could go with, but believe me, THPS2 is the cream of the crop, and a must-have for any PS1 owner whether casual or hardcore.
10) All-Star Slammin’ D-Ball
I loved Super Dodge Ball on the NES. Nothing delivers frantic, hectic dodge ball action like it, but Agetec’s All-Star Slammin’ D-Ball sure as hell comes the closest I’ve ever seen. Released as a budget title the same year the PS2 came out, this game is ridiculously fun, ridiculously playable, and stupid cheap. Whether you’re putting AI opponents in their place in single-player mode or challenging a friend to VS Mode, All-Star Slammin’ D-Ball will grant you far more hours of enjoyment than its bargain-basement price might indicate.
9) Tomb Raider / Tomb Raider 2
Twenty-one years ago, gamers of the world met Lara Croft, and we’ve never been the same. Lara’s initial outing on the PlayStation delivers globe-trotting 3D underground exploration and puzzle-solving, while Tomb Raider 2 offers more levels and increased gun-play in more open levels and locations around the world. Both are enjoyable, both are inexpensive, and I honestly couldn’t pick between them. If you’re looking for atmosphere and a slower pace of play, go with the first one. If a faster pace at the expense of the first game’s claustrophobic interiors is more your speed, then you’ll likely enjoy the sequel more. Either way you’re in for a great time.
8) WWF Smackdown 2: Know Your Role
Wrestling fans all have their favorite games, but for my money (and yours), you cannot have more fun with a PS1 wrestling title than Yukes’ second entry in the Smackdown franchise. Released smack-dab in the middle of the Attitude era, Know Your Role is more ‘arcade’ than ‘simulation’, but that’s a good thing. Featuring intuitive controls, an enormous 60-wrestler talent roster including the Divas, a mammoth Create-A-Wrestler mode, up to four-player simultaneous play, and a season mode that will stretch on forever with dozens and dozens of storyline surprises, not even the dumbest jabroni on the planet could argue with this game’s fun-to-dollar ratio. Whether you’re dropping a Stone Cold Stunner on Vince McMahon, deploying The People’s Elbow to roars of audience support, or chokeslamming Mick Foley through the top of the cage in an iconic Hell in a Cell match, IT DOESN’T MATTER what you think about professional wrestling! WWF Smackdown 2 is the real deal.
7) Metal Gear Solid
Solid Snake had adventures before his first 3D outing, but none of them carried the impact of Metal Gear Solid. Arguably one of the biggest killer apps for the PS1, Snake’s return to active duty on Shadow Moses Island launched one of the biggest franchises of the last twenty years, made Hideo Kojima a household name outside of Japan, and delivered one of the most top-notch stealth/infiltration experiences of any video game ever made. With the size of the impact crater it left in the annals of gaming history, you’d think Metal Gear Solid would be one of those obscenely expensive, impossible-to-find titles, but it’s not. Between the remake on the GameCube, the HD remaster Legacy Collection available for PS3, and its presence as a digital download on PSN as part of Sony’s Classics, the original PS1 discs are easy to find and dirt-cheap, an unbeatable combo as far as I’m concerned.
6) Syphon Filter / Syphon Filter 2
Syphon Filter was 989 Studios’ answer to Metal Gear Solid, geared more towards the crowd who enjoyed dropping terrorists with head shots instead of sneaking around behind their backs, though some missions do require you to avoid detection so it’s not all run-and-gun. This was another franchise like Tomb Raider where I was unable to pick just one. The first game has plenty to recommend it, but the second one is just as fun and adds a two-player deathmatch component when you’re tired of going after the bad guys and want to gun down your friends instead. There was a third game, and it’s not terrible, but the first two are superior so if you have to pick, make sure your choice is between them and don’t worry about part three.
