The Home Game Systems That Got The Shaft

Over the course of videogaming's 30-plus-years lifespan, videogame systems came and went through the various changes along the way.  First came the change from hard-wired systems that could play only a few games to "programmable" systems that can play multitudes of games through plugging in interchangeable game cartridges.  Then came the leaps in audiovisual technology that would bring arcade-quality gaming home to players hankering for a bit of the coin-op realism outside owning such machines in their own homes.  Then came the switch from using flat 2D "sprites" to 3D-rendered polygons for graphics in the making of the games.  Then came the switch from using cartridges to using CD-ROMs, increasing the amount of storage space for a game, which was followed by yet another switch in media to DVD-ROMs some years later, and now Internet downloading of games onto game systems is becoming commonplace.  Yet during those years of constant change, there were game systems that didn't make the grade for various reasons.  Some of these systems had ideas that looked better on paper than they did when they were finally built and assembled, others were simply a case of being released at a bad time, and others were released by companies that didn't know what they were getting into when they decided to release a game system.

The Bally Professional Arcade (a.k.a. the Astrocade), which was mentioned in another gaming article, had the powerful backing of the once-mighty arcade giant Bally when it came to producing games for the system.  Unfortunately, it didn't garner as much attention from gamers as did the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision at the time, even when Bally handed over the production of its game system and games library to the Ohio-based Astrovision.

The Magnavox Odyssey 2 was the first cartridge-based game system from the leading manufacturer of consumer electronics appliances (Magnavox being an American division of Philips), with its drawing card being that it was the only system of the time that came with a built-in typewriter-style keyboard, though its keyboard used a flat membrane like the Atari 400 and the Timex/Sinclair 1000.  This system's major push was in the area of both educational games as well as its Master Strategy line of games for the older crowd, which included Quest For The Rings and The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt, though it also offered its own adaptations of classic arcade games like Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Pac-Man.  However, the Odyssey 2 was eclipsed in sales by its main competitors, the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision, and its games looked like they were a generation behind the times.  Magnavox/Philips tried to bring an updated version of the game system, called the Odyssey 3, to market in the U.S. by the early 1980s, but seeing that it would not compete very well against the ColecoVision and the Atari 5200, they cancelled its American release and instead allowed it to be marketed in Europe as one of the Videopac systems.

The GCE Vectrex was a novel game system that was contained within its own monitor, and for a good reason -- it was the first home game system that used vector-scan graphics, the type used in Asteroids and Tempest.  The game company got a boost in arcade titles from a game company that specialized in vector-scan video games, CinemaTronics, with games such as Star Castle and Armor Attack, plus they had some adaptations of raster-scan video games like Berzerk and Pole Position.  Unfortunately, the Vectrex came out at a rather bad time -- within a year before the American game market crashed -- and despite having Milton Bradley distribute and market the system and its games about a year later, it would end up becoming another orphaned gaming unit alongside the ColecoVision and the Atari 5200.  Nonetheless, the Vectrex remained popular among the classic gaming fans of the early 1980s that, even to this day, has become a highly sought-after piece of hardware.

The Atari 7800 ProSystem, which Atari developed in 1984, was all set to go as the system that would replace their popular-yet-flawed 5200 Supersystem which languished behind in sales against the ColecoVision.  It had a powerful technological graphics engine that would allow dozens of sprites to be animated on the screen without flicker, and it also had immediate backwards compatibility with the 2600 system without an adapter, plus its controllers could be swapped with 2600-compatible ones without needing an adapter.  It was all set to be released in 1984 when the Video Game Crash took place, paralyzing the videogame industry, and also Jack Tramiel's takeover of Atari put this system and its series of games -- mostly adaptations of early 1980s arcade games -- on the shelf and on hold almost indefinitely.  When Nintendo and Sega came forth with their game systems to revive the dead American game market in 1986, Atari decided to release the 7800 and its games.  Unfortunately, in comparison to the NES and the Master System, the 7800 showed its datedness in both its audiovisual tech quality and its games.  More people wanted to play games like Super Mario Bros., Legend Of Zelda, Castlevania, Gradius, Contra, Double Dragon, and MegaMan, and there was no equal to them among the games offered for the 7800.  Other things that helped hurt the 7800 was Nintendo's third-party software developer licensing system, which prevented cross-porting of NES games onto other systems for at least two years at that time, and Atari's decision to re-release their 8-bit personal computer system from the early 1980s as the XE Game System in 1987.  The system managed to hang on until the early 1990s, and then Atari decided to call it quits on supporting the system.

