The ten best and worst game systems of all time, selected by the editor at the turn of the century.


SONY'S PLAYSTATION... Sony may have used low-brow advertising, rehashes of popular Sega games, and big boobies to make the Playstation a success, but the system itself has held onto its fans even after games like Toshinden and Lara Croft (and the stars of both titles) started to sag.  Its versatile hardware is part of the reason why... programmers who really know the Playstation can make it perform at or near the level of its more specialized competitors, the Saturn and the Nintendo 64.  The Playstation is also absurdly easy to program, which would definitely explain why the system's software library is in the high hundreds right now.  Finally, there's a lot of variety and innovation in that huge selection of games... you get everything from your typical Super Mario Bros. and Sonic rip-offs (*cough* Crash Bandicoot *cough*) to music games that test your rhythm and even your composing skills (Um Jammer Lammy and MTV Music Generator).  It's for these reasons that the Playstation is as likely to be perched on the average person's television set as the NES was back in the late 1980's.

COLECO'S COLECOVISION... Powered by a high-octane Z80A identical to the one used in the semi-successful TI 99/4A computer, the ColecoVision introduced gamers to a whole new level of play much like the Genesis and 3DO did years later, with fully detailed backgrounds, a duo-tone music synthesizer, and sprites, an important innovation that's still a cornerstone of graphic presentation in the game systems of today. Dozens of faithful coin-op translations make the ColecoVision an ideal system for those of you who ache for the games of the past but refuse to sacrifice good graphics and sound to play them. An annoying knob controller (the likes of which could be found on a multitude of systems- yikes!) sours the fun a little, but break out a Sega 6-Button Arcade Pad and presto! No problem (on SOME games, anyhow...). If you find one at a pawn shop or garage sale, pick it up.

SEGA'S GENESIS... Out of the hands of one of the world's most inept video game companies comes pure poetry in motion, the Genesis. Who'd have thunk it? The first true 16-bit system didn't exactly strut its stuff in the 80's, but that was to change once Sega picked up some decent third party support (it's quite possible that the system would have died as horrible a death as its ancestor, the Master System, had Electronic Arts not lost interest in the NES and signed on as a Genesis licensee). Polished, arcade quality visuals, a sleek design, and a successful ad campaign all helped the Genesis pick up momentum and eventually tail and overtake Nintendo, even after their oft-rumored Super NES was released. It wasn't until 1992 that Sega dropped the ball, relying more on saucy ad campaigns and American game designers than actual substance and allowing the still-powerful Nintendo to get their hands on Street Fighter 2... and things haven't been the same for the Genesis since. The prozines won't give it an iota of respect these days, and even Sega's turned against it, driving a wedge in Genesis sales by offering up a deluge of useless "upgrades" that have only succeeded in making their set look less capable. And yet it's in this column. Why? Because, as small basement design firms and gigantic industry leaders alike have proven countless times, the Genesis can still kick @$$ no matter WHAT it's pitted up against. Witness Red Zone, a military combat title by Zyrinx that offers players full motion video compression, complete real-time parallax, full-screen vector rotation and transparent imagery. Or Gunstar Heroes, Treaure's Contra clone which pits you against meticulously animated monstrocities which fill nearly 1/2 the playfield. Or Tiny Toons: Acme All-Stars, Sparkster, and Street Fighter 2: Special Championship Edition; all games that benefit from terrific design and are just damned fun to play. It just goes to show- no matter how hard certain idiots try, there's just no way to kill good hardware. Kiss my butt, EGM! Like it or not, the Genesis will live on!!!

ATARI'S 2600/VCS... Whatever you call it, Atari's 2600 is without a doubt one of the best systems in history, although few people will accredit this fact to the machine's, uh, technological muscle. Truth is, every classic on this most primal of classic sets was hard-earned- the 2600's ancient 6507 processor was not by ANY means a lot of fun to program due to its age and many quirks. But, hey, however the Cranes and Robinettes of the day managed, they did, and it really shows in some of the system's games. The cream of the crop, titles by Activision, Sega and Atari themselves, had just the right blend of simple, no-nonsense action and eye-pleasing graphics to keep pre-crash gamers engrossed for hours at a time. Hell, they're still a lot of fun NOW! Yes, for every good 2600 game available, fly-by-nighters like Data Age and Telesys would respond with a dud, and no, you're not going to find a lot of 2600 games with knock-out graphics (there are exceptions... Solaris, Midnight Magic, and Pitfall! are all very attractive, even by early NES standards), but for the price ($1-$2 a game typically), you can't go wrong with a 2600. SO GO BUY ONE!!! So much for subtlity...

