On My Setup – Classic and Modern Gaming on both Old and New TVs with Good Image Quality

I would say I am sorry for not having posted anything for so many months, but… it’s been a very bad year for this world, I haven’t been able to get myself to write a post in a while.  I have been spending a lot of time upgrading my setup, though, and as a result decided to finally get back to the site with this, an article explaining how my setup works, and some basics of running consoles on modern TVs with good image quality.  This is not a full explanation of how to do that, other sites and Youtube channels do that well, but I felt I should cover the fundamentals at least.

INTRODUCTION

For the last several years, my main television was a 46″ Sony rear-projection CRT set from 2003 which I got for free. It’s a great TV for anything up to the ’00s, but that 720p (actually 480p somehow)/1080i set doesn’t cut it for current-gen systems, the image quality is noticeably lower particularly on the Xbox One. Still, for its good quality with older systems I was very happy with it. Sadly, in spring 2020 it broke and I had to make a choice for what to replace it with. My SD CRT still works, but that is only for classic systems.

I chose to get something nice for myself, and got a 55″ LG C9, a somewhat high-end 4K TV set. With that I had to upgrade my setup, because a modern TV requires upscaling for classic systems to look decent. So, I spent a bunch more money on switches and cables. Soon after I spent even more on the cables needed to upgrade the systems I easily could to component cables for better RGB image quality.

These all added up to some pretty major upgrades, and while I am not entirely done — I need another upscaler, so I don’t have to switch cables to output stuff on the 4K TV and also need a new cable for my Xbox because the thing isn’t working at all on the 4K TV with component output for some odd reason — but it’s close enough to make this article explaining how my setup works now. I’m sure it may interest someone. This is not the best way to do a setup, but it mostly works.

My primary goals with my setup are threefold: to allow me to use any console simply by turning it on and going to the correct input; to have all classic consoles output to both my 4K TV and my CRT without cable switching required; and to have as good video output as each system natively supports, if the cables are available. I only have one console modified (modded) for better video output than it natively supports; otherwise I stick with what they support out of the box, which is usually sufficient.

With that said, here is how my setup works.

So as I said I have two televisions in my living room. They are in the same room but in different parts of the room, with the SD CRT above my classic consoles, and the 4K TV in front of the modern ones. With my previous setup, only the classic consoles area systems output to the SDTV. However, my PS2, which I also use for PS1 games, and original Xbox are in the modern area, which means that I can’t use my lightguns for those consoles, or play the games on a CRT, which for the PS1 and PS2 definitely looks better than a HDTV will. I decided to solve this problem by adding some more switches to the setup and sending all of the signals to the modern area before they go to both TVs, so my NES, for example, goes through a whole lot of cable before it reaches the TV just above it, probably up to as much as 50 feet of cable depending on the system. That is not great in some ways, for potential impedance, interference, and lag issues, but it works and gets everything to both screens so for now it’s what I am doing.

VIDEO GAME CONSOLE OUTPUT TYPES

I am going to break the rest of this down by which switch each system is connected to, organized by which type of connection(s) the box uses. The video output types that my systems use are as follows:

– RF: This analog input is the lowest-end option, which I only use for old consoles that only support it. It sends the whole signal, audio and video, on one cord. The output is on a coax cable line cord also known as an F connector, or, alternately, a single RCA plug also known as a phono jack; generally the cord from a console uses the phono cord, which connects via an adapter to your cable or antenna line input. This may look like a regular composite input cable, but it is not; in most cases you need a compatible switchbox for your system or a phono to F adapter and need to connect it to a cable (F connector) port somewhere, most easily on a VCR. A few systems use required external RF units instead.  For lower-end CRT TVs cable-line RF is the only graphical option you have, too, but I don’t use one of those TVs anymore. [NTSC] Resolutions supported: 480i (interlaced, drawing every other line) or 240p (progressive scan, drawing every line but with half as many total).  These are the output resolutions of standard television and remained the same for decades.  A TV screen is 640×480, but the image must either alternate lines — interlaced — or have half the resolution in progressive scan mode.  Game consoles may use resolutions other than these two, but the actual TV output scales that to these.

– Composite – The most common input in the US through the ’90s and ’00s, this form of analog input is one step above RF since it separates audio and video. This is also known as AV, A/V, or RCA; it is the once-omnipresent red, white, and yellow phono plugs. The image from composite is decent but not great, with plenty of blurring and image quality issues like wavy lines and such. It was designed for CRT televisions and looks significantly better on a CRT than it does on a flatscreen television.  With a flatscreen TV, an upscaler such as the Retrotink or OSSC is VERY highly recommended if you want your systems to look close to how they would on a CRT.  I used composite on CRTs for a long time — I only started upgrading to anything better than this for classic consoles last year, really — and it looks fine for consoles of the day, but since I can get better options now I decided to. I am not a serious videophile though, so I have no problem with using composite for any classic system today, on a CRT or with an upscaler… except for the Sega Genesis, that one badly needs RGB. Anything else looks fine on composite though. Composite’s blurrier output is how most classic games were intended to be viewed, after all. Resolutions supported: 480i or 240p.

– S-Video – A definite step above composite, S-Video is noticeably sharper than composite since its video cable has four small wires in it instead of only one. It also uses the same two-plug RCA audio leads as composite. S-Video never was commonly used in the US, but some TVs and a lot of systems and equipment do support it and it’s a great option for those that do but would be hard to get full RGB out of. S-Video graphics are quite a bit sharper than composite, but still have some of that analog blur that was how graphics looked to most people in the ’00s and before. Modern flatscreen TVs do not have s-video ports on them anymore, so you will need an upscaler to use this type of cable on recent TVs.  Resolutions supported: 480i or 240p.

– VGA – While almost always used exclusively for computer video output – this was the standard PC video cable of the ’90s – a few consoles do support VGA, most notably the Dreamcast.  The DC released before component became popular, so in order to get progressive scan for a video output option above regular television, they decided to go with VGA.  A few other consoles also have VGA cables, such as the Xbox 360.  VGA supports a lot of resolutions, but on console it goes up to 480p.  Adapters exist to use VGA on modern televisions.

– RGB  Output Types: RGB Cable, Component, SCART – RGB is the best form of analog video output for classic consoles from the ’80s and ’90s. Some systems natively support it and others require modification to use RGB, but either way, RGB will get you an extremely clean and sharp signal, with none of the blur that was the way we all saw images on TVs back then. That is both a good and a bad thing, as some systems such as the Genesis rely on that blur, both from the cable and a CRT TV, putting colors right next to eachother to make something appear to be a different color, but the sharpness is impressive and usually an improvement. As for cables, there are several ways to get RGB signals — via component cables, the five-cable phono RCA cable system with red, green, and blue video cords and white and red audio ones. I got HD Retrovision’s component cables for four of my classic consoles. Alternately, people in Europe or other PAL territories, or people willing to import all of their hardware to the US, can use SCART for this. I have never used SCART and it has some complexities, so look up tutorials for how to do that before just buying cables. In Japan only there is a plug called JP21 which looks like SCART but has a different (and VERY incompatible) pinout, and also a smaller, more VGA-looking RGB cable, which some things use. And lastly, there are modern homebrew cables which adapt classic console outputs to HDMI available for many systems.  The results should be similar no matter which way you get your RGB to the screen though, which one you use just depends on what systems support easily and how you have done your setup. Modern flatscreen TVs do not have any of these types of ports on them anymore (unless there is something in Europe with a SCART port still on it? I don’t know), so you will need an upscaler to use this type of cable on recent TVs.  Most modern TVs also do not support 240p RGB as a resolution, so an upscaler really is required to see anything on screen;  a cheap component to HDMI adapter will only work with 480p consoles such as the  PS2 or newer, not older systems.  And even with the PS2, a cheap component to HDMI adapter will only work with PS2 games and not PS1 games, which output in 240p when using a component cable.  Unfortunately a more expensive option is required to even see anything on your TV.  There are many now, for many consoles, and the list grows all the time; I will not try to list them all.  Resolutions supported: 480i or 240p.

– Component –  I know I just covered component above, but running RGB over component is only one use of this cable, it has others.  This is the best form of analog video cabling used. Modern component cables exist for RGB usage for some classic systems, as covered in the above category, but this five-plug cable was originally popularized for higher resolutions such as 480p, once TVs that supported that resolution were released.  But while component was mostly used for EDTVs and HDTVs and systems which support 480p or better, SD CRTs that support component, for sharp RGB 240p output, were also sold; I should know, my SD CRT is one of those. Having to deal with five separate cables can be a pain, since they can be hard to tell apart and it’s a lot of cables to keep track of and keep plugged in correctly, but when set up correctly you get great results, if everything works.  I use component both for RGB on some classic consoles, and for progressive-scan 480p or better output on some modern ones for the ’00s that do not natively support HDMI. Recent TVs don’t have component outputs.  Also see above for more on how most modern TVs do not support 240p RGB so an upscaler and not just an adapter will be required for classic systems on component cables, or to play PS1 games on a PS2 using component.  So, an upscaler is unfortunately required if you want better than composite.  Resolutions supported: 480i, 240p, 480p, 720p, 1080i.

– HDMI – HDMI is a much simpler standard than any of the above — you simply plug in the cord and go, it carries both audio and video, is fully digital, and supports up to 1440p resolutions I believe. After dealing with the many, many issues regular RCA analog cables have given me, going to the simplicity of HDMI is very nice. HDMI supports all resolutions component cables do, as well as 1080p.  It is simple and works well.

– Ultra HDMI, aka 4K Ultra HDMI This high-speed variant of HDMI looks the same as regular HDMI, but carries a lot more data. It is required for resolutions over 1080p, such as the “4K” resolutions the newest consoles support, or 8K for people who have one of those very high-end sets.

MY SETUP

So with that out of the way, it’s finally to the main event here, the list of how my stuff is actually laid out. I will start from the top, with the RF systems.

RF SYSTEMS

Archer Video Selector Switch, model 15-1261:

For RF systems, I use an Archer manual switch. This early ’80s switch does not number the inputs but instead names them. The first four inputs are phono (cable line) plugs, and the last an RCA (F-connector) plug instead. So, for classic consoles, you won’t need a phono to F adapter for that last input, which is nice.

I recently got this early ’80s Archer manual switchbox to solve my ‘I need to regularly swap cables behind my VCR to use some of these systems on the HDTV’ problem, and it’s a great answer! Any RF switchbox you get will be from the ’80s, but fortunately the tech in these is very simple and should still work fine. This switch from Archer, an ’80s Radio Shack brand, has two dials on the front to set which input you want to go to each output, and is not powered. It has five input and two outputs, and in a design you will see often from Radio Shack products, locks out one of the inputs from going to one of the outputs, so if you’re recording from a VCR that is also connected to the unit you can’t create a feedback loop. This limitation frustrates me at times, but oh well, that’s how it is. Amusingly this box uses the early term”VTR” instead of the later standard “VCR”, but they mean the same thing.

My RF switchbox is sitting on top of my VCR, which it connects to. The easiest way to get RF consoles onto a modern TV is to use a VCR. Mine is a VCR/DVD combo unit, which are great.

Inputs: 4 RF coax F-connectors, 1 phono plug.

– ANT – Texas Instruments TI 99/4A (first silver model) (when on RF; I also have AV cables for thie system). This system uses a manual RF switchbox which is required to output RF, so it outputs on a cable line plug.

Connected to the output line on the TI99/4A’s switchbox is my Atari 2600, which I rarely use since I have a modded 7800 I will get to later, but I keep the 2600 plugged in for compatibility reasons; some games do not support the 7800. I need to slide the switch on the box to change these inputs but that is easy enough. The 2600 requires a manual rf box or phono to F adapter and a dedicated connection. I use the latter for image quality reasons.

– CABLE – Magnavox Odyssey 2. This uses a phono-to-F adapter. This system also requires a manual switchbox or phono-to-F adapter.

– VTR – Mattel Intellivision (Sears Super Video Arcade model). This uses a phono-to-F adapter. This system also requires a manual switchbox or phono-to-F adapter. If I had a second output from this box, which I do not, this wouldn’t go to output 2 (see below for why).

– AUX-1 – Atari 5200 (model 1). I have both models of 5200, but use a model 1 5200 as my regular console. Its unique, and first-of-its-kind, automatic switchbox still works perfectly, so it connects to the F-connector directly.

Connected to this is an automatic switch I connect to my NES 2, the small NES. I usually use my original-model NES since it has AV output, but also have this one that I now only really use for large-sized Famicom carts. I use a NEC-branded auto switch that came with my TurboGrafx-16 since it is the best-made auto RF switch I own.

Finally, connected to that is a line from a splitter for my cable TV signal, for if I want to view TV on my SD CRT. I do not often use this but the input was free, so why not?

– AUX-2 – Coleco Colecovision. This input is the phono plug, so the system connects directly to the switch. This system also requires a manual switchbox or phono-to-F adapter, or native phono jack of course.

Outputs:  2 RF coax.

1 – Connected to VCR/DVD Combo unit.

2 – Not used.  Input 3 (VTR) won’t go to this.

COMPOSITE SYSTEMS

Philips VCR/DVD Combo:

The Archer RF switch outputs to my ’00s Philips VCR/DVD combo unit, as I said above. So, I will cover this next. This is a VCR/DVD combo unit from the ’00s, and I do have the remote for it thankfully. One of these is an extremely handy thing to have! I rarely watch DVDs on this since I rarely watch DVDs and I don’t have this hooked up with component outputs for the DVD side so the image quality is quite a bit worse than it would be on my consoles, but it’s nice to have the option available. Note that in all VCR/DVD combo units, component output is ONLY for the DVD player; VCRs are designed for composite and only output that signal. Naturally, both A/V inputs on this player are also composite.

Inputs: 2 composite AV, 1 RF coax.

– AV 1 (Rear) – Texas Instruments TI 99/4A Computer (when using composite, which is usually the better choice for clearer picture). Composite is the best signal a TI99 natively outputs so use it.

– AV 2 (Front) – Currently unused. A front AV jack is convenient sometimes though, it’s much easier to get to than all the rest of the inputs I have.

– RF 1 – Archer model 15-1261 RF switch listed above.

Outputs: 1 composite AV, one RF coax.

– RF – Not Used. I used to use this for a rotated TV but now do not.

– AV – This is connected to S-Video / Composite Switch 1.

Composite / S-Video Switch 1 – Philips Master Video Switching Center, model PH61153

This automatic switch has four inputs and one output, and supports S-Video or composite. This thing has a bunch of features, though many have limited use. This is an automatic switch wit hthree modes, auto, manual, and scan. Yes, you have a scan function to scan for inputs to automatically switch between; I am not sure why this is required, my Radio Shack switches and component switches don’t need this. It also has an RF phono cable port and apparently will output anything over cable as well, for older SDTV support, though I haven’t tested this. It has a stand to put it vertical, though I am not using it. Additionally there is a single RF cable input jack, but it won’t upscale that to composite or s-video, it only outputs it in the cable output port, so this is a largely pointless, 1-in-1-out thing. It’s just an extender. On a more positive note, in addition to being an auto switch it claims to support generic remotes, if you want to change inputs from a distance. This is a decent switch with some features.

As far as inputs go, from the instructions I got the impression that this switch will not upscale composite to s-video. I have not tried that myself so I can’t say for sure, though. I decided to use this for some composite systems, so that’s not a major issue since my other switches do convert between them.Unfortunately however, even though I got this switch new old stock earlier this year, sadly both audio ports on input 1 are totally broken, so I have to use it as a 3-in-1-out switch.

Inputs: 4 AV / S-VIdeo, 1 RF.  The RF input will only output to the RF output, NOT the composite/s-video output, so it is not very useful.  The other four inputs support composite AV or S-Video, though I am only using composite in this box currently.

– AV/SV 1 – Not Used since both audio ports for this input are broken. 🙁

– AV/SV 2 – NES (composite). The NES does not support above composite without an internal mod. It looks good on composite.

– AV/SV 3 – VCR/DVD Combo Unit (composite). VCRs only output composite.

– AV/SV 4 – TurboGrafx-16 CD (composite). This is the best output a Turbo CD natively outputs and it looks very good.  This system has very dark RF but great looking composite.

– RF – Not Used. This will only output to RF.

Outputs: 1 composite or s-video, 1 RF coax.

– AV/S-Video – To S-Video/Composite Switch 2 (S-Video)

– RF – Not Used.  The RF input will only output here.

S-VIDEO AND COMPOSITE SYSTEMS

Radio Shack Auto-Sensing A/V Switch, model 15-314 – three in sequence

Next in my setup, the automatic switches continue with three more chained automatic S-Video/composite switches. All three of these are from Radio Shack. Radio Shack made this 5-in 2-out auto AV/S-Video switch in the ’90s and ’00s, and I mostly love these things, which is why I have so many. I should mention the downsides first, though. I have heard that these slightly degrade image quality, and while I can’t say I have noticed that it may well be true. Worse, I have had ports on these fail or become much touchier. Everything works on the three of these I’m using, but a few ports, most notably the audio output jacks on one of them, are really touchy. I also have a fourth one of these I can’t use because its audio output has totally failed. I am sure this is fixable with some soldering, but it’s still unfortunate.

Still, I love this model of switch for its ease of use and features; there are not many options for automatic AV/S-Video switches and of them I like this the most, issues and all. The Phillips above is the only other one I know of, but it supports one less input and one less output.  That ones’ additional features are not things I use, either, and it has more distracting lights on the front.  This just has one on top per input, plus one on top if auto mode is on.  A switch on the back disables auto mode if you are having issues with it with an input.  Unlike the Philips there is no option to use a remote with these, but I’ve never needed one, the automatic switching works very well.  Additionally, the Radio Shack one will internally convert between S-Video and composite, so you can take in composite and send out S-Video, and vice versa. This is quite useful; sure, it may affect image quality slightly, but it’s more than worth it in my opinion for what I get. S-video definitely looks better through these switches than composite, it is not just turning s-video into composite or such.  Oh, and like the Archer RF switch above, one input won’t go to one output so as to not let you create feedback looks while connecting it to a VCR for recording.  This limitation is annoying for how I use them, but oh well.

Two of these switches are in my classic consoles area. They then connect with a long 15′ cable to the modern area, where one last one of these takes in several more inputs and then outputs to both TVs, via another 15′ cable to the SDTV and with a much shorter cord via the Retrotink 2X Pro to the 4KTV. These boxes take a second to recognize that a signal has been turned on, so it takes a few seconds for the image to appear on the screen after turning on a console with these, but it’s worth it for me.

Note, these switches only have text labels on the front, but numbers for the inputs on the back. They also come with various alternate labels and cable labels when you buy one of these new, but I just use the defaults since they don’t have ones actually named for consoles. Below I list each input with both its number and the default name on the front. Oddly the numbers go backwards here, so 1 is the input on the right.

Composite/S-Video Switch 2, a Radio Shack Auto-Sensing A/V Switch, model 15-314

Inputs: 5 composite or s-video.

– 1 (AUX) – N64 [standard black model] (S-Video). This is the best output you get out of an N64 without an internal modification.

– 2 ( GAME) – 3DO [FZ-1 model] (S-Video). The 3DO FZ1 has composite and S-Video ports on the back.

– 3 (DVD) – Input From S-Video/Composite Switch 1 (the Philips switch above). (composite)

– 4 (CBL/SAT) – Atari 7800 (S-Video). This is my one and only system modded for better video output, and it makes a huge difference! The 7800 by default requires a manual switchbox and has poor image output quality, but this modded system fully fixes those issues. I’d recommend a modded one if you get this system.

– 5 (VCR) – Laserdisc player (Pioneer model). (S-Video). The player has composite and s-video ports on the back. This is a movie player, not a game machine. Oddly laserdisc players only send out an image, unlike a VCR they can’t be used for inputs. Too bad. This input will not go to output 2 (which I’m not using anyway here).

Outputs: 2 composite or S-Video.

– 1 – To S-Video / Composite Switch 3 (S-Video)

– 2 – Not Used. Input 5 won’t go to this output.

Composite/S-Video Switch 3, a Radio Shack Auto-Sensing A/V Switch, model 15-314

Inputs: 5 composite or s-video.

– 1 (AUX) –NEC PC-FX (S-Video). The PC-FX has composite and s-video ports on the back.

– 2 ( GAME) – Atari Jaguar (S-Video). The Jaguar supports RF, composite, s-video, and RGB via SCART. A homebrew adapter to use component cables exists but are very hard to find and sadly I do not have one. There are also adapters to use an RGB cable with that VGA-ish port, but I’d have no way to use that in my current setup so for now it’ll be on s-video. The image output is pretty good.

– 3 (DVD) – Not Used. Yes, it’s a free input!

– 4 (CBL/SAT) – Input from S-Video/Composite Switch 2 (the first Radio Shack switch above) (S-Video)

– 5 (VCR) – Philips CD-i (composite). The CD-i model I have, the DVS VE-200, is great in some ways (no battery-in-a-chip design for the saving!), but only has composite outputs on the back so that is what I use. Some other CD-i models have S-Video output but you will need a save chip solution for them ASAP. This input will not go to output 2 (which I’m not using anyway here).

Outputs: 2 composite or S-Video.

– 1 – To S-Video / Composite Switch 4

– 2 – Not Used. Input 5 won’t go to this output.

Composite/S-Video Switch 4, a Radio Shack Auto-Sensing A/V Switch, model 15-314

This switch is in my modern consoles side of the room, instead of the classic one. Modern consoles for me are ones from the sixth generation and beyond, so it’s systems Dreamcast and newer – systems designed for progressive scan most of the time and higher resolutions.

Inputs: 5 composite or s-video.

– 1 (AUX) – Input from S-Video/Composite Switch 3 (the second Radio Shack switch above) (S-Video)

– 2 ( GAME) – Sega Gamecube (S-Video). I usually play Gamecube games on my Wii, which has a component cable, but I set this up as well because I can so why not? This is also my only way of playing GBC and GBA games on a TV since the GC does have a Game Boy Player attached. The Gamecube supports component output for 480p in many games, but while I may get that sometime for ease of use (not having to use a Wiimote to get into the GC game, etc.), this s-video output also looks pretty nice. It’s not progressive scan but is sharp. It’s a great output choice for the SD CRT, with component or HDMI cables it’d be quite a hassle to disable progressive scan for one TV and enable it for the other one…

– 3 (DVD) – Sega Dreamcast (composite). I mostly use my Behar Bros. DC to HDMI adapter box with the system, but for games that do not support VGA and thus won’t work with the HDMI adapter I need this option. For the DC I could get s-video cables, but so far I have not. This HDMI adapter is good, but I may get HD Retrovision’s Dreamcast cable once they release it; the HD Retrovision cable will have an easy ‘switch to composite’ switch, saving the cable switching this method requires with games not VGA compatible.  Additionally, when I want to play original Xbox games in composite, on my SD CRT, which is a good option for certain titles, I plug it in to this port since neither is used much.

– 4 (CBL/SAT) – Sony PlayStation 2 (composite) As with the GC, DC and Xbox above, this is a system I mostly use component with, but I have two PS2s, one American fat one and one Japanese slim one, and chose to connect one with composite and the other with component. Many PS2 games look less bad with composite than with any other output option because of how the system was designed. Right now the Japanese PS2 Slim is the one on composite but this changes depending on what I am playing.

– 5 (VCR) – Not Used. This input will not go to output 2, my SD CRT, so nothing is attached to it.

Outputs: 2 composite or S-Video.

– 1 – To Retrotink 2X Pro (S-Video) which then outputs to the 4K TV (via HDMI).

– 2 – To SD CRT TV (S-Video) Input 5 won’t go to this output.

COMPONENT INPUTS

That completes the RF, Composite, and S-Video chain — from this last box finally everything goes to a TV. Next is the component chain, which is newly greatly expanded and caused me a whole lot of problems in the last few days. Other than the aforementioned issue of the Xbox not working at all on component, though, I’ve diagnosed and solved all other problems.  Some of them were compatibility issues, others issues with me plugging things into the wrong places or cables coming out; with so many cords, remember every connection here has five separate plugs everywhere other than on the consoles themselves, there are a LOT of cords to keep track of. So, here goes!

Component Switch 1, a Philips PH61150 HD Automatic Video Switcher (in Classic Consoles Area)

The Philips automatic component switches are similar to their composite one, and also are 4-in-1-out switches, but are a bit simpler than that one. These has only two modes, auto or manual, first. That’s all that is needed anyway. They also do not come with a stand if you want to put the switch vertical like the composite/s-video one does, so I guess they are for horizontal use only. Fine with me. The box supports component or composite, but I only am using component with it. The Philips HD switch also doesn’t have the RF passthrough or RF output. No big loss there. All inputs work correctly on both of these boxes, which is great.  These are quite nice, other than their output being seriously incompatible with distribution amplifiers; see below for more on that annoying problem.

Inputs: 4, all with component, composite, or s-video.  I am using component with everything below.

– 1 – Sega Saturn [model 2] (via HD Retrovision Genesis component cable, with Saturn adapter) I also have composite and s-video cables for the Saturn, but RGB does look slightly sharper.

– 2 – Sega Genesis 2, with Sega CD 2 and 32X (via HD Retrovision Genesis component cable) The Genesis has infamously horrible RF and composite v ideo output quality, and does not support s-video, so SCART or this HD Retrovision cable are the only ways to get nice-looking video output out of a Genesis. This system is the reason why I went for this classic component upgrade, it’s expensive but worth it to finally for the first time see Genesis games actually looking sharp and clear on a television. The Genesis has the worst composite and RF output of any console I own, hands down. Get RGB out of it if it is at all possible to do so!

– 3 – Sega Master System (via HD Retrovision Genesis component cable, with SMS/Genesis 1 adapter). The SMS is surely the first console with RGB output support, nice work Sega! (As with most American SMSes, mine is just a console, it does not have a built-in game.)

– 4 – Super Nintendo / SNES (via HD Retrovision SNES component cable). How good SNES RGB looks depends on the internals of your Super Nintendo, they vary, but it does look better than composite or s-video, at least, on mine.  It’s an earlier model 1 system I believe.

Output: 1, with composite, component, or s-video.

– 1 – To Component Switch 2 (Component)

Component Switch 2, a Philips PH61150 HD Automatic Video Switcher (in Modern Consoles Area)

Inputs: 4, all with component, composite, or s-video.  I am using component with everything below.

– 1 – Microsoft Xbox (component).  This is the original Xbox.  There are some games that look better on a SD CRT and I can switch the system over to that (see above), but for the vast majority of titles on this console component is the way to go, it has a lot of games with progressive scan support.

