Perhaps it was fated timing or an incredible coincidence that both the PlayStation 4 Pro and the NES Classic Edition launched at about the same time. No matter what the case, we have a fascinating case of two products and brand approaches that are complete opposites of each other. While Sony’s $400 PlayStation 4 Pro is betting that 4K HDR televisions will soon take off, the $60 NES Classic Edition takes advantage of over thirty years of nostalgia with 30 retro games installed onto a tiny console. Guess which one sold out within seconds of launching? Yes, it was the NES Classic, proving once again that nostalgia is a powerful force.
Certainly, this isn’t the console competition video game fans imagined, but it’s the one that’s happening. It might not be a fair comparison, given how the NES Classic has numerous market advantages when compared to the PS4 Pro, starting with the significantly lower price tag, making it the perfect impulse buy or gift. Additionally, the Nintendo is using games that were originally released in the ‘80s, including the original Mario and Zelda games in addition to classics such as Super Punch-Out! There are no expectations that the games will feature cutting-edge graphics or innovative gameplay, just the idea of reliving some of the early days of video gaming or trying to pass on some of those memories to the next generation. As a result, the NES Classic doesn’t need a lot of promotion to sell out—it just needed to exist.
Meanwhile, PlayStation has been working with developers to modify current and upcoming games to support 4K resolutions and HDR technology. So far, critics have been a little hard-pressed to find enough noticeable differences between the Pro and the base model PlayStation 4 with its early games to completely justify the cost.
Then there’s how Sony hasn’t emphasized the PlayStation VR in relation to the Pro, to the bafflement of many, considering how computational horsepower should feed well into a virtual reality experience. As it turns out, the PSVR ended up being a kind of exception. Although outlets have reported that the PlayStation Pro’s faster processor helps to create a smoother VR experience in addition to some graphical upgrades, should developers decide to update their games, the effect is fairly subtle. Furthermore, the PSVR headset can’t take advantage of the increased resolution nor does it support HDR.
Even though some fans may purchase a PS4 Pro for a smoother experience, Sony can’t necessarily rely on early PSVR adopters to drive the console’s sales either. That means the company must work twice as hard to market and grow the new console, and its success will be largely dependent on 4K TV sales. However, the relationship is reciprocal, given how the gaming console is an incentive for more people to upgrade to 4K televisions as their prices continue to drop.
Although PlayStation would probably be happy to maintain its current top-place position with a 48 million (original) PlayStation 4 installed base, the PS4 Pro represents Sony’s attempt to keep up with technology, competing with Microsoft’s Xbox One S (which released in August) and high-powered Project Scorpio, releasing next year. It’s also a test to see how successful a mid-cycle updated console can be.
As Sony works to help pave a path for the future of video game entertainment, it can be said that Nintendo is doing something similar. The NES Classic isn’t just a fun little console for fans. It’s a reminder to everyone about Nintendo’s video game roots and how it left a deep impression on video game history with franchises that are still as popular as ever. Hopefully, those warm feelings will carry over to the spring, when the Nintendo Switch is expected to launch.