Fifty-six consoles and handhelds are ranked by preference in the latest installment of this controversial feature.





pretty good

half decent

kinda shaky






Playstation 3

Sega CD



Playstation 2

Nintendo DS




Atari XEGS

Channel F

GB Advance

Sega Saturn

Nintendo Wii


Atari Jaguar




Xbox 360



Atari 7800

GB Color


Atari 2600



Atari Lynx









Neo-Geo CD


Super NES

NG Pocket

Atari 5200

Game Gear

Amiga CD32






Nintendo 64


Virtual Boy


I've been doing this for over a decade now, so you know the drill.  I take a bunch of video game systems from the past thirty five years, and review them in order of personal preference.  If you're curious to see how the ratings have changed over the years, you can check out the 2006, 2003, and 2000 installments of Systematix by clicking the appropriate links.  





In the past three installments of Systematix, the NES was declared the best game system of all time.  Surprise of the century, folks... that winning streak ain't gonna change this year, or the next year, or the  the decade after that.  In fact, I'm looking into having my tombstone engraved with the words "NES: Best Game System Ever," which will hopefully distract mourners from the graffiti that reads "Jess Ragan: Biggest Douchebag Ever."  It's as close to perfect as a console can get, with cutting-edge hardware, unrivaled third-party support, and a comfortable, responsive controller all rolled into one outstanding package.  It's also worth mentioning that the NES resurrected video games after a crash that left many analysts convinced that they were both a passing fad and a lost cause.  A feat like that pretty much pins you to the top of the charts for the rest of eternity, or at least until the Holodecks finally arrive.





The Playstation 2 didn't have to fight for its industry leadership... people just accepted it as an inevitability.  It didn't matter that the Dreamcast already had an established and very strong library, or that the Playstation 2's own launch titles were pretty miserable, or that two more powerful machines were just a year away.  People lined up around the block to purchase one, because they were told to do it by Sony and an overly enthusiastic press.  The normally reasonable Steven Kent checked his objectivity at the door when covering the system and called the Playstation 2 launch a "coronation," as if its success was a lock from the moment it was set on store shelves.


He may have called the fight before it even started, but ultimately, Steve was right.  The Playstation 2 shot past the competition to become the best-selling console of all time, a title it still holds nearly a decade after its debut.  However, after the first shaky year when the system got by on the charm of its predecessor and a handy DVD drive, the Playstation 2 earned all its victories fair and square.  It had the best controller of its generation, the best peripherals, and oh yeah, hundreds of the best games.  Where else are you going to climb a fifty foot minotaur, fend off an alien invasion with Japanese pop music, and roll a random assortment of junk into a small planet?  Add compatibility with the first Playstation and the ability to play DVDs without the need for extra hardware and you've got all your entertainment needs in one handy package.





The best handheld game system ever?  Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!  The GameBoy Advance was the perfect apology for a decade of underpowered Nintendo portables.  Often described as a handheld Super NES, the 21st century GameBoy had all the features that made that system a hit.  The vibrant colors!  The handy shoulder buttons!  The nifty special effects, including scaling, rotation, and transparencies!  The potent portable even had a few advantages over the Super NES, including a speedy 32-bit processor (beefy enough to handle smooth texture-mapped polygons) and high-capacity cartridges (leaving plenty of room for sprawling worlds and full-motion video).


There was just one teeny little problem.  Well, not so little, really.  The first model of the GameBoy Advance was held back by an unlit screen that made games tough to see without an adequate light source... and by "adequate light source," I mean "standing directly behind a supernova."  After customers voiced their frustration (for years), Nintendo addressed the issue with the GameBoy Advance SP, letting players enjoy the hundreds of great games on the system without the risk of permanent blindness.  Whether you want to kick back with the classics, challenge your mind with some deep turn-based strategy, knock some heads together in a frantic beat 'em up, or satisfy an unhealthy yeti fetish, this baby's got you covered!





My relationship with the original Playstation was like Jean-Luc Picard's battle with the Borg in Star Trek.  He fought long and hard against the invasion, claiming that his cause was righteous, until he was eventually overwhelmed by the bionic menace.  After he was kidnapped and consumed by the Borg, a funny thing happened... he embraced their way of life.  Even after he was rescued by the Enterprise and stripped of his cybernetic implants, he was still able to communicate with the hivemind and even briefly adopted a Borg nicknamed Hugh.


Yes, I'm a huge nerd.  My point is that I resisted the Playstation invasion with the same ferocity as the courageous starship captain, swearing that I would never succumb to its big breasted grave robbers, obnoxious marsupials, and... hey, that purple dragon is pretty cool!  No, I can't give in now!  I must remain loyal to my beloved Saturn, because- wait, they're not making games for it anymore?  Not even in Japan?  All right, Sony... you may have won this round, but just because I'm buying a Playstation doesn't mean I'm going to like it.  This is for Rival Schools and Mega Man Legends and that's IT!


Yeah, right.  I must have bought close to a hundred games for the Playstation after making that vow, and you know what?  I don't regret a single one of those purchases.  While Sony was aiming squarely for the newly defined hardcore gamer with the majority of Playstation releases, there were plenty of titles left over for a guy like me with eclectic (read: weird) tastes.  Castlevania: Symphony of the Night!  No One Can Stop Mr. Domino!  Intelligent Qube!  Suikoden II!  Man, it's never felt so good to have my spirit broken by a sinister multinational corporation!


 ATARI 2600



The irony of the Atari 2600 is that it's one of the earliest and most primitive of the pre-crash consoles... yet it's the one that's aged the most gracefully.  The system's lack of a visual memory buffer forced programmers to draw each horizontal line before the television's scanline could display it, making the 2600 a developer's nightmare.  Yet there were some game designers who took this limitation as a challenge, using layers of color to turn their software into works of art.  The lush jungle scenery and distinctive characters of Pitfall! have become some of gaming's most iconic imagery, but that's just the tip of the iceberg... there's also Midnight Magic, Crystal Castles, and Solaris, three titles so gorgeous they could leave even the more demanding gamers of the late 1980s impressed.  It's why the Atari 2600 was one of the few consoles to make a successful comeback a decade after its debut... and the vast selection of games, including many timeless classics, probably didn't hurt either.





Time and the meteoric rise of the Playstation 2 has tarnished this system slightly, but from 2000 to 2002, the Dreamcast could do no wrong.  It had all the innovation... no other console had the maraca shaking fun of Samba de Amigo or the unique characters and interaction of Seaman.  It had all the hot arcade games, including Capcom's best fighters and a port of Namco's Soul Calibur that was vastly improved over the original.  It had the cutting-edge hardware... the Dreamcast brought polygonal graphics into the modern age, offering expressive cartoon heroes and stunningly realistic humans while other systems could only muster origami.  It had a clumsy controller the size of Vermont... wait, that's not something anyone would want!  All right, the Dreamcast wasn't perfect even when it was actively supported, but it came a lot closer to the mark than most systems, breaking new ground and dazzling gamers long after its unfortunate cancellation in 2001.





They say that he who hesitates is lost, but Nintendo's most stubborn fans were willing to wait a lifetime for the Super NES.  Although pictures of the system's launch titles appeared in EGM as early as 1989,  Nintendo kept the Super NES in development for two years while squeezing every last drop of profit out of the venerable NES.  Some Americans grew tired of Nintendo dragging its feet and bought a Sega Genesis instead, but the Japanese remained loyal, patiently waiting for the console that Famitsu promised would be vastly superior to any of its competitors.