– 2 – Sony PlayStation 2 (component) I use this for both PlayStation 1 and PlayStation 2 games, and the results look great for PS1 games, which output over component in 240p RGB. With the PS2 it varies depending on game though, most look pretty much the same as composite while a few do support 480p. PS2s are known as the last console designed for CRT screens first and foremost. Right now my US PS2 is connected here but I sometimes swap the cables with the composite cable now on the Japanese one. The two systems are placed one on top of the other so it’s not hard.

– 3 – From Component Switch 1

– 4 – Nintendo Wii [black model] (component) This is the best output a Wii outputs natively. HDMI adapters exist now I believe but I don’t have one, yet at least. I also have used this for Gamecube games a lot. It is best for the ones that support progressive scan 480p, since I don’t have a component or HDMI cable for my GC.

Output: 1, with composite, component, or s-video.

– 1 – To Radio Shack component switch model 15-316, a manual with remote component switch, and from there to a Ce labs AV400COMP distribution amplifier, and from there to the three destinations. So, this gets complicated.

From this component switch, I need to send the image to three places, one for 240p systems – a Retrotink; one for 480p or higher – a cheap HDMI adapter; and one for the CRT TV.  So, to split the signal, I need to send the image to a component distribution amplifier. This device takes in an input and sends out multiple copies of it at full quality, without any degradation in image quality that you would get otherwise with things such as cable splitters. The amplifier then outputs to the three sources listed below. So I tried this but had a problem: when I directly connect the Philips switches to a distribution amplifier, it badly messes up their colors! All shades of color vanish, and only red, blue, and green colors appear on screen for everything. It’s a crazy glitch to say the least, and it’s an issue with the Phillips switch, not the amplifier.

After testing a lot of things I eventually found a workaround — I hooked up my old Radio Shack 4-in-1-out manual component switchbox, model 15-316, again. I got the Philips switches because the Radio Shakck is a manual switch and you need to put it line of sight with the remote in order to change inputs, which is a problem. setup location-wise.  It only has one input used on it now though, from the second Philips component switch, and then sends its output to the distribution amplifier. It’s too bad this is required since it wastes more of my very limited power outlet spots, but at least it works! … Well, for everything other than the Xbox, but that’s some other issue.

Outputs: from the CeLabs AV400COMP distribution amplifier: (all component):

– 1 – To Retrotink 2X Pro (which then outputs to the 4K TV over HDMI). This is for systems that output at 240p or lower, so it will NOT work with the original Xbox or Wii unless you set them to SD output. As I described in the outputs section above, this will work with the PS2, but not with games that natively support 480p progressive scan, only for PS1 games and the large majority of the PS2 library that do not support progressive scan.

– 2 – To SDTV (via component, 240p only this is not a 480p TV)

– 3 – To a cheap, no-name Component to HDMI adapter that I have (via component), and from there (via HDMI) to my 5-input HDMI switch, which output to my 4K HDTV. This is for progressive scan systems that support 480p or better, so the Xbox (if working), Wii, and PS2 (the few supported titles).

To simplify this setup, I could get an OSSC instead of the Retrotink for component inputs and use the Retrotink only for the S-Video chain. (The OSSC only natively supports component, RGB, or SCART. There is also an addon for the OSSC called the Kouryu that adds s-video support to it, but as I have a Retrotink I don’t know that I will buy one.) This would have the benefit of supporting SCART for systems which support it but I can’t really get component inputs for, eg the Jaguar, and the Neo-Geo if I get one someday. The OSSC also supports 480p inputs, so I could drop the need to use two HDMI inputs for one chain of devices, which would be nice. OSSCs are expensive though so I have not done this yet after spending so much.  I will probably get one eventually, or the upcoming OSSC Pro.

HDMI INPUTS

5-in-1-out Automatic/Remote HDMI Switch 1: – this thing says IIIP on it so maybe that is the brand name?  It says 5×1 Enhanced HDMI Switch and 4Kx2K on it, as its model name / features list.  There are a lot of generic HDMI switches out there and this is one of them.

This switch is nice — it’s small, has five inputs, will automatically switch to devices when they turn on, and has a remote extender so if you need to use the remote you can put the sensor in a visible spot; this is key, you want to put a switch like this hidden well behind stuff, not visible in range of the IR remote.

Inputs: 5, all regular HDMI.  This thing claims some form of 4K Ultra HDMI support but I think it is limited.

– 1 – Nintendo Switch (original model)

– 2 – Nintendo Wii U (black 32GB model)

– 3 – From HDMI Switch 2 (below)

– 4 – Sega Dreamcast (via Behar Bros. HDMI adapter box; most games support this, but some do not and need the composite cable instead.)

– 5 – Microsoft Xbox 360 (Slim)

Output: 1 HDMI.

– 1 – To 4K TV

HDMI Switch 2, a NewBEP 4-in-1-out Manual/Remote HDMI Switch:

This basically noname but NewBEP-branded switch says 4K ARC HDR HDMI 2.0 and 4 IN 1 OUT Switch on it, so it should support all those things in some form, though 4K support is probably limited.  This second switch works well, but it doesn’t have the nice features of the other one.  Sure, it makes more claims about HDMI 2.09 and 4K, but I wouldn’t want to attach a 4K console to this, it’s probably 30fps only or such.  The downsides are much more significant – there is one less input, and no automatic switching switch here so you need the remote or button on the device to change inputs. And there is no remote extender either, so you’d better find somewhere to put it where it will have a direct line of sight to its little IR remote.  So, I have it on the top of the back of my Xbox One S.

Inputs: 4, all regular HDMI with some 4K support which I am not using.

– 1 – Sony PlayStation 3 (HDMI)

– 2 – Steam Link (HDMI)

– 3 – Not Used

– 4 – Not Used

Output:

– 1 – To HDMI Switch 1

The TVS THEMSELVES

So, the result is this, the inputs on the TVs themselves:

LG C9 4K TV (55″)

Inputs: 4 HDMI, all fully Ultra HDMI 2.1 compatible, and 1 composite AV via adapter.  There are also four USB ports, though those are mostly for powering devices.

– HDMI 1 – XBox One S (with 4K-compatible Ultra HDMI cable)

– HDMI 2 – Retrotink 2X Pro (HDMI)

– HDMI 3 – HDMI Switch 1 (HDMI)

– HDMI 4 – the cheap Component-to-HDMI Adapter (HDMI) Again, this is mostly for PS2 and Wii games now that the Xbox has an issue and isn’t working on the 4K TV. PS1 games will NOT work here, my TV does not natively support 240p; for PS1 games an upscaler like the Retrotink is required.

– [Composite] AV 1 – Not Used  I have tried this input and as expected it makes everything look horrible.  An upscaler is pretty much required on a TV like this, unfortunately.

Output: Audio output only. Boo!  It is optical at least.

PHILIPS CRT TV (from the early ’00s)

I am have had this TV since the mid ’00s, but am not sure what model it is exactly because unfortunately before I was given it the label on the back was mostly torn off.  It has better image quality for older consoles than anything you can get on a modern television.  The audio is mediocre, far behind a modern flatscreen, though.  Oh well.

Inputs: 1 RF coax, 1 AV or s-video, 1 AV or component.

– [Composite] AV 1 / S-Video – From S-Video/Composite Switch 4

– [Composite] AV 2 / Component [aka CVB as it says onscreen] From Component Switch 2. Remember not to output 480p here, it will NOT look good to say the least; this is a SDTV.  This TV looks great with 240p component, though!

– RF 1 – Not Used

Outputs: 1 composite AV.

– Composite AV – Not Used

INTERNET SETUP

Older consoles were not online. Modern systems, however, require the internet. Wi-fi is not reliable however and I have a bunch of systems, so I use a mixture of wi-fi for some systems I use online less often for anything other than downloads, and wired internet for ones that I use online more.

Wired Internet via Ethernet: I have two wired internet lines going to my console area from my router.

– 1 – One goes directly to the Steam Link, for the best possible speeds while streaming PC games to the TV.

– 2 – The other one goes to a Linksys ethernet switch. This is not a wi-fi router as my main router is, but is only a 1-in-4-out ethernet splitter, effectively. So, it’s perfect for what I am using it for. Its output are as follows:

– 2-A – Nintendo Wii U (via a third party Wii LAN Adapter) This system works on my wi-fi, but it drops sometimes so online play can be bad. The switch to wired is well worth it.

Note that if I want to use the Wii online for whatever reason, I just need to move the USB cable with the LAN adapter on it from the Wii U to the Wii. They are on top of eachother so this is easy.

– 2-B – Nintendo Switch (via official Switch LAN Adapter) – This system drops wi-fi CONSTANTLY and is pretty much unusable on wi-fi, so wired internet is essential. It’s too bad the dock cdoesn’t have a built in ethernet port! Of course, the same goes for the Wii and Wii U.

– 2-C – Microsoft Xbox One S (via ethernet) – This system hates my wi-fi and pretty much can’t see it at all, so I have no choice other than to use wired internet for this system. I would anyway, but it is annoying.

– 2-D – LG C9 4K TV. Wired ethernet is key here for the best possible streaming video speeds.

Wireless Internet via my wi-fi router:

Xbox 360 Slim – The X360 doesn’t work perfectly with my wi-fi as it drops sometimes and rarely connects correctly when you turn the system on, but it does function well enough for downloads and such. I used to use wired internet on it but have less need for this online since I got an Xbox One so this works.

PlayStation 3 – The PS3 seems to work just fine with my wi-fi. Nice.

Additionally, my Sony PlayStation Vita and Nintendo New 3DS XL handhelds connect to my wi-fi, both with no issues at all. My Windows 8 tablet also connects via wi-fi, again with no problems.  The original DS, Wii, and PSP support wi-fi- but only with very basic security that I do not use, I use better security than that.  There is no reason today to have a DS or PSP online, anyway, and with the Wii the LAN adapter works.

As for other systems, the Dreamcast, original Xbox, and PS2 have modems, a phone modem for the DC, phone or ethernet for PS2, and ethernet for Xbox, but I’ve never used them. I may get a DreamPi sometime to be able to play Dreamcast games online though, that would be interesting.

POWER

For powering all of this stuff I use surge protectors from the brand APC.  I wanted quality power supplies and got them.  There are five of them, each directly plugged into a different outlet, in different parts of the room — two in the modern area, two in the classic area, and one near the wall behind the chairs.  Three are ones with 11 inputs, 6 transformer size and five regular plug, and two USB ports.  One has the same inputs, but has cable line protection instead of USB ports and a cord one foot longer.  And the last is a smaller one with only five regular and four transformer inputs, and two USB.  These all work well, you don’t want to overload circuits.  On that note, helpfully, the modern-console area surge protectors are on a different circuit from the other three.  I am running very low on outlets, though ; in the modern area I think I have only one free transformer plug,. In the classic area, everything is full plus two things are directly plugged into wall outlets even though I do keep a few system’ power supplies not plugged in, such as the Colecovision and its giant and notoriously unreliable power supply.  I do not turn everything off when I’m not using them, but do turn off the surge protectors sometimes, it’s not good to leave things running all the time.

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Consoles Opinion Summaries: The Fourth Generation

Yes, it’s finally here, my long-delayed fourth generation console opinion summaries article! I’m sorry I had nothing last month, but it has been a somewhat anxious time. That is only getting worse with the virus outbreak, but I finally spent a day finishing this article, so here it is. Enjoy.

Note for sources: Most of this is written from memory, though for getting correct release dates and sales numbers I did check Wikipedia’s articles for the systems, Gamasutra’s Stalled Engine article about the Turbografx https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/225466/stalled_engine_the_turbografx16_.php?page=6 , and the NeoGAF Retro Sales Age Thread https://www.neogaf.com/threads/retro-sales-age-thread.981407/ . I wish I didn’t have to link GAF considering what kind of awful far-right site it has become, years after that thread mostly ran its course, but unfortunately I do not know of a better source on the internet for all of that information there.  ResetEra or Retro Game Boards do not have similarly comprehensive classic sales threads and neither do anywhere else I know of.

Note: as always, this list is in release order.

Fourth Generation: Table of Contents

Fourth Generation Overview
TurboGrafx-16, TG16 – 1987 (1989)
Genesis, Gen – 1988 (1989)
TurboGrafx-CD, TCD – 1988 (1989) (TurboGrafx-16 addon)
Game Boy, GB – 1989
Phillips CD-i, CDI – 1991 US (1992 JP/EU)
Game Gear, GG – 1990 (1991)
Super NES, SNES – 1990 (1991)
Sega CD, SCD – 1991 (1992) (Sega Genesis addon)
Sega 32X, 32X and Sega 32X CD, 32X CD – 1994 (Sega Genesis addon)
Fourth Generation Consoles Ranking

 

Fourth Generation Overview

The NES changed the world with its success. Establishing Japan as the leader in video game console development, and resurrecting the console market in the US, the system is probably the most important system ever released. As with all consoles, though, it aged. In 1987, four years after the Famicom (NES) released in Japan, Hudson and NEC partnered together to compete against it with a new, more powerful system, the PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16). A year later, Sega made its third attempt at releasing a console, this time to much greater success in America. Nintendo, however, decided to wait, as the NES continued to sell extremely well into 1990. As the system slowed down in sales, though, Nintendo finally got in to the fourth generation in late 1990 with the Super Famicom. The generation also saw the first successful handheld video game systems, a major advance indeed. Handheld gaming technology had come a long way. This generation also saw the first CD-based gaming platforms, another major advance. It took a while for games to figure out what to do with all of that space, but early CD gaming experimentation led to some fascinating results, both good and bad.

Each console is different, but what all of these systems have in common is that they are all systems are Japanese. Indeed, all systems in the fourth generation, excepting only the Atari Lynx handheld and some minor, extremely unsuccessful handhelds I do not have and will not be listing here, were Japanese. This was a time of Japanese dominance in the console industry. At the time this generation began, most major American developers focused on making computer games instead of console ones. This, however, would change. Several American home consoles would release in the fifth generation, and while they would not succeed, Microsoft’s entry to the console market the generation after would finally break the Japanese lock on hardware. In software, American developers did not switch en masse to consoles until Microsoft, and the need for greater revenues as production costs increased, encouraged studios to move over to consoles in the ’00s. However, the fourth generation saw the beginning of that change. Where the NES and Master System had very Japanese-dominant libraries except for a very small number of studios, the fourth generation’s systems saw many more Western console games. Electronic Arts, particularly, would rise to prominence on the strength of its console game library, but there were many more. Important changes indeed.

In terms of hardware, the fourth generation was a time of refinement and experimentation. Where the third generation started inventing new genres and dramatically changing the way games were designed and played, the fourth generation refined 2d gaming, as developers used the more powerful hardware, larger game storage sizes that were now available, and more to make more complex and, often, better games. After a new technology is introduced it is often later systems which best shows its advances, and that was the case here. And it was very much the case for 3d gaming as well, as while 3d took some steps forward during the fourth generation, particularly in arcades, a field I mostly do not discuss here, it was not until the next generation that polygonal 3d games would dramatically improve at home.

Overall the fourth generation is many classic gamers’ favorite, and I can absolutely understand why. It certainly is a generation I have a great deal of nostalgia for, as I was a kid during this generation and, unlike with the NES, was old enough to remember the generation from the beginning. My parents would not get me any of the TV consoles during that generation, but we did get a IBM-compatible PC in early 1992 and I got a Game Boy for Christmas that year, so I was finally able to really play games at home from then on, instead of only at friends’ or the very rare times I could go to an arcade. So, those two systems, plus the Genesis which is the system I had the most experience with outside of home during the ’90s, are the one I have the most nostalgia for. The Super Nintendo looked amazing and I read Nintendo Power magazine almost every month, but I was only rarely able to actually play one before the ’00s, when it was the first classic console that I would buy. But now I have all of the major fourth-gen systems apart from the Lynx, and I will try to cover them all fairly. Most of these systems are all-time greats that rank very high on my list, as anyone who looks at my ‘how much I like my consoles’ list should know! And they should be high on anyone’s list also, really. So, on to the summaries.

 

TurboGrafx-16, TG16 – 1987 (1989)

Release and Sales Info: Designed by Hudson and released by NEC, released December 1987 in Japan (where it is known as the PC Engine) and August 1989 in the US. Last cartridge (HuCard) games released in 1993 in the US and 1994 in Japan. CD Games for the CD addon unit released until early 1994 in the US and in 1999 in Japan, with 1997 seeing the last year of real support there. 7 million sold total, though it’s complicated due to many models and revisions of the hardware. Cart-only systems sold 3.92 million in Japan; in the US, 750,000 cart-only systems were manufactured for the US market, but not all sold, though many were eventually resold in Korea. Dual cart plus CD systems sold a further million systems in Japan, but only a few tens of thousands in the US. CD addon systems which require a cart system to play games sold 900,000 systems in Japan, but only ~20,000 in the US. So the sales figures are complex, but add up to 6.67 million worldwide as a starting estimate, though real totals for all revisions are unknowable. I purchased a TG16 in February 2009, a broken CD unit later, and finally got the CD system repaired in summer 2013.

History: Hudson Soft was an early third party supporter of the Famicom. After a while, though, they decided to try designing their own console to compete with it, while also supporting Nintendo’s. They eventually convinced Japanese electronics giant NEC to manufacture and support the system. Inspired by the small credit card sized games Sega released for their Card Catcher addon for the SG-1000 and Master System, NEC and Hudson decided to use similar small cards for PC Engine games. These games, called HuCards in Japan and later Turbo Chips in the US, are pretty cool looking really, with painted labels and an impressively small size for console cartridges of the ’80s. The system shell was made similarly small for a console, much smaller than any other home TV console for a long time.

The PC Engine released in Japan in late 1987, and ushered in a new generation of consoles. The system was a response to the NES (Famicom), as its hardware design and library makes clear. With a powerful 8-bit CPU and a 16-bit graphics chip, the PC Engine was much more powerful than the Famicom and, with its CD and RAM addons, can mostly hold its own graphically against the later consoles of the generation. The biggest exception to that is that it does not have hardware parallax scrolling support, but some games do pull it off in software. The system got off to a good start and outsold the Famicom in Japan for several years in the late ’80s, taking advantage of Nintendo’s choice to not release a next-gen system until 1990. The system amassed a good game library, particularly of space shooter (“shmup”) games.

One year after its release, NEC and Hudson released the very first consumer CD-ROM gaming platform, the PC Engine/TurboGrafx CD, in late 1988 in Japan and somewhere between late ’89 and mid ’90 in the US, the date is inconclusive. It was an amazing hardware accomplishment for the time and has quite a few great games. It did moderately well in Japan, but failed disastrously in the US.

The problems started when it came time to release the system overseas. NEC started making mistake after mistake, starting with a decision to redesign the tiny little PC Engine in favor of a case twice as large, based on the theory that Americans like things large so they should make the system bigger. Because of this and other delays, the renamed TurboGrafx-16 did not release in the US until the aforementioned mid 1989 date, shortly after the cheaper and in some ways more powerful Sega Genesis, a system which under its Japanese name Mega Drive had released in Japan in late 1988. Letting tiny Sega get ahead of them on both price and date was a big mistake, and Sega capitalized. They also capitalized on NEC’s choice to put “16” in their console name while the CPU is only 8-bit, resulting in the TG16 being maligned for not being “really 16-bit”.

The TG16 was competitive for its first year despite these issues, but never got off the ground as the NES continued to dominate the US market until 1990 in a way it was not doing anymore in Japan. The hole the system had filled in Japan, being a new system at a time when people wanted one and the market leader wasn’t releasing one, did not exist for long here and NEC suffered for it. NEC produced 750,000 TurboGrafx-16 systems for the US, but did not sell all of them, and the last hundred thousand plus were eventually rebuilt for sale in South Korea as a Korea-only model which actually plays American games. Sega, meanwhile, sold over 20 million Genesis systems in the US, a stunning result compared to initial expectations and the TG16’s better early library.

And then, in late 1990 in Japan and mid 1991 in the US, the Super Nintendo (Super Famicom) released, and almost immediately destroyed all comers in Japan. The PC Engine managed to hold on to second place, but it was a second place at like a ten-to-one margin behind the leader. NEC leaned heavily into often anime-focused CD software after this in order to try to hold on to some niche in a market mostly controlled by Nintendo. Hudson, on the other hand, gradually moved their more popular franchises such as Bonk and Bomberman to Nintendo again, while focusing more enthusiast stuff on the PCE and its successors. NEC and Hudson’s last system, the PC-FX was very anime FMV-focused, and failed as the market turned to 3d instead. Hudson survived on making games on other formats, until being bought and later shut down by Konami.

Aesthetics and Design: I have only ever seen TurboGrafxes in person and not the PC Engine, but regardless I like the look of the TG16, and I’m sure I’d like the look of the tiny little PCE as well. The PCE and TG16 are extremely ’80s in design, but it’s a charming kind f ’80s to me. When it comes to the addons, the Japnaese CD addon is a “briefcase” unit, with a CD drive the same size as the PCE itself and a base unit that holds them both next to eachother. In the US, however, we got a larger unit which puts the TG16 below, and then has the CD drive on a pedestal behind the TG16. It looks kind of ridiculous, but I like it anyway and this is the Turbo CD setup I use. The later Duo line of consoles have sleeker, more ’90s stylings and I can understand why many people prefer to use them, and based on pictures they do look nice, but I like my TG16+CD setup great.

NEC additionally had many other models in Japan and a few in the US, including one that looks like a space shuttle, a handheld portable model we did get here, recolors of the base system which add more modern video output options, and more. NEC released a LOT of models of PCE hardware, both in terms of consoles, addons, and accessories. Trying to make sense of it all is confusing and I have made multiple articles about this before. Still, in terms of design stylings NEC always did a good job. In terms of marketing they did fine in Japan but horribly badly elsewhere, though, of course.

In terms of reliability, TG16/PCE models are a mixed bag. Base TG16 and PC Engine systems are mostly quite reliable. However, the Super CD addon drive (only released in Japan), the portable TurboExpress (PC Engine GT) and the first PC Engine/Turbo Duo (but not the later, Japan-only Duo R and RX) systems have bad capacitors and usually need capacitor replacements in order to work correctly. Additionally, the original CD addon drive has a gear which usually strips some teeth, so those need repair as well, both for the gear and often also the laser. The parts to repair Turbo CD drives are fortunately available. Duo line systems have fewer disc drive issues, but they still can break down after so long. The HuCards themselves are reliable, so long as you keep the contacts clean. Fortunately, except for one memory card cart, they do not have sealed batteries in them; instead systems or addons with saving save to a capacitor. Those so far are mostly holding up. Keeping stuff for these systems working can require some effort, but once repaired systems should be reliable for a long time.

Game Library: The PC Engine/TurboGrafx HuCard library is heavy on very NES-styled games in its early, more successful years. As previously mentioned, this systems’ standout genre is shmups. Indeed, the TG16 with its addon and Japanese games is my choice for the very best console shmup library ever! Between HuCards and CDs the platform has at least a hundred shmups, many of them among the all-time greats. And even looking only at the HuCards, the system is one of the best of all time in the genre no question. In other genres the system doesn’t quite match up to the SNES and Genesis, which is a lot of why I do rank the TG16 a little bit behind those two systems, but it is still pretty good. The platformer library is mostly more NES-styled than those two systems, for example, while I prefer more SNES or Genesis-styled platformers overall. Bonk’s Adventure is the TG16’s showcase platformer, and while quite good, it is a much more NES-ish game than Mario World or Sonic the Hedgehog. The later CD title Castlevania: Rondo of Blood on CD is exceptional, but that is the system’s one all-time-great platformer, while the other two have many more, and that requires an expensive addon not everyone got. Still, with a large library of games, the TurboGrafx-16, just as a cartridge system, is a fantastic system that places high on my list of the all-time best consoles. Many of its games are Japan-only to be sure, but this is a system well worth getting a lot of imports for. Playing the many Japanese adventure games, strategy games, RPGs, anime games, and such will require Japanese knowledge, but the plethora of shooters and solid variety of titles in other genres make this a system that really is a must-own for anyone who likes classic games and can afford the now somewhat substantial costs related to it, both for hardware and games.  The US library includes a lot of great games, too.  Prices are high, but many of the games are good.

As for CD versus HuCard, the CD addon is more important to the TurboGrafx than addons are for most consoles. You absolutely can have a lot of fun with only a base TG16 or PC Engine, though! The HuCard library is large and contains many, many fantastic games. Later CD titles are often more famous and flashier, but a lot of HuCard games deserve just as much attention.

 

Genesis, Gen – 1988 (1989)

Release and Sales Info: From Sega, released in October 1988 in Japan (as the Mega Drive) and August 1989 in the US. Games officially released until 1995 in Japan, 1997 in Europe, 1998 in the US, and 2002 in Brazil, with unlicensed homebrew games releasing for it in over the past decade. The total number of Genesis systems sold is controversial given all of the different models involved, but Sega reported 30.75 million sales of their Genesis/MD systems in the ’90s. Additionally, 1.5 million Majesco systems probably sold, plus as much as 3 million in Brazil by the early ’00s. I would not count newer clone systems towards this total myself, but they surely add up in the millions by now, there are many officially licensed Genesis clones available. Because of its great success in the US, even though the system is called Genesis only in North America and Megadrive everywhere else, Genesis systems outsold Megadrives overall. I got a Genesis in May 2006, though this is a system I spent a good amount of time playing during its life as I had several friends and relatives who had one so it is a system I knew well during its life.

History: Sega was founded in the 1940s by an American living in Japan who started a business to import what we would call arcade games to Japan during the post-war American occupation. It eventually became a Japanese-run company, making arcade and pinball games. Through the ’80s and ’90s, Sega was an arcade game developer first, and console game developer second. Despite this, in 1983 they got in to the console business, and though that first system, the SG-1000, had only limited success it was enough for Sega to keep trying. Their second system was the Mark III, aka the Master System in the West. It did quite well in Europe and Brazil, but struggled badly in Japan and the US. Sega didn’t give up, though, and in 1988 they tried a third time. This system, the Sega Mega Drive or Genesis here, was Sega’s one breakout hit, a system that would end up selling several times better than any other Sega console. Here in the US, the Genesis is by far Sega’s best-known and most popular console, and I entirely agree with that assessment. The Genesis is a fantastic system which places near the very top of my list of my favorite video game systems ever!

The Genesis hardware is powerful for the time, with a fast 16-bit CPU and good graphics. Hardware-wise, it builds on the SG-1000 and Master System’s TI-based graphics and sound chips by once again adding another graphics mode, like the Master System did before it. The system is backwards compatible with the Master System with cartridge adapters, though not with the SG-1000 as it is missing some hardware needed for those games. Despite that, the Genesis is kind of the final evolution of the TI99/Colecovision graphics and sound chipset. The fast-for-the-time CPU is one of the Genesis’s best points compared to other consoles of the generation, and helps it do things the others can’t. The new audio chip is also fantastic when programmed for well. Genesis audio is not as consistently good as SNES audio, but the best sounding games are just as good or better than anything on SNES. I particularly love the soundtrack to The Adventures of Batman & Robin, it is one of the generation’s technical masterpieces!

