It takes some of the best and brightest engineers years of hard work backed by millions of dollars to create and produce a functional console gaming system. With all that on their side, what could possibly go wrong? In truth, everything. Today, we’re going to take a look at some of the biggest gaming console flops.
We’ll start with the Nokia NGage. I was 12 years old when the NGage was released and had saved up a bunch of money in advance to buy this cell phone/mobile game system hybrid. I thought for sure it was going to be essentially a pre-iPhone, but within the week, I was disappointed. You had to load games by changing the brick phone’s SIM card: turning the NGage off, removing the back, removing the battery, swapping out a card, and then restarting the device. The games and graphics were also atrocious. Why would I want to play Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with extremely clunky controls? I don’t know.
Nokia projected that six million people would buy the NGage. My best friend and I were two of the three million that actually did. I believe the reason the NGage flopped so hard was its poor design: it didn’t know what it wanted to be. The controls were also almost-impossible, like Flappy Bird-impossible. This mixed with bad graphics on a tiny screen made lots of games unenjoyable, like Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, which was available on PS2 and Xbox.
Nokia was good at making brick phones that played things like Snake. The NGage was roughly the size of a GameBoy Advance, had awkward phone mic & speaker placement, and had 16mb of storage that was mostly occupied with internal software. Nokia’s glory days were long gone, and the NGage became one in a string of failed launches that let Apple take over the smartphone market. You were better off buying a PS2 or Xbox.
The VHS Action Max is next on our list. I truly do not understand what the makers of this system thought they were doing when they tried to sell this to people. The developer, Worlds of Wonder, had developed an at-home Lazer Tag game a couple years prior that was essentially the same thing that you’d play in a laser tag arena, but at home. You and a friend wore a sensor and tried to hit each other with two light guns. They then decided to capitalize on all the homes that had VHS players by selling this ‘system’ to work in tandem with VHS players. You’d put a sensor on the corner of your TV, load a tape into your VHS player, and hit play. When things on the screen were hittable, the sensor would flash and you’d point your light gun at the TV and try to hit the targets. You’d get a score at the end of the tape telling you how well you did and could write it down on a scorecard to keep track of your progress week by week.
You might be wondering, “But wasn’t each tape the same each time you played it?” and the answer is obviously… Yes. So, from the get-go, there was almost no repeatability value. It was like if Duck Hunt was on a loop. Consumers quickly realized that playing the same “game” every time wasn’t worth it and the Action Max never took off. There were only five titles released for the Action Max.
This list would be incomplete without the Sega Dreamcast. Unlike the NGage and the Action Max, the Dreamcast really wasn’t all that bad, and Sega wasn’t a newcomer to the game console business. A friend of mine had one when it came out and we loved it. I’d never liked fighting/combat games before but loved Powerstone’s gameplay. The Dreamcast came out before the PS2 and Xbox and also had a 56k internet connection built into the console, as well as a broadband adaptor. So how did a console that came out before the PS2 and Xbox with some pretty cool games and features end up taking Sega out of the console market forever?
To start, the graphics were subpar compared to counterparts like the PS2. Sega also opted to use a proprietary GD-ROM disc system instead of DVDs like the PS2 and Xbox. So while those systems could also double as a DVD player when many people didn’t have DVD players yet, the GD-ROM could only hold 1gb of data (compared to 4gb on a DVD.) Sega also didn’t manage to negotiate licensing deals with any of the three major game developers at the time, EA, Rockstar, and Squaresoft. Finally, the PS2 and Xbox had amazing launch titles that people still remember to this day: Grand Theft Auto 3, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Halo. So no matter how fun games like the open-world Sonic Adventure, Jet Set Radio Future, and CrazyTaxi were, they weren’t strong enough. This doesn’t even include the infinitely-weird Seaman, where you were required to talk to a fish man through an accessory microphone.
These are just three of a handful of game console flops that have come and go over the years. Here are some other honorable mentions: Nintendo’s Virtual Boy Console, The Mattel HyperScan, the ViewMaster Interactive Vision (almost the same as the Action Max), and the Gizmondo (a portable game system that was like the NGage mixed with a Garmin GPS unit). Thinking back on the time I spent with my NGage, I can say that now, I definitely appreciate my laptop and smartphone just a little more.