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8 Defunct Game Systems

by Lynzee Loveridge,

Today's gaming scene is dominated by three major console manufacturers: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. The landscape is a lot different than when I was a kid, plugging away at Super Mario World on the SNES. I had to head to my friend's house to play Sonic because, at least among my friends, most households had a single console. It was a war to win kids' eyeballs (and parents' paychecks). Different companies have tried to break into the console business and flopped. Even mainstays like Sega and Atari have dropped out of the race in favor of licensing their IP instead. Here are a few home gaming experiments of years gone by.

DreamCast Sega's last hurrah was the Dreamcast system. Placed squarely in competition with the PlayStation 2, the console initially had a solid launch including the first 3D Sonic the Hedgehog platformer, Sonic Adventure. Stuff like Crazy Taxi, Jet Set Radio, and of course Shenmue all carved out fanbases but following a change up at corporate, Sega decided to abandon the console business. The decision did not go over easy within the company, but three years after the system's launch, Sega announced it would focus solely on software. The Dreamcast took a dramatic price drop as Sega pushed to rid itself of nearly one million unsold units.

N-Gage The Nokia N-Gage (yes, the phone company) launched as a possible competitor to the PlayStation Portable and Game Boy Advance, but I'm not sure any consumers took the venture seriously. I was in high school at the time and have a vivid memory of a friend going into the mall's GameStop to harangue the manager about N-Gage until he was asked to leave. The system was supposed to function as both a cellphone and portable gaming system in a time where the only games on your phone might be Snake. Aesthetically, it looked like one of those Tiger Electronics single-track racing game handhelds, next to nothing like a phone. Critics dubbed it a "taco phone" for its appearance, while the button placement was illogical for a gaming system. Nokia tried a redesign in 2004 and sold about two million units in two years.

Magnavox Odyssey 3 “Command Center” Magnavox is a company I associate solely with large CRT television sets and VHS players, because the company's foray into gaming is a bit before my time. In the early '80s, the company was gearing up for its Odyssey 3 Command Center system. Magnavox boasted the system's "high resolution" graphics and space-shooter game play all packed into a giant keyboard. The system would never make it out of the gate, and after a limited release in Europe, it was dead before it could make it to American shores. For its time, it was considered old tech that couldn't compete with an increasingly saturated video game market (that would soon crash).

Atari Jaguar It's the system that killed Atari consoles—but maybe it shouldn't have? The Atari Jaguar was released in 1993 during the time of Sega Genesis and SNES, but it was actually ahead of the game graphically speaking. Atari marketed the system as the first 64-bit console, and its launch title Cybermorph was deemed better than the classic Star Fox at the time of release. The console was also cheaper than its later released competitors, the Sony PlayStation and Sega DreamCast. Unfortunately, this did little to boost the Jaguar's status among consumers, and it died out by 1996.

Gizmondo I mentioned Tiger Electronics briefly before as a company known for its kitschy, simplistic handheld games. Despite the name similarity, Tiger Electronics is not related to Tiger Telematics. The latter tried to break into the world of legit handhelds with the Gizmondo in 2005. This would end in epic failure, a criminal conspiracy, and millions of dollars wasted on hobnobbing parties. The handheld was first promoted as a direct response to Nokia's N-Gage (lol) and teamed up with Formula One drivers and music celebrities for lavish parties. The system's European exec Stefan Eriksson even slapped the logo on a Ferrari and competed in a race to get the momentum going. Of course, this would completely crash when Eriksson was outed for associating with the Swedish mob and literally wrecked that Ferrari in California. Someone also thought it was smart to announce a wide screen version of the console right before the original's release, which only lowered the number of potential buyers even further.

Steambox I remember writing about the Steambox here at Anime News Network when it was in development, up until it suddenly wasn't and quietly disappeared into the ether. The Steambox was supposed to be a pre-built PC-like console sold by Valve and used for LAN parties. It ran on its own Valve operating system and underwent about two years of beta testing before hitting the market. Valve promised variations on the machine depending on consumer's needs. It had its own controller design and yeah, you can still buy it and third-party Steam Machines for the tune of US$500, but Valve revealed it had sold just over 500,000 Steam Controllers, which would include those bundled with the systems. Parsed out, that's less than half a million in six months post-launch.

3DO The 3DO is a stellar example of how top-tier tech doesn't always trump familiarity. This console was put forward by Electronic Arts' founder Trip Hawkins, but the hardware build was licensed out and the 3DO was ultimately created by Panasonic. Its 32-bit build was impressive and thoroughly advertised, but customers in 1993 couldn't swallow its $700 price tag (many consumers wouldn't pay that much for a console now). Electronic Arts was able to entice a variety of software developers because of the low royalty rate compared to its competitors. Electronic Arts never intended to manufacture the system itself, and a number of variations were released and prototyped by different companies. In the end, the high-tech 3DO was its own undoing, as developers struggled to create software compatible with it, manufacturers did not create enough retail supply due to continued changes before release, and console sales died out quickly.

Virtual Boy Similar to my searing image of the N-Gage, I also had a short encounter with the Virtual Boy as a kid outside of KB Toys. KB Toys was the nearest big box toy store in my area without having to go across the bridge into the next state to TOYS R US (RIP). You always knew a KB Toys was nearby because they had the yapping, backflipping tiny dogs on display in a corral along with balls that moved on their own attached to small, sad stuffed ferrets. One day, they also had a Virtual Boy out front, so anyone could bend over awkwardly and stick their face up against it to see Mario play tennis in red and black pixels. Apparently, this chance encounter was pretty lucky on my part because Nintendo made these things for barely a year and with 22 total games, Mario Tennis included.

The new poll: What anime high school would you want to attend?

The old poll: Which nominee will win Best Animated Picture at the Academy Awards?

  1. “Coco,” Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
  2. “Loving Vincent,” Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman
  3. “The Boss Baby,” Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito
  4. “Ferdinand,” Carlos Saldanha
  5. “The Breadwinner,” Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo

When she isn't compiling lists of tropes, topics, and characters, Lynzee works as the Managing Interest Editor for Anime News Network and posts pictures of her sons on Twitter @ANN_Lynzee.

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