While mostly great for the time, the Genesis does have two hardware issues I want to discuss. Sadly the system does not support hardware scaling and rotation. This is entirely understandable as it would have been far too expensive for a home console in 1988, but is a real issue because many Sega arcade games heavily use scaling; indeed, Sega was famous for their “Super Scaler” games like Outrun and Space Harrier. This made for some rough ports to the Genesis. Otherwise, though, the only other hardware issue the Genesis has is its color limit. While the TurboGrafx and Genesis both have a 512 color palette, the TG16 can put most of those colors on screen at once, while the Genesis is limited to just 64 at a time. The system does have a shadow function which sort of doubles the colors, but even so colors are limited on the Genesis and developers often had to come up with clever ways of dealing with this issue. The color limit is unfortunate, but with a powerful CPU, good parallax and sprite support, and more, the Genesis is a powerful system for its time.

Good hardware doesn’t necessarily sell, though, and in Japan once again Sega failed to sell much. The MD was yet another failure in Sega’s home market, unfortunately, as the PCE (TG16) won early on and then the SFC (SNES) crushed all comers later. In America, however, Sega scored a surprise upset win early on, as NEC badly stumbled out of the gate while Sega made some (sadly rare) good decisions. With strong marketing pushed by their “Sega Does what Nintendon’t” ad campaign, ports of popular arcade games, and licensed sports titles, the Genesis took an early lead. And while the 1991 release of the Super Nintendo was a big deal that threatened Sega’s place in the 4th-generation market, Sega released its own killer app that year in Sonic the Hedgehog, and the new Sega of America head Tom Kalinske convinced Japan to let him bundle the game with the console. This decision sold a great many Genesis systems! Additionally, Electronic Arts’ decision to get into console game development with the Genesis would prove to be a very important move indeed. The first Genesis version of John Madden Football helped change the whole industry, really. Combining all that, the Genesis had several very good years in the early ’90s in the US. By ’93 Sega had half of the overall US console game market, which was the largest console market in the world at the time.

Unfortunately, Sega’s propensity to make stupid decisions started springing up immediately afterwards. The Sega CD, a CD addon to the Genesis, came first. It did okay, particularly in the US, but did not sell up to expectations. After that, though, Sega really fell apart; the second Genesis addon, the 32X, was an infamous failure, as was Sega’s next console the Saturn, as Sega of Japan and Sega of America started having more and more difficulties working together. The rumor is that Sega of Japan was jealous of how successful Sega had been in the US, and was determined to make their next console one that would succeed in Japan, no matter what the US thought. So, over many objections from Sega of America staff, Sega designed a far too expensive and hard to program for box in the Saturn, and also approved that second Genesis addon to release at about the same time in late 1994. It did not go well. And at the same time, they started winding down first party Japanese game support for the Genesis, a very foolish move given that in the US the 4th-gen market still had several more good years to go. Sega would release over 125 games in 1995 across many platforms, and it was too much; between the massive hit title Donkey Kong Country and Sega’s mistakes, the SNES closed a lot of the gap in ’95-’96. Sega of America did what they could to keep the Genesis supplied with new games into fall ’97, but their early lead had fallen into an effective tie. Both systems would see successful late ’90s bargain-priced re-releases, and the Genesis one from Majesco probably outsold the SNES one, though, so the Genesis did go out on a good note sales-wise. It is a fantastic system that well deserved its success here.

Aesthetics and Design: There are three official models of Sega Genesis. The first is a relatively large, and very 1980s, design. It looks great, and the very first revision has some minor advantages in graphics over later models. The second model Genesis is the one I know best, though, and it probably sold the most. This is the model I have, and I thnk it strikes a good balance of design and size. This time the design is much more ’90s, with some nice curves and a smaller size. The plastic is not quite as sturdy-feeling as a NES or SNES feels, but the Genesis is fairly reliable. Genesis systems do fail, but most are still working. Sega CD systems have many more reliability issues, thanks to its disc drive and a few other often-failing parts, but I have been lucky; mine still works flawlessly. The Sega CD adds nicely to the Genesis, too, and also has two models. The first model goes below the system and fits the first model Genesis well, and the second goes beside it and looks better with the second. I have a model two Sega CD, and I think it completes the look of the Genesis. The 32X, unfortunately, is a bit more awkward-looking; it has been compared to a mushroom growing out of the top of your Genesis, and that’s probably an accurate comparison. A full Genesis+CD+32X combo unit looks good enough, and I keep my 32X always plugged in so I can play its games when I want, but just on looks I’d probably go for Genesis 2 + SCD 2 only, with no 32X, as the best-looking unit. I know model 1 Genesis fans would disagree here and that system does also look great, but I do really like the model 2.

Game Library: The Sega Genesis has a large and diverse game library. It is particularly strong in platformers, sports games, and shmups, though its in genres such as RPG, strategy, and more are quite good as well. With a library this large, any fan of classic-style games should find plenty of games to love here. The Genesis does have many very difficult games, though; Genesis games are less likely to support saving than Super Nintendo games do, as Sega’s arcade sensibilities carried over to the home, and are more likely to be hard. There are Genesis games for everyone, but there is a lot here for the tough-games fan, that is for sure. The system’s premiere series is one of its more approachable, though, as the Sonic the Hedgehog games are a perfect balance of challenge and fun that anyone can enjoy. All of the Genesis Sonic games are titles which still place high on my list of the best platformers ever. The Genesis has a whole lot of great games, but I have to agree with the consensus that the Sonic games are best.

As for the addons, I like the Sega CD quite a bit and enjoy 32X games, but neither addon is anywhere near as essential as the TurboGrafx CD is. I didn’t know anyone with either addon back in the ’90s, and as much as I like them, anyone now who has only a Genesis can play most of the format’s best games. Still, both addons, the Sega CD particularly, are well worth it if you like the system.  The 32X is a bit less worth it, but still is an interesting thing to have if you really like Sega.

 

TurboGrafx-CD, TCD – 1988 (1989)
(TurboGrafx-16 addon)

Release and Sales Info: From NEC, released in December 1988 in Japan and sometime between the end of 1989 and mid 1990 in the US, a precise date is unknown. The Turbo CD lasted from 1988 to 1999 in Japan (though no games released in 1998 and only one in ’99, so ’97 was the last full year), and 1989 to 1994 in the US. In Japan stand-alone CD addon drives sold 0.9+ million systems, and then combined “Duo” HuCard + CD systems sold about a million, for a combined CD sales base of 1.92 million there. That is a good attach rate compared to 3.92 million HuCard-only, plus those 1 million Duos for a total HuCard base of 4.92 million. It was the leading CD game format in Japan for years. In the US, however, while NEC claimed to sell, or at least produce, a hundred thousand CD and Duo systems combined, a better guess (as per Victor Ireland, who would be in a position to know) is more around 20,000, plus another 20,000 for the Turbo Duo. I would probably believe Victor Ireland over NEC on this one because they also wildly overestimate overseas PC Engine/Turobografx sales [the Japanese sales figures are more likely to be credible from NEC, it’s the overseas ones which are questionable.

History: The PC Engine CD was the very first CD-ROM-based home gaming platform to be released. Crazy-advanced technology for 1988, Hudson had a hard time even running games in development at the time, as hard drives were smaller than the amount of data they could fit on a CD and CD-Rs had not really been developed yet. Burning a disc to test was thus extremely expensive. The system thus is just a CD drive attached to your PCE or Turbografx, with a small amount of RAM and no other hardware. It does not have dedicated FMV and enhanced graphics chip hardware like the later Sega CD would. In Japan the system did decently well, selling to a solid percentage of PC Engine users. A majority of PCE owners did not upgrade, but the PCECD has a higher attach rate than most other addons. The system was expensive, but sold well enough to catch on and its sales slowly grew. Once the Super Famicom (SNES) released several years later, HuCard game sales collapsed as people moved over to that system. NEC coped by focusing more on CD games. This is when they started releasing the RAM expansion cards, and moved most game support over to CDs. Indeed, HuCard game releases ended in late 1994, three years before CD releases dried up. The PC Engine CD has a large game library full of classics. It can be a confusing format because of the sheer number of hardware versions and addons NEC released — see some of my old articles on my site on that mess for example — but it’s a great one. NEC eventually messed things up badly with their two failed attempts at successors to the PC Engine, but what they had on this system is worth remembering, and going back to.

However, while the TurboGrafx-16 had done badly in the US, it did at least sell somewhat decently in certain parts of the US, such as in NEC America’s home base of Chicago, for its first year or so, and sold somewhere over 500,000 systems (and under 750,000). The Turbo CD was not so lucky and, as I detailed above, sold abysmally. With a $400 price at launch and very few games NEC knew it wouldn’t sell well, and it did not. The problem was, the Turbo CD’s strengths, in action games with partially-animated cutscenes with voices, digital novel adventure games, and such, were often games that weren’t well suited for the American market. Looking at what sold best on the Sega CD it was not that kind of thing, it was the FMV, which this system didn’t have nearly as much ability to do well, as the Turbo CD can’t just stream video off of a disc like the Sega CD can. Late in its life, after a lot of work, Hudson would show off a few games with “HuVideo” actual anime FMV on the PCECD, but it was not above Sega CD levels of video, years later. And because of the need to pay for English voice actors, porting over Japanese games was much more expensive than it would be for a cartridge game. The system sadly struggled here, and NEC responded by releasing very few games for it. This cycle spiralled down.

In late 1992, NEC gave up on the Turbografx in America and sold it off to a new company called TTI. In late ’92, TTI released a system called the Turbo Duo, an American revision of the PC Engine Duo system. TTI put a big ad campaign behind the Duo using the infamous Johnny Turbo comic-ad series and more, and released quite a few games over the next year and a half, doubling the Turbo CD’s library versus what had released over the first three years. Even so, NEC Japan was still very stingy with approvals, and many titles TTI wanted to release here never happened because of that. It was not enough, unfortunately, and sales were as I said earlier — just as bad as they had been for the Turbo CD. The Duo got more market attention than the Turbo CD had and I remember its advertising, but very few people actually bought one. That some of the best games stayed in Japan did not help, but many released late anyway; Rondo of Blood is exceptional, but as a late 1993 release in Japan it probably would not have released here before spring ’94, and TTI was heading towards bankruptcy at that point. TTI managed to release three games sometime in early to mid ’94 before shutting down. After that, one more game released to mail order only late that year from a company which bought up TTI’s backstock, and the system was dead in the US outside of importers buying Japanese games.

Aesthetics and Design: There are quite a few different PCECD and Turbo CD designs, as I mentioned previously in the TurboGrafx-16 section. There may be less than there are PCE systems, but there are still quite a few. As I said before, I have the original TurboGrafx-16 with CD addon drive, modified to play either US or Japanese HuCard games. My CD drive broke and had to be repaired as is common with those drives, as they have a worm gear that is a common failure point, but it has worked fine since. As I said the TG16+CD is a somewhat ridiculous, extremely ’80s unit, but I love it for that. Sure, the PCE Duo R or RX is a sleeker, early ’90s system which looks pretty nice, but I like my system a lot and wouldn’t swap it for one of those. Both styles exist and look great for the time, though, depending on what you prefer. Not so good is the SuperGrafx + Super CD addon drive combination, but oh well; no SuperGrafx games are on CD anyway.

For reliability, the Duo R and RX are certainly the best. They can have laser failures, but that is their only major failure point so far. Original PCE/Turbo CD drives usually have a broken worm gear and maybe also the laser; these are repairable, but get a fixed one if you buy one. The first PCE/TG16 Duo has bad capacitors, as does the addon Super CD drive, so make sure you get one with replaced capacitors if you get that model. Considering we are talking about old moving-parts systems here, reliability is okay overall.

Game Library: Despite selling slightly fewer systems overall, the Turbo CD has many more total game releases than the Sega CD. It has particular strengths in the shmup, RPG, and adventure game/digital comic genres, but has a pretty good library regardless. It does have some weaknesses, such as platformers apart from the all-time classic Castlevania Rondo of Blood, but it’s a good library with great game variety. With its large library loaded with traditional games in genres people like, and not FMV like most of the best-selling Sega CD games are, the Turbo CD is a highly regarded system now and I would agree with that. Indeed, I would say that the Turbo CD has probably the best library ever for a console add-on. In terms of sales the Sega CD did edge it out worldwide because of its FMV-fueled success in the US, but the PCECD has a better overall library and as much as I like the Sega CD for its fantastic traditional games, which it very much has, since I got a Turbo CD I haven’t gone back to it nearly as often as I did before. I like both addons a lot, but this is better. Rondo, Ys, and shmups are the highlights for English-speaking gamers, but there is a lot more out there, particularly if you’re willing to deal with some Japanese.

 

Game Boy, GB – 1989

Release and Sales Info:  Nintendo’s first cartridge-based handheld console, the Game Boy, released in 1989, in April in Japan and July in the US.  It released in Europe in 1990. The Game Boy had exclusive releases until 1999 in the West and 2001 in Japan, and “black cart” (aka “dual mode” as I have often called them) games that support both the black & white Game Boy and the color Game Boy Color until 2001 in the West and 2002 in Japan. There are some modern homebrew releases for it since as well. The Game Boy and GB Color combined sold 118.69 million systems, though it had a big dip in between its early success between 1989-1992 and the later, Pokemon-fueled years of 1997-2001. As of fiscal ’97, the original GB had sold 64.42 million systems. Thanks to Pokemon and the GBC, that number would end up almost doubling. I got an original Game Boy for Christmas in 1992; it was my first console. I looked at both the Game Boy and Game Gear, and chose the Game Boy because it was cheaper and seemed to have better games.

History: The Game Boy was designed by Nintendo’s R&D1 team, led by famous Nintendo designer Gunpei Yokoi. This handheld was designed with a balance of portability and power, and an emphasis on one of the most important things for a handheld, battery life. With a Z80 CPU, four-shade black and white graphics, and some pretty good audio, the Game Boy has more than enough power for games of the day and also gets very good battery life, 20 or 30-plus hours for later models. The Game Boy gets many times better battery life per battery than any of the major competing handhelds from the late ’80s to mid ’90s; only in the late ’90s did other handhelds that are as battery-efficient finally release. Some people dislike the black and white graphics this console uses, but this has never bothered me; you can do some nice visuals with four shades of grey, and it was a compromise necessary for the good battery life. The original Game Boy’s screen does have a lot of motion blur, as with all handhelds of the time, but some other handhelds are worse and later models improve on this, each better than the last.

Three things led to the great success that the Game Boy would see. One was the good hardware, again designed for portability in a way the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx were not. Nintendo also had a lot of market presence because of their NES console, which dominated the console gaming industry by far in the US and Japan. This meant that a lot of people would pay attention to Nintendo’s next console project. It also helped with the Game Boy’s third success point, its game library. When it first released the Game Boy was packed in with Tetris, an all-time classic puzzle game hit which sold many a million systems. And with a Mario platformer and games from top NES third party publishers on top of that, the Game Boy’s success was assured.

And for several years the Game Boy rapidly shot up in success. However, after about 1992, the system slowed down. Sales declined, and particularly in Japan the number of releases did as well. Nintendo kept supporting the Game Boy, but for several years most Japanese third parties gave up on the system for a while, in favor of focusing mostly just on home consoles. American third parties did continue to support the Game Boy with titles for the mostly-young audience who owned the system, but several years after I got it I could tell that the Game Boy had seen better days. Nintendo kept selling the system and waited a long time on a replacement, to not help matters. The turnaround was just around the corner, though: in late 1996 in Japan, a game, developed by small studio Game Freak after a long time in development and published by Nintendo, called Pocket Monsters released in Japan. It soon caught on, and led to a handheld renaissance soon after. The game finally got a Western release in 1998 as Pokemon and the rest was history. I’m no Pokemon fan, but I was, and remain, a fan of the wealth of new handheld games that released in the sales boom that followed.

Later in 1998, Nintendo finally released a new handheld, the Game Boy Color, which is kind of a Game Boy times two power-wise, with color support but the same screen resolution and audio. Nintendo considers it to be a revision of the Game Boy and counts both together for sales, but as it allows for incompatible new color-only games, I’ve always thought that it really is a new console, though certainly one closely related to this one. Regardless, since the Game Boy Color allows for games that run in both black & white or color things are a bit messy as far as categorization goes, but it did mean that the original Game Boy kept getting game releases for some time into its successors’ life. For the first year of the GBC’s short life, most games are black-cart games which support btoh platforms. After that most games went color only, but until ’01 in the US and ’02 in Japan a few games here and there continued to support the original model. As a result, the Game Boy had a thirteen-year lifespan, making it one of the industry’s most successful systems. Many people discount handhelds but I very much do not, and the Game Boy ranks high on my list of the best consoles ever.

Aesthetics and Design: The original Game Boy has been likened to a grey brick, and it is not an unfair comparison, as it is a rectangular system of medium size. The system uses four AA batteries. It is a good-looking for its time and comfortable system which is, for the most part, very durable and well-made. There is one exception to this, and that is the screen, which is liable to have its screen’s connecting cable start to come loose and cause lines on the screen to fail. Mine is no exception and has a pair of dead horizontal lines near the bottom of the screen. This is a fixable issue though and rarely ruins the image, and otherwise this system is legendarily durable. When I was a kid I remember dropping my Game Boy onto a dirt road while it was running, and it didn’t even reset! With just about any other handheld that would never have happened, it would have at least reset and might have broken. The Game Boy’s buttons are among the best in any handheld, as well, as its larger size allows for larger and better-feeling buttons and d-pad than those that you find in any following models.

On that note, the second model of the Game Boy, called the Game Boy Pocket, released many years later, in 1996. This model uses AAA batteries and has much worse battery life than the original, but is a lot smaller and has a better, much less blurry screen. The smaller buttons and d-pad are not quite as comfortable, though. With the same-sized screen as the original in a much smaller case the screen is the focus of this system, and it’s pretty nice apart from the battery life. I already had a Game Boy so I did not get one of these until 2019, but it’s a solid system if you find one. There was a third version only released in Japan with a backlight called the Game Boy Light, but they are expensive and rare so I don’t have one. Then, the GB Color I mentioned previously released in late ’98. All of the Game Boy systems are nice looking systems with good designs. Which I think is the best depends on what I prefer, though – do you want better buttons? A better screen? One system which can play games from all of the Game Boy systems? Each of these questions has a different answer, from the original Game Boy, to the GB Pocket, to the Game Boy Advance or Advance SP. My overall favorite in terms of looks is probably the original, but when it comes to playing, I often use the SP for its compatibility and backlight. Regardless of what system you play them on, though, each one is different enough to be worth a look, both from design and features standpoints.

Game Library: As I have mentioned, the Game Boy has a very large and diverse game library which I rank highly compared to home consoles. Game Boy games are often smaller-scale than home console titles, as budgets were lower, cart sizes smaller, and games often made easier because of an assumed younger audience, but I think the library is fantastic regardless. The Game Boy has one of the best games ever made in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening; some of the all-time great platformers in titles like Wario Land, Donkey Kong [’94], and Kirby’s Dream Land 2; some of the best puzzle games ever such as the aforementioned Tetris, and many more. The Game Boy’s library is not perfect as its RPGs and strategy games are mostly not my favorite kinds of games in those genres and it does have a lot of half-baked licensed games, but the library’s strengths much outweigh its weaknesses. I know I have a lot of nostalgia for the Game Boy, but this is one of the best game libraries for any console.  See my Game Opinion Summaries list on the system for more.

Also in 1989, Atari released their powerful Lynx handheld. I do not have one so it will not be covered here, yet at least.

Game Gear, GG – 1990 (1991)

Release and Sales Info: From Sega, released in October 1990 in Japan and 1991 in the West. Games released steadily until 1997, with one more game releasing with a short-lived rerelease of the platform in 2000 from Majesco. 10.62 million systems sold, probably not including however not too many Majesco made. I got a Game Gear in 2009.

History: Sega’s first handheld, the Game Gear was Sega’s answer to the Game Boy. Larger than a Game Boy, and with color graphics and a backlit screen, the Game Gear makes a good first impression. As a kid I had a Game Boy, but kind of wished I had a GG, that backlight would have been great; you can’t play a Game Boy in the dark anywhere near as easily. However, those features come at a major cost in battery life. Where a Game Boy gets 20-40 hours depending, a Game Gear will get like 3-8 hours, with that later number for the last model only. This is a very serious limitation from a time when systems did not have built-in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries; instead you had to use AA batteries, and replacing sets of six AA batteries as the GG requires every few hours got very expensive. So, everybody I knew with a GG got some combination of its car adapter and wall power adapter, and maybe also the rechargeable battery pack. The Game Boy has one as well and I got one back then, but the GG one was even more essential. Battery life is a key component of any handheld platform and the Game Boy got this right and the GG wrong.  The Game Gear and its games also cost more than the Game Boy and its games, even though the games were not better.

Anyway, inside, the Game Gear is essentially a portable Sega Master System. The hardware is nearly identical to the SMS/Mark III, except with a much lower resolution but a much larger color palette. So, the hardware is somewhat analogous to a Game Boy, but with color. Like all handhelds of the day the screen blurs easily, but later models do improve on this, the Majesco one particularly. The Game Gear doesn’t come even close to the power of the Atari Lynx, despite having almost as bad battery life, though. The resolution is actually the same as a Game Boy’s, but the GG has a rectangular, close to widescreen, aspect ratio, quite different from the nearly square GB one, thanks to using rectangular pixels on its screen. The GG can, with a cartridge adapter, play Master System games, though how playable they are at the GG’s scaled-down resolution is a mixed bag. A TV Tuner addon also allowed for over-the-air analog TV broadcast listening, though this won’t work since TV went digital. It is still amusing since it has an input jack allowing you, with adapters, to play any modern system on a GG screen.

The Game Gear presented the Game Boy with a competitor, and it did okay at that, but it sold less than the Game Boy and clearly had a lower-quality library. Looking at the games on each system it appears like Sega invested less in their handheld, as almost all Sega-published GG games are outsourced, often made by shadow developers on the cheap, not made internally like Nintendo did with many of its Game Boy releases. You can see this difference in quality if you compare, say, the GB Mario games to the GG Sonics. It is a much wider gap than the small-to-most gap between SNES Mario and Genesis Sonic, I would say!

Like the Game Boy the Game Gear slowly faded as the years passed, but unlike the Game Boy it did not get a late-in-life boost. Instead, as Sega started to have issues in the mid ’90s and the system faltered the Game Gear had its support cut back, as Japanese game development mostly stopped in mid ’95 and Western in ’97. Majesco would re-release the Game Gear in 2000, but the success of its Genesis re-release from ’98 would not be repeated; the GG relaunch was a failure and dissuaded Majesco from continuing on with any more classic system relaunches. Overall, I am a definite critic of the Game Gear, as its battery life is bad and game library questionable in quality. I will admit that the color graphics were nice for the time, though, and it certainly has more than a few good games.

Aesthetics and Design: The Game Gear has a very early ’90s Sega look, and apart from its large size looks decently good, I think. It’s just too big and bulky to be comfortable or easy to hold, particularly with batteries in it. The build quality is alright, but not up to Game Boy standards; you wouldn’t want to drop one of these. Game Gears are infamously unreliable as well, as most use bad capacitors which will inevitably destroy their sound and graphics unless replaced. The Majesco systems have better capacitors than earlier GGs, which is part of why I got one, but even they can go bad. Additionally, almost all games which save use soldered batteries in the carts. The carts themselves are a bit large, being larger than Game Boy games for no good reason. I do like using GG game cases to hold DS and 3DS games, though; they fit eight DS games quite well!

Game Library: The Game Gear has a large game library with some solid variety. The system shines in puzzle and strategy games, I would say, and is clearly better than the GB for games such as Bust-A-Move thanks to the color. The strategy games are better than most anything on GB, as well. But for the top genre of the day, platformers, it is entirely the other way around — Sega went for quality over quantity, releasing a great many games of questionable quality for this system, and I at least much prefer Nintendo’s choice to release fewer but better games. Many third-party games were released for both systems and often are better on the GG thanks to color graphics, but not always; some titles are better on the GB, such as Faceball 2000 which runs a lot worse on the GG. I know the GG library includes many quality titles, but I just can’t get over how disappointing and mediocre I find most of the Sega first-party library, from its numerous subpar Aspect-developed Sonic games to piles of not-very-good licensed games from Sega itself. I don’t know if the GG is really worth collecting for today unless you have nothing else to buy. Watch out for those capacitors, too.

 

Super NES, SNES – 1990 (1991)

Release and Sales Info: From Nintendo, released in December 1990 in Japan as the Super Famicom or SFC, August 1991 in the US as the Super Nintendo or SNES, and in 1992 in Europe. Games released until 1998 in the US and 2000 in Japan, with modern unlicensed homebrew titles releasing in the past decade as well. 49.1 million systems sold, meaning this was the best-selling TV console of the generation. I bought a SNES in August 2005. It was my first classic console and got me into the classic console collecting thing. I played a little SNES during its life since I knew a few people who had one, but I didn’t have anywhere near as much experience with the SNES than I did the Genesis in the ’90s. I did read Nintendo Power almost every month that decade, though, so I learned about it that way.

History: Many peoples’ favorite console, the Super Nintendo was Nintendo’s long-awaited followup to the NES. Releasing seven years after the Famicom in Japan and after all other TV consoles of its generation, the SNES may have been late but it made up for it in features. Unlike the Genesis or Turbografx, the SNES has real hardware transparencies, a color palette in the millions even if it can only display 256 on screen at once, a hardware scaling and rotation layer even if it is only a background layer and not sprites, and more. SNES graphics have a color depth and variety the other systems here can’t match, CD-i and 32X excepted. And unlike the CD-i, the SNES can do great sprite animation as well. The SNES has an advanced audio chip designed by Sony, as well, with a sample-based design much more modern than the classic chiptunes of previous systems. It is easier to make good SNES audio than good Genesis audio, as many games show. It also was designed for add-on chips in the carts, many of which enhance its power further with fast CPUs and such.

However, the power came at a price, and that is CPU speed. The SNES can do great graphics and sound, but the CPU is at most half the speed of the Genesis’s, and the difference really shows in many games. Unless highly optimized or using a powerful addon chip, SNES games often run slowly. Additionally, the standard SNES screen resolution is pretty much the same as the NES or Turbografx, 256×224, which is lower than the Genesis’s standard resolution of 320×240. As a result SNES games often have less forward viewing distance in platformers and such than Genesis games do, which is sometimes an issue.

