The word “PlayStation” is just synonymous with gaming now. In the space of a little over 25 years, Sony has created one of the most commercially successful gaming hardware brands of all time – selling over 530 million systems that have the word PlayStation attached to them. It’s a powerful icon that doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon, especially with the upcoming PlayStation 5 taking the mantle into the next generation.
But what about PlayStation’s past? It’s been a story of ups and downs, and so ranking the PlayStation systems feels right to see which one comes out on top and which one sinks to the bottom. This is obviously only my opinion, and as you read on, you’ll find I believe every PlayStation system to have at least some good qualities. Also, I won’t be including peripherals such as PSVR or plug-and-play consoles like the PlayStation Classic. They belong on another list for a different day.
6. PLAYSTATION VITA
Let it be said that there is no such thing as a bad PlayStation system. However, Sony only has to look at their ambitious, yet fleeting, second handheld to find a disappointing one. The PS Vita was a features-packed portable that promised true HD gaming in the palm of your hands. The reality was an impressive piece of tech that felt inaccessible and inconsequential to the general public thanks to its expensive proprietary accessories and lack of first-party support that sealed the PS Vita’s fate as a commercial flop.
With that said, after the promise of portable console gaming was broken and the sales figures continued to fall short, the PS Vita developed this charming personality thanks mainly to its extremely dedicated core fanbase. Indies and niche games found a hungry market on the system, while games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Persona 4: Golden, and Tearaway delivered on the PS Vita’s technical potential. Most PS Vita fans will happily turn apologists for their beloved handheld, but the unfortunate shortage of them points to the system’s failings and Sony’s inability to turn their fortunes around.
5. PLAYSTATION 3
The problem with a comeback story is that it has to start in a dire place. Such was the case with the disastrous early days of the PlayStation 3, as Sony became complacent from their past success and channelled that arrogance into poor messaging and damaging business decisions. The PS3 was simply too expensive, too difficult to develop for, and lacked some crucial third-party support from developers like Valve and Bioware. This plummeted Sony’s third home console into third place, and so began their slow climb back up.
But climb they did, and the story of the PS3’s turnaround is one of gaming’s most admirable. This was in large part due to the PS3’s line-up of first-party exclusives reaching a level of quality not yet seen from the publisher. Uncharted, God of War III, The Last of Us, Infamous, and Little Big Planet all made the system too enticing not to purchase, eventuating in sales exceeding 80 million (and more importantly, those of the Xbox 360). While many may have bought the PS3 for its fancy Blu-ray technology, they would’ve also been greeted with an impressive library that signalled the beginning of Sony’s first-party dominance–even if the launch was a disaster that took years to recover from.
Everything needs a beginning, and there’s no doubt the original PlayStation began things with a bang. The PlayStation was a 32-bit wonder machine that proved the value of 3D gaming while playing a key role in pushing the medium into a more mature direction. Games like Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII, and Resident Evil took gaming to an adult mainstream audience – who then took the system to be the first in history to surpass 100 million units sold. The library’s depth and breadth delivered captivating experiences for all types of gamers, while some of today’s most iconic developers like Naughty Dog and Insomniac first tasted real success on this console.
Similar to the pioneers of 2D gaming, it can be difficult to revisit former classics on the PlayStation like Tomb Raider or Syphon Filter. Sharp geometric polygons, blurry textures, and awkward controls are signs of a bygone era, somewhat hindering the console’s timeless qualities. However, the very first PlayStation still has a lot to offer in 2020, with its charming collection of odd little games like PaRappa the Rapper and perhaps the best roster of JRPGs on any console ever. Indeed, it was a strong start for the PlayStation brand, but it would be outdone by a handful of its successors.
3. PLAYSTATION PORTABLE
Sony’s first attempt to break into the Nintendo-dominated handheld market resulted in a little system full of greatness. Unlike the PS Vita, the PlayStation Portable delivered on its promise of console-quality gaming that could (sort of) fit in your pocket. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, God of War: Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta; Crisis Core, Daxter, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, and Resistance: Retribution were all fantastic portable spinoffs that stand as some of the very best their series have to offer.
Sure, it was easy to hack, and the less said about UMD Videos, the better, but there was serious effort put behind making the PSP the all-in-one entertainment handheld of the mid-to-late 2000s. Games had never looked or sounded better outside of a TV or computer screen, and plenty of those games still hold up years later. In my opinion, the PSP exceeded its own ambition, while demonstrating that handheld gaming doesn’t need to be only occupied by the Big N. Also, this is where Patapon and Lumines got their starts, which justifies the system’s placement on this list by itself.
2. PLAYSTATION 4
Sony’s plan to target gamers for their fourth home console paid off, resulting in the publisher reclaiming top position amongst their competition and in the hearts of players. The PlayStation 4 fixed basically every problem from the PlayStation 3, by having strong messaging, powerful third-party partnerships, and the best DualShock controller of them all. Somehow, the exclusive titles became even better with God of War, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Spider-Man being instant classics upon arrival. Sony’s first-party studios now command huge respect thanks in large part to their contributions to this latest generation.
The PS4 has been a welcome hub for indies and imports to flourish, not to mention the incredible third-party titles that have helped define the system’s identity. Sony crafted such an accessible, robust system, that the PS5 has some big shoes to fill. And that’s not even mentioning the PS4 Pro, which gave us a delicious taste of what the future of console gaming will look like.
1. PLAYSTATION 2
For me, number 2 is number 1. This is where several of PlayStation’s greatest franchises got their start, from God of War to Ratchet and Clank, as Sony cemented their claim as the new kings of hardware manufacturing and publishing. The PlayStation 2 ironed out the wrinkles left behind from the awkward pioneering years of the original PlayStation while demonstrating the true potential of modern game design. Existing franchises like Metal Gear Solid and Grand Theft Auto rose to new heights by revolutionising their genres, and games like Shadow of the Colossus proved the artistic merit of the medium.
The addition of a DVD player broadened the horizons of what a gaming console was capable of and moved the public’s perception of gaming hardware towards an all-entertainment product. But perhaps the greatest testament to the PS2 was its incredible longevity. The system was still receiving high quality exclusives deep into the next generation (I’m looking at you, Persona 3 and 4), meaning it only got discontinued 13 years after first launching! The PS2 had a little something for everyone, and plenty to love about it once you looked deeper. As it stands, it is my personal favourite PlayStation console of all time.
Of course, the PS5 may change that. Either way, the PlayStation systems have brought gamers endless hours of joy through their wonderful hardware and engrossing games. Let us hope this trend continues on for at least another 25 years in the future.