NINTENDO'S SUPER NES... This was often the object of my intense hatred in a good many issues of my previous fanzine, Project:Ignition, but I must in all honesty admit that, from a purely technological standpoint, the SNES deserves to be here as well. I mean, for a humble 16-bitter (HUMBLE 16-bitter? Geez, I'm acting as if it's already heading for the can... what am I saying? Pretty much what Sega's been, and THAT'S scary, to be sure...), this puppy can cook audiovisually. Some recent releases have looked a tad grainy, but considering what the system's been able to do in delivering arcade-quality graphics, I won't complain much. One BIG problem with the SNES, aside from the fact that the #$%*^! thing horned in on the Genesis' success in the early 90's, is its controller and the way that it literally hobbles the characters in some games, like SF2, for instance. And even in games that aren't handicapped by the controller, you'll notice that they generally aren't as engrossing, intuitive, or as enjoyable as similar Genesis titles. Still, some great things are planned for the system in the coming months, so hold on to it or pick a used one up soon.

NINTENDO'S GAME BOY ADVANCE...  I've been waiting a long time for this, but at last, there's a Game Boy out there that I can be proud to own.  Unlike the Game Boy Color, which was arguably a step BACK for portable technology, Nintendo spent a lot of time perfecting the Game Boy Advance hardware.  Now, instead of having to scale back every aspect of their games, designers are free to include everything from subtle shading to dynamic scaling and rotation effects.  Better yet, the Game Boy Advance has brought more substance to portable gaming... Castlevania: Circle of the Moon and Super Mario Advance feel like complete games, unlike their counterparts on the original Game Boy, which were stripped down to the very basics.  The only real strikes against the Game Boy Advance are its screen (tough to see and not large enough for some games) and the system's stiff, unresponsive D-pad.  However, when it comes to both quality hardware and software, the GBA hits it out of the park and into the next state.

SEGA'S SATURN... Despite almost nil support from Sega of America, which dropped the system in favor of the equally unsuccessful Dreamcast, the Sega Saturn deserves credit here anyways for its long list of excellent arcade-quality 2D games. Titles like Street Fighter Alpha 2, Bust-A-Move Arcade Edition, and NightWarriors have proved that the Saturn is clearly the player's choice for sterling coin-op translations, as these games contain more animation, better control, and less access time than their Playstation counterparts. Even 3D titles like Resident Evil (practically identical to the Playstation version) and Virtua Fighter 2 (still hands down the best polygonal fighting game on the market) shine on the Saturn, despite over- exaggerated claims from the electronic gaming media that the system couldn't handle these games. With its dim future, I don't recommend buying a Saturn if you don't already have a Playstation, but if you've got the money to burn and are interested in the best and most solidly designed fighting and action games this side of Aladdin's Castle, you'll find that the Saturn is (warning: bad pun ahead) out of this world.

SNK'S NEO-GEO... I can't say much for the brand spankin' new CD version of what's easily the most powerful of the 16-bit machines, as I haven't played it, but believe me, this one's more than enough for me. When you're talking 330 megabits of possible memory, CD-quality sound thanks to FIFTEEN sound channels, and a graphics engine so sophisticated, it has no actual concrete limitations (these are programmed in depending on the requirements of each individual game and may vary wildly), how CAN'T you get excited about the Neo-Geo?! The design of the home system itself is rather flimsy, and its library is glutted with tourney fighting games thanks to the success of Street Fighter 2, but hey, it's got the most solid software line-up of any system in history (the games HAVE to be good if they're passing for arcade titles!), and you get a lot of power under that poorly crafted hood. If SNK would figure out a way to consolidate this "custom-made and highly expensive" hardware and sell it for the same price as the "64-bit" Atari Jaguar, they'd make a killing, but as good as it is, the Neo-Geo will never sell at its current price.

