Launching a console seemed like an in-thing to do during the mid to late nineties. Everyone wanted a taste of Nintendo and SEGA’s success, but none knew how they did it.
There’s plenty out there who have tried to enter the market, even with long-successful brands, but the execution was so poor that no customers gave their console a try.
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It’s rare when it does occur, such as Sony and Microsoft, but there’s countless failures that it could all be a movie on its own.
Many manufacturers had the thinking of ‘If we’re good at technology, we can be good at games!’ Unfortunately it didn’t work that way, as this retrospective will tell you.
We’ve talked about the Phillips CDI before, but the console was an unfortunate disaster from start to finish. Due to the deal that Philips made with Nintendo, it allowed them to create games from the Mario and Zelda series, essentially making the console a potential cash cow for the company.
But unfortunately, it was a lesson in how you had to learn how to run before you could walk. A bulky machine that was the size of a Betamax player, while the disk drive was prone to faults and would fail at reading a game at common moments. With the controller, it felt cheap, and the response time when pressing a button to most games felt like such a long delay, you could have booked some holiday off for HR.
It fell into the ether, and they still, after almost thirty years, are the only other company who were allowed to make a Mario and Zelda game without Nintendo’s heavy involvement. A massive opportunity missed.
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Atari Jaguar CD
This was a peripheral that was attached to the Jaguar console, and it was seen by Atari to be a worthy competitor to the Sony PlayStation and the SEGA Saturn. How wrong they were. Released in 1995 after two years of being announced and in development, it launched at $150, with it being an ‘extension’ of the Jaguar console, which was released back in 1993.
In its 12 month lifespan, around eleven games were released, most of which were either space shooters or medieval FMV games, which didn’t help the appeal.
There were long-standing issues with the disk drive itself, with issues when loading games, and also tales of how certain units would struggle to even slot into a Jaguar console. The ‘Angry Video Game Nerd’ did a great retrospective on the console as a whole, which seems to hint that his frustrations on the console weren't all acting.
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If you lived through the early-nineties, you will remember ‘TIGER’, and their many LCD games that would licence movies, comics and other gaming icons into a ‘game’ of sorts. Thanks to the odd success of this, they decided to create a console that could do it all, which could eclipse the Gameboy and the PDA all in one.
The ‘game.com’ was the answer, released in the second half of 1997 with a price of £70, it was a disaster at launch. The games were a slight step-up from their LCD-game predecessor, with titles such as Resident Evil 2 and Sonic 3 and Knuckles, but in their worst forms. Animations are bare, while the black and white colour screen gives no charm to try and make the games welcoming to play, while the sound is as if someone’s on a MIDI keyboard nearby, trying to use one for the first time.
Another version, the ‘game.com Pocket Pro’ was released in 1999 with a cheaper price and a smaller size, but this also ended after a year.
By 2000, they were thrown into the ether, with future retrospectives on Sonic and Resident Evil wisely ignoring these game.com entries.
Apple Bandai PiP P!N
Before the AppleTV, before the App Store, there was another version of Apple in the mid-nineties who were trying to do everything and anything to stay afloat.
In 1996 they worked with Bandai to develop a console, for some reason, and launch it for $599, running on Mac OS 9 and on a PowerPC processor. There’s really not much else to say here, rather than it was discontinued pretty quick once Steve Jobs returned to the company the following year.
There were only eighteen games released for the console, mainly in America, while up to three were released in other regions. The only one that was worth playing was Bungie’s ‘Marathon’, and even then there were better PC systems to play it on.
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This was released during the golden years of Nokia and their mobile phones, with ‘Snake’ being the game to play during school breaks, and others having versions of phones that could play FM radio, showing off like its Thomas Edison waving around the lightbulb.
It was released in 2003 with an aim to rival the recently released Nintendo GameBoy Advance. It had the distinct feature of having a screen in portrait, so you wouldn't have much of a view of what was coming in a 2D game, such as Sonic and Pandemonium.
The games were surprisingly good, offering ports such as:
- Crash Nitro Kart
- Rayman 3
- SEGA Rally
- Splinter Cell
- Super Monkey Ball
- Tomb Raider
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
- Virtua Tennis
A lot were in the offering, but just to start, you had to open the back casing of the console, remove the battery and the SIM card, just to change game cartridges. A baffling feature here, and the controls were too uncomfortable, with a soft DPAD and awkwardly-angled buttons, it was doomed to failure after a revision and two years in the market.
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Learning from mistakes
There you have it, a five-console tale of what didn’t work. There’s times where you can look back on certain failed attempts and release the errors, but consoles like the Pippin and CDI were obvious from the start.
Riddled with a bare library alongside terrible controllers and graphics, a console can’t simply be a cash-grab; it needs to relate and justify itself as to why it should be in your living room, otherwise the message is confused.
That’s why we’re all waiting with baited breath to see what else Sony and Microsoft bring, now that the PlayStation 5 design has been unveiled. A record of success in one area doesn’t mean you may be good at another, regardless if it was a ‘leap of faith’.
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