Additionally, despite two of them getting deep into development, Nintendo never released a CD addon drive for the SNES, unlike their competitors. There was a satellite streaming addon in Japan only, but that only allowed for voiced audio during certain broadcast times. Almost all games are just carts. This situation, with highly different consoles each with their own strengths and weaknesses, made for an interesting time quite unlike that which we have now.

On the other hand, with its new controller innovation of shoulder buttons and four face buttons, the eight buttons on a SNES controller allow for more complex game controls than you can fit onto the four buttons of prior systems’ controllers. Shoulder buttons would be something almost every system afterwards would use, and for good reason, it adds to control options. Shoulder buttons are not my favorite thing, but in games that make good use of them such as F-Zero they show their worth.

Anyway, in Japan, the Super Famicom almost immediately took off into the stratosphere. Absolutely crushing Sega and NEC, the SFC won the generation by a wide margin. NEC hung on to a distant second-place finish on the strength of their CD addon being something Nintendo did not have, but it wasn’t much of a competition. Here in the West, however, it was a very different situation, as the SNES and Genesis/Megadrive fought to a draw. First, Sega took an early lead, with its earlier release date, sports games, Sonic, and better version of Mortal Kombat 1. Over time the SNES caught up, though, as Nintendo made good decisions while Sega was messing up, and got key titles such as the first home version of Street Fighter II. Most important, though, the massive, industry-changing hit Donkey Kong Country in late ’94 brought the SNES to the top. The SNES was the clear leader in the later years of the generation here. After that things got closer, as the Genesis had a successful budget re-release in ’98. Overall, which one sold more in the US is a mystery, it was too close. Things were close in Europe as well, depending on territory, though neither console sold anywhere near as well per capita as in the US or Japan, as most people played games on computers there and not consoles; it was the Playstation that brought console gaming to prominence in Europe. Meanwhile, while the SFC faded sooner in Japan than the West as the next generation started earlier there, it had a longer tail as games released until ’00. There Nintendo had kiosks in stores where you could buy a game and download it onto a flash cart, a quite new idea for the time.

Overall the SNES had a long and very successful life, and remains extremely popular today. It is one of my favorite systems as well, it’s in my top five for sure. Indeed, if I have a complaint about the SNES, it is that it is too popular! I like to try to like less popular games and such, so that SNES fandom is so omnipresent among the retro-gaming community has caused me to often want to look to other systems instead. As much as I like the SNES I have probably spent more time online discussing the other systems that gen instead, which I am fine with. Regardless, that, overall, I like the SNES and Genesis equally frustrates some people, but it is my honest opinion.

Aesthetics and Design: There are two basic SNES designs, the Japanese/European one and the American one. I have never seen a Japanese SFC in person, but many people strongly prefer it over the US system, as it is a bit smaller and has curves, instead of the very boxy American design. I will say I like the look of the US SNES, it isn’t one of the best-looking consoles but it definitely looks good. And what I can definitely say is that American SNES cartridges are a lot better than the Japanese ones! Japanese SFC carts are rounded on top like the system, which means they do not stack well at all. This makes storage inconvenient to say the least in many situations. Additionally they do not have end labels, which means that you won’t know which game is which unless you add them yourself or such. The American carts, with their rectangular shapes and end labels, are a much better design. US SNES controllers have two concave and two convex buttons, too, which is better than the all-the-same buttons of the Japanese one. Also it is easy to play Japanese games on a US SNES with a minor modification, but harder to play US ones on a Japanese system since the cart port is too small; you need a cart adapter to do that with a SFC. Now, PAL systems are the worst of all here, as they are region-locked and won’t play any other games easily, and Europe got fewer releases overall.

When it comes to durability and reliability, the SNES is mostly quite reliable. With no common points of failure other than maybe the power port connection on the US console, SNESes are durable systems made to last. The carts are similar, though those batteries in many games are a problem. Also, the SNES has a bad habit of occasionally erasing a cart’s saves even when the battery is okay, which is not great. For the most part though the SNES is a very well-made console. The controllers are also quite durable and last for a long time.

Game Library: The large SNES/SFC library includes many of the industry’s most popular games of the early ’90s, so there is definitely something here for everyone. I don’t think I even need to go down the list, people reading this probably know it. If you don’t, see my Game Opinion Summaries list(s) for the system for more, but it certainly is one of the best ever. The slowdown in some games is a problem, and many SNES games are available digitally on other platforms so you don’t always need a real SNES for everything, but regardless it is a library strong in almost every genre. And for some of those re-released games, that they are now available so easily is nice for those with carts with dead batteries.

 

Philips CD-i, CDI – 1991 (1992 EU/JP)

Release and Sales Info: From Philips, released in December 1991 in the US and in 1992 elsewhere. Commercial software released until 1995 or ’96 in the US, and 1998 in Europe. Sales are unclear due to the numerous models released from different companies, but they were poor; Philips claimed a million worldwide in October 1994, but in ’96 the Wall Street Journal said only 400,000 had sold in the US, and another article said only 60,000 sold in Philips home nation of the Netherlands (both of those as linked from the CD-i Wikipedia article). Sales may have been better among corporate users but how many sales that added up to is unclear, but that it was a financial failure for Philips is. I bought a CD-i in late 2018-early 2019.

History: Philips’ CD-i is a fascinating system with quite a history. Philips, the Dutch corporate parent of American Magnavox, had gotten into the videogame industry when they bought Magnavox and released their Odyssey consoles in Europe in the early ’80s. After that they stopped making games for some years. In the interim, Philips is one of the original creators of the CD format, along with Sony. In the late ’80s Philips started a program to develop an interactive CD format. This format was originally designed for interactive media, such as informative discs, image collection discs with audio, store kiosk stations, and more. It was designed with a mouse for a controller, so all CD-i controllers are, to the system, actually emulating a mouse. That it was originally meant for displaying images, and not playing games, is evident when you look at the titles released for this system. The CD-i is extremely impressive hardware for 1990 in terms of displaying static images and such! And with its Digital Video Cartridge MPEG video CD addon, it is fully capable of playing most Video CD movies, and CD-i-exclusive format movies as well. Needless to say, the other CD formats of the late ’80s to early ’90s, such as the Sega CD and Turbo CD, don’t come even CLOSE to this. Where Sega CD video uses 16 colors, even without the DVC, CD-i video is in fully color! Now, without the DVC it will be in a window just like a SCD game, but with the DVC you get full-screen, at least VHS-quality, video and still images. Again, nothing else at the time comes even remotely close, apart from far more expensive high-end home computers.

However, the CD-i has two major weaknesses. First, that mouse-based controller is a limitation, as the CD-i has only two buttons and was designed for analog movement, so even if you get a real gamepad for it it needs a speed switch in order to change cursor speed movement and such. Two buttons, with no Start button for menus and such, is not enough – a NES has four buttons by that standard, and all other systems of the day have at least three, including the pause buttons on the consoles of the Master System and Atari 7800. And second, while the CD-i is fantastic at playing video and still images, it is not very good at the kinds of animation that videogames require. Philips turned to games several years into the CD-i’s life in order to try to prop up the failing format, but you can tell that the CD-i was not designed with games in mind beyond quite basic ones. Some later titles, some of which require the DVC, do manage to pull off sprite-based graphics and animations on par with other console of the generation, but even there framerates are often far below those of SNES or Genesis games.

So in summary, the CD-i is a system which is very good at some things and fairly bad at others. Unfortunately for it, most gamers want more than just great FMV and static pictures. And even among people who did want FMV games and educational discs, since they were very popular for a while in the early ’90s, the CD-i’s high price and weak marketing were limiting factors which caused it to be less successful than the Sega CD, despite the Sega having far worse looking FMV. Later on, by ’95 the growth of PC CD drive purchases drove out most of the CD-i’s remaining market. The CD-i was successful in one market, though, and that is for kiosk and training installations for companies and government agencies. The CD-i was one of the more successful platforms for this field though the ’90s. Unfortunately, that didn’t lead to enough sales to save the system, which was a huge financial loss for Philips. The CD-i was more successful in Philips’ home nation of the Netherlands than anywhere else, but here it was an also-ran.

Aesthetics and Design: Philips, and several other companies who they licensed to release their own CD-i systems such as Sony, LG, DVS, and many more, released many different CD-i models. Most of them are large units which look a lot like a home CD player or VCR, though there are also smaller portable models and one which looks much more like a home console, with a smaller size, flip-lid top, and such. Some later models include the Digital Video Cartridge built in, but all earlier models can have one of two different revisions of the DVC added to them if they don’t have it built in. So in terms of aesthetics, the CD-i is fairly utilitarian, with very VCR-like looks. Still, from what I’ve seen they look fine, if quite different from model to model. I have the last model of CD-i, the DVS VE-2000, a model which apparently re-used unsold LG CD-i boards but in a new shell. This model was sold starting in 1998, meant for corporate use for companies still using them. It’s a nice looking VCR-ish system, if large.

For the most part, the CD-i is a fairly standard CD console for its time in terms of durability – the drive lasers can fail, but many are built fairly well. Most CD-is have one major design flaw, however: their infamous “timekeeper” chip which saves your game saves. Almost all Phillips-model CD-i systems have a chip which has a battery INSIDE of a chip! Now, videogame consoles putting batteries in consoles and carts to save games is normal, but putting the battery inside of a CHIP is very much not; this is the only console I know of which does that, and it makes replacing the battery much harder in these models than in most other consoles, once that battery dies. There are only two solutions to this: very carefully cut apart the chip, remove the battery, and attach in a new one connected to the contacts within; or buy the one or two portable CD-i models which have user-replaceable batteries, or the LG (their large “VCR-ish” one, not the small Goldstar rebadge of the console-style Philips system) and DVS models which have a standard battery visible on the board, with normal welded tabs like most any other console has. This is a big part of why I got the DVS, replacing its battery will be much easier than anything other than those portable ones, for less money than those very expensive systems cost. The DVS is not cheap, but those cost a lot more.

Game Library: The CD-i has a very weird library. Early on, the CD-i’s library is loaded with informative educational discs, discs for kids, simple games like Battleship and jigsaw puzzles, discs with nice high-color images and voice descriptions of things like Mozart’s times or the American national parks, and such. Later on the system moved on to more videogames, including the infamous Mario and Zelda games, some European puzzle and action titles often with iffy framerates and design issues, and such, and the DVC cart and its movies and FMV games. I find the educational and image discs pretty interesting time capsules which are well worth a look.  They aren’t games but are fun stuff to look at. The games are mix of good and bad. I don’t think the CD-i deserves the extremely bad reputation that it gets, so long as you spend the $100 it will cost to get a real gamepad for the thing and also however much a mouse or trackball will cost as you’ll want both. I honestly enjoy the sidescrolling CD-i Zelda games, but I will admit that it is a flawed system with somewhat limited appeal; you need to like the kinds of games the CD-i has in order to enjoy this. I think the CD-i is an okay platform overall, but it doesn’t have th quality of games the best systems do, which is tough when so many other consoles of its day are so amazing. Still, this is a neat system to have for sure, particularly for the collector or FMV game fan. The CD-i has many true exclusives as well; most CD-i releases are not available anywhere else. Just like with the Magnavox Odyssey, Philips has not re-released anything from this platform on any newer format. I don’t have any of them, but the stuff companies made for the CD-i for kiosks and such is surely quite interesting for the collector who can find them, as well.

 

Sega CD, SCD – 1991 (1992)
(Sega Genesis addon)

Release and Sales Info: From Sega, released in December 1991 in Japan as the Mega CD, in October 1992 in the US as the Sega CD, and 1993 in Europe as the Mega CD. Games released until late 1995 in the West and February ’96 in Japan. 2.24 million systems sold worldwide, mostly in the US — only 400,000 Mega CD systems sold in Japan, and it did not sell well at all in Europe. I bought a Sega CD in August 2006, only a few months after I got a Genesis. I had had much less experience with it than the Genesis before then, as I didn’t know anyone with addons for their Genesis during its life, though I remember its advertising for sure.

History: Following their very successful, in America anyway, Genesis, Sega decided to get on the CD-addon bandwagon and make a CD drive for their system. This addon released several years later, and adds much more than just a CD drive! Indeed, in addition to that disc drive, this addon also has new chips in it which gives it hardware scaling and rotation, most notably. While not perfect this was a significant advance, and some SCD games show this off with much improved scaling over the software efforts in Genesis games. The system has hardware built in to make FMV playback easy as well, so you see a lot more full-motion video on the Sega CD than you do on Turbo CD. Unfortunately they could not get around the 64-color limit, and in FMV palettes are restricted even more so a lot of FMV runs with VERY few colors on screen, but it runs, and at the time was a pretty amazing thing. The system has one more drawback, too — the side port which connects it to the Genesis has limited bandwidth when compared to the cart port on top. As a result, some Sega CD ports of Genesis games have to cut back on animation and such, as there isn’t enough bandwidth in that connection to get all the animation and such through. The Turbo CD does not have this issue, but in this respect Sega didn’t plan quite as well when designing the Genesis. Oh well.

But for good or ill, the Sega CD is best known for being the system which, more than any other, brought the FMV craze home. Expensive and showy arcade games like Dragon’s Lair and Mad Dog McCree were one thing, but now you could play that game, and more like it, at home! Sega marketed the Sega CD heavily, but between its high price tag and relatively limited library compared to the Genesis, it didn’t sell as well as they hoped. The SCD did sell over two million systems and was the best-selling console addon that generation, narrowly edging out the Turbo CD, so I would not call it a failure, but it could have been more. The cost of CD drives during its life really limited its appeal, as did its relatively short life of only about three years in the US. Many people call the SCD one of Sega’s mistakes, but I don’t agree; while it has some issues, including the gameplay limitations of FMV, how low-color SCD FMV is, and its price and reliability, the Sega CD did something new and, at least for a moment, seemed to change the industry; FMV was HUGE for a couple of years in the early-mid ’90s! Before polygons took over everybody thought that FMV was the future, as how can you get more real than real life? The very limited gameplay options available to streaming video would destroy this genre within a few years, but some amusing stuff released in the interim, and a lot of it is on this system. Most infamously, the very well known SCD game Night Trap caused enough of a controversy to be prominently featured in a US Senate hearing on sex and violence in videogames, alongside Mortal Kombat.

The Sega CD is more than just FMV, though, fortunately for people like me who have never thought all that much of FMV beyond that initial ‘wow, that’s real video!’ factor. The graphics may be great, but the extremely limited gameplay of a Night Trap, Dragon’s Lair, or Mad Dog McCree more than outweigh the positives for me. However, the Sega CD also has many other games I like a lot more, including some of the best Japanese RPGs ever made in the Lunar series, several shmups as good or better than anything on the Genesis, a fantastic Sonic game, and more. The Sega CD’s library is not as essential as the Turbo CD, sure, but it still has a good library with more than a few memorable classics. Unfortunately many of the better non-FMV Sega CD games are extremely expensive, since FMV sold better by far back then, but they are there and are great. Back then though, apart from people rich enough to shell out the money for playing FMV games at home, the SCD had somewhat limited appeal. The advertising was good, but CD drives were expensive!

Aesthetics and Design: As I mentioned earlier in the Genesis article, there are two models of Sega CD, a first tray-loading model which goes underneath your Genesis and matches the model 1 Genesis in size, and a second top-loading model which goes next to your Genesis and fits the Genesis 2 perfectly. You can use either SCD model with either model of Genesis, but the sizes will look a little silly if you do. So, I use a Genesis 2 + SCD 2 setup. It’s the better setup anyway, as the top-loading drive is much more reliable than that tray of the first model – there is no tray to break in a toploader! Either way the Sega CD systems are nice-looking units with a great early ’90s aesthetic that I quite like. The Genesis 2 + SCD 2 combination is a great looking system.  Its controller is also my favorite gamepad ever that doesn’t have an analog stick on it, or rather the 6 button controller is; the original 3 button pad is good, but Sega’s 6 button pad is the best, both in form and function.

As for its design and reliability, the SCD is known for having reliability issues, but not more so than any other disc drive-based system from its time; the main issue is just that disc drives have moving parts, so they are less reliable over time than a comparable solid-state-cartridge system is. And that is very true here. I am one of the lucky ones, as my SCD works flawlessly to this day and has needed no work, but between the laser, tray mechanism in a model 1 system, a fuse which often blows, and a rechargeable cell battery which saves any game savegames, the Sega CD has plenty of failure points within it. On that last point there is also a memory cart available, but it also has a battery in it. Some homebrew flash cartridges give the system a welcome longer-lasting memory backup function, but even so that rechargeable battery in the system will need replacing at some point. Even so, the Sega CD is a good-looking and mostly well engineered system, any CD console of its age has issues long term.

Game Library: As mentioned above, the Sega CD is most famous for its games full of either animated or, more often, live video. These are known as FMV games. Indeed, the Sega CD brought the FMV craze home. Arcade games like Mad Dog McCree were one thing, but now you could play that game and more like it at home! FMV was HUGE for a couple of years in the early-mid ’90s! Before polygons took over everybody thought that FMV was the future, as how can you get more real than real life? The very limited gameplay options available to streaming video would destroy this genre within a few years, but some amusing stuff released in the interim, and a lot of it is on this system. Most infamously, the very well known SCD game Night Trap caused enough of a controversy to be prominently featured in a US Senate hearing on sex and violence in videogames, alongside Mortal Kombat.

The Sega CD is more than just FMV, though, fortunately for people like me who have never thought all that much of FMV beyond that initial ‘wow, that’s real video!’ factor. The graphics may be great, but the extremely limited gameplay of a Night Trap, Dragon’s Lair, or Mad Dog McCree more than outweigh the positives for me. However, the Sega CD also has many other games I like a lot more, including some of the best Japanese RPGs ever made in the Lunar series, several shmups as good or better than anything on the Genesis, a fantastic Sonic game, and more. The Sega CD’s library is not as essential as the Turbo CD, sure, but it still has a good library with more than a few memorable classics. I would say that overall the SCD has a good game library. It does not have the breadth and depth of the Genesis library, but there are more than enough hits to make this system worth having, if you can get a working one for a reasonable price.

 

Interlude

In 1993, the first next generation — that is, 5th gen — consoles released, in the Atari Jaguar and the 3DO, along with several consolized older computers in the Amiga CD32 (Europe/Canada only) and Fujitsu FM Towns Marty (Japan only). A year after that, more new consoles released, the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and NEC PC-FX (Japan only), along with the SNK Neo-Geo CD. In addition to those, though, one new addon for the last generation of consoles released as well…

Sega 32X, 32X – 1994
and
Sega 32X CD, 32XCD – 1994

Release and Sales Info: From Sega, released in 1994. Games for the 32X were only released from late ’94 to early ’96. About 800,000 consoles were sold, mostly in the US where it sold well in Christmas ’94. I bought a 32X in October 2009.  Note that the 32X, when attached to a Genesis by itself, can use cartridges only; in order to play 32X CD games, you need a Sega CD attached to your Genesis as well.

History: The 32X was Sega’s last project where their Japanese and American branches worked together well. The project started out as an idea from Sega of Japan for a new model of Genesis with more color support built in, as they were frustrated with how limited colors are on the system when compared to the SNES. Sega of America heard about this and said no, what we should do instead is a more powerful addon which would add more colors and also better graphics. Sega head Hayao Nakayama okayed the idea, and engineers from both sides worked together to design the 32X. It was designed with two CPUs, in order to help developers get used to the twin-processor layout that the Saturn also uses. Parallel processing was brand new then so programmers had a really hard time dealing with that. The system doesn’t do polygons and such in hardware either, it’s all just what you can do in software with its reasonably powerful pair of CPUs. It can do a lot of colors, transparencies, full, 60fps scaling and rotation, and more, though, and push a fair number of polygons for the time. Compared to the systems of 1993, such as the Atari Jaguar and 3DO, the 32X is somewhat close in power. It has limitations, as the system has two graphics layers, one made by the Genesis and one by the 32X, and then just displays both at once, something which causes issues in some games when the two do not run at the same framerate, and can be tricky to progam for, but the hardware can do some pretty nice things. It also can play either cartridge games, or 32X-exclusive CD titles, as it connects through the cart port to the Sega CD. There are only six 32X CD games and all are visually enhanced Sega CD FMV games, but still it was nice, the colors look great compared to regular SCD games.

The problem was, the Saturn was in development at the same time and released in Japan at the same time that the 32X was releasing in the US. The Playstation released in Japan at around the same time as well, and both the Saturn and PS1 are far more powerful than the 32X. The 32X then released in Japan the next month. The PS1 and Saturn cost more, but not so much more that people wanted to buy this instead of just saving up, or just waiting a year or two before joining the new generation. The system did well in the US in late ’94, selling hundreds of thousands that Christmas thanks to people wanting the new Genesis addon, and two games in particular, Doom and Star Wars Arcade. 665,000 of the 800,000 32Xes produced sold by early ’95. Sega thought they needed something big for holiday ’94, and for a moment the 32X seemed like a good idea. Releasing two new platforms, one an addon to their last system and one a new console, at the same time was a very bad idea though, and after the good start things went predictably terribly. Sega somehow didn’t realize that trying to support six-plus platforms at the same time would be a bad idea, but it was.

Indeed, the initially good sales and press reception changed soon afterwards, and sales plummeted. In the middle of releasing more than 150 games in the calendar year 1995, Sega of Japan decided to almost entirely stop developing new games for all consoles other than the Saturn. They did develop several new Virtua Fighter games after that date, one each for the Game Gear, Genesis, and 32X, and a few Genesis and GG games in Japan in the second half of ’95, but that was it; otherwise, the only games after then on those systems were Western. They also finally discontinued the Master System in Europe, and the Pico in Japan. The 32X would see a few Western games after this, the last in early ’96, and then it was dead. Some of these moves were needed, but mostly abandoning the 32X only maybe seven months after its release was a major mistake; you can’t support a system for that unacceptably short an amount of time and not expect consequences. And Sega had consequences, as their bet on the Saturn was a terrible one for the West, where few people had any interest in that troubled system. Sega probably should have focused more on the Genesis itself, since as the SNES showed the ’94 to ’96 period was still pretty good for 4th-gen cart systems in the US. By focusing on addon after addon then abandoning the system early, Sega hurt their profits. But then again, making questionable choices which hurt their profits was the Sega way, so major mistakes were probably inevitable. Oh well…

Aesthetics and Design: The 32X is a blob-like “mushroom” which sits on top of your Genesis. It requires its own power supply, making for a total of THREE needed for the full Genesis CD 32X unit, and also a video passthrough, as the Genesis needs to pass its video through the 32X through an exterior cable for merging, then from the 32X to the TV. Sadly there was no other way to add more colors to the system than this somewhat awkward solution. The system also doesn’t look great; you get used to the full combined system’s look, but that large blob on top of a Genesis kind of messes up the nice look of the Genesis + Sega CD combination. In terms of reliability though, the 32X is a reliable system which usually works fine, so long as you have all of the required cables and parts; there are many, I did not mention all of them here.

Game Library: The 32X has a small 40 game library, including 34 carts and six CD games. The exclusive library is small, but does include some pretty good games. Some of those are ports of games also available on other systems, to be sure, but the 32X versions often have unique features you won’t find elsewhere. A common criticism of this console is that it has very few exclusive games worth playing and there is some truth to that, but I do like the 32X regardless. Shadow Squadron is a fantastic game, and other titles such as Zaxxon’s Motherbase 2000 and the outstanding, enhanced 32X version of Virtua Racer Deluxe are well worth it! I don’t regret getting a 32X at all, and if you can find one for cheap and like the Genesis it’s probably worth getting. The 32X should not have been released, as it divided the Genesis’s userbase too much, but enough of its small game library are good for me to kind of like it regardless.

After this the generation was not done, because that aforementioned Super Famicom Satellaview satellite addon did not release until April 1995, in Japan only. I don’t have one.

And with that, finally this update is done! That was long. It might be a while until I do the next one, I’ll see; it will also be long so I kind of want to do something else first, but I haven’t decided yet.


Fourth Generation Consoles Ranking

A ranking again? Why not, though I do have an all-systems ranking from a few years ago elsewhere on my site.

1. (tie) Super NES, SNES 1990 (1991) – It may be boring to say that the SNES deserves its place high on the list of the best consoles ever, but it is true.
1. (tie) Genesis, Gen 1988 (1989) – Just as great as the SNES, I am also a big fan of the Genesis! And yes, I still don’t want to choose between them, no matter how much that annoys some fans of both systems. Heh.
2. Game Boy, GB 1989 – My first video game console, I have a lot of nostalgia for the GB and think it still holds up very well.
3. TurboGrafx-16, TG16 1987 (1989) – Some might put the CD addon above the base system, but though the CD games are flashier, the larger HuCard library, overall, probably edges out the CDs.
4. TurboGrafx-CD, TCD 1988 (1989) (TurboGrafx-16 addon) – The Turbo CD is fantastic but doesn’t have the game variety of the base TG16 so it ranks a little lower.
5. Sega CD, SCD 1991 (1992) (Sega Genesis addon) – Not quite as good as the Turbo CD but also pretty good, this is a little below it but certainly, for me, better than the GG.
6. Game Gear, GG 1990 (1991) – The Game Gear’s hardware and library are quite flawed and I am a longtime critic of some things about this system, but even I have to admit that it does have some good games.
7. Phillips CD-i, CDI 1991 – The CD-i has better hardware than the Game Gear, but the GG probably has more high-quality games, so I guess I reluctantly have to give the GG the edge here. I kind of like the CD-i, but I can’t put it over any of these systems.
8. Sega 32X, 32X 1994 (Sega Genesis addon) – Releasing the 32X was a big mistake, but I quite like some of its small library regardless! I like a few 32X games more than anything I have for the CD-i, but the overall library… I can’t put it above it, there are just too many issues with this system.
9. Sega 32X CD, 32XCD 1994 – If we count this separately, it’s in last by a longshot! Yes, it’s nice to see FMV games with actual decent colors on the Genesis, but then you have to actually play the games…

Posted in 32X, Classic Games, Game Boy, Game Gear, Game Opinion Summaries, Genesis, Reviews, Sega CD, Turbo CD, TurboGrafx-16 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Favorite Games of 2019, and of the Decade of the 2010s

I usually do not do Game of the Year lists and have not for some time, and for good reason — it is impossible for any one person to play all of the great games released in a year, and I am no exception.  More games release now than ever before, so it is impossible for even a team of people to keep up with all of the games releasing, much less any one individual, no matter how much they follow this industry!