SEGA'S DREAMCAST...  Perhaps it's a little early to put this one on the list, but the Dreamcast already has a more impressive library of games than the four year old Nintendo 64, which fired out of the starting gate with Super Mario 64 but hasn't moved much since. And even though the Dreamcast hardware is several years older than the Playstation 2's, it seems better balanced, with built-in anti-aliasing to smooth out the graphics and more video RAM to handle them.  The only real bummer about the Dreamcast is its controller, which isn't worth two squirts of freshly squeezed ween juice if you're playing anything but Crazy Taxi.  Worse yet, the problem can only be partially remedied by purchasing ASCII's (cheaply made) fighting game pad or a controller convertor, since neither offer the full analog control required by some Dreamcast titles.  Still, the Dreamcast offers a lot of power for a reasonable price... and not just for the customers, either.  Developers can port computer games to the system in a matter of weeks rather than having to start from scratch, and this should keep game manufacturers interested in the Dreamcast even after the Playstation 2 and its hype machine comes rolling into town.  Well, er, it WOULD have, if Sega had stuck with the system rather than slithering away less a year after the Playstation 2 was released.  Oh well, the Dreamcast is still worth picking up, and it'll be an absolute steal around Christmas, when the price dips to $50.

NINTENDO'S NES... Much of what I'd said about the 2600 applies here, although where the 2600 invented the concept of mainstream-oriented cartridge-based video gaming, the NES resurrected it. And reinvented it, obviously- the VCR-ish top loading deck, unique system design, ergonomic joypads, and arcade-quality games that broke the 64K barrier were all like nothing U.S. gamers had seen before, yet became so popular that nobody would dare go back to the old way of life. Well, maybe not the top-loading part... this was an NES-exclusive feature that made the loading of cartridges such a frustrating experience that Nintendo itself released a new model to remedy this (tip- don't buy one. It WILL NOT WORK with the Game Genie, and that's one device you'll want to hold on to if you own an NES). But the software itself is fab. There were plenty of big-name titles with great play and fine audiovisuals available for the NES that simply blew away similar games for the machine's competitors. And talk about variety! You name it, the NES has got it- there are titles dealing with everything from tarot (Taboo) to hackysack (California Games) to Go (Othello) to party games (Anticipation) to obscure game shows (Remote Control) to porn/casino crossovers (Hot Slots). Whew! Of course, there were also plenty of games released that NOBODY would want, mostly by the likes of Pony Canyon, Acclaim, and T*HQ, but no doubt about it, for sheer game quantity and quality, it's not easy to top the NES.

HONORABLE MENTIONS... Sega's Game Gear, the Atari 5200, and the Neo-Geo Pocket.  I was disappointed with SNK's handheld system at first... after all, when you hear the term "Neo-Geo" you expect vivid, incredibly detailed graphics and terrific sound, and the Neo-Geo Pocket doesn't really offer either.  However, the system does have a lot of fun games, usually with a staggering amount of options.  And just like its big brother, the Neo-Geo Pocket really is the king of fighters... Match of the Millennium is arguably better than the DREAMCAST version of SNK vs. Capcom, and even the system's most mediocre fighting games (Fatal Fury: First Contact and Last Blade come to mind) are more than a match for Street Fighter Alpha on the GameBoy Color, an obviously compromised translation of the arcade game with almost as many memorable moments as CBS's Saturday night crap-o-rama (thank you, Bart Simpson).

And now (you knew this part was coming up...), here are the systems that we to this day wish would NOT have raised their ugly heads. These are the scums of the Earth, the cream of the crap, the worms in the Big Apple, the... um, gristle in your grade-A T-Bone... the... the...


