Sony is one of the most storied and formidable brand names in the global marketplace. Yet when the $40 billion Japanese electronics conglomerate announced in May that it was going to join the home-videogame fray, most observers simply shrugged. The consensus seemed to be: So you brought us the transistor radio, the Walkman, and the VCR. What makes you think you're ready for the Sonic-eat-Mario carnage of the video game industry?
If there's something to be learned from those skeptics, it is this: Never take Sony lightly. The Sony PlayStation is a technological marvel, a robust 32-bit machine capable of delivering slick, three-dimensional graphics, bright CD-quality sound, and quicker-than-quick action. But videogame systems are like Miss America contestants: Good looks and technical enhancements will only get you so far. With the PlayStation, Sony has unveiled not just a sexy game machine but a smartly realized marketing strategy: innovative games, a broad software library, and full support from all the major game developers. Overnight, Sony has become a principal player in the $5 billion videogame market, right next to seasoned rivals Nintendo and Sega.
Cannily, Sony promises that at least 15 games will be available within a month of the PlayStation's Sept. 9 release. (In comparison, the same number of titles is currently available for the Sega Saturn the PlayStation's chief 32-bit competitor which hit stores in May.) More important, many of these early titles are eminently playable. For example, in Ridge Racer, an asphalt-smooth auto-racing simulation, you'll probably never see most of the rich, seamless graphics, since the game's rubber-burning pace will have you unblinkingly focused on the road. Similarly, you'll have little time to admire the gorgeous, photo-realistic background scenery in Battle Arena Toshinden, since you'll be concentrating on the cat-quick combat in this 3-D brawler. Pity. Violence has never been so lovingly framed.
To see a truly original application of the PlayStation's capabilities, plug into the jaunty world of Jumping Flash. As a hop-happy robot rabbit, you skip through a fanciful 3-D world, crushing all manner of baddies (frogs, bugs) underfoot. The first-rabbit perspective makes for a neatly hypnotic effect: With each jump, your sense of free-falling glee increases. Perhaps the most euphoric sensation comes at the height of a turbocharged jump, when you can look below and see the world quietly slip away. And if you squint hard, you can almost make out all those nay-saying industry cynics gaping on the ground. PlayStation: A Ridge Racer: A- Battle Arena Toshinden: A- Jumping Flash: A