However, partially because I played more recent games this past year than I had in quite some time and partially just because I wanted to, I decided to try to make a ‘my favorite games’ list this year.  It is in several parts:

Table of Contents
——————-

  1. My Favorite Games of 2019
  2. The Best Classic Re-releases/Enhanced Ports of 2019
  3. Special Awards
  4. My Favorite Older Games I Bought in 2019
    1. Pre-Current Gen Games (ie no 3DS/Vita/X1/modern PC/NS)
    2. Modern Consoles, games from before 2019
  5. Worst Classic Games I Bought in 2019
  6. My Favorite Games of the Decade of the 2010s
    1. My Favorite Games of Each Year of the 2010s
    2. Overall Top 10 of the Decade

My Favorite Games of 2019

 

Key: NS: Nintendo Switch; X1: Xbox One; 3DS: Nintendo 3DS; PS4: Sony PlayStation 4. Key: (DD Only) means that the game has no physical release on this platform.

The Best Games Newly Released in 2019

1. Super Mario Maker 2 (NS)
2. Etrian Odyssey Nexus (3DS)
3. They Are Billions (PC) (DD Only)  (final release was 2019)
4. Tetris 99 (NS)
5. Ding Dong XL (NS) (DD Only)
6. Fire Emblem: Three Houses (NS)
7.Samurai Shodown (2019) (X1; also on PS4)
8. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair (X1; also on PS4, NS, PC)
9. Shalnor Legends: Sacred Lands (NS; also on PC) (DD Only)
10. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (NS; also on PS4, X1, PC)
11. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (X1; also on PC, PS4)

Honorable Mentions: Dragon: Marked for Death (NS), Anthem (NS), Dead or Alive 6 (X1), Golf Peaks (NS) (DD Only), Puyo Puyo Champions (NS) (DD Only), Daemon X Machina (NS)


The Best Classic Re-releases/Enhanced Ports of 2019


1. Collection of Mana (NS) – (one game first US release in ’19)
2. Gunlord X (NS) (DD Only) – (first licensed release in ’19)
3. Sega Ages: Virtua Racing (NS) (DD Only) – (heavily enhanced classic port)
4. Commander Keen in Keen Dreams (NS) (DD Only) – (first console release in ’19)
5. Arcade Archives Moon Cresta (NS) (DD Only)  – (first official console release in ’19)

Honorable Mentions: Croixleur Sigma (NS) (DD Only) first US release in ’19), Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Joe & Mac Returns (NS) (DD Only) (first official console release in ’19)

Special Awards

Best Graphics: Anthem  – Sure, this game has its problems, but it looks absolutely incredible!  It’s not as terrible to play as people say, either.
Best Music: Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair – The Donkey Kong Country composers return, and are still incredible.
Most Addictive: Mario Maker 2 – This game, and its predecessor, is a game that I have played for years, and will play for years to come.  Tetris 99 and They are Billions are very close behind in this category.
Most Fun to Watch Others Play Online: Mario Maker 2 – I’ll probably never be as good at this game as streamers are, but maybe that is part of why I so enjoy watching them play the game…

Game of the Year: Super Mario Maker 2 – This was an easy one, it’s been my likely Game of the Year since its release and nothing since has changed my mind on that.

My Favorite Older Games I Bought in 2019

Key: SAT: Saturn; NES: Nintendo Entertainment System; JAG: Atari Jaguar; TCD: TurboGrafx =-16 CD (aka PC Engine CD); TG16: TurboGrafx-16 (aka PC Engine); 5200: Atari 5200; INTV: Mattel Intellivision; CVIS: Colecovision; GBA: Game Boy Advance; DS: Nintendo DS; DSi – Nintendo DSi (Digital Download games for eShop for the 3DS, now); GEN: Sega Genesis; N64: Nintendo 64; PSV: PlayStation Vita; CD-i: Phillips CD-i.

Pre-Current Gen Games (ie no 3DS/Vita/X1/modern PC/NS)

1. Tempest 2000 (JAG)
2. Jeff Minter Classics (JAG) (modern homebrew title)
3. Saturn Bomberman (SAT)
3. Mega Man 3 (NES)
5. Thunder Force III (GEN)
6. Seirei Senki Spriggan (TCD)
7. Monster Tale (DS)
8. SteamWorld Tower Defense (DSiWare on 3DS eShop)
9. Tempest (5200) (modern homebrew title)
10. Snafu (INTV)
11. Nova Blast (CVIS)

Honorable Mentions: Super Monkey Ball Jr. (GBA), Pepper II (CVIS), Iron Soldier (JAG), Space Fury (CVIS), Sonic & Sega Allstars Racing (DS), Zoop (JAG), Strikers 1945 (SAT)

Also Noteworthy:
BurgerTime (INTV), Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands (JCD), Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon (CD-i), Link: The Faces of Evil (CD-i), Super Space Invaders (GG), TI Invaders (TI99), Stunt Racer 64 (N64), Gateway to Apshai (CVIS), Demon Attack (INTV), Atlantis (INTV), Marchen Maze (TG16), Donald Duck: The Lucky Dime Caper (SMS), Accelerator (CD-i), Loco-Motion (INTV), Lady Bug (CVIS), Dick Tracy (GEN), I-War (JAG), Moon (DS), Sengoku Blade (SAT), Moto Roader MC (TCD)

Modern Consoles, games from before 2019

  1. 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (3DS) (DD Only)
  2. SEGA AGES Sonic the Hedgehog (NS) (DD Only)
  3. 3D Streets of Rage 2 (3DS) (DD Only)
  4. Super Mario Advance 4 – Super Mario Bros. 3 (GBA – Wii U VC) (DD Only)
  5. 3D Space Harrier (3DS) (DD Only)
  6. 3D Streets of Rage (3DS) (DD Only)
  7. Rune Factory 4 (3DS)
  8. Summon Night 6 (PSV)
  9. ACA NeoGeo: Aero Fighters 2 (NS) (DD Only)
  10. Monster Hunter Stories (3DS)

Honorable Mentions: 3D After Burner II (3DS)(DD Only), The Legend of Legacy (3DS), The Alliance Alive (3DS)

Also Noteworthy: Obduction (PC) (DD Only), Kamiko (NS) (DD Only), Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Gate of Doom (NS) (DD Only), Stranger of Sword City (PSV), Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Wizard Fire (NS) (DD Only), Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Joe & Mac Returns (NS)(DD Only), Hive Jump (Wii U), Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Super Burger Time (NS) (DD Only)

Worst Classic Games I Bought in 2019

  1. Video Speedway (CD-i) – While far from the worst game ever, this game is very boring and bizarrely difficult.
  2. Wizard Defenders (DSiWare on 3DS eShop) – This tries to be good but fails miserably.  It gets unplayably hard quickly.
  3. Airlock (2600) – Lives down to its reputation, sadly.
  4. Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Carnival (CD-i) – Bad minigames.
  5. Medal of Honor: Underground (GBA) – The GBA is not a good platform for 3D_!
  6. Towers: Lord Baniff’s Deceit (GBC) – It is unforgivable to not have an ingame map in a game like this, released when it did, on a handheld.

My Favorite Games of the Decade of the 2010s

Note: American release dates are used here, as always in this article.  Additionally,  I usually do not count re-releases of old games for this list and won’t be listing classic-console re-releases here, such as Sega’s 3D Classics line and such.  However, I ignore this rule for a few titles I really like.

My Favorite Games of Each Year of the 2010s:

2010
——
1. Picross 3D (Nintendo DS)
2. Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii)
3. Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City (Nintendo DS)
Honorable Mentions: Hydro Thunder Hurricane (Xbox 360), Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty (PC), Metroid Prime Trilogy (Wii) (mentioned here for the addition of motion controls), 3D Dot Game Heroes (PS3), Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

2011:
——
1. Kirby’s Return to Dream Land (Wii)
2. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
3. Professor Layton and the Last Spectre (Nintendo DS)
Honorable Mention: Driver San Francisco (PC) (also on Xbox 360, PS3), Monster Tale (DS)

2012:
——
1. Growlanser IV: Wayfarer of Time (PSP)
2. Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
3. Gunlord (Dreamcast)
Honorable Mentions: Super Hexagon (PC), Hotline Miami (PC)

2013:
——
1. Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)
2. Fire Emblem Awakening (Nintendo 3DS)
3. The King of Fighters XIII (PC) (also on PS3 and Xbox 360 previously)
Honorable Mention: Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan (Nintendo 3DS)

2014:
——
1. Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions (Xbox 360) (also have for PC and Xbox One; also on PS3 and PS4)
2. Terrian Saga: KR-17 (PC)
3. TxK (Playstation Vita)
Honorable Mention: Under Defeat HD (XBox 360) (also on PS3; up-port of an older, Japan-only Dreamcast game)

2015:
——
1. Super Mario Maker (Wii U)
2. Splatoon (Wii U)
3. Pillars of Eternity (PC)
Honorable Mentions: The King of Fighters 2002: Unlimited Match (PC) (previously released on other platforms), Rocket League (PC) (also on PS4, Xbox One, Switch)

2016:
——
1. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Wii U) (if you count an HD remaster)
2. Overwatch (PC) (also on PS4, Xbox One, Switch) (GOTY if you don’t count the above)
3. Picross 3D: Round 2 (Nintendo 3DS)
Honorable Mention: Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS (Nintendo 3DS)

2017:
——
1. Starcraft Remastered (PC) (yes, it’s a remake. I’m listing it anyway. The new graphics are great!)
2. Yooka-Laylee (PC) (also on PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
3. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
Honorable Mentions: Splatoon 2 (Switch), Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (Playstation Vita) (later ported to PS4, PC, Switch)

2018:
——
1. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)
2. Tempest 4000 (Xbox One) (also on PC, PS4)
3. WarioWare Gold (Nintendo 3DS)
Honorable Mentions: Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption (PC), Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (Xbox One; also on PS4, PC)

2019:
——
1. Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch)
2. Etrian Odyssey Nexus (Nintendo 3DS)
3. They are Billions (PC)
Honorable Mentions: Collection of Mana (Switch) [particularly for the first US release of Mana 3, previously Japan-only], Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Switch), Ding Dong XL (Switch)

Overall Top 10 of the Decade

  1. Super Mario Maker (Wii U) (2015) – This game redefines platformers in a truly special way.
  2. Starcraft Remastered (PC) (2017) – The best game ever, redone with better visuals.
  3. Picross 3D (Nintendo DS) (2010) – A puzzle game classic still to be topped.
  4. Splatoon (Wii U) (2015) – Easily one of the best shooters ever made!
  5. Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch) (2019) – Mostly better than the original, this game only suffers for the worse creation of the Switch’s capacitive touchscreen versus the Wii U’s reactive one.
  6. Super Mario 3D World (Wii U) (2013) – A highly under-rated game, I hope it gets a Switch port soon!
  7. Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions (Xbox 360) (also have for PC and Xbox One; also on PS3 and PS4) (2014) – This game was ignored by most, but I was totally addicted and played it regularly for a year.
  8. Kirby’s Return to Dream Land (Wii) (2010) – Kirby returned with a vengeance!
  9. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Wii U) (if you count an HD remaster) (2016) – The HD version of one of Nintendo’s best games ever is probably the definitive version.
  10. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii) (2011) – This game was slightly disappointing for a major Zelda game, but that still ranks it as exceptional.

Honorable Mention: Yooka-Laylee (PC) (also on PS4, Xbox One, Switch) (2017) – Everybody is wrong about this game, Yooka-Laylee is amazing and one of the best games of the decade!  I have played more of this game than Mario Odyssey and don’t regret that.

So, for me 2012, 2016, and 2018 were the weaker years of the decade for games, while 2010, 2015, and 2019 stand out for the greatness of their libraries.  2017 is was a fantastic year as well.  Overall though, 2015 has to win because Mario Maker and Splatoon are two of my favorite games ever.  Quantity matters, and 2019 has that, but quality matters even more.  (They Are Billions, by the way, does not make the top 10 because the random luck of level generation and unfair nature of defeats make it incredibly frustrating, and not always for fair reasons. Maybe it should be on the list despite that, it’s close.)

Posted in Atari 5200, Atari Jaguar, Classic Games, Colecovision, Dreamcast, Game Boy Advance, Genesis, Intellivision, Lists, Modern Games, NES, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo 64, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, PC, PC, Philips CD-i, PlayStation 3, Playstation Portable, PS Vita, Saturn, Sega Master System, Turbo CD, TurboGrafx-16, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Console Opinion Summaries, Part 2: The Third Generation – Atari 5200 and 7800, NES, Master System, and Colecovision

That’s right, it’s not a mirage, it’s an actual update to my ‘Console Opinion Summaries’ list!  This took way too long, so for future entries I probably should cut back on the history portions that are done much more completely elsewhere on the internet, but at least this is done and I mostly like the results.  Here, I cover the five consoles I own that I consider third generation — that is, consoles released between 1982 and 1985.

Table of Contents

Third Generation Overview
Colecovision, CVIS – 1982
Atari 5200, 5200 – 1982
NES (Famicom) – 1983 (1985 US)
Atari 7800, 7800 – 1984 (1986 full release)
Sega Master System, SMS – 1985 (1986 US)
Overall Ranking – a ranking of how much I comparatively like each of these systems.


 

Third Generation Overview

 

Now, as I have said before, most people would start the third generation with the release of the NES. I think that is wrong, however, so for reasons I have explained before, I am starting it with the first post-Atari 2600 “next-gen” consoles, the new systems of 1982. After several years of no hardware releases, a bunch of systems released in 1982, from Atari, Coleco, and others. I have the two major ones, the Atari 5200 and Colecovision. However, as this whole video games thing was still very new, nobody knew how to handle a generation transition. So, market leader Atari, at this point owned by Warner Bros., decided to continue supporting the 2600 strongly, while also releasing a new system. Most of their games would release on both formats or would be only on 2600, with only a few games only on 5200. And the 5200, at least at first, was not backwards compatible. Combined with a controller few liked and other mistakes, the 5200 struggled from the beginning. The Colecovision did better, as with better marketing and ports of popular arcade games Coleco made an impact. Third party studios proliferated as well, as no systems at this point had licensing models or could lock out third party software, and people had figured out this fact. Sure, there were issues, but things seemed to be going well overall.

Meanwhile, the computer gaming industry was growing greatly, as computer platforms such as the Commodore VIC-20, Tandy Color Computer, Radio Shack TRS-80, IBM PC, Apple II, and Texas Instruments TI 99/4 and 99/4A sold into more and more schools and homes. Millions would buy these computers, and everyone thought that computer-console convergence was the goal — consoles often started including more computer features, and computers console features like cartridge-based games and console-style joysticks.

Even so, in 1983, the console industry in the US seemed to be going great. Sales had been up incredibly the previous year, as countless games released for the many formats available. However, that year everything fell apart. Sales started falling, suddenly, and they did not stop. Thus began what would be known as the Video Game Crash. This incident, focused primarily on the United States but affecting the world because of how dominant America was in the technology field, destroyed our nascent console industry. What survived were the computers, and surviving developers in the industry mostly moved over to computers for a decade or two. Many people did not buy a computer, though, so the total number of people playing games at home surely went down. I won’t go in detail here about the crash though, I have covered it elsewhere, and will mention it below as well in the summaries.

That same year, however, two new consoles had released in Japan. One of them, the Nintendo Famicom, would become the industry’s most important and legendary console when it finally released in the US two years later as the NES. With that release in 1985, everything started to change here. Computers would remain the primary format for most Western game developers, to be sure, but many gamers such as myself had some of their first gaming experiences on the Nintendo, as we called it; the specific name of the system was unnecessary. The third generation would continue the rest of the decade, finally starting to be supplanted by newer systems by the end of the ’80s but the NES was still selling well into the early ’90s.

In terms of games, the two parts of this generation are contrasting — earlier on, and continuing through the decade at a lower level, you see refinements of the games seen on the second generation systems. These newer systems could do more complex things, so you see second-generation-style games, but with better graphics and perhaps also more content. But as the decade progressed and systems advanced, games started to try new things. The development of the 2d platformer, overhead action-adventure game, and various takes on role playing games all changed dramatically over the first half of the ’80s, as developers experimented with what they could do. This kind of experimentation is fascinating from a modern perspective, as games do not always do what we “expect” them to. Hardware and game data size limitations can be a frustration, however, from sprite flicker, choppy scrolling in some systems, and other technical limits like those to the omnipresent use of incredibly cryptic “puzzles” that pretty much are just massive exercises in trial and error in a way much less often seen since. Fourth-gen consoles have aged better in these respects than the third has.

As a result of game design elements like those, and of the rise of a generation of gamers who did not grow up playing or reading about the NES like I did, the NES today does not have as dominant a place today in classic gaming culture as it did fifteen years ago; times change, and as younger generations grow up the consoles of THEIR childhood gain prominence. Now, it is the N64 which particularly seems to be benefiting from this, with the Gamecube and PS2 on the rise. But despite being dated in many ways — and nostalgia or no, I very much agree that some elements of 3rd-gen game design are very frustrating — this era is a fascinating and, today, under-valued one. The pre-crash part of the generation is home to a lot of great arcade-style games that most people probably have not played, and the post-crash part has more than enough games which hold up to still be full of must-play experiences.

With that said, on to the summaries!


Colecovision, CVIS

Release and Sales Info – From Coleco, released in 1982. Game support 1982-1984 plus third party only support 1985-1987, plus scattered modern homebrew releases. Two million sold, not including a clone system from the ’80s, a modern Flashback system release, and an upcoming Colecovision clone system. I bought a Colecovision in August 2018.

History: The Colecovision released in summer 1982, and brought in a new generation of videogames. With significantly better graphics than the previous consoles and a library full of reasonably good conversions of arcade games, Coleco made a big splash in 1982-1983 before falling off because of the crash. Coleco, originally the Connecticut Leather Company, was a major toy manufacturer in the ’70s and ’80s, and had been successful in videogames with their line of home Pong clones in the late ’70s. They also made one extremely obscure and rare cart-based console in the late ’70s called the Coleco Telstar Arcade. In ’82, Coleco finally made a more direct competitor for the Atari 2600 with the more powerful Colecovision. The system has some hardware similarities to the TI 99/4A computer, as it uses the same TI graphics and sound chips as the TI99, except it has a different CPU: the popular Zilog Z80, instead of TI’s CPU. The resulting graphics are sprite-based, something of a revolution at the time for consoles, and look very much like TI99 graphics. Basing consoles on computer parts from several years earlier has ever since been a common practice, and here we see one of its first occurrances. Consoles are almost always cheaper than computers, so this makes sense. It uses controllers inspired by the Intellivision’s, slightly more comfortable than those but also not very good, and also with the horrible idea of having the main fire buttons be on the sides of the controller. The console itself is also, in my opinion, unbelievably ugly. But anyway.

Again, the Colecovision sold well at first, pushed by its relatively powerful hardware and popular arcade games like Donkey Kong, a game they got through a deal they managed to make with Nintendo, beating out Atari for DK’s Western home console rights, before fading as the market fell apart. Coleco did not help matters though, because their big Colecovision addon, the Coleco Adam computer, was something of a disaster; it was repeatedly delayed and has issues. The Adam debacle helped push Coleco out of the industry, as while home computers did continue to sell in the mid ’80s people wanted ones like Commodore’s on the lower priced end or the IBM PC and Apple II on the more expensive end, not the Adam. Still, as the crash progressed Coleco tried to hold out and released more Colecovision games in 1984 than Atari did for all their systems combined, but by the end of the year it was clear that it was over. Coleco stopped making new games for their system in late ’84, before discontinuing it in mid ’85, ironically right about at the time that the NES released in the US to resurrect the console market.

Meanwhile, overseas the Colecovision made a big impact in the market at least in mindshare, if not in sales. In Japan, Sega was impressed enough that in mid 1983 they released a console that is nearly identical to the Colecovision, the first Sega console, the Sega SG-1000. The differences between the two are extremely minor, and games are extremely easy to port between the two systems, a fact homebrew developers have taken advantage of. At the same time, however, Nintendo looked at the Colecovision and had a different reaction: they decided to make a console that could beat the Coleco in graphical power. This project resulted in the Famicom, also known as the NES, and even if you look only at early Famicom/NES titles like Donkey Kong, it is easy to see how much better the NES is than the Coleco; there is only a year between the two systems in time, but the power gap is significant. However, I do not think that it is a generational power gap, not even close; it’s probably less than the gap from Dreamcast to Xbox, Wii to Xbox 360, or such. Particularly with a homebrew addon to give it more RAM the Colecovision can do some nice graphics, and I don’t think that just because it died off before the NES released it should be dumped in the same generation as consoles released five years before it; the Colecovision was clearly next-gen when it released, and just like my article from some years ago I still consider this system, and the Atari 5200 which released a few months after it, third-gen and not second.

But anyway, after its discontinuation, in the West, third party Tele-Games released a Colecovision clone called the Dina 2-in-1, and released a few new games for it between ’85 and ’87. After that, the system died out. As for the SG-1000, it only lasted from ’83 to ’87 itself. It was crushed by the Famicom, but did apparently do better than Sega’s low expectations, so they decided to continue making consoles. The SG-1000 and its computer counterpart the SC-3000 were only released in Japan and a few other nations, including France, Australia, and Italy.

Aesthetics and Design: The Colecovision may be reasonably powerful and with a surprisingly large library for a mostly short-lived system, but as I said earlier I find its design somewhat shockingly horrible. The early ’80s was able to make some nice looking electronics, but for me this is on the opposite end of the spectrum! With ugly ridges, holes for the controllers which may have been common then but look bad with controllers in them and horrible when empty, an overly large shell filled with air, and one of the largest and more unreliable power supplies ever seen on a classic home console, the Colecovision is, for me, aesthetically quite bad. The controllers are not great looking either, and feel mediocre to bad to hold. “They’re better than Intellivision” is true but is not saying all that much, unfortunately.

And unfortunately, its design has a lot of problems as well, particularly in build quality. Colecovisions are infamous for failing, and finding one in good working order, like mine fortunately is, is a rare occurrence. The power supplies handle multiple voltages and fail all the time; the video output, RF only like all systems of the time; can break; chips can fail; and more. All classic systems can die on you of course, but by all accounts the Colecovision is worse than most in build quality and reliability. Coleco cut corners anywhere they could when making these things and it shows. The controllers are no better; my console may be fortunately working perfectly, but my controllers are mostly half-broken, as both of my regular controllers have failed main fire buttons and both of my Super Action controllers have bad buttons, as is common. Other consoles of the era are also known for controller buttons failing over time, so this is not only a Coleco problem, but it can be frustrating to deal with. I mostly use my Coleco Roller Controller, a trackball which you can put controllers into and use like an arcade stick, using the stick on the controller and buttons on the trackball. It’s a good solution, but I do wish the system had a better controller. I hope upcoming homebrew projects finally bring us one.

Game Library: The Colecovision has several hundred games, with a solid library of ports of arcade games from the early ’80s and a bunch of third-party software, some ported from computers or consoles of the day and a few here and there exclusive. A paucity of exclusives is an issue on this console, however — as Coleco mostly made licensed arcade ports and third parties mostly ported games from other systems, this system has a very small exclusive library. Colecovision versions of games are often the best home versions of those games on early ’80s consoles, but when they are all downgraded from the arcade games and in this 21st century playing old arcade games is easy, this means a lot less than it did back then. Still, the Colecovision has some interesting stuff, and I do like games like Pepper II, Mr. Do, and more. It has a few interesting true exclusives as well, such as the fascinating, if highly dated, Fortune Builder. Overall I put the Colecovision in the lower tier of my consoles in that list I published recently, but part of that is because of the build quality, controllers, and paucity of exclusives; the games it does have are often pretty fun, and I do somewhat like this system. (Plus, this is the only console released in the month I was born, and that counts for something for sure.)


Atari 5200, 5200

Release and Sales Info – From Atari, released in late 1982. Game support 1982-1984 and 1986, plus scattered modern homebrew titles since the early ’00s. One million sold. I bought a 5200 in 2013.

History: The infamous Atari 5200 is the system often mentioned as one of the causes of the great videogame crash of 1983, along with other Atari moves such as their awful E.T. game. Atari was hardly blameless, as they released the 5200 with games far too similar to their 2600 games, continued to release most games on both consoles, had a pack-in title nearly identical to the 2600 version of the same game, and never really seemed to know what they wanted to do with the system before abandoning it barely over a year later. Indeed, the 5200 released in late ’82, and Atari was done in early ’84 and released only one solitary game for the console that year, with the rest of the ’84 library coming from third parties. Its sales were highly disappointing as well, as its final sales number shows — the 5200 sold a thirtieth of what the 2600 had, in the end, and was beaten out by the Odyssey 2, Colecovision, and Intellivision. The 5200 is overly large and is filled with air, has yet another vertical, Intellivision-styled controller with side fire buttons, and has a small game library. It has less homebrew support than those four other pre-crash consoles as well, excepting ports from Atari’s 8-bit computer line. And the system’s analog joysticks are a real mixed bag, with great control in games that make good use of it like Pole Position, and bad control in games which rely on digital precision, like Pac-Man.

However, despite all of its faults, I like the 5200. I admit to often looking at disliked gaming things and trying to find something to like in them, but it doesn’t always happen… but very much did here. So, the Atari 5200 released in late 1982. It is a consolized version of an Atari 400 computer, the lower end of their popular Atari 8-bit computer line that they sold for at least a decade. However, where Atari 8-bit computers use Atari 2600 joysticks, the 5200 has an all-new controller with an analog joystick, two fire buttons on each side, a keypad in that Intellivision style, and, innovatively, for the first time, a Pause button. On the controller. There are Start and Reset buttons right on the controller too. This is the first console with pausing standard in all games, and that, for me, is a big deal! That all buttons are on the gamepad and not on the system is really nice as well. With controller extension cables you can put your 5200 across the room from you with no issues; this is not the case for most consoles before it.  The first model 5200 has four controller ports as well, though no games really made use of it, and the first ever automatic RF switch; before this all consoles require you to go manually flip a switch on a box attached to the back of your TV to switch between watching TV and playing the game, but the 5200 has the first attempt at doing this automatically.  5200 auto switches are failure-prone as the tech was clearly not all there yet, so they removed it from the second model of the system in favor of a simple manual switch, but it’s a really cool thing if you have a working one, as I do.  I love not having to flip that switch to play 5200, it feels much more modern for it.