ZIRCON'S FAIRCHILD CHANNEL F... Huh huh. Huh huh huh. This sucks. And does it EVER... I mean, I realize that in the early 80's, everyone wanted a piece of the video game industry, and many tried to get in on the action by spending as little money as possible, but even still, that was no excuse for THIS. First released with a built-in one channel buzzer and hardwired controllers, this torture device was responsible for some of the most simplistic software known to man or beast, including Dodge-It (where a dot must dodge bouncing dots in a claustrophobic room) and in its final hours, Checkers. I can almost see the Zircon board room now...

"Chairman! Our product's going down the drain and we're losing revenue at a breakneck pace! WHAT DO WE DO!?!"
"Calm down, Sinkowitz. There's only one game that can save us now, and that's..."
"You mean that incredible full-screen 3-D title where the guy runs around blowing up demons? Or the game where you choose from 8 martial artists and toss fireballs at each other?"
"No, you fool. That garbage doesn't have any future and you damned well know it. I'm talking about the one incredible game that will SAVE THIS COMPANY! You know, the game of kings!"
"No, you imbecile! CHECKERS! CHECKERS!!! Only CHECKERS can save us now!!!"

Well, thankfully, it didn't. You might want one for trade purposes (it's got a decent value in the "Digital Press Price Guide", don'cha know), but aside from that, I wouldn't bother toying with it.

SEGA'S MASTER SYSTEM... Am I ever going to get flack for this! Oh well. It still blows. You may wonder why I gave the Game Gear an honorable mention and put this here in contrast, dispite the fact that both systems are more or less identical in respects to hardware. And the answer to that, my fine feathered fiend, is obvious: it's all in the games. For some strange reason, the Master System never had 'em; or good ones, anyhow, and the Game Gear does. But why? Well, one would be led to believe that Tonka's irresponsible handling of Sega of America at the beginning of the Master System's not-so-illustrious career would be a primary factor, but system limitations in respects to audio and Nintendo's success in locking out juicier licenses definately play a part as well. No matter. Whatever the reason, the fact remains- most Master System titles are entirely devoid of competant level design and consistant play engines, with graphics that literally look as though a child had designed them and sound as only a limited Z80A processor (already swamped with innumerable other tasks) can offer. The saving graces to the SMS were few and far between, although Sega's 3-D imager was capable of incredibly realistic graphic effects when coupled with titles like Space Harrier 3-D, and the company's Light Phaser product generally outclassed Nintendo's Zapper with better performance and classier looks. But everything else about this ill-fated (thankfully) machine would lead any sane and reasoning gamer to believe that its distant second place in the 8-bit wars was well deserved. Save your bucks and buy a Game Gear instead.

MILTON BRADLEY'S MICROVISION... If you gag at the mere thought of the Game Boy, consider this frightening prospect- there was a monochromatic portable game system back in the early 80's that was inferior to the systems of the time much like the Game Boy is to the NES. Yes, I'm talking about none other than the fantabulous (!?) Milton Bradley MicroVision, the failed experiment in cart-based on the fly gaming that paved the way for the portable systems revolution. Taking on the appearance of a very long ColecoVision controller (and we all remember how FUN those were to use, right?), the MicroVision used cartridges that doubled as overlays, thus making them as long as the system itself (so much for convenience...). The player was required to play all of the MV games with a simple dial control and 6 membrane keys, which wasn't really a problem since many of its titles were so astoundingly simplistic, and viewed the action through a tiny, low-resolution screen. Sound? Don't even bring it up. Even for the time and at liquidation prices of $5 apiece just years after the crash of 1984, the MicroVision just wasn't worth bothering with, and still isn't to this day, unless you've just gotta have every ancient game system ever released or you're dying to play a Breakout clone (which is included with the system, FYI) and Alleyway on the GameBoy is just too darned complex for your tastes.