When the Super NES finally arrived in 1991, it lived up to the hype... well, most of it, anyway.  While the color-drenched visuals, silky smooth 3D effects, and a custom sound processor by Sony's best engineers were a leap ahead of the audiovisuals of the Genesis and TurboGrafx-16, the system had a low clock speed that put the brakes on intense shooters and other demanding games.  Once developers found ways to overcome that handicap and Nintendo got its hands on some hot exclusives, the Super NES proved that it was worth the wait... and worth a look from gamers who already spent a couple hundred bucks on a Genesis.





It's hard to overestimate the success of the Sega Genesis, especially after the lukewarm sales of its predecessor the Master System.  This 16-bit super system utterly demolished one competitor and nearly toppled Nintendo as the industry leader, thwarted only by the popularity of Street Fighter II and Donkey Kong Country years later.  You could blame some of Sega's good fortune on sheer dumb luck- the TurboGrafx-16 launch was a comedy of errors and it didn't seem like Nintendo was ever going to release the Super Nintendo- but luck alone didn't make the Genesis a hit.


No, it was the hardware that was the key to the system's success.  The 16-bit CPU in the Genesis was a big improvement over the processors in competing game systems, and boy did the games ever reflect it!  While the NES had a peculiar remake of Strider with bite-sized characters and redesigned levels, Genesis owners were treated to the real deal, an arcade conversion nearly indistinguishable from the original.  When Sega segued from arcade ports to original releases, the speedy processor still came in handy, giving Genesis fans the sleek and dynamic Sonic the Hedgehog while the NES was stuck with dumpy old Mario.  That technological edge didn't last long, but by the time the Super NES hit the market, the Genesis had already amassed a sizable user base and a whole lot of games.  It wasn't going anywhere, to the great relief of millions of gamers.





The personal computer has so many uses that you'd almost expect to see it pushed in an infomercial by a bearded loudmouth... er, better make that a sleazy Steve Buschemi wannabee.  It slices!  It dices!  It does your taxes!  Add an internet connection and it even gives you all the free porn you could ever want!  Are you following this, camera guy?  Oh, after looking down I can see you are.  Never mind.


It wasn't always this way, though.  When it was launched in 1980, the first wave of PCs by IBM were designed especially for businesses, with a price to match.  There were a few games available, but they weren't much fun to play on a keyboard, with a green monitor for a display and a harsh buzzer for sound.  However, as time progressed, the system was built piece by piece into a formidable game machine.  Floppy discs were replaced with spacious hard drives and CD-ROMs, monochrome monitors were put into retirement by full color displays, and that buzzer was mercifully silenced, replaced with the sweet, sweet music of a sound card.


These days, personal computers have become a leading video game format, with big-budget titles released every month and a mammoth software library that spans nearly thirty years.  PCs have taken a dip in popularity thanks to the convenience of game consoles, but there are things computers can do that ordinary game systems just can't.  No, I'm not talking about the friggin' porn!  I'm referring to the thousands of independent titles like Cave Story and Spelunky that would be almost impossible to publish on today's game systems.  Heck, PCs have been a great development tool for the older systems, making it indispensible for gamers and game designers alike.





There was a time when I was convinced that the PSP would win the handheld wars, and that the Nintendo DS would be a misstep for Nintendo, quickly swept under the rug and replaced with an even more advanced GameBoy Advance.  That notion ended in a hurry when I was hanging out with a friend, playing my PSP while he was kicking back with his newly purchased DS.  While staring at the "Now Loading" message on my screen, and watching the endless fun of Wario Ware on his, I suddenly realized that all the cutting edge technology in the world doesn't mean jack if it puts a wall between you and the games you want to play.


Millions of other gamers must have come to that conclusion as well, because the Nintendo DS is currently the best-selling handheld on the market.  That's not too shabby for a system whose harshest critics predicted it would be the next Virtual Boy thanks to its peculiar dual screen display and touchscreen interface.  It took time to get used to these features, but after developers learned to tap the full potential of the touchscreen, people began to wonder how they lived without it.  It's hard to say if the cameras and multimedia features in the recent DSi will have the same impact, but they're a nice bonus in a system that brought the fun back to handheld gaming.





"Why the hell is this rated so highly?!," you might ask yourself.  "The Saturn was a titanic bomb here in the United States!"  Ah yes, that may be true, but in its native Japan, the Saturn rocked the house harder than a Kobe earthquake, nearly rivalling the Playstation in sales and stomping all over the Nintendo 64 until 1997, when Bernie Stolar unwisely pulled the plug on the system. 


Come to think of it, the Saturn's success in the land of the rising sun, along with its miserable failure here, seems to hinge entirely on Bernie Stolar's involvement.  In America, Stolar shrieked "NO RPGS!!!" and left the Saturn hopelessly unarmed when the award-winning Final Fantasy VII was released for the Playstation.  In Japan, licensees released any damn thing they pleased for the Saturn, including GameArts' sensational Grandia.  In America, Stolar launched a series of awful ad campaigns, starting with the "Theater of the Mind" commercials starring apparent members of the Ku Klux Klan and ending with desperate, childish digs at the competition ("Plaything?" Yeah, I'm sure Kaz Hirai was crying into his fat sacks of money over that one).  In Japan, television viewers were treated to Segata Sanshiro, a mascot more aggressively awesome than Randy "Snap into a Slim Jim" Savage, Punchy the Hawaiian Punch Kid, and the Kool-Aid Man combined. 


Wait, wait, I'm almost done!  In America, Stolar declared that the Saturn was a stillbirth and used EGM to taunt gamers who weren't able to get their hands on one of the seventeen copies of Panzer Dragoon Saga released at the end of the system's life.  In Japan, third parties supported the Saturn in spite of its balding sabateur, releasing games until the turn of the century, and everyone had a fair shot at adding Panzer Dragoon Azel to their collections.  So I guess there are two morals to this story... the grass is always greener on the other side of the ocean, and Bernie Stolar needs to be forcibly raped with a Sugaro Cactus.


 XBOX 360



It's a sad commentary on this console cycle that the best system of the three falls to pieces when you brush up against it and is nearly as deluged with first-person shooters as its predecessor.  Sorry folks, but that's just the way it is.  Developers for the Xbox 360 have a serious case of tunnel vision, releasing the same six games over and over with new scenarios and sharper graphics ("it's Doom... but underwater!").  Also, three years of the dreaded red ring of death have left a lot of gamers gunshy, even after Microsoft promised to fix the faulty Xbox 360 units and addressed the overheating issue in later models. 


However... however.  As rehashed as they are, the games on the Xbox 360 are among the best in the business, and the curvaceous white console is the undisputed online king, with a service that (while rather costly) is superior to the Playstation Network and light years ahead of anything Nintendo has bothered to offer.  There are downloadable games, fresh content for games purchased at retail, movie rentals, online chat, text messaging, web cams, interactive avatars, and of course, online competition, making for an extremely well-rounded package that's very nearly worth the price.  Also, in a somewhat puzzling move on Microsoft's part, the Xbox 360 is the cheapest of the three systems, yet very nearly the most powerful.  I've said it before and I'll say it again... it's not perfect, but right now, it's the best we've got.