But yes, the Atari 5200 sold badly, and was badly mismanaged by Atari. Their corporate parent Warner Bros. did not understand generation transitions yet, as there hadn’t really been one yet, so they didn’t make the differences between the two systems as clear as they could have, and continued to put more focus on the 2600 than their new system. Perhaps with better marketing and choices it could have been more successful, though the controller was a barrier. I like the 5200 controller overall, but I do think that it shows why all modern controllers still have both a d-pad and an analog stick — having only the analog option does not work for all games. The 5200’s analog joystick was a great step forward compared to the digital gamepads all prior consoles had as their main control options, but having both analog and digital options probably would have been better.

But anyway, for reasons outside for Atari’s control, the crash was probably inevitable. For the crash did not only happen because of Atari, but because of the market as a whole. The absence of a licensing model for third-party games is a key component of the crash, and that model would not develop until the mid ’80s, in response to the crash. The flood of low-quality third-party software was a major driver towards the crash. Atari did not help matters by sticking to the then five or six year old 2600 for probably too long as their main focus, but even with better decisions, a correction was probably looming. The arcade game market in the US crashed at the same time as the console market, after all; the whole gaming industry dropped significantly in sales. Computer sales increased, but not by enough to make up for the whole drop.

So, when I look at the Atari 5200’s history, I think more of the things it does right, than wrong — the reasonably nice pixel graphics that have a distinct Atari style, very different from the sprite-based visuals of the TI/Coleco but just as good overall; the interesting controller which makes as many games better as worse; the system’s good looking design and style; the introduction of the standard pause button; and the games, which I quite like many of. Unlike its rival the Colecovision the Atari 5200 did not make anywhere near as much of an impact on the industry and has far fewer games, but on a subjective level I like it more all the same.

Aesthetics and Design: The Atari 5200 is big. That is everyone’s first reaction to it, and they are right: this thing is huge! The Atari 5200 has a very large, and mostly empty, case. However, design-wise I think it looks pretty good. The box is a sleekly designed wedge with some nice styling on it. The system is durable and well built as well, they can fail but are mostly reliable. I have never had an issue with Atari 5200 hardware, and I have two of them, one of each model. The cartridges are similarly absurdly oversized, maybe four or five times bigger than the otherwise identical tiny little Atari 8-bit carts that they are often ports from, but look nice. I do wish they had end-labels, but that is now a solvable problem. And thanks to its black plastic cover on the back, even if you choose not to store you controllers in the controller holder which takes up maybe a third of the unit, it still looks great, quite unlike the Intellivision or Colecovision. That cover for the controller bay was a good idea indeed. The controllers similarly look nice, and I find them a bit less uncomfortable than Intellivision controllers are; sure, they do hurt your hand after a while and these vertically-oriented controllers were a mistake, but it’s a definite improvement over the Intellivision and Colecovision. Those added Pause, Reset, and Start buttons are fantastic as well. I wish that the Sega Master System and Atari 7800 had done that, instead of putting their pause buttons on the console itself! Overall I think the controllers look nice and work alright, so long as you can find a working one with a good rubber ring around the stick — it does not center itself, so you need that to help push the stick back to the middle after you let go. I got used to this quickly, myself. You will almost certainly need to get a repaired controller, as while Atari 5200 consoles are quite durable the controllers are infamous for failing, but with a fixed up pad it’s a fun system to use, particularly for games which make use of analog well.

The Atari 5200 only has one add-on controller, but it’s a really nice one, the Atari 5200 Trak-Ball. Where the Coleco Roller Controller (trackball) is a pretty bad, slow-to-respond ball I do not like using, this one is impressively responsive. Indeed, of the old trackballs I have, for Sega Master System, Atari 2600, Colecovision, and 5200, this one is by FAR the best! Unfortunately it only works with compatible games, which are a definite subset of the already-small 5200 library, but with most Trak-Ball compatible titles, you want to play them on trackball. Games like Centipede and Missile Command are great fun with the regular controller, but are even better on trackball. The trackball is not cheap, but it’s worth the expense. It looks really nice, too, with the same stylings as the 5200 itself. The Trak-Ball is quite large, larger than some consoles in fact, but that makes for a good, comfortable platform to use the ball on.

Game Library: The Atari 5200 library of actual released titles is tiny. With its lack of success and quick abandonment, Atari did not release many games for the system and dropped the system barely a year after its release. Third parties did support the 5200 and released some pretty good games for it, but this system definitely does not have the most quantity of releases. I do, however, think that the games it does have are often high quality. Defender, Centipede with the trackball, Galaxian, Pole Position, and more are among the best games of the time! And while, due to its market failure there are not many original homebrew titles for the 5200, the 5200 does have a vast quantity of homebrew ports of Atari 8-bit computer games, and a whole bunch of cancelled prototypes and finished titles that were in the works when the console was abandoned in ’84. The three titles Atari released in ’86, to clear some produced games out of their warehouse, are good as well. The 5200 is a system where you really need more than the original library to get the most out of the console. Now, those 8-bit ports are very much a mixed bag, as the games were designed for a digital joystick so unless the person making the port changes the code they will often control somewhat awkwardly on the 5200’s analog joystick, but games which do adjust for that end up well.

On the whole, I’m sure it’s partially just being contrarian, but the 5200 is my second-favorite pre-crash console, after the Odyssey 2, and my favorite Atari console. I really do find it fun to play and collect for. However, as I said earlier, this console shows why no modern console has done away with the d-pad — you end up with this, digital controls awkwardly mapped to an analog stick not designed for that kind of game at all. Oh well. At least Atari tried something different, that’s much more interesting than just doing the safe thing every time! And it worked at least as much as it didn’t.


Nintendo Entertainment System, NES
(aka Family Computer, or Famicom / FC, in Japan)

Release and Sales Info – From Nintendo, released in mid 1983 in Japan and fall 1985 in the US (Europe later). Games released between 1983-1994, with homebrew games following. 61.91 million sold. I bought one in early 2008.

History: Japanese card and toy company Nintendo got into the videogame business in the late ’70s when they made a series of home Pong clones. After that, they started making arcade games, most notably the massive smash-hit game Donkey Kong. Nintendo then licensed their games to several American companies for home system release, including Atari for home versions of Mario Bros. and home computer versions of Donkey Kong, Coleco for home console versions of Donkey Kong and DK Jr., and others for games such as Sky Skipper on the Atari 2600. In 1982, as mentioned in the Coleco section above, Coleco convinced Nintendo to give them the license for home console versions of some of their games. After that Nintendo employees looked at the Colecovision, and as I described earlier they were impressed, but in response they decided to make something better.

And thus, the Famicom was born. It uses off-the-shelf parts, which means it does not us any custom chips, but even so was easily the most powerful console available at the time of its release, easily beating out the Colecovision and 5200. It has limitations, but with its easy expandability with mapper chips and powerful, sprite-based graphical hardware, it was an impressive technical feat at the time and its graphics and gameplay design sensibilities are very highly regarded for many good reasons. Where the Coleco has a fatal flaw in struggling to draw scrolling screens well, the NES can do so easily, particularly with those mapper chips. Where Coleco Donkey Kong clearly looks worse than the arcade game, the NES version is a very close approximation. And where Coleco, Sega, and Atari were all using late ’70s sound chips, Nintendo used something newer and better.

At first, the Famicom did well in Japan but did not overwhelm the SG-1000, its main competition. In the first year Famicom graphics were barely better than Coleco/SG-1000, and Nintendo had to recall all early systems because of a design problem. By ’84, however, things turned decisively in Nintendo’s favor, and from that point on there was no looking back. Japaense third parties started supporting the Famicom in ’84, and it quickly became the dominant gaming platform. Then, Nintendo started looking into a Western release. It finally happened in mid ’85, two years after the original release in Japan. Nintendo redesigned the case, gave it a new name, and bundled in a robot, ROB, to try to con people into thinking that the NES was a new kind of electronic toy and not another one of those discredited consoles like the Atari. They also packed in their new hit, 1985’s Super Mario Bros. It worked, and the system came to dominate the American market just like it did in Japan, just a few years behind — where in Japan the FC peaked in maybe ’85-’86, in the US it only started hitting its stride in ’87-’88. Nintendo would not see nearly as much success in Europe, however. Still, the NES would go on to sell twice what the Atari 2600 had worldwide and redefined gaming, creating some of the industry’s most enduring franchises and mascots and making it clear that Japan was one of the most important places in the world for videogame development. Indeed, while Western developers did make some NES games, almost all of the top titles are from Japan, a very different situation from consoles prior. Popular Japanese arcade games were released on consoles before, to be sure, and some, such as Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Donkey Kong were huge hits, but at that time there were also hit Western arcade games, while on the NES Japan dominated. The remaining Western game developers mostly were making home computer games at this point, not console. That situation, with Japan being dominant in console game development and the West in computer game development, would last into the ’00s.

The Famicom also had one addon, a floppy drive called the Famicom Disk System which allowed for games to save and for cheap production costs. After initially being considered for Western release, that was cancelled; instead, Nintendo introduced the concept of password and battery saving, relying on batteries welded into the cartridge instead of floppy disks. Both ways have their downsides, in terms of long-term durability, but it would be an important move, as most other consoles afterwards would start putting batteries in carts to save data, before battery-free flash memory would slowly be phased in in the ’90s and ’00s. The Famicom also had an unpopular, early computer addon only a couple of games supported, and that robot with its two games. Seven years after its release Nintendo finally released a new console, the Super NES, in 1990 (1991 in the West, six years after the US NES). The NES/FC would continue to get game support for years after that, though, with new officially licensed games for over a decade, a mark only the most successful consoles meet. Now, just selling well does not make something objectively good, but the importance and impact of the NES is impossible to deny.

Aesthetics and Design: I have never seen a Japanese Famicom in person, but it looks … okay, if very toy-like. It has hard-wired controllers and is small. In comparison, the US version, the NES, is a true classic! Designed to look like a VCR, the NES, with its front-loading cartridge slot and high-end-electronics look, made a statement at the time and still looks great today. The cart port does have durability problems, but fortunately they are fairly easy to repair or replace, and otherwise NESes are quite reliable. NES controllers are good, but not the most comfortable things; they are rectangular, with Nintendo’s innovative d-pad and buttons layout that would totally change gamepads for the better, but have very sharp corners I have always found uncomfortable. Fortunately many other NES controller options exist that are more comfortable, including the NES Max, various arcade sticks, the NES 2 controller, and more. In Japan there is also a shutter-glasses 3D headset addon, but unfortunately that wasn’t released here; it’s too bad, I’m sure it works well. All of the official accessories look good, from the light gun to the Max to the small, second-model NES 2 console, and they all work well, that first model cart port aside.

Game Library: The NES game library is huge and is one of gaming’s most popular. I loved this console as a kid, though I did not own one, and many of its games are still fantastic today. However, some things about the NES have definitely aged, including games’ propensity to be incredibly obtuse and frustrating with way too much of the “go find the thing randomly hidden in some random tile or block which there are no clues for” school of puzzle design, and the “go grind” school of RPG design. I have never liked either of those design styles much at all. Sadly few games save, either, apart from RPGs. So, while I still like the NES, I do not unreservedly love it, and it isn’t at the top of my personal all-systems list. It is in the upper part of the list, but isn’t in the top five. The NES is still great, and has a lot of outstanding games, but while some of its games are among my all-time favorites, many others have been surpassed.  Still, the best NES games are timeless classics.


Atari 7800, 7800

Release and Sales Info – From Atari, released in 1986 (after a limited test market in 1984). Games released in 1984 (test market) and 1986 to 1990 (maybe 1991 in some areas), with some modern homebrew titles in the last decade or two. About 3.77 million systems sold. I bought a 7800 in 2013.

In 1984, as the videogame market crashed, Warner Bros. gave up on their failing Atari 5200 console. The 5200 was barely over a year old, but they effectively abandoned it in early ’84, though they did not publicly say so for some months. Instead, they looked around and decided to make a new console, one designed by a company called GCC. GCC is more famous for making the very popular hit game Ms. Pac-Man for Bally Midway, the American licensor for Namco’s Pac-Man at the time, but they also designed the Atari 7800 and made its first few games. This console’s name refers to “2600 backward compatibility plus 5200 power”, though it is a quite different console from the 5200 — this system is not 5200 or Atari 8-bit computer compatible. In terms of power, the 7800 has slightly better graphical capabilities than the 5200, with full sprite support in the modern style and more, plus better support for hardware-enhancing addons. However, the 7800 also has significantly worse sound, as the audio chip is sadly identical to the Atari 2600’s. It does support sound-enhancing chips in game carts, namely the same audio chip that the Atari 5200 uses, but only two games used them so most are limited to 2600-level audio. Additionally, its two-button digital joystick has no analog option apart from a light gun that a few games use, making some games worse and others better versus the 5200, which of course is the opposite in terms of analog versus digital.

Warner Atari test marketed the 7800 in 1984 and started production, but instead of going forward, they decided to give up on the failing American console industry and sold off Atari to Jack Tramiel, previously owner of the computer company Commodore. Tramiel sold Commodore and bought Atari’s computer and console development side. At first, he mostly wanted it for their computers, but he eventually decided to get into the console business as well. Atari’s arcade game division and game developers, however, went to a separate spun-off company, Atari Games, which stayed more closely connected to Warner. This split would be crucial, as it meant that Tramiel’s Atari could not benefit from the arcade games being made by Atari Games, such as, perhaps most notably during this era, Gauntlet, Super Sprint, Vindicators, NARC, and such. Jack Tramiel had the rights to arcade games published by Atari before the split, such as Centipede, Missile Command, and such, but not those new games. After the split Atari Games would make its own home console division under the name Tengen, since Tramiel’s Atari had exclusive rights for the name outside of arcades, and vice versa in arcades. Tengen, however, during this generation exclusively supported Nintendo; Atari home and Atari arcade would not start working together again until the early ’90s.

And on top of that, Jack Tramiel was, while well off, not as wealthy as the top companies he was competing against. Tramiel’s Atari never had the kind of money of an NEC, or the reach of Nintendo. Tramiel Atari struggled with limited budgets and many, many features unrealized because they would cost too much. And of course, Tramiel was often more focused on Atari’s computer business, including the successful Atari 8-bit line and the computer he released afterwards, the Atari ST. So, the Atari 7800 had a relatively small game library, heavy on re-releases of pre-crash classics early on, followed by a thin scattering of new, albeit clearly very low-budget, games. Atari 7800 games never have battery save, or even password save, and have much smaller max cart sizes than their later NES or Master System counterparts.

However, despite all of those limitations, the Atari 7800 was a moderate success in the US and Japan, and in the US it outsold the Sega Master System by a sizable margin to finish in second place. Sure, the NES sold like fifteen times more systems, but Atari did well enough to turn a profit; the low-budget, low-investment approach worked well in the days of 8-bit consoles, and the Atari name still had some cache. Looking at its library now it is often hard to see why it did so well, but seeing it as a newer way to play peoples’ existing Atari 2600 libraries, with a few 7800 games here and there, it does make sense. People knew the Atari name, and there may be only sixty games, but plenty of them are well-made, quality titles. After initial success in its first few years, though, 7800 sales dropped in the later ’80s. Ironically, the sales declined as the system’s game library got more new games and not only old ports, so most of the more interesting 7800 games are somewhat uncommon. Oh well. Atari stopped releasing new 7800 games in 1991, and discontinued it officially on Jan. 1, 1992. Unfortunately for Jack Tramiel the low-buget approach would work much less well in the ’90s than it did in the ’80s, but that is another story.

Aesthetics and Design: The Atari 7800 is an okay-looking console, but I don’t think it has the style or beauty of the 5200. Still, it is a reasonably average box with a clasically Atari angled wedge shape, is fully backwards compatible with the 2600, and has decent, if not great, controllers. The standard 7800 controller is vertically oriented, like the Intellivision, Colecovision, and 5200, and has side fire buttons. However, with only two large fire buttons, one on each side, and no keypad, this controller is simpler than those three. The loss of the start and pause buttons on the controller than the 5200 has is quite unfortunate, though; instead this system has a pause button on the console itself. This very obnoxious design element is also seen in Sega’s console that generation, the Master System. It was likely done for controller port wiring reasons, but it is unfortunate and makes both systems worse than they should be, having to go over to your console just to pause is not good.

As for build quality, the Atari 7800 is reasonably durable, with one exception: those buttons on the console itself. The on/off and Atari 2600 control buttons on the system are sadly prone to failure, and my 7800 is among the many which have stopped working because of button failure. This is a fixable problem if you desolder the old buttons and solder in replacements, but it is annoying. The controllers seem to be durable, however. They are mushy, unprecise, and not especially comfortable, but at least the things seem to keep working.

Atari 7800 cartridges look exactly like 2600 games, just with different labels. As a result they can be easy to mistake for 2600 games until you know what you are looking for. The shape is classic, though, so it works fine.

Game Library: Because of the somewhat unique circumstances of this console, I decided to cover the game library section above, in History. But to recap, the Atari 7800 has a small, about 60-game library. This is about the same number of games that the 5200 got, but spread out over more years. The library is heavy on pre-crash ports for its first year or two, or games inspired by that kind of game. Later on it got more variety of games, but it rarely ventured beyond early-ish NES design. Additionally, since the controller is digital-only, the 5200’s analog advantage/disadvantage is lost; it’s really too bad that Atari and GCC did not think of having both analog AND digital control options available here, it would have been the better way! After all, some games benefit from each.

The games run well and plenty of the games are good, but with many multiplatform ports, not all of which are better than previous versions of the same games — Centipede suffers significantly versus the 5200 version due to its controls, for example — and exclusives which I often do not find as exciting as games on other formats, the 7800 ranks somewhat low on my list. The Atari 7800 is a decent console possibly worth owning for the right price, and it does have some interesting modern homebrew software though I do not have any of those, but I find it somewhat disappointing. Atari went for something safe with this design and it worked out reasonably well for them, but I find the bolder concept of the 5200 more interesting.


Sega Master System, SMS
(aka Mark III in Japan)

Release and Sales Info – From Sega, released in 1985 in Japan, 1986 in the US, later in Europe. Games released from 1985 to 1995 and even later in Brazil, though not in any one region; it lasted 1985-1989 in Japan, 1986-1991 in the US, and 1987-1995 in Europe, where it saw its greatest success outside of Brazil. 10-13 million sold, not including modern Brazilian clone systems, though in the US the system sold only a million systems and finished in third place in a three-way race.

History: Arcade game developer Sega’s first home console was the aforementioned, Colecovision-based SG-1000, which only released in Japan and a few Western nations but not the US. Despite eventually being absolutely crushed by the NES, the SG-1000 apparently did better than Sega’s initial low expectations, so once it faded they decided to release a successor. Called the Mark III in Japan, this console is fully backwards compatible with the SG-1000 and uses the same shape of Atari 2600-style, vertically-oriented cartridges. Before releasing the console in the rest of the world, however, Sega decided to give it a name and design change, and the Sega Master System was born. The Master System is effectively the same thing as the Mark III, it just looks different. Both have very ’80s-cool hardware designs. Master System carts are turned on end, going from vertical rectangles to horizontal ones. And the SG-1000 compatibility is gone even in nations which recieved it, since those carts are a different shape.

The Mark III is the last console of its generation, and graphically you can tell. Releasing three years after the Colecovision and two years before the PC Engine (TurboGrafx), the Mark III / Master System, as you should expect, has the best graphical capabilities of any console of its generation. Master System graphics can look pretty good. Effectively the Master System is just adding a new, powerful graphics layer on top of the core SG-1000 (Colecovision) hardware, but it works. Unfortunately, aurally the Master System uses the same TI sound chip as the SG-1000 and Colecovision before it, and it is no match for NES/Famicom audio, not even close. Sega realized this and released an FM sound addon which gives usually much better music in games which support it, but sadly the FM addon only released in Japan. Sega also released a model in Japan called the “Master System”, a Mark III in the Western-style MS shell with a built-in FM addon and 3d glasses hookup.

Despite this, facing stiff competition from the trancendant Famicom (NES), the Mark III sold poorly in Japan, failing to provide Nintendo with much competition. In America the situation was little different, and Sega’s first console here sold poorly. It did just well enough to get five years of support, but the NES outsold it thirty to one and even the Atari 7800 probably doubled its sales here. In Europe and Brazil, however, Sega found a more receptive audience, as Nintendo was much less adept at reaching those markets. In Europe they fought Nintendo to a draw, and Brazilian company TecToy managed to make the SMS one of the most popular consoles ever there. TecToy made a few games for the system as well, later on.

After the Mark III/Master System’s discontinuation in Japan, in 1990 Sega decided to release a handheld to compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy. Called the Game Gear, the system is a handheld version of the Master System, with a lower screen resolution and more colors supported on screen but otherwise identical hardware. From this point on, many games released on both GG and SMS, albeit usually on SMS only in Europe and perhaps Brazil. In 1995 Sega finally decided to discontinue the SMS in Europe, as 8-bit hardware sales there were finally fading. The system had a much longer and more successful run internationally than its failure in the US and Japan would suggest, overall.

Aesthetics and Design: The Mark III and Master System are both pretty nice looking systems, with extremely ’80s, but pretty cool, looks to them. The SMS is a nice looking system for the time. However, in terms of design it has one major flaw: just like the Atari 7800 above, the pause button is on the console! Even if this is done for button-wiring reasons, it really is unacceptable, particularly here; on the 7800, at least, all that button does is pause games, but here some games require you to pause in order to access options menus and such. So, you’ll need to be sitting right in front of your SMS in order to play games like Golvellius. It’s pretty annoying stuff.

Master System controllers are not too well thought of, and I agree with that assessment. With a somewhat mushy d-pad and buttons, Sega may have copied Nintendo’s revolutionary controller on this console, but they did not match its level of function either in button feel, responsiveness, or that missing pause button. Still, SMS controllers are decent, and do the job okay. Additionally, most SMS games support the fantastic Sega Genesis controller as well. Unfortuantely, some games, including the aforementioned Golvellius, require you to use a real SMS controller or a modified Genesis controller to play, but for the rest of the games any Genesis cotnroller will work and is highly recommended. Sega’s third console’s controller would be a dramatic improvement over their previous ones.

The Master System has multiple accessories, though they are quite mixed in quality. On the good side, the SMS light gun, the Light Phaser, is quite good, with a nice futuristic design and much better accuracy than a NES Zapper. The SMS 3-D Glasses, 3-d shutter glasses, work great as well; the 3-d imagery is surprisingly convincing. However, the Sega Sports Pad trackball is both horribly slow to move and, mystifingly, only works in analog mode with two sports games and not any of the games you’d expect a trackball to work with. It’s a pretty bad trackball. The Sega flight stick controller is strange as well; it looks like an arcade stick but backwards, wit hthe stick on the right and buttons on the left. It’s very strange as a result. Having the stick on the right works in a regular flightstick, but this isn’t one, it has no buttons on it and is not analog, so it really does not work very well here. There is also a paddle controller in Japan only; I don’t have that one.

Oh, and the Sega Master System is also somewhat infamous for its Western box-art; most of the ’80s SMS titles, including most games released in the US, have absurdly simplistic, verging on horrible, box art. It’s really in “so bad it’s good” territory a lot of the time, but seriously, Sega could have done a whole lot better than this!

Game Library: The Sega Master System library pales in comparison to the NES’s, but is solid otherwise, with a good selection of quality titles and plenty of exclusives as well as ports of many Sega arcade games. However, the early-life titles, the ones we got in the US, don’t match Nintendo quality in my opinion most of the time — though the light gun games are better than Nintendo’s for sure, and some others — and the later games only released in Europe are often cheap, simplistic licensed cash-ins. Indeed, the SMS has something of a split personality. Where its early games are usually super-hard games in that classic style, a lot of the later SMS/GG titles are easy and slight titles most people will get though without much trouble. There are exceptions to this of course, but it is often true. I am a critic of the quality of the Game Gear’s library; I think a lof its games just are not very good. These games are often much better on the SMS than they are on Game Gear, as the greater screen visibility of its higher resolution means a lot in platformers for example, but the core games are still often lower-quality licensed cash-in titles from second-rate external teams such as Aspect. Sega made many fewer of its handheld games in-house than Nintendo did, and I think that you can tell the difference. So, overall I think that the SMS has an alright library and it certainly has plenty of good games, but as someone without any nostalgia for the system since like most Americans everyone I knew with a console that generation had a NES, it’s still in the (upper part of the) lower third of my list. I know this is a subjective thing, though.


My Personal Overall Ranking Of These Systems:

1. NES – This is no contest, the NES is one of the all-time greats. With a massive library of some of the best and most influential games ever made, the NES had an impact on this industry few systems get even close to and while some of its games have aged, many are as fun today as they ever were.

2. Atari 5200 – I know most people would not agree with this one, but there’s something about this system that I really like. The analog controller is interesting and makes as many games better as it makes worse, and that trackball is probably the best one I’ve ever used! It’s a nice-looking system too, and having the first automatic RF switch (finicky as it is) and pause button on the controller are appreciated as well.

3. Sega Master System – With a reasonably large library of games and plenty of interesting hardware features, the Master System easily comes in third. I don’t love this system like the NES, but it can be pretty good.

4. Colecovision – While the Colecovision is arguably the most important system on this list in terms of industry impact, and its libary includes plenty of good games, between the awful controllers, incredibly ugly console, dearth of exclusives, and that signature lack of smooth scrolling seen in all of the systems with this TI graphics chip, while I have definitely had fun with the Colecovision I can’t put it any higher on this list than this.

5. Atari 7800 – The Atari 7800 was a financial success for Atari and has some pretty good games. Beyond that, though, between its awful audio, limited controller, and small, often unimpressive game library, for me this system takes up the rear here. Sure, if my 7800 worked better that would be great, but I doubt it would move it up this list any; the competition is too strong.

Posted in Atari 5200, Atari 7800, Classic Games, Colecovision, Game Opinion Summaries, NES, Reviews, Sega Master System | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pendulous review update – 16-bit emulator and full game release

I wrote a review of Pendulous in August 2015.  In February 2017, the games’ original creator found my review and decided to release the full game for free in response.  That was a very nice thing to do and I have been enjoying the full game ever since, but I never made a post about it, I only mentioned it in that article.  Now, however, I have made anther find related to this game, one which makes this little update quite valuable: there’s now a way to play Pendulous, with no problems, in 64-bit Windows 10!  Yes, it’s true, and it’s because of an emulator called OTVDM.  So, I went back to my Pendulous review and lightly edited it to add in mentions of these two important items, mention of the release of the full game, and to cover that emulator I learned about recently that runs 16-bit Windows applications. A few spelling errors were also corrected. The rest of the review has been left as it is.

The review is here: http://www.blackfalcongames.net/?p=225

The links to OTVDM and the full game are in the links section at the end of the article.