5) Resident Evil 2
The PlayStation is loaded with choices for the horror enthusiast, but almost everyone would agree Resident Evil 2 is the obvious pick if you could only choose one. Of all the games on this list, this one will set you back the most money (it’s hovering around the $20 mark as I write this). It’s also the only one where the version matters: ideally you’ll want the green label Greatest Hits edition because it supports the Dual Shock, and trust me, you’ll want the analog sticks, especially if you’re used to more modern survival horror control schemes. With two playable characters each with slightly different campaigns, multiple endings, two bonus scenarios to unlock, and plenty of scares to go around, Resident Evil 2 is a must-have for any PS1 owner. If money is really tight, the Director’s Cut of the original Resident Evil is less than half the price of the sequel and it’s worth picking up, but there’s little denying the superiority of Capcom’s follow-up.
4) Parasite Eve
RPGs are legion on Sony’s console. It’s one of the reasons I went with them over the competition, and while the Final Fantasy series has much to recommend it, including the extremely low prices for both FF8 and FF9, when I needed an RPG for this list, only one came to mind: Parasite Eve. Released in 1998, this atypical RPG does away with the swords-and-sorcery fantasy setting for one planted firmly in the real world of New York City. Between its science fiction plot, horrific elements, beautiful cut scenes, gorgeous pre-rendered backdrops, and badass female lead in Detective Aya Brea, Parasite Eve is a unique experience in every sense imaginable. Playtime-wise, it can’t touch most of Square’s other offerings, but there’s still a solid 20 hours on offer if you tackle both the original mission and ‘New Game +’ mode to fight your way up all 77 randomized floors of the Chrysler Building to earn the true ending. If that’s not enough, black-label versions of the game came with a bonus third disc containing a playable demo of Xenogears along with previews of Brave Fencer Musashi, Bushido Blade 2, and Final Fantasy VIII. Picking this one up gives you a little more bang for your buck, but no matter what, Parasite Eve is a phenomenal cinematic RPG experience you can’t get anywhere else.
3) Colony Wars: Vengeance
If you’re itching for some space combat, have I got the game for you. Second in the Colony Wars series, this sequel puts you in the cockpit of a Navy fighter belonging to the forces originally crushed by the League of Free Worlds a century ago in the original game. That’s right: you’re essentially taking revenge for acts committed against you by yourself. Kind of a head trip, isn’t it? Not counting the original Colony Wars, there are lots of choices for ship-to-ship space warfare on the PS1, including the venerable Wing Commander IV, but for your discount dollars, none offer the playability, customization, and flat-out fun you can have with Vengeance. With tons of spacecraft, weapons, and upgrades available, it’s one of the best and least-expensive ways to scratch that Star Wars itch without dropping Star Wars-level cash.
2) R4: Ridge Racer Type 4
While some might cry foul at my choice of this over the better-known Gran Turismo series, I find Ridge Racer‘s arcade-style racing much more enjoyable and easy to pick up and play than Gran Turismo‘s sim-heavy presentation. There’s nothing wrong with GT, and if simulation is more your thing, by all means, grab Gran Turismo 2 and go nuts. But for your money, the best racing experience on the PS1 comes from Ridge Racer Type 4, because in addition to a killer soundtrack and top-notch graphics, you get two games for the price of one. That’s right, Ridge Racer Type 4 includes a second disc with a version of the original Ridge Racer, remastered with new texture shading elements to run at a blazing 60 fps. Add on a split-screen two player VS mode, an undocumented four-player mode using two PlayStation systems and a link cable, and a roster of over three hundred vehicles to unlock, and R4‘s low price tag becomes that much more impressive.
1) Tekken 3
Fighting games come and fighting games go, but for the PS1, you’re either playing Tekken or you’re just fooling around. With its beautiful, high-poly models, multitude of character choices, massive move list, and (of course) the standard two-player VS mode, Tekken 3 is the pinnacle of the 3D fighting genre on the PlayStation hardware. For your ‘beating the stuffing out of my opponent’ needs, there are many options…but Tekken 3 offers so much for its bargain-basement price you’d be a fool to look anywhere else.
There you have it, new collectors: thirteen inexpensive but awesome games any new PS1 enthusiast could and should pick up to get their collection rolling. With nearly 8,000 games in its library world-wide though, whittling my list down to a mere thirteen games means a lot more gems failed to make the cut. Sound off in the comments with your suggestions for future lists of this sort you’d like to see (either for the PS1 or other systems), if you agree with my choices, or you want to heap abuse because your favorite game didn’t make the cut!