PlayStation, Xbox, Genesis, NES: We’re all familiar with the names of these iconic video game consoles. They have become etched into our collective minds as mainstays in the world of digital entertainment. But they are just a few of the brands that fought in the many console wars over the past forty years. In this installment, we look at the Top 10 video game consoles you never knew existed.
Yes, you heard it right: Apple, the creator of the Macintosh and the iPod, had a video game system.. and it was a disaster, which explains why you’ve never heard of it. The Pippin was a concept meant to attract game developers to Apple, but the strong interest at trade shows motivated the company to sell the console to the general public in 1995. The problem here was that no one associated Apple with games, something that didn’t change even when the Pippin hit stores. Needless to say, the little white console hit the market with a thud. Steve Jobs, on his return to Apple in 1997, immediately axed the Pip, thus ending a sad chapter in Apple history.
Worlds of Wonder Action Max
The Action Max was the brainchild of former Atari employees who thought they knew what the next generation of gaming was. Well, they thought wrong. The Action Max’s only notable feature was its VHS format. On second thought, scratch that: the Action Max didn’t actually have a format per se…you see, a player would insert a VHS cassette into a separate VCR, then connect that VCR to the Action Max, plug in his Action Max laser blaster, and finally attach a synchronizer. The player fired his blaster at screen targets, which the synchronizer tallied for points. It was horrible idea, and only five games were released. No surprise: World of Wonder went belly up not long after.
RadioShack made a video game console. That sentence alone should make you shudder. The Video Information System–or VIS for short–was developed by RadioShack’s parent company, Tandy, and sold under the Memorex brand. The hope was that the CD-based system, which ran on a unique version of Windows, would bring a flood of gamers into RadioShack stores. It didn’t happen. In fact, RadioShack employees joked that the initials VIS stood for “Virtually Impossible to Sell.”
Ask folks what the first Sega console was, and odds are they’ll say the Genesis–for which they’d be wrong–or the Master System–a better answer, but still wrong. The first Sega system was the SG-1000, a small console released in Japan in 1983. As Sega’s first entry, the SG-1000 didn’t break any barriers. The only notable title on the system was Girl’s Garden, the first game by Yuki Naka, creator of Sonic the Hedgehog. The SG-1000 is, by any measure, a forgettable machine, lasting on the market for just two years.
Fearing that it was falling behind in the game craze of the pre-crash ‘80s, the Emerson Radio Corporation dipped its toes into the console market with the portable, two-player Arcadia. Unfortunately, a legal dispute with Atari prevented the release of big-ticket items such as Pac-Man and Defender. Without those, the Arcadia quickly burned out. Believe or not, the Arcadia had something of a global legacy, there were around 35 different variants sold overseas throughout the decade.
It was clear that, by the early ‘90s, the oversized and overpriced LaserDisc was not going to be the next stage of media. Pioneer somehow thought otherwise, putting those oversized and overpriced traits into a console/CD-player/karaoke system known as the LaserActive. Retailing for almost $1,000, it was no surprise that the LaserActive became an instant dud when it was released in 1994.
If you’ve never heard of the Vectrex, you’re hardly alone. This second-generation home gaming console was manufactured by a relative unknown in the industry, though later development was handled by Milton-Bradley. Priced at $200 and sporting an integrated monitor, the Vectrex featured flashy–and somewhat futuristic vector graphics that could be brightened with colorful screen overlays. Released just before the North American game crash of the early ‘80s, the Vectrex had the misfortune of hitting the market at the worst possible time.
It might be hard to believe, but there was a time when NEC was considered a big player in the gaming market. It might be even harder to believe that NEC’s second home gaming system, the PC-FX, was once seen as a major competitor to the Sony PlayStation. Yet, the PC-FX suffered too many shortcomings to stand out, including the inability to yield polygons, the absence of international distribution, and no major exclusive titles. Where the PlayStation had just about anything you wanted, from fighting games, puzzlers and shooters, the PC-FX’s library consisted almost entirely of dating sims and adventure games. Upon its release in 1994, the PC-FX was either ignored or savaged by the gaming press. Disheartened, NEC let the PC-FX languish on the market before quietly pulling the plug in 1998.
The XEGS was Atari’s half-hearted effort to reclaim the gaming market from Nintendo. This rather odd-looking system worked as both a PC and a gaming console, coming equipped with a joystick, keyboard, and an optional light gun. The XEGS was certainly more versatile than its competitors, but experienced an all-too-familiar problem: A lack of unique games. Nintendo had Mario, Zelda, and Metroid, while the XEGS had… well, practically nothing. The 8-bit XEGS hit stores in 1987, whereupon it quickly faded into the background as Nintendo continued to dominate the market as their 8-bit unit debuted in 1983. Surprisingly, Atari manufactured the XEGS for five whole years, ending production of the 8-bit system just as the 32-bit era was underway.
If you grew up in the 1980s, odds are you’re familiar with Commodore computers–and for good reason; Commodore PCs were industry top-sellers, renowned for their combination of quality and affordability. Fast-forward to 1993 and fortunes changed as Microsoft exercised dominance in the PC market and Commodore barely clung to life. In a last-ditch effort to stave off bankruptcy, Commodore released the CD32, one of the first CD-based 32-bit systems to hit store shelves. Despite having better specs than either the Sega Genesis or Super NES, the CD32 floundered in the market due to a lack of exclusive titles. Worse yet, a patent dispute prevented Commodore from selling the CD32 in the crucial US market. Within a year of launch, the CD32–and Commodore with it–went into the dustbin of history.