EMERSON'S ARCADIA 2001... In the early 80's, when far superior sets like the 5200 and ColecoVision were already making their debutes, Emerson had the oh-so-bright idea of releasing a game system that wasn't even as good as the 2600 or Intellivision once they realized just what a cash cow the industry was. After bullying Supercharger inventors Starpath to change their names from Arcadia, they set out to perform their evil deed and released the Arcadia 2001 to a VERY unreceptive audience. After months of such deafening uninterest, Emerson scrambled to come up with ways to give its set more appeal, lowering the price to a dumbfounding $30 and licensing coin-ops from the likes of Tehkan and Konami. But even the mighty Konami, the company that later helped turn the NES into a pop culture icon, couldn't bring the Arcadia to life, and Emerson finally scrapped the whole idea and stepped out of the electronic game business, never to return. Well, enough of the history lesson. How was the system itself? Terrible, frankly. Although it looks attractive on a shelf, the Emerson Arcadia hardware is inept at best, typically displaying microscopic, monocolor characters and playing one-channel music that combined would drive less tolerant players out of their minds. The games certainly made no attempt to disguise the set's inadequacies, and were generally downright strange variations of familiar coin-ops- and those names! Space Vultures? Tanks A Lot?! And Funky Fish!? OK, well, the latter's catchy, but still... Anyhow, suffice it to say, you'd be much better off with a 2600 than with this, so buy that instead.

TIGER'S GAME.COM... It sounded like Tiger's fledgeling game system had a chance when the reports came in from E3... Next Generation and Ultra Game Players trumpeted its Internet capabilities, extensive use of speech, and an impressive translation of Duke Nukem 3D, and the much-heralded built-in user interface and touch-sensitive screen raised a lot of eyebrows in the portable gaming community. Sadly, it turns out that you can even tell from the commercials that all the hype was totally unmerited. Games like Sonic (another example of Sega's treasonous approach to customer service... "Hey, we've got our own handheld game system... so why don't we release a new Sonic game for a competitor's?" With all the PC games they've been releasing, it's a wonder they even remember that they MAKE their own game systems... but I digress), Indy 500, and Mortal Kombat Trilogy look great on paper but are astoundingly choppy, even in comparison to their Game Boy counterparts. Plus, the touch sensitive screen is a complete wash: it's admirable how the Game.Com operating system uses it so extensively, but it's impossible to actually draw with it as the screen isn't accurate to the pixel like a true Personal Data Assistant. In short, Game.Com Game.Sucks. Buy a Game Gear instead.

ATARI'S JAGUAR...  Now HERE'S a next generation game system with just the right price... at $160, the Jaguar sounds like quite a steal. I'm sure people felt the same way about the Turbografx way back in 1990, too, but I digress... Judging from the Jaguar's rather inergonomic design, one would assume that Atari hasn't learned a thing from the 1984 crash, and... one would be right, because it doesn't stop there. Not only is the Jaguar itself unsavory in appearance, its controllers, which resemble frisbees on an eating binge, are a complete and unadulterated pain in the ass to use, just like the joysticks for the 5200 (yes, they even share the same useless keypads), and the games available for it just reek of Atari's painfully low budget (it doesn't take a genius to figure out that each 'world' in Trevor McFur was in fact only 3 screens of art chained together, for instance), an ailment brought on by the company's many past failures. I'm sure people will tell me to lighten up in respects to the Jag, as after all, Atari WAS the first to legitimize the EG industry, and it's not sporting to kick a man when he's down... but then again, I doubt any of these guys are exactly running out to buy the system themselves. A BIG thumbs down for this one.

MAGNAVOX'S ODYSSEY2... There are a great many people who take the flexibility of today's systems for granted, but I highly doubt that anyone who's ever owned an Odyssey2 would be amoung them. Strangely, this machine actually relies primarily on preprogrammed characters for its graphics, and as one would imagine, this puts serious constraints on the programmers' ability to truly differentiate one title from the next artistically. While one has to ask just what kind of twisted logic would conclude that nobody would notice this, this wasn't the Odyssey's only flaw; no sirree! It also had the problems of pathetic third party support (frankly, they were lucky to just get Imagic and Parker Bros. [overseas]!), a finger-spraining membrane keyboard, incompatibility with joysticks from other systems, North American Phillips' insistance on giving all of the system's games science fiction overtones, and some very strange and simplistic game themes (War of Nerves! is an EXCELLENT example of this) to contend with! While not a total flop and sometimes actually a tad amusing at times (the Voice, Master Strategy, and Challenge series of games are all pretty cool considering...), the Odyssey2 was just too low on the pre-crash EG food chain and has too many flaws to be of any real worth to all but the most adventurous of game collectors.