In the technologically humble early 1990s, the Neo-Geo seemed to have it all.  Brilliantly colorful, ornately detailed backgrounds!  Lifelike sound and digitized voice!  Sprites so enormous they could battle Mothra and Rodan for control of Tokyo!  And oh yeah, a price tag that would make even Donald Trump flip his wig.  (Seriously Don, it looks good on you!  You can hardly tell it's fake!)  At a dumbfounding $599, back when American money was actually worth something, the Neo-Geo was as hard to afford as it was to resist.  Fortunately, SNK had the good sense to release the system as an arcade jukebox as well, letting players enjoy critically acclaimed titles like Samurai Shodown and Blazing Star for just a quarter a pop.  With a deal like that, is it any wonder the Neo-Geo was supported well into the 21st century?





In 2001, video game systems suffered from an identity crisis.  Either they were the Playstation 2, or they wanted to be the Playstation 2.  Aside from some minor features and a handful of exclusives, neither the Xbox nor the GameCube did much to distinguish themselves from the Playstation 2, and considering its massive popularity, this was probably by design.  Despite its lack of originality, the Xbox had a leg up on both the GameCube and its obvious inspiration thanks to several smart decisions on the part of its creator, Seamus Blakely. 


First, it was the most powerful system on the market in the early 2000s, with double the processing speed of its competitors and cutting edge graphics hardware that turned even mediocre games like Tao Feng and Kakuto Chojin into feasts for the eyes.  Secondly, it was more online-friendly than any of its contemporaries.  While the Dreamcast had a wimpy 33.6K modem and neither the Playstation 2 nor the GameCube offered any access to the outside world without costly peripherals, the Xbox had an Ethernet jack built right into it, making it ready for online play the moment you took it out of the box... if you were willing to cough up the extra seven dollars a month for Microsoft's Xbox Live service, anyway.  Finally, the Xbox had one more advantage over its rivals; an integrated hard drive that offered practically infinite storage for game saves and let the player rip music CDs and create custom soundtracks for their favorite games.


Strip away the bells and whistles and the Xbox experience isn't far removed from the one offered by the Playstation 2, but with the extra features you feel like you're getting the deluxe package; a PS2 Plus if you will.  Despite this, the Playstation 2 still gets the nod as the better system due to its immense library of games and the dedication of its creators.  Games are still being developed for the console three years after the Playstation 3 made its debut, while the Xbox was dumped like a hot rock the moment its successor hit store shelves.





Admittedly, I didn't fall in love with this one when I first saw it at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 1999.  You're trying to pass off this silly thing with its shrinky-dink characters and chirpy sound processor as a handheld version of the mighty Neo-Geo?  You're kidding me, right?  Oh crap, you're not laughing. 


However, once I accepted that this wouldn't literally be a Neo-Geo in my pocket, and once I spent some time with its software, the Neo-Geo Pocket really grew on me.  I loved the tiny thumbstick that was more responsive than any handheld controller had a right to be.  I loved that you could play it for nearly two days straight without ever having to change batteries.  Most importantly, I loved the games, which were endlessly playable and irresistably charming.  Nearly ten years after its debut, Match of the Millennium may still be the best handheld fighting game ever made, even if the characters look like sun-deprived toddlers and sound like parakeets.  It didn't make a strong first impression, but the Neo-Geo Pocket earned my love after I gave it a second chance.





I just don't know what went wrong with this one.  The pocket powerhouse seemed to have so much promise back in 2005, with launch titles like WipeOut Pure and Darkstalkers Chronicles that were a vast visual improvement over anything that had been attempted on the Game Boy Advance or the Nintendo DS.  Even after the DS started to gain ground, the PSP still had the clear technological edge, as well as a real Burnout game and titles like Mega Man Powered Up which could make even the most outspoken Nintendo fan jealous.  Then out of nowhere, the bubble burst, and sales of the curiously strong handheld took a nosedive in the United States.  What happened? 


Well, the hardware hacks and the piracy that quickly followed couldn't have helped it much.  After running an exploit, PSP owners can play nearly any game they want on the system, including many they don't actually own.  I suspect Sony's refusal to think outside the box must have figured into the equation as well.  The system designed to outmuscle the Nintendo DS couldn't outcharm it thanks to a hefty price and a dearth of imaginative new features.  Sony hopes to change the PSP's fortunes with the tiny PSP Go!, but its even higher price tag and a largely unchanged gaming experience only prove that the company doesn't have the slightest idea what went wrong with the system, either.





Why bother going to the arcade when you can bring the arcade experience home?  That was the premise behind the Vectrex, a sleek black console with its own integrated display.  Instead of chunky, low-resolution graphics, the Vectrex served up sharp white lines with an eerie phosphorescent glow, similar to the visuals in arcade hits like Asteroids and Battlezone.  The only problem was, Atari already had its own very successful console, so GCE and its successor Milton Bradley had to settle for the lesser known games in the Cinematronics library, along with a handful of lackluster original titles.  Atari's cornering the market on vector games probably hurt the Vectrex the most... without access to classics like Tempest and Star Wars: The Arcade Game, the advanced system could never live up to its full potential.  Luckily, homebrewers have bulldozed over the licensing restrictions that held the Vectrex back, porting over a dozen arcade hits with or without the blessing of their original creators.  Hooray for intellectual property theft!





The GameBoy leaves me incredibly torn.  Such great software!  Such horrendous hardware!  Such a frustrating dilemma!  In the past, I've given the handheld a thumbs down because of its many shortcomings... the wimpy processor, the tiny monochrome display, and the lousy refresh rate that blurs graphics beyond recognition. 


However, the success of a console lies not only in the quality of its hardware, but in the quality of the games it plays.  While the GameBoy's launch titles were pretty shaky, generally watered down adaptations of NES favorites, later releases by both Nintendo and its licensees demonstrated an ability to work within the confines of the system.  The system's limitations were also addressed by peripherals like the Super GameBoy and GameBoy Player, along with the Game Boy Advance, the pinnacle of the system's evolution.  Trademark GameBoy annoyances like blurry graphics and tiny unlit screens mercifully became a thing of the past, but the excellence of top-shelf titles like Operation C, Castlevania 2: Belmont's Revenge, and Mole Mania remains.  You balance the best and the worst the system has to offer, then throw in its historical significance, and the GameBoy ultimately comes out on top.  (You can stop writing the angry letters now.)





Despite the enthusiastic name and an innovative control interface, it's hard to get excited about the Wii.  To its credit, it's got a lot of features that make it more than just "two GameCubes duct taped together."  Web integration is one of the biggies... the Wii's built-in wi-fi adapter lets you download games, surf the internet, and yes, even compete against other players in certain games.  This is an important step forward for Nintendo, who until recently was extremely reluctant to let gamers connect online.  The Wii's controller also brought a lot of new gamers into the fold and forced the rest of the industry to take notice. The motion sensitivity of the device makes it the controller of a hundred uses.  Turn it on its side and it becomes an ordinary joypad.  Aim it at the screen and it's a deadly accurate light gun.  You can also use it as a bowling ball, a handsaw, a steering wheel, or practically anything else you can imagine! 


