In gaming, a lot of people are interested in ‘What if’ scenarios. What if the Nintendo 64DD was a success and Ura Zelda had been released? What if the boomerang controller for PS3 had been sold to the public? And, above all, what if the Nintendo PlayStation had actually been released?
The holy grail of gaming 'What if' scenarios is the Nintendo PlayStation. Before the word ‘PlayStation’ meant Sony, or console, or Tekken, the Nintendo PlayStation was envisioned as an add-on to the Super Nintendo, similar to what the Nintendo 64DD came to be.
In the last few years, the Nintendo PlayStation has come back to prominence thanks to YouTube retrospectives and prototype models being unearthed and auctioned, but no one really knows what happened when it almost became a thing. It would have been a whole different timeline, similar to Biff getting the Almanac in Back To The Future Part 2.
But what actually was the Nintendo PlayStation, and what happened? Let’s fire up the Delorean and go back to 1988.
Nintendo PlayStation history
In 1988, two years before the release of the Super Nintendo, Sony and Nintendo agreed on a deal to make a ‘SuperDisc’ format; a way of playing games from a CD-ROM.
It was forward-thinking and laid the ground for what could be coming next, but in a different way than you might think.
Eventually, it morphed into a partnership for the Super Nintendo launch in 1990: the Sony-provided disc drive was a planned add-on for sometime after the console's launch.
But then plans changed, reaching a point where the Nintendo PlayStation was going to be a spin-off of the Super Nintendo itself. If this revised plan had gone ahead, this disc-based hardware could've been a slightly more separate product with its own identity.
What exactly was the Nintendo PlayStation?
Think of it more like how the 64DD was to the Nintendo 64; in design it was similar, but it was an all-in-one console, a way of playing CDs with the help of the Super Nintendo, but Sony would have primary control in this machine, especially with it having their own audio chip in the console as well.
The design looked the same as the Super Nintendo, alongside the controller, but it was all branded ‘PlayStation'. Looking at the console now, you can see remnants of what became the PlayStation in 1995.
The only game known to have been in development was Square’s Secret Of Mana, which was significantly cut down to fit onto a cartridge in its final release. A Secret Of Mana remake was released back in 2018 on PlayStation 4, Vita and Windows, and that may be the closest idea to what could have been achieved on another system with CD-features.
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How far did the Nintendo PlayStation get?
Not very. Around 1991, Sony was involved in the sound-chip of the console, and the terms of the contract enabled Sony to gain a bigger piece of the financial pie if games were being developed for the ‘SuperDisc’ part of the console.
Nintendo began to worry. The company wanted to have more control, a desire which aligns well with the version of Nintendo we've come to know and love in the years since. (And those slices of financial pie must've been tempting, too.)
And so, Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi ordered Nintendo of America President Minoru Arakawa and his executive Howard Lincoln to negotiate a deal with Phillips, to make the infamous Philips CDI. (A console which did come out, but didn't do particularly well.)
Once Nintendo did the deal with Phillips, the project with Sony fell apart, and a court case occurred. The contract agreed upon in 1988 was ripped up, and Sony decided to enter the gaming industry with its own PlayStation console.
The Phillips CDI was a total flop, and while it featured such games like Zelda: Wand Of Gamelon and Hotel Mario, they were terrible games with very dodgy cut-scenes from Zelda in particular.
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Most of the Nintendo PlayStation prototypes were destroyed, but a few have been uncovered in the last 30 years, with one model being sold for $300,000 in March through Heritage Auctions.
We will probably never know the full details of what happened, but it paved the way for Sony to redefine the console generation for the 3D age with the PlayStation and its sequel consoles.
Nintendo has been riding (mostly) high ever since, and are now at a point where they have a run-away hit with the Switch. But who knows what would've happened in that parallel universe where the Nintendo PlayStation actually came out?!
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