SEGA'S 32X:  Shoot me. I mean, really, wasn't the Sega CD a big enough flop for these idiots!? Now we're forced to witness the advent of an even less useful upgrade, an extra 68000 processor that the host system barely uses for games that could have (and SHOULD have) been done on the Genesis! And when the Saturn inevitably sways R+D from the Genny, Sega CD, AND 32X to the Saturn, what will 32X owners have? An obsoleted piece of crap that was supported for about six months, a much lighter wallet, and no possible way to afford a REAL entrance into the world of 32-bit gaming. This kind of garbage is EXACTLY why Sega will crumble when the 32-bit wars really heat up... after alienating their customers a good three times in that many years with retarded upgrades and systems designed solely for the acquisition of short-term profits (hmm... I'm sure the Ferenghis would approve, but us Hu-maans?...), all the cute ad spots in the world won't hypnotize them back into the fold.

PHILLIPS' CD-i... Maybe this wasn't really meant to play games at all, as its makers claim that it's a "multimedia player" or something of the sort, but nevertheless, it does, so it belongs here as well. From my experience with the set, it's painfully obvious that its hardware wasn't designed with truly interactive, free-form games in mind... anything that's even remotely in this category for the system will more often than not have breathtaking backgrounds but simplistic, choppy play and crippling deficeincies in its general structure (i.e. no parallax, poor level design, etc.). And of course, the poorly acted, full-motion video titles like Burn:Cycle aren't games in the truest sense of the word, so... chalk up another failed entrance in the EG world by Magnavox and Phillips. Maybe the third time'll be the charm, but I won't hold my breath...

NINTENDO'S GAME BOY... And to think I actually LIKED the thing once! Brr. Don't get me wrong; the big N's done a wonderful job of supporting the Geeb with tons of software, but what's the point when the system is inflexible with next to no I/O slots, has a tiny grey and green screen that begs to destroy your eyesight, and is inferior to even the NES, which was created in Japan over a half decade before it? Ugh. I've had a lot of fun with some of the GameBoy's games, as have just about everyone else in the hobby (admit it, guys!), but once you've steamed up the screen with your nostrils, went through your 17th pack of double A batteries, and watched whirligigs do the lambada for 3 hours straight AFTER putting the system down, you really have to wonder if it's all worth it. It's nice that Nintendo itself saw what GameBoy players were going through and created the GB adaptor for the SNES to remedy this, but that has problems, too... why isn't there a two player mode available? Why won't the Game Boy Game Genie WORK with the blasted thing? Why does the actual GB screen take up only half the screen? And the most important question of all- why didn't the Game Boy come with an RF jack in the FIRST place?! But enough Andy Rooney-isms. If you're going to play Game Boy games, check into the Super Game Boy if you'd like to keep your sanity, or just forget about the whole sordid ordeal and snag a Game Gear instead. It doesn't have the same selection of titles, but its screen is a lot larger, and its graphics completely blow away those on the Geeb. 'Nuff said.

DISHONORABLE MENTIONS... Y'know, I really wanted to put the Nintendo 64 on my bottom ten list of systems, but I couldn't find one console on the list I felt it could honestly replace.  So I guess that means either Nintendo's latest and most disappointing flagship system isn't really as terrible as I'd like to think, or that it's so mediocre it can't even steal an award from such monumental failures as the Emerson Arcadia and  In any case, I'm not fond of the Nintendo 64 experience as a whole... I don't like the controller, I don't like the smeared and vaguely choppy graphics, I don't like Rare, and I don't like their turning the squirrel from Diddy Kong Racing into a furry Sam Kinison.  This only further cements my opinion that N64 games are specifically designed for one of two demographics:  immature children and REALLY immature teenagers.  This low-brow appeal and the sturdy cartridge format has made the Nintendo 64 popular with rental outlets, but they carry a wide selection of Earnest movies as well, and I'm in no hurry to get any of those.