Unfortunately, developers for the Wii haven't been feeling all that imaginative.  There's a whole lot of crap on the system, and even the killer apps are kind of a letdown next to their closest Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 equivalents.  The true genius of the Wii can only be found in tailor-made titles like Boom Blox and Zack and Wiki, but those games are frustratingly rare, no doubt a result of the industry's waning creativity.  The system's only three years old and still has potential... I just hope that in the near future, developers are given more incentive to tap it.





Sega pretty much creamed NEC in the console wars of the early 1990s, but the one thing NEC got right was its own CD-ROM expansion.  While the Sega CD phoned it in with rehashed Genesis games and faintly interactive movies, the Turbo CD featured real games with real improvements over what could be done on an ordinary TurboGrafx-16.  Years later, NEC upped the ante with the TurboDuo, a high performance TurboGrafx with both the CD player and additional memory under the hood.  Along with the humble  TurboChips, the Duo could play the entire Turbo CD library and fresh new games designed especially for the system.  Sadly, NEC was squeezed out of the American market shortly after the Super NES was introduced, but TurboDuo owners didn't care... with outstanding games like Gate of Thunder and Ys Books 1 & 2 at their fingertips, and the option to import the Arcade Card and top-quality Neo-Geo ports from Japan, the taste of defeat didn't seem all that bitter.





Like the Wii with its motion sensitive controllers, or the Xbox 360 with its comprehensive online experience, the Intellivision was a pioneer whose bright ideas would define its era of gaming.  It was  the first system with realistic sports simulations licensed by professional leagues.  It was the first system to bring true depth and complexity to video games, as evidenced by flight combat simulation B-17 Bomber and competitive real-time strategy title Utopia.  Finally, the Intellivision was the first system with a celebrity spokesman who was a total dillweed.  Who needs Josh Long's smirking Mac guy when you can have George Plimpton, the snooty Brit referred to by one critic as "the best preppie money can buy?"


The Intellivision was the most visionary and frequently imitated of the pre-crash consoles, but not everything it brought to the table was welcome.  It singlehandedly set back video game controllers twenty years with a joypad that couldn't have been less inviting to use if it were covered in poison oak and porcupine quills.  The thumb-blistering dial, confusing numeric keypad, stiff action buttons, and uncomfortable shape of the Intellivision controller were frustrating enough, but Mattel had to go that extra mile and hardwire it into the console, leaving a permanent black mark on an otherwise satisfying experience.





Keith Courage in Alpha Zones was a pretty good choice as a pack-in for the TurboGrafx-16.  Not because it was a pretty good game, because it definitely wasn't, but because it gave gamers an idea of what to expect from the rest of the system's library.  The way-too-Japanese-for-1990 art design, the amazingly strange characters, the tunes straight from a Casio keyboard with low batteries, the mystifying choices for import to the United States, the nightmarish localization with its boring scripts and all the fun stuff censored... yeah, that was every game on the TurboGrafx.  Every game.


With that kind of unwelcome consistency, it's not hard to figure out why the TurboGrafx-16 bombed in the United States... and that's without factoring in marketing decisions like those idiotic Johnny Turbo comics.  Even though it was beaten mercilessly by the Sega Genesis and swept into the gutter by the Super NES shortly afterward, there are still some darned good reasons to add a TurboGrafx to your collection.  It's got many of the Sega arcade games that the Genesis didn't get, as well as the best Bomberman titles of its generation and some obscure Namco releases you couldn't find anywhere else.


 ATARI 5200



You've probably seen a certain disgruntled game dork tear into this system, but what he doesn't tell you in his frothing rants is that nearly all of the Atari 5200's issues can be addressed by picking up a later model.  The last remaining annoyance, that wretched joystick, can be replaced with the Wico Command Controller and a Y-cable.  This dynamic duo is a little expensive, but it's an investment that pays off handsomely in a very short time.


Now that all those issues have been addressed, you can sit back and enjoy the games, which offer brighter colors, larger characters, cleaner sound, and smoother scrolling than anything the competing ColecoVision could muster.  Over twenty-five years later, the 5200 is still surpassing expectations, with a port of Donkey Kong that's practically perfect and a sequel to Adventure that comes close to the standards set by early NES games.  I'd rather play Adventure II than Deadly Towers or Hydlide, that's for sure!





This system never quite lived up to its boastful claim of bringing the arcade experience home.  The arcade games were there, certainly... half the system's library and a significant majority of Coleco's own releases were conversions of arcade hits by future industry bigshots like Konami and Sega.  The problem is that many of these ports were lackluster, without the look, feel, and key elements of their coin-operated cousins.  The ColecoVision's headliner, Donkey Kong, was a perfect example, pared down to three rounds and with drab artwork that was a pale imitation of the original.


However, developers would occasionally get it right, proving the system's potential as an arcade surrogate.  Turbo and Slither both came with peripherals that put them one step closer to the real thing, and Ladybug and Frenzy actually improved on the originals with exclusive features.  Today, homebrew game designers are tipping the scales in favor of arcade faithfulness with extremely close conversions of Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, and Space Invaders, demonstrating that the ColecoVision was a more powerful machine than it may have seemed back when it was actively supported.





There's a term in the human resource business called a "redundancy," used to describe workers who have become expendable simply because there are already enough people in the company with their skill set.  In this tight economy, that's exactly what the costly Playstation 3 has become... a redundancy.  Aside from the ability to play Blu-Ray media and some depressingly underwhelming exclusives, there is absolutely nothing the PS3 can do that the Xbox 360 can't do for a better price.  That's not to say that the Playstation 3 is a terrible system... it's evenly matched with the Xbox 360 in most respects, with the bonus of more reliable hardware and, if you're lucky enough to be an early adopter, full backward compatibility.  However, if you own a late model Xbox 360 and have no attachment to the Sony brand name, you have to ask yourself, "What's the point?"





Wow, Father Time sure took a bat to this system!  At first, it seemed like the compact machine critics called the purple lunchbox would pull ahead of the Xbox to become the second best-selling console of its generation.  It had Mario, it had Zelda, it had a double helping of Metroid with a new, hardcore friendly first-person perspective, and it had licked a lot of the problems that plagued the underwhelming Nintendo 64.  The cartridges were gone, replaced by handy pocket-sized discs, and the third parties that stampeded away from the N64 were willing to give the GameCube and its more affordable development environment a fair shake.


Sadly, the system that was supposed to mark Nintendo's comeback failed due to errors both past and present.  Super Mario Sunshine wasn't worth the six year wait thanks to infuriating levels and awkward new play mechanics.  Zelda: The Wind Waker left fans of the series scratching their heads, wondering why the plucky green elf had turned into a Powerpuff Girl.  And the new Metroid?  That went over pretty well, but the sequel with its light and dark play mechanics was a bust.


Perhaps Nintendo's most damning mistake was that it did nothing to dispel gamers' perception of the company as toddler-coddling old fogeys.  While everyone else was hopping aboard the online train, even Sega (especially Sega), Nintendo refused, apparently worried they'd find themselves cornered by a smarmy sub-journalist on Dateline.  Instead they offered connectivity with the GameBoy Advance... a safe alternative, but not a particularly enjoyable one.  Nintendo also gave the thumbs down to Grand Theft Auto, cementing opinions that the GameCube was just for kids and ultimately sending the console's sales swirling down the drain.  These days, with the backward compatible Wii stealing the spotlight, there are only two good uses for a GameCube... a GameBoy Advance with a 42 inch screen, and a doorstop.





