Sony released the original PlayStation in North America 20 years ago today. Born out of a failed partnership with Nintendo, the PlayStation quickly came to dominate the game industry. Sony has published hundreds of memorable games for the PlayStation and its various follow-ups in the two decades since, including some of the most beloved classics in the medium. To commemorate the launch of the system that started it all for Sony we’re looking back at the best games published by the company every year since 1995. Limiting our list to only one game per year means some great games and significant franchises have been left off (my editor Garrett Martin is despondent that UmJammer Lammy and MLB The Show aren’t on here), but that only goes to show how successful Sony has been as a game publisher.
When Sony first entered the console business, going up against titans like Nintendo and Sega, it was important to have an explosive exclusive to cement the PlayStation’s place in the market. Twisted Metal was exactly the title they needed, and the series became a standard well into the PS2 era for Sony. Featuring a clever mix of racing, shooting and arena combat, it was more akin to Quake on wheels than Mario Kart, and gave PlayStation owners everywhere a reason to break out the Multitap and waste away the weekend.
A unique experience featuring a rapping dog, Parappa the Rapper was one of the first signs that Sony was aiming for an eclectic catalogue of games. Helping Parappa win over the heart of Sonny by freestyling over a beat about kung fu, driving or a queue for the bathroom is a blast, and one of the most oddly memorable games of the PSX era.
The first Crash game was great, but Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is when the series truly hit its stride. Adding Warp Rooms and developing a stellar variety of levels, Crash 2 was the platformer mascot that Sony needed, and went on to become the unofficial mascot of the PlayStation for years. Tight controls, fun gameplay and memorable characters made Crash a standout of the early years of PlayStation.
Crash was the PlayStation’s first real standout mascot, but Spyro gave him a run for his money. While Crash was about running and jumping, Spyro the Dragon had players breathing fire and ramming enemies off platforms. Spyro was the cheeky spitfire that added something new and interesting to the platformer experience, and solidified Insomniac’s presence on the PlayStation.
I must admit, I have a soft spot for Ape Escape. It was the first game I rented with my own money, and I remember paying in cash with hard-earned dollar bills and rushing home to play it. A colorful game about catching monkeys with a butterfly net, Ape Escape was quirky and weird, but its odd mix of cyberpunk technology with escaped animals wielding Uzis stole most of my early years on the system.
There’s so many amazing RPGs on the PlayStation, but one often forgotten in the fold is The Legend of Dragoon. Adding real-time Dragoon Additions into a standard turn-based battle system, Dragoon created an experience that was unlike any other RPG at the time, with a story that was both epic and grounded in its characters. It was an incredible gem deserving of the recognition Sony gave it.
The first PS2 title of the list is one that will stand out in many people’s memories. Ico, the story of a young boy and the girl he’s rescuing from a mysterious island, is a simplistic game, mostly involving platforming and basic puzzles, with a tiny splash of combat. Where Ico captured our attention was in the art style—the beautiful aesthetic, the gorgeous scenery and the unspoken yet moving story of Ico and Yorda escaping the shadows was unlike anything anyone had seen. Ico wasn’t just a great game, it was a greatly influential game that demonstrated the level of artistry that games could achieve.
The ultimate in flash and thievery, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus was a stylish stealth game that drew on the cartoon-noir look of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to create a truly unique game. Snagging diamonds and sneaking around guards was already odd enough, but to do it as a clever raccoon with a heart of gold? Sold.
Jak II was a massive departure from the original Jak and Daxter. While the first game was eerily reminiscent of Naughty Dog’s work on the Crash Bandicoot series, Jak II added guns, vehicles, racing, and a greater focus on combat in addition to the series’ platforming roots. While Dark Jak is a little goofy, the overall experience of Jak II is an incredible open-world game with its feet still grounded in solid platforming and combat, joined with a great story of conspiracy, rebellion and revenge.
Where Jak II was the peak of Naughty Dog’s run on the PS2, Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal was the high point of Insomniac’s Ratchet franchise. Once again, Insomniac ditched the careful platforming antics for tons and tons of guns, with a bevy of upgrades and customization options. Ratchet was all about the jokes and cheer, mixed with a heaping helping of cartoon violence and explosions, and it’s no surprise that he’s already making a return to the Sony stable of releases.
The follow-up to 2001’s Ico, Shadow of the Colossus is one of the select few titles that always comes up in the Greatest Games of All Time discussion, and for very, very good reason. Wander is a lone rider, trying to revive his lost love Mono by conquering the giants that roam the Forbidden Lands. Combat is distilled to its barest form, as there are only 16 colossi for Wander to kill, yet each one becomes a gargantuan undertaking, and really drives home the feeling of an ant taking down a mountain. Wander’s horse Agro is his only companion, and the incredible mechanics of Agro’s navigation of the terrain while Wander fires arrows from his back was groundbreaking for the time. A simple yet powerful story, and a theme delivered concisely and effortlessly, Shadow of the Colossus was easily the best game on the console and a knockout get for Sony.