The NEC TurboGrafx-16 was this company's first major entry into the videogame market, which in Japan sold pretty well as the PC Engine.  Although it was touted as a "16-bit game system", the TurboGrafx was actually a hybrid 8-bit system that used a 16-bit graphics controlling chip.  NEC made some changes to the system before releasing it in the United States in 1989 alongside its main competitor, the Sega Genesis (known as the Mega Drive in Japan and Europe), one change being that the console unit was made bigger than its original PC Engine casing.  Unfortunately, the TurboGrafx system had a hard time finding its way into the stores, not to mention garnering any third-party gaming support.  Also its CD-ROM add-on peripheral, which allowed bigger-sized games to be played on the system, was rather expensive at the time, and though it became part of the later-released TurboDuo system which sold for as much as did the separate peripheral (and Sega's own CD-ROM peripheral for the Genesis system), there were very few games released stateside in that format that interested gamers into making such an investment.

The Atari Jaguar, which came out in 1993, was Atari's last attempt at selling a game system. It boasted of having 64-bit technology a few years before the Nintendo 64 hit the market (although what it really had was two 32-bit processors working together), so on paper and by its marketing alone it was a definite contender. However, most of the games that came out for this system were either like prettied-up versions of 16-bit system games or very poor 3D polygonal graphics games. There were very few games for the system that were must-buys, such as Tempest 2000 and Aliens Vs. Predator, and most of those games were made by Atari as very few third-party companies bothered to support the Jaguar's software library. Even the release of its compatible CD-ROM accessory didn't help bolster the sales of this system, which ended up cratering along with Atari a few years after its release.

The Sega Saturn, which came out in 1995, was that company's entry into the infant 32-bit CD-ROM gaming market, flaunting its 3D polygon power in games such as the home ports of its Virtua Fighter and Virtua Racing coin-ops.  While the system sold well in Japan around 1994, Sega made a huge blunder as far as introducing it to the States in 1995.  With the impending release of the Sony Playstation in September of that year, showing superior graphics capability over the Saturn, Sega of America chose to cancel their original September release date and instead released their system as early as June in order to try beating Sony in sales of the system.  However, what that premature releasing of the Saturn accomplished was causing very few retail chains to carry the system and its games even when the Playstation came out as scheduled and was offered at the initial price of $300 -- which was $100 less than the Saturn's asking price at that time.  Also, the Saturn's premature release caught third-party game developers off guard, resulting in very few games that came out at the time of its release, and there was little among those titles that were even considered good.  Another thing that hampered its release was Sega of America deciding to pack the system with a pair of controllers that were hard for gaming hands to use properly, a far cry from the original controllers Sega of Japan packed with the Saturns in their home country.  Even with its shortcomings, the Saturn managed to stay afloat for a few years until Sega decided to replace the system with their next and last effort, the Dreamcast.

The Nintendo Virtual Boy, which came out in 1995, was Nintendo's attempt to replace the aging Gameboy system with a new portable system that had 32-bit technology under the hood, plus it displayed monochrome graphics through stereoscoped 3D goggles.  As much as Nintendo touted this system as a "3D-gaming system", hoping to profit off the period's popularity of "virtual reality" gaming, there was very little in the way of the system and its games that made it worth such the hype it was given. The downfall of the Virtual Boy also led to the untimely downfall of its creator Gunpei Yokoi, who after retiring from Nintendo was killed in a car crash.

The Sega Dreamcast, which came out in 1999, was Sega's final attempt in developing a game console before they departed from hardware development for good.  Some of the things the Dreamcast had going for it was astounding 128-bit graphics technology, which made for better-looking and better-animated 3D-polygon games compared to the Nintendo 64 and the Playstation, as well as a built-in 56K-speed modem that would allow owners to surf the Internet through a special browser, if not also to play against other players.  Unfortunately, the lack of vital third-party game support, in addition to the timing of its release -- somewhere between the Playstation Era and the X-Box Era -- and Sega's waning consumer interest in their products due to failed promises in the past, all did serious damage to the system's longevity in the marketplace: it was supported by Sega for only two years and then it was orphaned.  Yet even after its short market run, the Dreamcast remains a highly sought-after game system.

The Wii U, which came out in 2012, was Nintendo's successor to the popular Wii game system, boasting technology similar to that of the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 while also having a touchscreen gamepad for games that would be developed for such use. Unfortunately, this caused quite a lot of confusion for Wii owners who simply assumed that the gamepad was an accessory for the Wii system itself. Another problem was that because the technology of the system was not on par with the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, third-party developers simply weren't interested in developing any games for it, leaving most of the game support primarily in Nintendo's hands. It survived for at least four years before Nintendo made announcements that it would be replaced with its console/handheld system hybrid called the Switch.

The Ouya, which came out in 2013, was an Android-based microconsole developed as a crowdfunded project which was meant to compete against the big-name game consoles with its smaller, more user-friendly game development system for its software support and its low price of around $99 in the United States. Unfortunately, technical issues with the Ouya system as well as financial issues with its manufacturer have forced it to be discontinued a few years later, leaving the microconsole market in the hands of its immediate competitors Amazon and Google with their respective Amazon Fire TV and Google Nexus systems.

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