This relative newcomer to the cell phone market has already topped the N-Gage as a gaming device... the highly responsive, context-sensitive touchscreen is a far better interface than the N-Gage's cramped cluster of numeric keys, and digital downloads to a spacious internal hard drive beat the hell out of cold-swapping tiny, easily lost cartridges. 


However, the iPhone has a long way to go before it can stand on even ground with the Nintendo DS or even the PSP.  Quality control has been appalling on the unit, with its thousands of mostly fly-by-night licensees limited only by Apple's high moral standards.  In other words, a game is far less likely to be published on the iPhone if it contains the word "crap" than if it actually is crap. 


Also, the touchscreen and accelerometer that work perfectly for the iPhone's standout release Rolando aren't nearly as well suited to more traditional game designs.  That's not going to change until there's a joypad available for the system, and because that would be an acknowledgement that the iPhone's design is anything but perfect, you shouldn't hold your breath for it.





The "-cade" in the name comes from the fact that this ambitious little console was built with the same arcade hardware as classics like Wizard of Wor and Space Zap.  The "Astro" part... uh, probably came from the marketing department.  Bring 'em together and you've got a capable system in dire need of games.  When Bally was at the helm, the Astrocade did get conversions of Space Invaders and Galaxian along with renamed versions of the aforementioned Wizard of Wor and Space Zap, but after they passed the torch to an obscure company called Astrovision, the flame just flickered out.  The drought of software became so severe that Astrocade owners took it upon themselves to make games for the system using the full-featured Bally BASIC cartridge, starting the first company supported homebrew community well before Sony's Net Yaroze and Microsoft's XNA development kits.  Too bad nobody told Astrovision that it's the manufacturer's job to make games for a system, not the underserved customers.





Originally developed at Epyx, the Lynx was sold to Atari as a high-end alternative to the GameBoy.  Looking back, this bleeding edge handheld probably deserved better owners.  The system had a speedy processor, full color graphics, and the ability to scale and rotate objects on the fly, but all the bells and whistles in the world couldn't save it from the bumbling leadership of the Tramiels.  After Epyx pushed the Lynx to its limit with innovative titles like Slime World and Blue Lightning, Atari took the wheel, then quickly shifted into cruise control with conversions of their most popular arcade games.  Nobody complained when those games included Roadblasters, Xybots, and Klax, but when Atari hit the bottom of the barrel, Lynx owners were stuck with the splinters.  Pit Fighter?  Hard Drivin'?  Phooey.  Atari gave up on the Lynx entirely in 1992, leaving gamers still loyal to the handheld scraping by with overpriced Telegames releases and wondering what might have been under better management.





The Master System wasn't a master of much, but it was the uncontested leader in quality arcade translations throughout the late 1980s.  While the NES took massive liberties with its own coin-op conversions and the 7800 was stuck with crusty old Atari games people had tired of years ago, the Master System did its best to bring the hottest arcade hits home with as little compromise as possible. These included not only Sega's own flashy efforts, but Rampage, Rastan, and R-Type as well... a shocking selection considering that Nintendo had brought the arcade version of R-Type to the United States!


However, the Master System won't be remembered for what it had... just what it didn't.  Some of what was missing was relatively minor, like a pause button on its uncomfortable joypad and a lovable mascot (no Alex, I said a loveable mascot).  All that could be forgiven, but it was the drought of original games with deep, satisfying play mechanics that couldn't be ignored.  Sega tried to close the gap between the Master System and NES with rough equivalents of its best-selling games, but Alex Kidd was no Mario (or Sonic, or Bonk, or Rocky Rodent...), and Kenseiden felt like the RC Cola to Castlevania's Coke Classic... technically the same thing, but the flavor just wasn't right.





From a purely technical point of view, the Game Gear is the exact same thing as the Master System, in a smaller package and with its own display.  And oh yeah, double the onscreen colors, but that's not really saying much when the Master System was limited to sixteen of them.  The funny thing about the video game industry, though, is that you can offer the same hardware in a different package a few years later and get entirely different results.  While the Master System's library was chock full of surprisingly accurate arcade conversions, the Game Gear rode the coattails of the 16-bit Genesis with watered down adaptations of its most successful games.  Some attempts were made to make the handheld stand on its own, but they didn't come often enough... and when you consider miserable Game Gear exclusives like Chicago Syndicate and Sonic Blast, maybe they shouldn't have come at all.





I actively resent this system, not only because it killed Nintendo's momentum with its stone-aged cartridge format but because it demonstrated serious hypocrisy on the part of the management.  The only reason the Nintendo 64 even used cartridges was because Shigeru Miyamoto demanded it, complaining that his next Mario game would be compromised by frequent access times if it were published on a compact disc.  Nintendo agreed to replace the disc drive on the Nintendo 64 with a cartridge slot, pleasing its most famous employee but pissing off practically everyone else in the process.


Publishers once eager to make software for Nintendo's next console were incensed by Nintendo's decision to cling to the past with a medium that limited their artistic vision while raising development costs through the roof.  Some of these developers grudgingly supported Nintendo anyway (typically with throw-away releases that could fit on a cheaper cartridge), but others made a mad dash for the door, abandoning projects already in progress and putting their full weight behind the Playstation instead.  One of these scorned developers, Square-Enix, released Final Fantasy VII, which redefined the gaming experience and was crucial to the Playstation's success. 


Shigeru Miyamoto's shortsighted stubbornness cost Nintendo Final Fantasy VII, its industry leadership, and millions of dollars in sales.  Yet when it came time for heads to roll, it was Gumpei Yokoi who was led to the guillotine.  Sure, his Virtual Boy was a disaster, but in the grand scheme of things, it did a lot less damage to the company than the Nintendo 64.  The system annoyed developers, who had to spend a small fortune on publishing games.  It annoyed its owners, who were left in the cold when all the good stuff was released for the Saturn and Playstation.  It even annoyed Nintendo, which watched helplessly as the video game market it once controlled with absolute authority slip through its fingers.  I'm pretty sure the only person who was happy with this miserable thing was Shigeru Miyamoto.  Admittedly, Super Mario 64 was pretty terrific, but if you're making a console for just one game and one person, you're doing it wrong.





More than just a CD-ROM tray, the Sega CD was packed with technology that brought welcome improvements to the handicapped Genesis hardware.  Extra sound channels soothed the sore throats of video game characters, scaling and rotation guaranteed a smooth ride in racing games, and the high capacity disc format freed the imaginations of developers who were once forced to work within the confines of an eight megabit cartridge.


So why didn't this translate to better games?  Laziness, for one.  Many of the developers who should have rejoiced at their newly expanded horizons settled for releasing Genesis games with full-motion video clips grafted onto them.  Others misused the power of the compact disc format and released D-grade movies (Night Trap) and ridiculous Japanese cartoons (Road Avenger) with only the slightest hint of interactivity.  Sift through the hundred games available for the Sega CD and you'll find a dozen that break the mold, offering a truly enhanced gaming experience that put the player in control of the action.  That's a pretty weak batting average, especially for the three hundred dollar price tag.





