There’s loads of buzz surrounding the impending release of next-gen gaming consoles from Microsoft and Sony.
And the buzz isn’t all good.
The unveiling of the forthcoming Xbox One was met with a harsh backlash from gamers and industry insiders, who decry many of the console’s features as drastic missteps (such as the apparent inability to play used games, or lack of backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 titles).
Could the much-hyped release of the Xbox One — or even the Playstation 4 — result in catastrophic commercial failure? Stranger things have happened.
Plenty of gaming consoles have fallen flat in the marketplace. Some of them sucked, of course, but others were technologically innovative machines that the world just wasn’t quite ready for.
Here’s a look back at eight consoles that flopped, despite being pretty awesome for their time.
What it was: A powerful (for its time) console that was marketed as an “arcade game at home,” promising all the power of a quarter-munching cabinet with the convenience of a living room system. At the time of its release by SNK Playmore, gamers drooled over its 32-bit power and promise of the coveted arcade experience — billed as AES, or Advanced Entertainment System — that other home consoles just couldn’t deliver.
How it was ahead of its time: Raw processing power that enabled wicked graphics and sound, combined with a heavy-duty joystick experience that mimicked the feel of arcade cabinets. It was also way ahead of its time in terms of price point — a lofty 650 bucks, which would be considered high now but was downright absurd for most consumers in 1990.
Notable games: King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, Samurai Showdown
Why it failed: It actually lasted a lot longer than most people think, with its final game being released 14 years after the console debuted, but its share of the market was always extremely small due to its absurd pricing. Millions of gamers wanted a NEO GEO, but millions of parents put their foot down after suffering the associated sticker shock.
What it was: Panasonic’s foray into ultra-powerful, ultra-expensive gaming consoles, which failed to deliver the kind of gaming experience players expected after shelling out 700 bucks.
How it was ahead of its time: The 3D0 capitalized on the “multimedia wave” of the early 1990s and boasted the processing oomph to make it a front-runner. Thanks to its innovative, CD-based software system and some clever marketing, it could support games that cartridge-based systems simply could not, and it was initially lauded as the next big thing in gaming (Time Magazine named it the Product of the Year in 1994).
Notable games: Alone in the Dark, Myst, Doom, Crash ‘n’ Burn
Why it failed: Due to an ill-conceived royalties model for game developers, Panasonic had to rely on an extremely high console price in order to turn a profit. Shelling out 700 bucks meant players had extremely high expectations, on which the system failed to deliver. A lack of third-party support led to a disappointingly sparse library of titles.
What it was: A groundbreaking 16-bit handheld gaming system that usurped the Gameboy and similar devices by having a backlit color screen and some serious processing guts.
How it was ahead of its time: It had a sleek layout that was ambidextrous, allowing left-handed players to flip it over and play with ease. It was also the first gaming device to allow zooming/scaling, which enabled realistic 3D effects for first-person games, such as the awesome Blue Lightning. One review said the Lynx “throws the Gameboy into the prehistoric era.”
Notable games: Raiden, Klax, APB, Blue Lightning
Why it failed: At the time of its release, Nintendo was an unstoppable giant of the gaming world and prying away a piece of market share was an uphill battle, even for the once-mighty Atari. Sega’s Game Gear also snagged a piece of the handheld market, pushing the Lynx closer to extinction.
What it was: Atari’s attempt to reclaim a piece of the console gaming market, which it had lost to Nintendo and Sega in the 1980s.
How it was ahead of its time: In a bid to overthrow the NES and Genesis, the Jaguar was released with a 64-bit processor, which was quite a beast back then. Atari boasted about this processing chutzpah with a clever marketing slogan aimed at gamers who wanted the fastest machine: “Do the Math.” Even its most powerful competitors couldn’t match its horsepower — until the Playstation and other next-generation consoles came along.
Notable games: Alien vs. Predator, Rayman, Doom
Why it failed: An over-sized and cramp-inducing controller, combined with a small library of games — many of which failed to capitalize on the system’s specs — prevented the system from taking a foothold in an over-saturated market.
What it was: Nintendo’s attempt to capitalize on the virtual reality buzz with a table-top console that mimicked a VR helmet and promised “true 3D graphics.”
How it was ahead of its time: The Virtual Boy created the illusion of depth due to an effect called parallax, which is all about the relative distances and speeds of objects. It was a pretty innovative, especially since game companies are still trying to figure out how to do practical virtual reality at home (the Oculus Rift being a notable and potentially awesome example).
Notable games: Mario’s Tennis, Wario Land, Galactic Pinball
Why it failed: It didn’t really work. The 3D effect failed to meet expectations and felt more gimmicky than immersive. Only 14 games were released to the American market (a few more hit Japanese shelves). Howard Lincoln, president of Nintendo of America, summed up its fate thusly: “it just failed.”
What it was: A cross between a portable gaming system and a cellphone, which basically describes any present-day smartphone, but was pretty new and innovative at the time of its 2003 release.
How it was ahead of its time: Way back in the days of yore (the early 2000s), most hip youngsters carried both a cellphone and a handheld gaming console like the Gameboy advance. “Let’s mash them together,” said Nokia. It was a great idea, but done with shoddy execution — a mistake that other companies, most notably Apple, surely learned from.
Notable games: Pocket Kingdom: Our Own World, Pathway to Glory
Why it failed: It was pricey, ugly (many users complained that it resembled a taco), and the selection of games was paltry. It wasn’t a total failure, though, as it reportedly still sells well in China.
What it was: The first entry into the sixth-generation of home consoles in the late 1990s, the Dreamcast got off to a roaring start before being dethroned by the Playstation 2.
How it was ahead of its time: Aside from having some pretty fantastic games and the cahones to power them, the Dreamcast was the first home system to have a built-in modem, allowing online play and Internet access. It also featured memory cartridges that fit into the controller, which sometimes featured their own mini games on a tiny monochrome screen.
Notable games: Shenmue, Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi, Soul Caliber
Why it failed: Intense competition from the PS2 and Xbox forced Sega to abandon the console in the mid-2000s, but many fans have stuck with it. It’s still considered hugely influential (it clearly helped inspire the Xbox 360), and some of its games still stand up today.