For every Xbox or Switch, there’s a console that failed hard. Let’s take a look back at the biggest hardware flops in gaming history.
Life as a console gamer is pretty good—Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have all carved out solid positions in the market with hardware that is powerful, dependable, and supported by excellent developers. But things haven’t always been this way. The history of gaming is littered with the corpses ofthat did not fare as well. Some of these come from obscure tryhards, while others were rare failures from the big boys. Come with us on a journey through the worst game consoles to ever roll off the assembly line.
The portable gaming market has crushed many a competitor, but none floundered quite as much as Nokia’s N-Gage. The mobile-phone juggernaut wanted to compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance with a portable console that also doubled as a cell phone. In the modern era, in which phones play games by default, that seems absurd, but this was 2003.
Unfortunately, this was also before touch screens, so the N-Gage had a D-pad on one side of the screen and the traditional grid of 12 telephone buttons on the other. This was… not ideal for games. Even worse, it was also not ideal for use as a phone, because you had to hold it sideways to your ear. Throw in a $299 launch price, and it’s no surprise that in its first weeks of release the N-Gage was outsold by the GBA at a rate of 100 to 1.
Soulja Boy SouljaGame
Rappers seem to love to spend money on bizarre business ventures, so Soulja Boy trying to get into the video-game market isn’t totally unprecedented. But the “Crank That” impresario took a pretty unsavory path to releasing the “SouljaGame” consoles in 2022. Available in both set-top and handheld versions, they came with 3,000 built-in games—a pretty remarkable launch lineup for a first-time developer.
Unfortunately for everybody involved, both systems were just knock-off emulation machines built by Chinese company Anbernic, and the games were pirated Nintendo ROMs. The only change the rapper made was adding $50 to the purchase price. Needless to say, the console didn’t stay on the market long.
Memorex Video Information System
The transitional phase between cartridges and disk-based media was an awkward one that saw many companies try and fail to make it work. One of the most notable was Radio Shack’s hardware arm, Tandy, which dropped a true clunker into the market in 1992.
The Video Information System was a set-top box with a massive $699 sticker price that ran a bespoke version of Windows on a 16MHz processor. Unfortunately, the chip market had completely surpassed those speeds by the time the system was released, so the end product ran dated games and educational software. Only 255 units were sold during the all-important holiday season.
Nintendo Virtual Boy
Nintendo is obviously the 900-pound gorilla of console gaming, with numerous wildly successful hardware offerings. But one ambitious project stands out for other reasons. The brainchild of the brilliant Gunpei Yokoi, the 1995 Virtual Boy was a “portable tabletop” gaming system that consisted of a pair of stereoscopic 3D glasses connected to a 32-bit processor. The concept was awesome: real visual depth coupled with Nintendo’s brilliant game design.
Sadly, the monochrome color palette—just red on black—and the tendency of the device to give users dizziness and nausea were pretty strong points against it. A limited software library (only 14 games were released in total in North America) didn’t help matters. Yes, VR gaming has now come into the mainstream, so you could argue that Nintendo was just 25 years too early.
Commodore 64 Games System
For many 80s kids, the Commodore 64 was their first exposure to personal computing. The affordable beige box was a user-friendly alternative to MS-DOS machines, with a colorful display and easy joystick support. It was especially huge in Europe, and some all-time classics came out for the computer.
But then Commodore got ambitious, and things went wrong. In 1990, eight years after the C64 hardware debuted, the company repackaged the guts of the computer into the “Commodore 64 Games System,” a cartridge-based TV console that was compatible with the massive existing software library. Except it wasn’t, because the C64GS removed the keyboard and access port for a tape or cassette drive, it could only play a few dozen cartridge-only games. By 1990, the 16-bit era had already begun, so comparing these rusty old games to what the Sega Genesis could deliver was a nightmare. The C64GS sold a paltry 20,000 units.
We’ve seen some staggeringly expensive failures in this list, but the RDI Halcyon—which barely made it into existence—has to take the cake. One of the biggest fads in 1980s video games was the LaserDisc adventure, which boasted cinema-quality cel animation that users could interact with through well-timed commands.
The most notable game in the genre was Dragon’s Lair, created by RDI Video Systems. It was a massive arcade hit, and RDI pumped the profits into a home system that could replicate it. The Halcyon was insanely ambitious for 1985: voice-activated controls, speech synthesis, disc-based games, and more. Unfortunately, it also had cost $2,000 and only two games, ever. Just a few dozen consoles were made and given to celebrities including Merv Griffin, but a Los Angeles stereo store had a couple and sold them at clearance, so it makes the list.
Apple Bandai Pippin
It’s wild to think of a time when Apple was even capable of failure, but the mid-90s were a fairly bleak period for Cupertino’s finest. Captivated by the booming console market, the company teamed up with Japanese toymaker Bandai to develop a platform that could compete in that market.
Bandai wanted to release a CD-ROM-based console, and using Apple’s existing OS and experience, it could move to market quickly. The resulting device, the Pippin, launched in 1996 with a staggering list price of $599. Hardware-wise, the Pippin had some forward-thinking inclusions, such as a built-in modem for internet access, but it also had a weird boomerang-shaped controller. And unfortunately, software was an issue, with barely over half a dozen titles released, most of them pretty bad. Bandai just couldn’t compete with the Sony PlayStation, which came out the same year at half the Pippin’s price.
Google has a policy of innovating fast, pushing products out and letting the market decide what to do with them. Sometimes that leads to success, but other times, you get Stadia.
The basic idea behind the platform, which launched in 2022, was tapping into cloud storage systems so that players could experience games remotely: That is, their personal system wasn’t doing any heavy computing, just sending controller inputs to an instance in the cloud and getting audio and visual responses back. Sony, Nvidia, and others had already released products in this space, but Google ambitiously promised cross-play on mobile, PC, and set-top boxes; 4K resolution; and more. Unfortunately, what ended up shipping fell far short of expectations. The library was mainly ports of older games, which people didn’t want to pay for again. In 2022, Google announced that it would shut down the whole thing.
The rise of Nintendo and Sega lit a fire under more traditional toy manufacturers to get in on the video-game craze. Unable to compete on quality, they resorted to weird gimmicks to make their devices stand out.
Case in point: Mattel’s HyperScan, which hit stores in 2006 for $69.99. Games for the system were delivered on CD-ROMs, but the HyperScan also had an RFID reader that would let players power up or select new characters by scanning trading cards, which could be purchased separately in random packs. The system was woefully underpowered, the controllers barely worked, and only five games were released. By the end of its lifespan, you could pick up a HyperScan for 10 bucks.
Tiger Telematics Gizmondo
Going up against the big boys in the video game world requires chutzpah, and the people behind Gizmondo certainly had it. A product of Swedish electronics company Tiger Telematics, this portable device was hyped as a Nintendo killer, with powerful features including a 400MHz processor, Bluetooth wireless, SMS support, and a built-in camera.
The company spent lavishly on promotion, throwing huge parties in the UK and paying celebrities such as Busta Rhymes to attend. But with a $400 price and hardware that was already feeling its age when it was released in 2005, the Gizmondo was dead on arrival. In America, you could get the handheld only at a chain of mall kiosks, and the SmartAds feature—which wirelessly beamed commercials to the device several times a day—was loved by nobody. Barely over a dozen games were released for the system before it tanked in 2006.
Originally published at.