Former Electronic Arts CEO Trip Hawkins had high hopes for this system... in an interview with WIRED's Chris Kohler, he had explained that he wanted it to dominate the market the way the original Playstation had years later.  Well, there's nothing wrong with having high hopes, but a high price is something the market just won't forgive. 


The 3DO was developed during an awkward time for the industry, when processors were stuck in the slow lane and 3D graphics never got any more advanced than the flat-shaded polygons of Hard Drivin'.  RJ Mical and David Needle, the celebrated designers of the Commodore Amiga and Atari Lynx, tried to push the envelope with the 3DO, giving it a faster processor and more specialized graphics hardware than any game system that had come before it.


Regrettably, all that high-spec gear came at a terrible price.  No, they didn't have to sell their souls to the devil, but you probably would have needed to make that pact before you could afford one.  At seven hundred dollars, the 3DO topped even the Neo-Geo as the most expensive game system on the market... and the real kick in the pants was that the top-class hardware aged badly, antiquated the moment the Playstation and Saturn were introduced in 1995.  On the plus side, with a price that high, there probably weren't too many people kicking themselves over the purchase!





The Jaguar will always be joined at the hip with its rival, the 3DO, just as the Genesis and Super NES were inseperably bonded by history.  However, while the Genesis and Super NES were locked in an epic battle between industry giants, the relationship between the Jaguar and 3DO was more akin to a sissy slap fight, inspiring more pity than awe.  Who would be the victor in this sad little skirmish?  Would it be the 3DO, with its advanced technology and price far beyond the comprehension of mortal man, or the Jaguar, the 64-bit console with the 16-bit games?


Ultimately, the 3DO was the winner in this war of nerds, selling a merely mediocre two million units to the Jaguar's pathetic quarter million.  What's even more shocking is that the 3DO managed to pull these numbers despite costing nearly three times as much as its competitor.  How could the Jaguar blow it with such a huge price advantage?  Although the chunky, retro-in-all-the-wrong-ways controller couldn't have helped much, the blame lies squarely with the games.  Aside from a remake of Tempest that earned nearly as much praise as the original and a slick first-person shooter based on the Alien vs. Predator license, the Jaguar's software library was the absolute pits.  You'd need some pretty tortured math to justify paying $250 for weaksauce games like Zoop and Double Dragon V that you already hated on the Sega Genesis.


 ATARI 7800



1984 was a lousy vintage for game systems, if the Atari 7800 was any indication.  Just two years after the release of the 5200, Atari decided to rectify the system's issues by releasing... an entirely different system.  Ooh, now I know where Sega got all its ideas!  Anyway, the 7800 was developed by Ms. Pac-Man creators GenCom, an uncommonly dumb move from a company with a reputation for ingenious products.  While the machine had a sharper resolution than its predecessor and could play 2600 games right out of the box, it also had hideous sound courtesy of the 2600's outdated TIA chip, and a software library that had to be built from the ground up. 


However, the 7800 was more a victim of poor timing than its own poorly conceived design.  After the industry crash, Atari sat on the console for a couple of years, until the company was sold to the Tramiel family.  Jack had no love for video games, buying Atari to get a foothold in the home computer market after he was pushed out of Commodore.  However, he saw the writing on the wall when the Nintendo Entertainment System rose in popularity, and after much grunting and straining, squeezed out the crusty 7800 as an alternative.  Without the processing muscle or the popular games to stand on even ground with the mighty NES, it wasn't much of an alternative.





The N-Gage is a frequent whipping boy for critics and historians, but here's a scary thought... just a few years ago, its software was as good as cell phone games could get!  For all its flaws (and there are plenty, but we'll get to that), the N-Gage is better suited to playing video games than its contemporaries, as well as many of today's cheaper handsets.  It can handle polygons nearly as well as the original Playstation, as its pack-in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater proves, and the lion's share of its games offer more depth than anything you'd find on an ordinary cellular phone, particularly the warmly received turn-based strategy titles like Pathway to Glory. 


The problem with the N-Gage is that although it could perform the duties of both a phone and a game system, it didn't excel at either.  Cell phone users scoffed at the quirky design, which forced callers to hold the system sideways and press the edge up to their ear.  Gamers were frustrated by the tiny, vertically oriented screen and a confusing cluster of stiff, unresponsive buttons.  They both chose to ignore Nokia's aggressive sales pitch and stuck with what worked for them.





Wonder... wonder... Wonderswan, noooo!  Gumpei Yokoi's last game system was a modest hit in Japan, selling millions of units and even attracting the support of industry leaders like Square-Enix.  It's anyone's guess as to how the system managed to accomplish all this, because the hardware absolutely sucks.  It's better than the GameBoy in some respects, packing a 16-bit processor while the GameBoy was still limping along with an 8-bit CPU, but a whole lot worse in others.  The display is a blurry mess, making games like Rockman and Forte an absolute nightmare to play, and the controls couldn't be more confusing thanks to Yokoi's insistence on accommodating both horizontally and vertically oriented games.  A later color model and the further improved Wonderswan Crystal fixed the shabby screen, but the system was still cursed with way too many buttons, as well as the specter of the upcoming GameBoy Advance.  By the time the hotly anticipated handheld was released, third parties ditched the Wonderswan in record time, putting it squarely on the fast track to irrelevance.





The Amiga CD32 sold remarkably well in its native Europe, outperforming all other CD-based game consoles in that continent, but that just made the Tramiel-free and hopelessly incompetent Commodore all the more determined to destroy its momentum, the system, and itself.  The company ordered thousands of CD32s from a factory in the Philippines to sell in America, but couldn't actually deliver them because of a court order stemming from Commodore's failure to pay royalties to another tech company.  Commodore didn't have the money to pay the fees, or the factory that built the systems, or enough spare change to buy a clue, so the systems went back to Asia and the company went into bankruptcy.


All this is a great history lesson, but it doesn't really tell you much about the Amiga CD32.  Well, the short version is this... the CD32 is an Amiga computer with a CD drive, but without the keyboard.  Popular Amiga games that were already released on floppy disc were reissued in the CD32 format, but aside from redbook audio and the occasional full-motion video clip, very little about those games changed.  Conversely, the CD32 could be upgraded into a computer with one of several expansion kits available by mail-order.  However, the kits were expensive, and the customer was better off buying a pre-assembled Amiga computer rather than playing Voltron with a random jumble of components.  So the short short version is that in a market already glutted with Amiga computers, there was no reason for the CD32 to be made at all.





If the Game Boy was an example of terrible hardware redeemed by exceptional games, the Gizmondo is the exact opposite... an incredibly powerful machine sabotaged by rotten software.  And oh yeah, the Swedish mafia.  You've heard all about the zany adventures of Stephan Erikson, though... let's concentrate on the games.  You know there's something terribly wrong when the best the Gizmondo has to offer include Electronic Arts sports titles a year past their expiration dates, prettied up remakes of long-forgotten Commodore 64 releases, and of course, Sticky Balls, which sounds like the ailment every urologist dreads.  The worst games include a Starfox clone so bland it should have been sold exclusively at health food stores, a table tennis tournament featuring big-breasted contestants, and Carmageddon, a low-octane racing game that had already sputtered out on the Nintendo 64 and PC. 