Posted in Classic Games, PC, Updates | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Opinion List: Update to the Consoles Ranking List and new Platform Favorite Games Lists ‘new’ platforms

In 2015, I made a list of how much I like all of the consoles I had at the time. Additionally, that list also includes lists of my favorite games for every console I own.  I did not attempt to make an overall-favorites list because that would be too hard, so this will have to do because this new update is the same way.

In the four years since,  I have gotten quite a few more platforms, so I thought that while I work on my ongoing game opinion summaries lists, the time has come for an update to that article. There are things to like about every console and ranking them is a somewhat silly enterprise, but it’s fun to do anyway so here a list is.

Now, while I have bought games, in some cases many games, for all but a few of the consoles I had as of 2015, I am not going to redo the ‘my favorite games’ lists for most of the consoles I covered in the first article. Instead, for now I will just make lists for the new platforms. I could add games to the old lists, but for the most part they still stand as good summations of what I think of most of those consoles. The only exception is the 3DS, whose list has changed so much that I need a new one, so that is below.

The other platforms that I have bought over the last four years and will make ‘my favorite games’ lists below for are: 3DO, Atari Jaguar, Colecovision, Mattel Intellivision, Nintendo Switch, Nokia N-Gage, Philips CD-i, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Tiger R-Zone, Wii U, and Xbox One.

Console Ranking List

1. Nintendo 64, N64
2. (tie) Super Nintendo, SNES
2. (tie) Sega Genesis, Gen (with Sega CD, SCD & Sega 32X, 32X)
3. Nintendo DS, DS
4. Game Boy, GB
5. TurboGrafx-16, TG16 (with Turbo CD, TCD)
6. Gamecube, GC
7. Dreamcast, DC
8. Nintendo 3DS, 3DS
9. NES
10. Wii U
11. Wii
12. Odyssey 2, O2
13. Nintendo Switch, NS
14. Game Boy Advance, GBA
15. Atari 5200, 5200
17. Atari 2600, 2600
18. Xbox 360, X360
16. Saturn, SS
19. Xbox
20. Neo Geo Pocket Color
21. Virtual Boy, VB
22. Game Boy Color, GBC
23. Xbox One, XONE
24. 3DO
25. Atari Jaguar, JAG
26. PlayStation Portable, PSP
27. Sega Master System, SMS
28. PlayStation, PSX, PS1
29. Colecovision, CVIS
30. PlayStation Vita, PSV
31. Game Gear, GG
32. Atari 7800, 7800
33. Mattel Intellivision, INTV
34. Philips CD-i, CDI
35. PlayStation 3, PS3
36. Nokia N-Gage, NNG
37. PlayStation 2, PS2
38. Tiger R-Zone (if you count this as a console)

If you compare this to the old list, you will see that most systems stay in the same places they were before with only a few exceptions. Those are, first, I moved the 3DS way up the list. While the 3DS is not quite the equal of the DS or Game Boy, it is a fantastic system I still use every day. The system is now fading out, but lasted into 2019 and has a larger and better library than it did four years ago, and also I have played more of the games.
Second, I moved the Atari 2600 up a few spots, above the Saturn and Xbox 360. Those systems are both pretty good, but while I really do prefer the 5200 to the 2600, the 2600 has a lot of games which are still very fun. All systems age over time, but today the 2600 is well under-rated and deserves to be remembered.

Otherwise, it is mostly the same as the old list. I’d like to make some comments on where the new systems fall on the list, though. A few of these were tough choices, and I’m far from certain about the best order of a few parts. Most notably, I’m torn between the Wii and Wii U, and also I’m not entirely sure about the order in the new Xbox One, 3DO, and Jaguar block. I went with the Wii U over the Wii, despite the Wii’s far larger library, because in the last few years since I got it I have played a lot more Wii U than Wii, and while the Wii absolutely has a vastly larger and better game library, if you compare only the top games the Wii U is right there with it, or better; nothing on the Wii has addicted me like Mario Maker.

As for the Xbox One’s placement, it’s a very good system in a lot of ways, but the game library holds it back; with very few exclusives and often underwhelming first-party offerings, it has to go lower than the other Xboxes. I decided to put it over the 3DO and Jaguar, despite it probably having fewer exclusive games than either of them, because on the whole, including the games and services, it’s an impressive system. As for the 3DO and Jag, as per my 3DO-Jaguar-32X list from a bit ago the 3DO probably has to go above the Jaguar, though I do find the Jag’s oddness quite charming, and can definitely make a case or the Jag being better, based on that I value games I really like over having the largest library and the Jag has an all-time classic in Tempest 2000.  The 3DO has other factors in its favor, though, so it is very close between the two of them. Either way on that, the two are pretty close so I put them next to eachother, at the right point in the list. There are things I like about the Jaguar, but it’s too flawed to finish higher on the list than it is, unfortunately.

Lastly, I was somewhat torn between the Intellivision and CD-i for fifth worst. Putting the PS3, N-Gage, and R-Zone in the bottom five were easy calls, but deciding between those two for numbers 33 and 34 was much harder. I ended up deciding that the Intellivision edged out the CD-i because even though the CD-i has better controllers and far better framerates in most of its games, I rarely enjoy the kind of games the CD-i is best at, video-heavy titles, so I find the Intellivision’s best games to be better than anything I have played on CD-i. Thus the Intellivision narrowly avoids being in the bottom group.

As for the Colecovision, I could understand why some people would put it much higher on the list, but while I like some things on it for sure and it was definitely a very important system for the industry, for now I think it’s in the right place. If I get a better controller for it someday and some more games it could move up, though.

It’s hard to rank consoles. I like most of the systems on this list in some way or another, after all; only the bottom four are systems I really all-around dislike. For quite a few of these systems I look at their placement and think ‘this should go higher’, but you can’t move everything higher all of the time, so I guess this will have to do.

Platform Specific Lists for Consoles Not in the Old List Or Significantly Changed

Note, this list is alphabetical by platform.

3DO

1. Star Control II
2. StarFighter
3. Samurai Shodown
4. Return Fire
5. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Slayer
6. BattleSport
7. Super Street Fighter II Turbo
8. The Incredible Machine
9. Blade Force
10. Shockwave 2: Beyond the Gate

Honorable Mentions: Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Star Wars: Rebel Assault, D, Gex, Shanghai: Triple Threat, The Need for Speed, Road Rash, Soccer Kid, Myst, PO’ed. Not on my list, but noteworthy: Out of this World, Flashback, Alone in the Dark 1 and 2.

Atari Jaguar and Jaguar CD

1. Tempest 2000
2. Jeff Minter Classics (Homebrew Release)
3. Iron Soldier
4. Zoop
5. Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands (CD)
6. I-War
7. Cybermorph
8. Club Drive
9. Val D’Isere Skiing and Snowboarding
10. Blue Lightning (CD)

Colecovision

1. Mr. Do!
2. Nova Blast
3. Pepper II
4. Linking Logic
5. Omega Race
6. Space Fury
7. Gateway to Apshai
8. Zaxxon
9. Defender
10. Venture
11. Miner 2049er

Honorable Mentions: Time Pilot, Space Panic, Fortune Builder, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior, Looping.

Mattel Intellivision

1. Snafu
2. BurgerTime
3. Demon Attack
4. Atlantis
5. Space Spartans
6. Microsurgeon
7. B-17 Bomber
8. Loco-Motion
9. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
10. Pinball
11. Bomb Squad

Honorable Mentions: Vectron, Tennis, Lock ‘n Chase, Dragonfire, Bowling, Venture.

Nintendo Switch

For this system I’m going to list new games and classic ports or remakes seprately. First, new games.

1. Super Mario Maker 2
2. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
3. Super Mario Odyssey
4. Splatoon 2
5. Tetris 99
6. Collection of Mana (for the first English version of Mana 3!)
7. Gunlord X (DC homebrew port but I’ll count it)
8. Puyo Puyo Tetris
9. Mario & Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
10. Kirby Star Allies
11. Xenoblade Chronicles 2
12. Blossom Tales
13. Starlink: Battle for Atlas

Honorable Mentions: Nine Parchments, Super Bomberman R, Fire Emblem Warriors, Shining Resonance Refrain, Kamiko, Daemon X Machina, Fire Emblem: Two Houses, Dragon Quest Builders, Octopath Traveler, Mega Man 11, Mutant Mudds Collection, Golf Peaks, Party Crashers, Sweet Witches, Jumping Joe & Friends

Nintendo Switch classic remakes, re-releases, or enhanced re-releases:

1. SEGA AGES: Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)
2. ACA NeoGeo: The Last Blade 2
3. Collection of Mana (for Final Fantasy Adventure)
4. SEGA AGES: Lightening Force: Quest for the Darkstar
5. ACA NeoGeo: Blazing Star
6. SEGA AGES: Virtua Racing
7. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap
8. ACA NeoGeo: Aero Fighters 2
9. SEGA AGES: Phantasy Star
10. Johnny Turbo’s Arcade – Gate of Doom & Johnny Turbo’s Arcade – Wizard Fire
11. Wild Guns Reloaded

And many more!

Nokia N-Gage

1. Pathway to Glory
2. System Rush
3. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater

Honorable Mentions: The games probably worth playing are mostly games I don’t have — Civilization, Rifts, Pathway to Glory 2, and such. Of the other games I have, I guess Super Monkey Ball is vaguely of note.

Philips CD-i

1. Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon
2. Link: The Faces of Evil
3. Laser Lords
4. Accelerator
5. Inca
6. The Apprentice
7. Lucky Luke

Honorable Mentions: Jigsaw, Defender of the Crown, Lords of the Rising Sun, Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace; non-games or edutainment: A National Parks Tour, Treasures of the Smithsonian, Time-Life Presents 35mm Photography, Mother Goose: Hidden Pictures, Richard Scarry’s Busiest Neighborhood Disc Ever, etc…

PlayStation 3

1. Wipeout HD
2. 3D Dot Game Heroes
3. Dragon’s Crown
4. Thexder Neo
5. R-Type Dimensions
6. MotorStorm: Apocalypse
7. Trails of Cold Steel
8. MotorStorm
9. Disgaea 3
10. After Burner Climax

Honorable Mentions: MotorStorm: Pacific Rift, Deception IV: Blood Ties, Nitroplus Blasterz, Battle Princess of Arcadias, Mamorukun Curse!, Resogun, Warhawk, Under Night In-Birth EXE:Late, Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, Aegis of Earth, Mugen Souls Z, Lair, Tales of Xilia, Demon’s Souls, White Knight Chronicles II, Sports Champions; PS Minis: Trailblazer, Fortix, Echoes. There are many more JRPGs on this system I haven’t played that are potentially worthy of note as well, though quite a few are also on PC now.

PlayStation Vita

1. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
2. TxK
3. Wipeout 2048
4. Summon Night 6: Lost Borders
5. Ys: Memories of Celceta
6. BlazBlue: ChronoPhantasma Extend
7. Grand Kingdom
8. ClaDun: This Is Sengoku
9. Exist Archive: The Other Side of the Sky
10. Utuwarerumono: Mask of Deception

Honorable Mentions: Operation Babel: New Tokyo Legacy, Utuwarerumono: Mask of Truth, Senran Kagura: Estival Versus, Soul Sacrifice, Ragnarok Odyssey, Persona 4 Golden, Touhou Double Focus, StarDrone Extreme, Stranger of Sword City.

Tiger R-Zone

1. Batman & Robin

I only have one game for this system, still, so it is simultaneously its best and worst game! (I’m sure it’s not the worst though, this game’s got a little more to it than some R-Zone games seem to.)

Wii U

The top five on this system are so amazing they vault it high on the list of best systems ever (plus, for most but not me, Zelda: Breath of the Wild).

1. Super Mario Maker
2. Super Mario 3D World
3. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
4. Splatoon
5. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
6. Xenoblade Chronicles X
7. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
8. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
9. Sonic: Lost World
10. RUSH

Honorable Mentions: Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars (a fantastic game now crippled by its online level trading being shut down), DuckTales Remastered, Rayman Legends, Art of Balance, Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara, Mario Kart 8, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Star Fox Guard, Hyrule Warriors, Skylanders Swap Force, Skylanders Giants, Axiom Verge, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (also on 3DS).

Xbox One

1. Rare Replay
2. Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions
3. Tempest 4000
4. Samurai Shodown (2019)
5. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
6. Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition
7. Goat Simulator
8. Dead or Alive 5: Last Round
9. Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate
10. Cuphead

Honorable Mentions: Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon 3, For Honor, Destiny, Destiny 2, Dead or Alive 6, Inside, Moto Racer 4, ReCore, ONRUSH, TrackMania Turbo, Race the Sun, Crimson Dragon, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (also on Switch, PC), Anthem.

Nintendo 3DS (Updated List)

I will really, really miss dedicated handhelds, the Switch is not the same at all compared to this amazing system!

1. Fire Emblem Awakening
2. Etrian Odyssey Nexus
3. Picross 3D Round 2
4. Fire Emblem Fates
5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
6. Super Mario Maker for 3DS
7. WarioWare Gold
8. Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan
9. Picross e [series]
10. Ever Oasis
11. Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition
12. SubaraCity
13. Kid Icarus Uprising
14. Color Zen
15. Metroid: Samus Returns
16. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
17. Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth

Honorable Mentions: Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, Mario & Luigi: Tipping Stars, SEGA 3D Classics: OutRun, Parascientific Escape: Cruise on the Distant Seas, Crashmo, Chicken Wiggle, BoxBoy! and its sequels, more Sega 3D Classics titles (Super Hang-On, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Space Harrier, Streets of Rage 2, etc…), Luxor, The Legend of Legacy, Mario Kart 7, Tetris Axis, 7th Dragon: Code VFD, Paper Mario Sticker Star, Super Mario 3D Land, Sonic Lost World, Hyrule Warriors Legends, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, Mutant Mudds, and lots more.

Posted in 3DO, Articles, Atari Jaguar, Classic Games, Colecovision, Intellivision, Modern Games, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, Nokia N-Gage, Philips CD-i, PlayStation 3, PS Vita, Tiger R-Zone, Wii U | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Console Opinion Summaries For My Systems – Introduction, Table of Contents, and the First and Second Generations

Yes, it’s something new again and not what I was talking about. Well, I think this is more interesting than discussing a bunch of sports games and such. I will get to that, but first, this is something I’ve been thinking about here and there for a long time but never made. Yes, it is like a Game Opinion Summaries list, but for all the consoles I own. I’ve got a fairly sizable collection now!

When it comes to computers I will discuss them in brief, but I cannot cover the breadth of the PC’s history and library here, so I won’t try. I chose “Console Opinion Summaries” for a reason; I love PC gaming a whole lot, but that would be a topic beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say, the PC is the best gaming platform and always has been my favorite. Comparing that to consoles, which each have a limited life, is not entirely fair. I could compare each operating system or such, but instead I’ll just mention the PC very briefly and mostly focus on the consoles I own in this list, and the one classic computer I have as well since I exclusively use it for games.

Format: My plan is to put one console generation in each article. This first one includes the second generation, the earliest one I have systems for, plus a bit about the time before that. Each article begins with a section discussing that generation of consoles, before breaking down into summaries covering each platform. Each platform summary has four parts: first a paragraph saying who made the console, when it was released, and how long it was supported for, and then sections for the systems’ history, design, and game library.


Table of Contents For This Series

 

Please note: for the dates listed below, the first date is the system’s first release year anywhere in the world. The second date in parenthesis, if present, is the release year in North America, where I live if it is different from the first year.

An addon is a platform which attaches to a previously released console, increasing its hardware abilities. If a system is an addon I note that below. Addons are currently listed with the generation that their base platform released in, though I could see changing this at some point in the future; it is debatable.

First Generation Overview
(none)

Second Generation Overview
Atari 2600, 2600 1977
Odyssey2 / Videopac, O2 1978
Texas Instruments TI-99/4 & TI-99/4A 1979 (1981 for the TI99/4A model; the original, rarer, TI99 model released in ’79.)
Mattel Intellivision, INTV 1979 test market, 1980 wide release
Game & Watch 1980
PC 1981
Overall Generation Ranking

Third Generation (in a separate article on this site)
Third Generation Overview
Colecovision, CVIS – 1982
Atari 5200, 5200 – 1982
NES (Famicom) – 1983 (1985 US)
Atari 7800, 7800 – 1984 (1986 full release)
Sega Master System, SMS – 1985 (1986 US)
Overall Generation Ranking

Fourth Generation (in a separate article on this site)
Fourth Generation Overview
TurboGrafx-16, TG16 – 1987 (1989)
Genesis, Gen – 1988 (1989)
TurboGrafx-CD, TCD – 1988 (1989) (TurboGrafx-16 addon)
Game Boy, GB – 1989
Phillips CD-i, CDI – 1991 US (1992 JP/EU)
Game Gear, GG – 1990 (1991)
Super NES, SNES – 1990 (1991)
Sega CD, SCD – 1991 (1992) (Sega Genesis addon)
Sega 32X, 32X and Sega 32X CD, 32X CD – 1994 (Sega Genesis addon)
Fourth Generation Consoles Ranking

The rest below is so far to be written.

Fifth Generation
Atari Jaguar, JAG 1993
3DO 1993
PlayStation, PSX, PS1 1994 (1995)
Saturn, SS 1994 (1995)
R-Zone 1995
Virtual Boy, VB 1995
Atari Jaguar CD, JCD 1995 (Atari Jaguar addon)
Nintendo 64 1996
Game Boy Color 1998
Neo Geo Pocket & Neo Geo Pocket Color 1998 (1999 for the Neo Geo Pocket Color model that I have)
Wonderswan, WS 1999
Nintendo 64DD, N64DD 1999

Sixth Generation
Dreamcast, DC 1998 (1999)
PlayStation 2, PS2 2000
Wonderswan Color, WSC 2000
Xbox 2001
Game Boy Advance, GBA 2001
GameCube, GCN 2001

Seventh Generation
N-Gage, NNG 2003
Nintendo DS, NDS 2004
Xbox 360 2005
PSP 2004 (2005)
Wii 2006
PlayStation 3 2006
[Nintendo DSi, NDSi – DD (DSiWare) 2008]

Eighth Generation
Nintendo 3DS + 3DS DD (eShop) Combined Total 2011
PlayStation Vita 2011 (2012)
Wii U 2012
Xbox One, XONE 2013
Nintendo Switch, NS 2017 (provisional placement in 8th gen)

So, here is the section in this article.

Table of Contents for this Article

 

First Generation Overview
(no systems)
Second Generation Overview
Atari 2600, 2600 1977
Odyssey2 / Videopac, O2 1978
Texas Instruments TI-99/4 & TI-99/4A 1979 (1981 for the TI99/4A model; the original, rarer, TI99 model released in ’79.)
Mattel Intellivision, INTV 1979 test market, 1980 wide release
Game & Watch 1980
PC 1981
Overall Generation Ranking

 

First Generation Overview

 

The first generation of game consoles started in 1972 with the release of the Magnavox Odyssey, and consisted of the Odyssey 1, designed by engineer Ralph Baer, and later on numerous home Pong systems and Pong clones from many manufacturers, based on Atari’s breakout hit arcade game Pong. I have seen a few home Pongs for sale in stores, but have never used one myself; I was born in the early 1980s, but my first gaming experiences were in arcades and on the PC and NES, not first or second generation consoles. Perhaps oddly, growing up I did not know anyone with any console older than a NES, so while I knew of Pong and the second generation consoles, I had not used them myself until the ’00s. So while I have read about these systems I’ve never used one so it will not have a large section here. Determining the origins of electronic gaming is a quite interesting endeavor, look it up. But while there is history in this article, retelling game history isn’t my focus here, covering platforms I actually have experienced is, so I will move on. Someday I probably will get some home Pongs, it might be neat to have.


 

Second Generation Overview

Continuing from the above, when I did go back in the ’00s to try Atari games, first in emulated re-releases and then more recently when I started collecting the actual consoles, I found them interesting. At their best, second generation games are simple and repetitive but fun experiences. These are not games I often play for hours, but that’s fine; having very fun games you can play for a few minutes before moving on to something else has a place too, without question. When these games start getting more complex I think they often struggle, but the simpler games dominate and many of them are good.

The second generation started in 1976. At first sales were slow, but they picked up in 1980 after the release of Space Invaders. 1982 and 1983 particularly saw a massive growth of software and hardware, as the industry boomed both in arcades and at home. It was not sustainable, however, and the American console and arcade industries crashed in the famous Video Game Crash of 1984. Computer gaming grew during this period, but while growing, computer sales were far lower than console sales had been; many people simply stopped playing games for some years. The crash had multiple causes, including that there was no licensing system for console games yet so third party game publishers did not pay first party console owners anything and that quality control got very low in 1982-1983, causing a massive glut of very similar, and often low quality, games. Perhaps some people were tiring of the kinds of games available as well, and others moved over to computers, as the Commodore 64, particularly, released in 1983 and was a big hit in the mid ’80s selling millions of systems. At this point many manufacturers thought that computer-console hybrids were the future, and almost everyone tried making them. Most failed.

During the crash most hardware and software publishers folded, and most consoles went out of production, but after it, as home console gaming recovered in 1986, several of the more popular pre-crash consoles came back. This gave the Atari 2600 new life, particularly, and the Intellivision as well. Overall, this is an interesting era in gaming. A lot of people today ignore everything before the NES, deeming the games too simple to be worth their time, but I don’t agree at all; sure, as I said, yes, pre-crash games are simple, but they are often great fun! Seeing the origins of the industry are interesting as well, as people tried things, not knowing if they would work or not, because there was no textbook for how to make a console or a game; you just had to make things and see if it worked. It can be fascinating stuff.

Here, I should put a note — while most online lists consider the new consoles of 1982 to be part of the second generation, as per my article on this site years ago I disagree, and I’m sticking to that. So, the Atari 5200 and Colecovision, despite being pre-crash systems, will be covered in the third generation article. The Intellivision is really an in-between system, but as it released closer to the Atari 2600 than it did the Colecovision — the Intellivision test market was two years after the Atari 2600 and two and a half before the Colecovision — I’m leaving that in the second gen. It’s kind of a judgment call but I think it makes sense.

Despite that, many consoles released in the second generation. I have the most popular ones, including three consoles and one, kind of two, computer platforms. I have written articles on my site before covering games from all of these platforms except for the Game & Watch, but now I’ll discuss them again, focusing on the systems in general this time instead of the specific games.


Atari 2600

Release and Sales Info: Release and Sales Info: From Atari, released 1977; discontinued 1992; final game release 1990 (1992 in Europe). Additionally there are a very large number of unlicensed modern homebrew games released for the 2600, starting in the later ’90s. 30 million systems sold, not including modern clone systems. I purchased one in 2013. I remember seeing the 2600 during its later life, but never actually played one until I bought it.

History: I covered a fair amount of Atari history in the second generation overview above, but to summarize, the Atari 2600, originally called the Atari Video Computer System or VCS, was the first hit video game console. It was not the first console with interchangeable game cartridges with ROM chips on them, that was the Fairchild Channel F, but it brought the game console into American homes in a way that would not happen again until the NES. In the US the Atari 2600 outsold all other consoles before the NES by at least ten to one, so they dominated the industry. As I said earlier, its first years were slower. There were no third-party games at all in the ’70s, and first party software ramped up in volume over time. Again, the boom years of ’82 and ’83 provide a large percentage of the overall Atari 2600 library.

As for its hardware, the Atari 260was designed for simple games like Pong and Combat. It can draw blocky background graphics, two “paddle” objects, a “ball” object, and a “missile” object. And that is it. It draws a line at a time, from the top of the screen down, matching a CRT TV’s electron gun. This extremely simple hardware is seen in the earlier 2600 games. Developers eventually realized that the system was actually very highly customizable, however. Using clever programming tricks, changing what the system is drawing on a per-line basis, and such, Atari programmers did feats seemingly impossible compared to early titles like Combat. These games that push the hardware often do have very large amounts of flicker, which is at times pretty distracting, but still this system was the first console that allowed for such variable outcomes in results based on how good, and knowledgeable, the programmer working on the game was. Games like Solaris seriously impress. The Atari 2600 allows for add-on processors on cartridges, as well, so games can put additional chips on the cart. Few titles from its original life do, but many modern homebrew games use powerful co-processors to allow for significantly better graphics than stock hardware can do.

But to return to the system’s history, after that peak came a hard fall. In 1983 came the crash, a rapid decline, the sale of Atari from Warner to Jack Tramiel, and the unique situation of a system going away for over a year — there were no first party games and only one third party 2600 release in 1985 — and then suddenly returning afterwards for a second life as a lower-priced system with a steady stream of new games. The late-era 2600 games often are pretty interesting, and provide some of the system’s better titles. The system continued to sell, too, so many are not hard to find. Atari finally stopped making games for the 2600 in 1990, and that was its last year of support here in the US. A couple of final third party games released in Europe in 1992, and at the beginning of that same year Atari officially discontinued the platform. It is still an extremely influential system that any gamer should try.

Aesthetics and Design: The original Atari 2600 has an iconic look, with a ridged, fake woodgrain top and the cartridge at an angle at the back, label facing away from you. In fact, the cartridge ports are on the back of the system, and controller cables are extremely short in all of these pre-crash consoles so you will need the system very close to where you are sitting. The backwards cartridges are unfortunate, many of these games have nice artwork on the carts you can’t look at while playing. Additionally, the 2600 has switches on the console itself you will need to use during play, to select which game mode you want to play, to start and restart games, set the difficulty, and more. Some games require using the switches during play as well, for options menus and such. You cannot pause a game in progress, though; that would be a later innovation. These early consoles were intended to sit on the floor, but if, like most collectors today, you don’t want to do that you will either need a setup which allows you to sit close to the system, as I kind of have, or will need to take it out when using it. This is an inconvenient issue with all of these consoles and it is worth mentioning. My solution is to have a small multi-shelf unit near the chairs in the room for the consoles that need to be close to the seats, and that works for me.

Anyway, the Atari 2600 looks okay and the look is definitely memorable, but I’ve always thought it looks kind of bland. Of the pre-crash consoles this is definitely not one of the better looking ones in my book. It’s far from the worst, but is average looking at best. I know some people love this design, but I’m just not a big fan. The controllers have a stiff joystick which barely moves and one button. They are okay once you get used to how little that stick moves, but like many people I would recommend using a Sega Genesis controller instead — they are fully compatible with the 2600 and I like the feel much more. In addition to its regular controller the 2600 has several alternate controllers, among which I have the paddle controllers, driving controller, keypad, and kids’ controller. The paddle controllers are the most important, as they are fantastic and many of the games that require them are among the system’s best.