While the Resistance series has received a mixed reception for most of its lifespan, the first was no doubt a huge launch title for Sony, showing off the power of its Cell processor and what the PS3 could do. A sci-fi first-person shooter about a human race fighting a losing war, Resistance may not stand up to other titles on this list, but was the launch title that Sony needed for the PS3 to stand up to an already-established Xbox 360.
A lesser-known title lost in the annals of UMD history, Jeanne d’Arc was the sleeper hit of the PSP. A tactical RPG developed by Level-5, it had a speed to it that wasn’t often seen in strategy titles, thanks to the transformation system. The historical setting was also incredibly captivating, and while the fantasy elements can be a stretch at times (King Henry VI being possessed by demons and all), it gave Jeanne a Game of Thrones vibe that helped separate it from the mold and stand tall as a titan of the PSP’s library. Thankfully, it’s also available on PSN for the Vita, so it won’t be lost forever.
A simple game about making stages and sharing them with your friends, LittleBigPlanet was groundbreaking in the way it inspired players to cooperate and create. Especially popular with the younger crowd, the charming look of Sackboy was a welcome change of pace from the gritty shooters that had begun populating store shelves, and gave Sony a game they could market to the whole family.
I was told before playing Uncharted 2: Among Thieves that it was basically Indiana Jones: The Game, and that description was pretty apt. Nathan Drake had all the wit and charm of Indy, but with the explosions and cinematics of a modern blockbuster, it set itself apart as one of the most jaw-dropping experiences on the PS3. Sections like the initial train segment have become staples of gaming, a mixture of excellent third-person shooting and pure explosive bliss. Uncharted was the blueprint, but Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was the finished, polished product.
Heavy Rain has, over the years, proved to be a divisive game more than anything else. Even in writing this list, its merits were criticized and argued over. (My editor can’t stand this game.) Yet Heavy Rain stands out, if not as an artistic triumph, than as an important videogame. It was the reminder that Sony was willing to take risks on titles that others wouldn’t, providing experiences that were different and unique. Heavy Rain was an attempt to expand the narrative adventure genre into something new and interesting, and while it didn’t always fire on all cylinders, it gets points for pioneering new territory and creating something different from the crowd.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception wasn’t quite the blockbuster the second game managed to be, but it still continued Naughty Dog’s streak of excellence on the system. Filled with even more explosions, action and Nathan Drake being Nathan Drake, it was the follow-up that needed to happen, and it extended the story in a way that was interesting. There was nothing quite like the train sequence, and probably never will be, but Uncharted 3 was an incredible experience that still managed to “wow” us at every turn.
Continuing Sony’s streak of supporting the odd and lesser-known titles, Journey was an indie title that was soothing, relaxing and emotional all at once. As you journey across the vast expanse you find before you, prompts are often communicated in symbols and native expression rather than outright exposition, leaving your mind to fill in the blanks of the story and connect the dots as to why you’re completing this pilgrimage. The best part of Journey was the incredible implementation of its multiplayer—drop-in and drop-out, no communication besides a simple “ping,” and no names shown until the credits roll, it’s incredible how attached you and your randomly assigned partner became, often leading to a Friend Request afterwards. In a world of toxic multiplayer and bans and reports, Journey offered an experience that was as enjoyable to share with a stranger as it would have been with a good friend.
By the summer of 2013 all eyes were looking ahead to the new console generation, but Naughty Dog had one last project on the PlayStation 3: The Last of Us, a dark and dreary story about normal people trying to survive in the apocalypse. Joel and Ellie’s story is filled with betrayal, anguish, violence and struggle as they attempt to make it across a ruined nation in hopes of finding a cure to the parasitic virus that is tearing humanity apart. They find much more than that, but the story stays focused on the dynamic of those two, with stealth combat that only heightens the danger and brutal violence of the post-apocalyptic world and a visual landscape of dreary grey mixed with fading green. It’s a landmark title that has inspired gamers to share their passion with their loved ones, to create movies and tell stories of their experience, and was the perfect swan song for the PS3.
Infamous: Second Son stumbles a bit compared to previous Infamous titles, but succeeds in showing off the power of the PS4 and the amazing physics and visuals it could produce. Mix that with a giant sandbox and a host of incredible superpowers to toss around, Second Son was the playground that showed off the power of the new generation of consoles, and helped sell the PS4 as a dominant console in the industry.
This year has seen a great variety of fantastic games on Sony’s platforms, from indie darlings like Galak-Z: The Dimensional and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture to stellar blockbusters like Until Dawn. Bloodborne, however, is a game that continues to impress every day, as From Software director Miyazaki’s combination of Lovecraftian horror with the signature Souls combat remains a powerful cocktail. Fast, vicious combat and a gothic horror setting set this apart from other games, and the story of Bloodborne is wonderfully steeped in mystery. You’ll have to overcome massive beasts, horrible abominations and the most evil creatures you could imagine, and you will die, over and over again. Yet the cathartic feeling of downing a boss is incredible, and Bloodborne thrives in those final moments of desperation, two health bars slowly nearing zero, as you finally bring down the boss and slink along to the next lantern.
Eric is a writer currently residing in Decatur, GA. You can follow him on Twitter at @seamoosi.