The unfathomably heinous software is a shame, because the Gizmondo is a very capable handheld, faster than the PSP and with multimedia features missing from the original Nintendo DS.  If it had been backed by, say, Microsoft instead of a bunch of scam artists looking for their next multi-million dollar score, it might still be on store shelves today.





Before I begin this review, it's worth pointing out that the original Odyssey was little more than a television Etch-A-Sketch with cellophane overlays for graphics and circuit jumpers for cartridges.  So the Odyssey2 is definitely an improvement... but not nearly enough to match wits with the Atari 2600, Intellivision, and, and Astrocade.  The Odyssey2 is the only system of its generation to rely on "canned graphics," custom-made sprites built into the system.  The notion was that if the Odyssey2 already had its own artwork hardwired into the machine, the designers could cut corners everywhere else, saving the manufacturer a small fortune on production costs.


It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but any kid unfortunate enough to have grown up with an Odyssey2 (say, myself) knew just how short-sighted that design was.  The reliance on internal graphics meant that each game looked just like the last, with square-headed robots marching over baby blue fields and jet black voids.  Worse yet, the system's meager sixty four bytes of RAM forced game designers to trim the fat, bone, and half the meat from their creations, resulting in software so surreal it borders on Dadaist absurdity.  If you can recognize Popeye as a conversion of the Nintendo arcade game, you've got a much better imagination than I do.





Hey, it's an Atari 5200 with smaller cartridges, more memory, and good old-fashioned single button joysticks!   This would have been a great idea in, say, 1982, but six years later, it just left customers who were already asked to buy the 2600 and 7800 confused.  The XEGS didn't play 2600 games, it didn't play 7800 games, and it didn't even play 5200 games, but you could pop in a cartridge from your old Atari 400, in case you had one of those in your closet.  Oh yeah, and you could buy an optional keyboard and turn it into a computer!  With a muddled business plan like that, it's a miracle Atari survived long enough to release the Jaguar.  Today's more cynical and better informed gamers would have had Jack Tramiel's head on a pike days after the XEGS was released.





I keep waiting for the Macintosh commercial where the subject of games is brought up.  I could just see it now... Joel Hodgman's frequently humiliated PC would do cartwheels in raucous celebration, then jump on a table and wiggle his ass in Josh Long's smug face, shouting "Who's on top now, bitch?  Who's on top NOW?!"  This would be immediately followed by antagonistic cries of "Nah nah nah nah nah!" and proclamations that the Macintosh had been "pwned."


This will never happen, of course, but even without visual aids by human metaphors, that has been the reality since 1984, when the Macintosh debuted.  It was a terrible game machine then, and twenty-five years later, it's a terrible game machine now, despite vastly improved technology and the occasional gem like Marathon. 


To Apple's credit, it did make a half-hearted attempt to turn the Macintosh into a dedicated game player, but the Japanese Pippen went down in flames just one year after it was released, trumped in sales by the PC-based Xbox many times over.  So chin up, wimpy PC guy... you'll always have the edge over Macs in at least one area, even if the commercials will never admit it.





The GameBoy Color represents the snowy peak of Nintendo's arrogance.  They thought they could stomp the competition with a barely updated version of their popular handheld... and the sad part was, they were right!  Thanks to the popularity of Pokemon, the GameBoy Color brushed away superior handhelds like the Neo-Geo Pocket with little effort.  When I say "little effort," I really mean it... you could count all the good non-Pokemon titles on the GameBoy Color on two hands, while on the Neo-Geo Pocket, nearly every game was a winner until Aruze took the reins.  The sting of the Game Boy Color's shortcomings wouldn't have been as painful if EGM hadn't reported months earlier on a Nintendo handheld called Project Atlantis that was supposed to blow every other portable out of the water.  That could have been the GameBoy Advance, mercifully released two years later, but it sure as hell wasn't this!





The ADAM started out as an expansion module for the ColecoVision, similar to the Supercharger and later add-ons like the Sega CD.  When the video game industry started to tank, Coleco quickly switched gears and transformed it into a full-fledged home computer.  Big mistake!  The ADAM was a huge boondoggle for the company, retailing for twice the price of the industry leading Commodore 64 and being built from components so bulky and clunky, you'd suspect they were looted from the set of Lost in Space. 


Danger, prospective computer buyers!  This blithering bucket of bolts had its AC adapter built into an enormous daisy chain printer, making it impossible to use the ADAM without taking the slow, noisy sidekick along for the ride.  Speaking of slow, the system stored all its games on specially designed cassette tapes, rather than damage resistant cartridges or faster, more compact floppy discs.  The games were indeed improved over what was available on the ColecoVision- there's a sequel to Zaxxon and an ambitious conversion of Dragon's Lair that are both stunning- but in the end, you have to ask yourself if it's worth the headaches.





Loadin' loadin' loadin', keep that system loadin', loadin' loadin' loadin' all daaaaay!  Anyone who bought this hoping to enjoy the fantastic games on the Neo-Geo while keeping a few dollars in their pocket was in for a nasty surprise.  Launch titles play just as well on the CD-enhanced unit as they do on its cartridge-based cousin, but pop in any of the fighting games and you'll quickly hit a brick wall of access time.  You won't be doing much else quickly, though... you could wait in excess of thirty seconds before a fight begins, and the lengthy loading is almost constant in the later King of Fighters games thanks to their frequent character swaps and heavy resource demands. 


The rare Neo-Geo CDZ slapped a Band-Aid on the gaping wound with a larger memory buffer, but by the time it was released, the Saturn was already out in Japan for several months, and was capable of playing faithful conversions of hot arcade games with a fraction of the access time.  Eventually SNK followed the lead of its fans, tossing the misbegotten Neo-Geo CD in the trash and putting its full weight behind a system that could actually do its games justice.





The PC Engine (our TurboGrafx) had more than its share of fans in Japan, but this ill-conceived follow-up killed the brand dead, receiving only seven games and absolutely no third party support.  The situation was so dire for the SuperGrafx that NEC and Hudson Soft had to buy the rights to popular arcade games and port them to the system on their own!  Fortunately, all of these conversions were sterling, particularly Ghouls 'n Ghosts, which EGM couldn't stop gushing about in its early years of publication.  After you play it, you'll understand why... aside from the muted colors it's the next best thing to being at the laundromat. 


However, the original games were decidedly less inspired, particularly Granzort (they had a year to make a Keith Courage sequel, and they made it worse?!)  and Battle Ace (whose only notable accomplishment is squeezing a Castlevania soundtrack into a third-rate flight combat game).  Salting the wound is the fact that the SuperGrafx didn't soup up the graphics as much as you'd expect... the system seems only marginally improved from the TurboGrafx, with the same subpar sound processor and color limitations.  Wow, NEC... when you bomb, you take out a city block!





With the exception of Shigeru Miyamoto, Gumpei Yokoi did more to make Nintendo an industry giant than any other person.  This talented engineer created the Game + Watch series of handhelds, designed the crosskey directional pad that became a permanent fixture on modern game controllers, was the mastermind behind the best-selling NES and GameBoy, and led the design team responsible for Metroid, the science-fiction adventure series that remains popular and profoundly influential nearly twenty-five years after its debut.


What would a guy have to do to get fired from Nintendo after all these stunning triumphs?  This.  The Virtual Boy was envisioned as the ultimate game system, an immersive 3D experience unlike anything else on the market.  Yokoi was convinced that his creation would revolutionize the gaming industry, but the oversized headset was impractically designed and hamstrung by the limited technology of the time.  Instead of a full color display, Yokoi was forced to settle for shades of eye-searing red, and instead of hardware that could effectively bring virtual worlds to life, he was stuck with a peculiar processor that struggled to keep up with even primitive wire-frame polygons.


The Virtual Boy bombed hard at retail, dropping from two hundred dollars to twenty in a matter of months.  Furious at its failure, Nintendo forgot all of Gumpei Yokoi's positive contributions to the company and sentenced him to twiddle his thumbs in the white room, a fate worse than death in the shame-driven Japanese business world.  Anyone who bought a Virtual Boy was punished just as severely with migraine headaches, lousy games, and a lighter wallet.





"I'm so hungry I could eat an Octorok!"  These wimpy words will forever ring in the ears of gamers who foolishly bought a CD-i for its Legend of Zelda games.  There were three of them on the system, but not one had the touch of genius that defined the series on Nintendo's consoles.  What they had instead were ridiculous, rough-edged cartoons that would become the laughingstock of YouTube ten years later.


That ain't all, folks!  The CD-i was also burdened with pretentious full-motion video "games" which tried to elevate the medium to high art, while forgetting that the only reason anyone even tried to play Night Trap and Sewer Shark was for the camp value.  Without it, titles like Voyeur and Burn:Cycle were just late night cable movies with the pointless distraction of joystick input.  Hey Philips, did you ever consider releasing actual games for this thing?  You know, games, not dictionaries or blustery multimedia presentations or whatever the hell was on those three Zelda discs.





The Fairchild Channel F has a fascinating history, full of industry milestones.  It was the first programmable home game console, released at a time when boring Pong units glutted the market.  Its designer Jerry Lawson was as much a pioneer as the console he created, the only African-American guiding the industry during its early formative years.  Then there are the games, which are... uh, wow.  They're groundbreaking in that they exist, but they also demonstrate that engineering genius doesn't necessarily translate to brilliant software design.  Only one game out of the two dozen on the Channel F, Dodge It, is both original and entertaining... the rest are functional at best, with the "fun" part missing from the equation.  The system's contribution to gaming history is undeniable, but without great software, history is all it will ever be.





More like 32X-crement, amirite?  Yeah, yeah, that was a lame joke, but if Sega doesn't have to put any effort into their work, neither do I.  After the Sega CD, there was absolutely, positively no reason for this horrible thing to exist.  None.  It fractured the Genesis user base, again, gave anyone dumb enough to purchase it a reason to put off buying a Saturn, offered trivial improvements over the Genesis hardware, and was a stone-cold bitch to set up, feeling more like a wadded up invention fished out of Rube Goldberg's garbage can than a legitimate system upgrade.


If you've never had the unbridled joy of using a 32X, allow me to sum up the experience for you.  "Where am I gonna put this second power supply?  Do I really have to daisy chain video cables from the Genesis to the 32X to my television set?  What the hell are these metal things, and why do they keep popping out of the cartridge slot?  Wait, wait, now I need to connect the Sega CD too?!  Hell, I didn't have this much trouble putting my Constructicons together when I was ten.  At least I'm finished with this convoluted mess.  I'll just turn on my brand new super system and... wait, why is the Sega logo green?  Screw this... where's my Super Nintendo?"





There are fans of the Emerson Arcadia and its many European clones out there.  Just know that I will never be one of them.  It always struck me as a remarkably cynical attempt to break into the video game market... a last generation console competing with the next generation technology of the Atari 5200, ColecoVision, and Vectrex.  Sure, it had the support of some current industry heavyweights, including Konami and Tekhan (then Tecmo, and now Kotec), but that doesn't excuse the very lightweight hardware.  Screeching sound effects and jumpy graphics you have to view under an electron microscope aren't my idea of a good time, and judging from the system's shabby sales in the United States, it didn't win over anyone else.  I suspect that the Europeans and Australians who still profess their love for the Emerson Arcadia weren't given too many other options...





The first programmable handheld game system wasn't programmable per se... the Microvision was just a crude monochrome display and a dial, while the cartridges contained the processor and software.  Dumb terminals were a popular money saver in the computer industry at the time, but the Microvision was the first time it had been attempted in the world of video games.  It was a clever idea that dropped the price of the Microvision to sub-GameBoy levels, but the games were primitive, ranging from a Breakout clone that was packaged with the system to a simple shooting gallery with the Star Trek license.  It was an important step forward for the industry, but a baby step next to what the GameBoy would offer years later.





I actually owned one of these obscure consoles for a week.  A week was long enough.  The APF-1000 brings together blocky sprites and pastel colors for a look that reminds you of what would happen if Ms. Pac-Man invited the cast of Adventure to her baby shower.  Ugly graphics are only the start of this system's problems, however... it also suffers from a minute selection of games and a controller with all the usual earmarks of faulty joystick design from the late 1970s.  Seriously, why were hardware manufacturers from that period so utterly obsessed with numeric keypads?  It was a bad industry habit that wasn't broken for good until the failure of the Atari Jaguar in 1995, and the stiff membrane keys certainly didn't do this sad-sack system any favors.





This is the holy grail of video game collecting; a machine so rare that one of its cartridges makes Suikoden II or Radiant Silvergun look like one of those copies of E.T. that Atari buried in a New Mexico landfill.  For all its value as a collector's item, however, the Adventurevision offers nothing in the way of entertainment value.  Like the Virtual Boy, this Entex disaster uses a clever arrangement of red LEDs and mirrors for its display.  Unlike the Virtual Boy, the constantly flickering graphics offer no illusion of depth... just violent epileptic seizures.  On the bright side, the time you'll spend flopping around on the floor is time you won't have to spend playing the Adventurevision's four games, arcade conversions so pathetic they make Entex's primitive tabletop games look kingly by comparison.  Just think... all this can be yours for only five thousand dollars!





Oh ho ho... this is going to be fun!  Not the system itself, mind you... just giving it the big kick in the ass it deserves.  The was Tiger Electronics' attempt to break into the mainstream video game market, and the press was all too eager to give them a hand, treating the handheld like a masterpiece rather than the master piece of crap it actually was.  "It's got real digitized voice!," the video game magazines shouted.  "It can play advanced games like Duke Nukem 3D!," they boasted.  "It has touchscreen features once available only on pricey PDAs!," they crowed.  "This is going to dethrone Nintendo as the king of the handheld market!," they smugly assured their readers, while secretly making plans for the fat checks Tiger slipped into their pockets.


Here's what the rags didn't tell you about the  The digitized voice?  It was pretty rough, but no biggie... that was never a selling point for a handheld anyway.  Those advanced games?  They were faintly recognizable as Duke Nukem and Fighter's Megamix, but ran at four frames a second and were blurred to the point of zero visibility on the's sorry screen.  The touchscreen features?  There were a couple dozen pressure points on the screen which let you point at objects with the stylus, but that was pretty much it.  As for the notion that the would rule the handheld market, we all know how well that went.  People took one look at the system, then after their vision came back, they embraced their GameBoys as if they were long departed grandparents returning from the grave.  After that tender moment, they rolled up the magazines and beat the filthy liars who wrote them like naughty puppies.