Game Library: As befitting it success, of the pre-crash consoles the Atari 2600 has by far the most games. With hundreds of games releasing during its 14-year active life in the US and numerous homebrew games from fans releasing in the decades since, the Atari 2600 has by far the largest and, by most metrics, best library of the pre-crash consoles. I like the 2600 and its games, but despite its massive numerical advantage this system is not my favorite second-gen console. Still, it is a quite good one. The system’s shooters are particularly good, but racing games and maze games also stand out. Those were some of the top genres of the time and the 2600 has great games in all of them. And again those games for the paddle controllers are really cool, the paddles are great. I love the driving controller too, it’s a real shame that only one game was made for it. The 2600 has fantastic variety across many genres and types of games. I do find the simpler ones often hold up better than games that try for more complexity than the system can easily handle, but some games pull off impressively complex designs well so this varies. This is a very under-rated system today, give it a try.


Odyssey2 / Videopac, O2

Release and Sales Info – From Magnavox, later Philips-Magnavox, or Philips in Europe. Released 1978 (late 1978 in Europe, perhaps early 1979 in the US, later Japan), discontinued 1983, final game release that same year, though Europe did get an enhanced followup system, the Videopac+, that lasted into early 1984. In the last few decades homebrew developers have brought this system back to life. 2 million sold, probably about a million each in the US and Europe. I purchased one in 2012.

History The strange and fascinating Odyssey2 released the year after the Atari 2600. Ralph Baer’s first Odyssey, the system which invented the concept of playing electronic games on your home television, released in 1972 and only could play the games built in to it, modifiable a bit by jumper cards. Baer designed it for the company he worked for, Sanders & Associates, and it was manufactured and sold by then-major American home TV manufacturer Magnavox. It sold some, but Atari’s Pong and home Pongs ended up outselling it. In 1974, European electronics giant Phillips bought Magnavox, but they continued using the Magnavox name in the US for years. Several years later the company decided to release another console, and designed a new system in-house. The Odyssey 2 is, like the Atari 2600 and Channel F before it, a console with programmable ROM carts. The O2 has some odd design decisions, as I will get into later, but it was groundbreaking in at least one sense — the O2 is the first video game console with an Intel CPU. The O2 never succeeded at competing with Atari on an even level but did do okay, far behind Atari but in the upper tier of the other systems.

Despite this, the O2 did not sell enough for third parties to want to make many games for it in the games boom of ’82-’83, so the O2 has very few third party games. Additionally, Magnavox was cheap and put little money into game development, so only a few people made most of the games during its original life. This leads to many games having similar feels, and probably contributed to unique touches such as the O2 staple of games which have only one life — when you die the game is over, you can type your name in on the keyboard on the console, and start over. Of course none of those names will be saved, but it can be amusing anyway. This style takes getting used to but I think it works great. Additionally, most O2 games are original titles; Magnavox only ever licensed one single arcade game for porting to the O2, presumably partially because Atari dominated in getting those contracts but also probably in order to save money, for Coleco showed that an aggressive company could get arcade rights if they wanted. No O2 game has ever been legally re-released and the system’s great, surprisingly comfortable joystick with eight little notches you can lock the stick in and a single button is not quite the same as anything else, so there is definitely reason to want to collect for this console. The O2 does not have a reprogrammable flash cart, either — if you want to play all the games on real hardware you will need at least some real carts, there is a cart with all of Magnavox’s games but the many modern homebrew releases require actual carts. And yes, the O2 has a small but active homebrew community, releasing games on real carts for the system to this day.

However, the O2 has a somewhat strange design. Most notably, unlike the Atari or most other consoles, you cannot just draw an image to the screen and have the O2 draw it. Instead, the O2 can only display a couple of custom sprites, more characters from the systems’ limited, built-in graphics set, and an either solid or grid background about 9 blocks wide and 8 high. So, while the O2 runs in as high or higher a screen resolution than the 2600, it may be hard to tell when you look at the giant blocks in games like Breakout!/Brickdown! in comparison to Breakout on the 2600, or the much less impressive city of O2 Atlantis. Also unlike the Atari, the system can do what it can do, and can’t do what it can’t; there is no “Racing the Beam” here. On the Odyssey2, very much unlike the Atari, sprites will never flicker and there is never slowdown… but you also will never see anything as impressive as 2600 Solaris or Moonraker. I find the O2 graphical style charming and the speed and fluidity of the games makes them play well, but it has its positives and negatives for sure. Aurally, the system’s speaker produces less varied sound than the Atari as well, though the The Voice addon’s speech synthesizer is really cool in the games that support it.

Aesthetics and Design: The games themselves may be an acquired taste, but few will deny how amazing North American Odyssey2 box-art and copy writing is! Indeed, if you’re collecting North American O2 games, the O2 is one of those few consoles where you will want to try to collect every game complete in box if possible, because the box art is just incredible late ’70s to early ’80s stuff. With flying laser-lines, neon, ‘flying’ images, and more, it looks like a vision of the future, ’70s/early ’80s style and it’s amazing. O2 games probably have my overall favorite box art of any console’s boxes. Unfortunately the European boxes are much less impressive, but still, those American boxes are quite something. The system itself is nice looking too. It’s not amazing looking, but with a silvery color and decently nicely shaped design, the O2 is a good-looking piece of electronics. Unfortunately most system have hard-wired controllers, but I have found the controllers extremely reliable and durable so this is rarely an issue. The consoles themselves seem to be very well built as well. Mine does have an issue with the power port, but that’s easily fixed and the system still works fine. And looking online, you see much less complaining about broken O2s than other contemporary consoles, so I think Magnavox must have put good attention into their build quality. The carts are good too. They have handles on the top for easy carrying, and a spring-backed metal piece covering the pins at the bottom, to help keep the carts clean. It does seem to help. Overall, with a good-looking console, a controller that is far more comfortable than it looks, good reliability, and some of the best box art ever the O2 does very well in this category.

Game Library: I discussed the O2’s hardware limitations above, but within those limitations developers made some impressive games on the O2. Where Atari tried to directly convert arcade games, most Magnavox titles may have been inspired by those arcade games but take a unique and sometimes great spin on the title. I find either K.C. Munchkin title to be a better maze game than any game in the genre on the 2600 and some of the best games of the generation as well; UFO! is maybe my overall favorite second-gen videogame; and the very interesting Quest for the Rings is both flawed and amazing at the same time, as my review from several years ago details. The O2’s library may be small and limited, but the fast and fluid gameplay and unique design elements that work make this system great. Oh, and that one arcade port, Turtles? It’s amazing as well, and should be a classic. That 2600 graphics are so much more customizable and that the system has so dramatically more games — probably at least ten times more than the O2 does — makes a good case for that system being better, but when it comes down to it, I’d probably rather play O2 on average than 2600, so I like it more. This is obviously a purely subjective choice, but regardless, the Odyssey2 is an interesting system well worth a look. And again, almost every single game, both original and homebrew, is a true exclusive to the O2 you can’t play anywhere else! That’s rare, for a system that sold as decently as this one.


Texas Instruments TI-99/4 & TI-99/4A

Release and Sales Info From Texas Instruments. This is a home computer, not a console. The first model, the TI 99/4, released in 1979, and the second, the TI 99/4A that I have, released in 1981; discontinued 1983, though homebrew developers have kept it alive. Sales – unclear? The TI99/4A did sell far better than the first model though, TI99/4 systems are uncommon. I got one in 2014.

History: Texas Instruments invented the integrated circuit that makes complex electronic devices like game consoles possible. Over the decades, they have been extremely successful as a chipmaker, but on the consumer side their only lasting success has been their line of graphing calculators. Their one attempt at a consumer home computer was this one, the TI 99/4 and TI 99/4A line which lasted from 1979 to 1984. Never particularly successful, the system was discontinued during the video game crash because, primarily, Commodore’s Vic-20 computer beat the TI99/4A on everything – price, features, and software. TI tried to match Commodore’s rock-bottom pricing, but all that led to was money losses, until TI cut its losses and got out.

The system’s graphics and audio chips are extremely influential, however. The audio chip in the TI99/4A would be used in many consoles over the decades, including the Colecovision, Sega SG-1000, Sega Master System, and more. The Colecovision and SG-1000 uses the same TI video chip from the TI99 as well, and the Master System and Sega Genesis use chips which are backwards compatible with it. None of those systems use TI’s CPU that is the core of the TI99, but in terms of its graphical and aural look, the TI99 has a style very reminiscent of the Colecovision, with sprites on drawn backgrounds. It’s a quite different look from the all-pixel style of Atari systems of the time. The graphics have aged reasonably well, though that audio chip’s never been great. The few games with speech synthesizer support, if you have that addon as I do, are much better though; that speech in Parsec and Alpiner and such is pretty cool.

In terms of software, the TI stands out among computers of its day in that TI mostly focused on cartridge-based software, and not tape or floppy disk. This is good for durability, because TI99 programs often still work, since a lot of them are on carts. Just try that with your old tapes for other computers! TI locked down the cart port though, so until it was cracked in much more recent years, only first-party software released on cart. This resulted in the TI99 having far less software than most computers, which isn’t great; that makes this computer feel like more of a console, in that first party software dominates in a way rare on computers. The TI99 does have tape and floppy disk addons and most third-party software is for those, but a lot of people never bought either. The tape drive is common enough, but the large floppy disk addon box is not.

Aesthetics and Design: The TI99/4 and 4A have three different models. First, the TI99/4, available for the first two years of the system’s life, sold poorly and is rare. I’ve never seen one, and they don’t appear too often online on auction either. The improved 4A model from ’81 sold much better, and are common and easy enough to find. This model comes in two revisions. The first is black and silver, with a cool silver metal look that has aged very well. The second is beige, very similar to the first in most ways but just plastic and not metal, and thanks to the color change looking more like most any ’80s or ’90s computer. Cartridges plug in flat on the right side of the system, which works well. There is also a side addon port, for the speech synthesizer addon, connection to the homebrew addons or the expansion box for floppy drives, and such. The tape drive plugs into a different port on the box. Annoyingly, none of the ports are labeled, so you’ll just need to remember which one is the controller port and such. Also, try to find a system with the original, magnetic key-combination things that go above the keyboard, you need these to remember what to press to do things games will tell you like “press Redo to try again” or such. There is no “Redo” key, you need to press the right button combination. That’s fine once you have one though, and I like that they are magnetic. On the whole the TI99 looks pretty nice.

Unfortunately, in terms of durability and control the TI99 fares much worse. Indeed, these systems have all kinds of problems. Their keyboards are infamous for failing, and since they are built in to the system this is difficult to fix. The graphics and RAM chips also often fail, and replacing RAM chips is definitely not easy either. The official gamepads are no good either, so get an adapter to use Atari controllers instead. Yes, even though the system has a 9-pin port for controllers on it you can’t just plug a 2600 controller in, you need an adapter. Games can all be played on the keyboard too, but there the often-stiff controls on TI99 games are probably even worse. For various reasons, some of them the computers’ fault and some of them my own, I have gone through three of these systems, and while my current one mostly works perfectly, it probably has a video chip issue so I’m stuck with having to use only RF output, which is not ideal. So for me at least reliability is questionable.

Game Library: As far as that software goes, for games TI published a mixture of ports of some titles from other platforms and original titles, some of which are heavily inspired by popular arcade games and others are original, along with a lot of educational software and computer programs for writing and such. I find TI’s software library quality mixed; this system is fine, but I don’t love it, as I said in my Game Opinion Summaries list for the system several years ago. I have a few more games for the system now, but my general opinion is similar. The TI99 has some fans, though, and there is a small homebrew community for the system to this day. It has flashcarts, homebrew addons to give it more RAM, recent homebrew releases, and more. That adds a lot to this system that the original library doesn’t have. As for non-gaming applications, most of those from computers this old are probably only of historical interest, nobody is going to be seriously using TI99 Home Financial Decisions today. The many educational games can be amusing, however. Early Learning Fun’s amusing stuff. Hangman is alright too, provided that you have a working keyboard. But on the whole, while the TI99 is interesting and historically important for being the origin of those graphic and sound chips Coleco and then Sega would use for years, I find the controls stiff and hard to use and the games often flawed.


Mattel Intellivision, INTV

Release and Sales Info – From Mattel. Test marketed in 1979, released nationally in 1980. 3 million sold. There is a small homebrew community for this console now, with a flash cart or standalone games. I got one in 2019.

History: The toy company Mattel released a console to compete with the Atari. The Intellivision released in test markets in late 1979, then in 1980 it released nationwide. The Intellivision was the second-best selling pre-crash videogame console, though with only 10% of the Atari 2600’s sales this is not as big of a deal as it may sound. Mattel gave up on gaming at the end of 1983 thanks to the videogame crash, but a group of former employees bought the rights to the system and re-released it in 1985 in Europe and 1986 in the US. This re-release brought new games out for the system until ’89, when it finally faded out. This makes the Intellivision the second-longest-lasting console of its generation, after the 2600, not including modern homebrew of course.

Sort of like the Odyssey 2 above, Mattel mostly made their own software, with a largely original game library supplimented with a few Data East ports and some third-party software. The quality of these games is argued about, but regardless the system has a reasonably good-sized library, and has homebrew support today as well.

The Intellivision is technically a 16-bit console, and while I am counting it as second generation, it really shows that this console released both two years after the Atari 2600, and two and a half years before the Colecovision — it is in between in power for sure. Against the Atari, Intellivision clearly has better graphics, a point they marketed fairly heavily particularly for its sports games. Instead of blocks, the Intellivision has identifiable objects. Despite its only moderate success, the Intellivision had a significant impact on the industry, and after its release most controllers for new systems were clearly Intellivision-inspired until the Famicom/NES changed the industry. Like most people I find the controller horribly uncomfortable and have never liked side action buttons, but people clearly saw something in it because seriously almost every console in ’82 and ’83 had controllers very much like this one.

Aesthetics and Design: There are four models of Intellivisions, the first one, the Sears model, the smaller and much more ’80s looking second model, and the Intv System III, the ’86 model, which is like the first model but in a different color. I have the Sears Super Video Arcade, and while I may have serious questions about the Intellivision software library, as I said in my recent Game Opinion Summaries list for the system, I love the look of this system! Indeed, the Super Video Arcade is probably one of the best-looking consoles I own. The flat top of the system looks cool, the buttons are great, and the lines of the system are both classic and still nice looking. Of all the system with ridged surfaces on them this is probably my favorite. The system is surprisingly heavy, but that is because it has an internal power supply, and not a brick like other consoles. This makes it easy to plug in, it’s just a regular plug.

Do know that you will need access to the right side of the console, though — carts plug in on the side, in order to keep that flat-top look, and you’ll need to hold the console firmly while pressing carts in or else they won’t insert far enough for the system to read them. This is where top-loading cart ports are more convenient, but oh well. Oh, like the Atari you do need to be near the system thanks to the very short controller cords. The 1 and 3 have hardwired controllers, too. With the Sears and the Intellivision II you could use controller extension cables, since they use 9-pin ports, but it would look a lot uglier without the controllers on the top.

Oh, and as for that controller, again, it is impressively uncomfortable. The plastic edge around the control ring is painful; the side buttons are tiny and feel bad; and it has awful ergonomics. However, I will at least say that at least for me both controllers work perfectly, which is more than I can say for the later Colecovision or Atari 5200. This system has no alternate controllers of note either, because most of the systems have hardwired pads.

Game Library: The Intellivision has a decent-sized game library with a fair amount of third-party software and quite a few games from Mattel and the later Intellivision group. However, a lot of the games run very slowly, as their tools limited games to 20fps, and even somewhat as not-framerate-concious as me definitely notices it. Intellivision games can run well, as a few games show, but most struggle. And thanks to that controller, the controls are often not great either. The controller has a lot of buttons on it, so games are able to be much more complex than they are on the one-button Atari and games make use of that. However, while back then this was a selling point, looking back I think that simpler works better most of the time for games from this era so I don’t think it makes the games here better. I do like some Intellivision games though, and the system is maybe worth owning if you like games from this era since the system and its games are very cheap. There are re-release collections of Intellivision games, but because of the nature of the controller they many won’t play quite right, and some games are still exclusive.


Game & Watch

Release and Sales Info – From Nintendo. The first Game & Watch released in 1980, and they released until 1991. 43.4 million of them were sold.  The one I have we got back around 1990 or so, probably. This is a standalone system and not actually a console but I’m putting it here anyway.

History: Including this in this list is a bit questionable, because the Game & Watch is not a game console. Instead, it is a line of stand-alone handheld LCD games. Each one plays only one game. For no good reason, I count my one Game & Watch that I got as a kid in my games list, but don’t have the other few handheld LCD games I still have listed here, including my Micro Games of America Pac-Man, which is pretty good, and a broken “Football” game I got in Europe in the early ’90s but still have. The other handheld LCD game I remember getting was Tiger Electronics’ Baseball.

Anyway, Game & Watch systems are small rectangular LCD handheld games. In addition to playing only one game each, they do not have fully programmable screens, but instead like all systems of this they can only light up parts of the screen. It works, but means the games are simple. Many handheld games like this, including most Tiger titles, were infamously bad, but Game & Watches are fairly high quality. As the name suggests, each one has a clock on it as well. You cannot turn off a G&W while the batteries are in the system, though; it stays on to keep the clock going all the time. So probably don’t leave batteries in them when not using them.

After selling very well for years, the Game & Watch was discontinued in 1991 in favor of the Game Boy. Other handheld LCD games, such as those from Tiger, would continue selling through the mid ’90s, but faded out after that in favor of handheld consoles. I think the G&Ws work well, but much prefer the more dynamic control and gameplay of handheld games and have rarely gone back to my one G&W, 1981’s Octopus. It is a very simple game in the way of most games from the day and can be fun, but is too repetitious to be as good as better home console games of the time.

Aesthetics and Design: The Game & Watch line have classic, and very good looking, design stylings. They look great, with iconic, simple designs. The gulf in design between these and your average handheld LCD game is large indeed.

Game Library: As stated above, Game & Watches play one game each, so they aren’t consoles. They are handheld LCD games and do not have fully programmable screens, so gameplay is simple. Nintendo did a good job of making their games the good kind of simple, though, unlike Tiger. The one Game & Watch I have, Octopus again, is very simple but challenging and addictive. I don’t like handheld LCD games anywhere near as much as real consoles so I am not a G&W collector, but they are good.


PC

Release and Sales Info – Originally from IBM, and now by many companies running Microsoft operating systems and Intel x86-compatible CPUs, and first made in 1981. They are ubiquitous worldwide.  Our family first got a PC in early 1992 and I have used or owned a succession of PCs ever since.

The IBM PC first released in 1981, a computer platform from the largest tech company both then and now, IBM, running on Microsoft DOS and with Intel x86 architecture. IBM may not be as prominent now as they once were, but still are the largest in terms of number of employees, at least. The IBM PC started out as a business machine, the cheaper and smaller desktop companion for your company or school’s IBM mainframe computer. In the decades since, the PC has become separated from IBM, and instead is defined by the combination of Microsoft opserating systems and Intel CPUs, the OS and CPU vendors IBM chose back in 1981. Initially in few homes, the IBM PC became the leading computer platform in the US by the mid ’80s and was the leading computer gaming platform as well by the later ’80s. In Europe and Japan it took much longer for the PC to be the winning computer gaming platform, but in the US, once the Commodore 64 faded, the PC fairly handily won out. Once 16-color EGA graphics and Adlib sound cards released in the mid to later ’80s, PC games could start to compete visually as well; before that, 4-color CGA with one-tone beeper PC Speaker audio was pretty limiting. Some kinds of games work great with those limitations, but many others do not. By the early ’90s, it was clear — the PC was the most powerful home gaming platform in terms of visuals and not only games. The release of the first 3d accelerators a few years later cemented that even further. The PC has a history and back catalog unmatched in the industry.

The PC isn’t just the first gaming platform I had at home, it is, as we got a 20Mhz 386 PC in early 1992. As I said at the top, the PC is unquestionably my pick for the best gaming platform ever. There is one caveat to this, though: backwards compatibility on PCs can be difficult. While it is a single platform, it is a platform which has changed over time, and older games and software may not easily work on a newer machine. The PC has changed over the years, and native backwards compatibility on the PC, with Windows 10 as the current operating system, goes back about to the mid ’90s — Windows 9x games or newer may work, while DOS and Windows 3.1 or earlier games do not without emulation. However, those emulators, most notably DOSBox, are easy to find, so playing DOS games on a modern PC is easy. Windows 3.1 games can be tricky, depending on how well they run in a Windows 3.1 install in DOSBox on your machine, but are quite doable. Where the major problem lies is in Windows 9x games — games for Windows 95, 98, and Millenium, along with some Windows XP games, from the mid ’90s to mid ’00s. These games are new enough to use things like DirectX or graphics card drivers which change over time, so some games break as drivers update over the years, depending on which parts of the older driver they rely on. Sometimes fan patches fix these issues, but other times they do not. Additionally, modern 64-bit versions of Windows cannot run 16-bit applications, which means Windows 3.1 software, or 16-bit Windows 9x software, cannot run. This can be quite frustrating at times; there are ways around it, including DOSBox or other emulator installs or a Virtual Machine if you can get one running well, but none are as good as just running those games natively on a 16-bit or 32-bit operating system.

That is all to say, while the PC has the most amazing library ever, one computer will almost certainly not run every game.  Yes, the one real negative about the PC is its greatest strength, that long back catalog. Instead, a modern PC will run any modern game, and most games from the last fifteen years, plus games that work correctly in DOSBox and/or have had a modern re-release. That is more than enough for most gamers, but for someone like me, this means you are sure to need multiple computers. At minimum, one older, DOS or Windows 9x-based machine is a necessity, and I have one. There are some games that do not run well in either machine, but at least between my PCs I can run most games… though there are those frustrating ones I just never can manage to get running correctly on any machine, such as Recoil. Bah. Oh well.

What makes this worse is that computers and drivers will continue to change, so the current incompatibilities are surely a rolling issue; at some point lots more games will break. I hope emulation or virtual machine authors can fix those issues, though it will get more and more difficult over time, as we deal with trying to make mostly-online games working again. Many games will surely be impossible to play in the future, which is sad. The classics will always be playable though, so there’s one plus for classic games over a lot of the modern ones! Unfortunately I like both modern and classic games though, so… oh well. Anyway, regardless of these issues the PC is the best for sure.

 

Second Generation Consoles Ranking:

1. Odyssey 2 – While having the most games matters, what I have always cared about the most is not only having many games, but the games I most want to play and like the best. And in that there isn’t much contest, I have the most fun, and like the games best, on the O2. Its library may be small but the system is incredibly charming and has some great games.

2. Atari 2600 – With an absolutely massive library of original and homebrew titles, the 2600 should have a place in any classic gamers’ collection. Many games have aged well, for anyone with any interest in simple, arcadey games.

(TI 99/4A would probably go here)

3. Intellivision – The Intellivision is harder to recommend for me to those without nostalgia for the system from its heyday, but it does still have some good games, and interesting homebrew titles as well.

4. Game & Watch – The Game & Watch is good tech

If we also include computers, the TI 99/4A it would probably go in third. It’s an interesting but flawed machine with some good games and some that just do not make much sense, and stiffer controls in lots of titles than I would like. I could see putting it below the Intellivision, but for its much better controller options and maybe also better overall games I think it finishes ahead.

As for the PC, it would of course go in first overall, but if we look only at PC software available in the early to mid ’80s I am not sure; I have played few PC games that old. I can say I love 1984’s Castle Adventure, though, and the Zork trilogy are great. But it’s hard to judge without my having much experience of PCs that early.

(The other major computer platform from this era that I have experience with is the Apple II, which I used a lot in school back in elementary school and junior high. We never had one at home, but I have good memories of some of its games for sure… but again, it’s hard to rank without much of any modern experience with the system.)

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Opinion List: Comparing the 3DO, Jaguar, and 32X Game Libraries

I have had a lot going on recently so I have not gotten nearly as far with that Genesis Game Opinion Summaries update list as I’d like, though I do have the list of titles I’ll be covering together.  But not enough is done to post, so for this month’s last-minute update I guess I will post this dumb little opinion list.  This started out as a silly little timewaster I made for fun a few months ago, after some discussion of these platforms on a retro-gaming Discord I post on.  Now I have expanded that list into a full article.

Three Failed Video Game Platforms of 1993-1994: Which Is Best?

Note: For the purposes of this list, the Jaguar and Sega 32X also include not only the cartridge games for those platforms, but also all Jaguar CD and 32X CD games.

Below, I will list my opinions on where all three of these platforms compare in each design or game genre category.  Number one is the best, two is in the middle, and three is last.  How big the gap is between them in each genre or category varies widely from category to category, it depends.

Table of Contents

Summary List Comparisons
Hardware Comparisons
Game Genre Comparisons
Overall
Detailed Comparisons
Hardware Comparisons
Game Genre Comparisons
My Top 10 Favorite Games, Overall and On Each Platform
Conclusion


Summary List Comparisons

Hardware Comparisons

Hardware Power – 1. 3DO 2. Jag 3. 32X
Controller – 1. 32X 2. 3DO 3. Jag
System Design: 1. 3DO 2. Jag 3. 32X

Game Genre Comparisons

Racing – 1. 32X 2. 3DO 3. Jag (all three are great, it’s a matter of opinion)
Fighting (2d) – 1. 3DO 2. 32X 3. Jag
Fighting (3d) – 1. 32X 2. Jag 3. 3DO (maybe, 2nd and 3rd are close — Ballz 3D vs Fight for Life)
Vehicular Combat (Flat Plane) – 1. 3DO 2. Jag 3. 32X (though it is very close between first and second and could go either way)
FPS – 1. 3DO 2. Jag 3. 32X (probably, though JagDoom may be best overall)
Flight Combat – 1. 3DO 2. 32X 3. Jag (probably; all are great here and any could win)
Simulation – Vehicle (land or air based) (lots of overlap here with the flight combat and vehicular combat genres) – 1. 3DO 2. Jag 3. 32X
Rail Shooter / Into the Screen Shooter – 1. Jag 2. 32X 3. 3DO
Light Gun / Light Gun Style Shooter – 1. 3DO 2. Jag 3. 32X
Shmup / Shmuplike / Run & Gun – 1. Jag 2. 32X 3. 3DO
Platformer (3d) – 1. 32X (none on Jag or 3DO)
Platformer (2d/2.5d) – 1. 3DO? 2. Jag? 3. 32X? (This one is very close and could go any way. For exclusives only the list would be different, too – first Jag, second 32X, distant third 3DO.)
Strategy / Simulation (Building) – 1. 3DO 2. Jag 3. 32X
Puzzle – 1. 3DO 2. Jag (32X has none)
Adventure / FMV – 1. 3DO 2. Jag 3. 32X
Action-Adventure / Survival Horror 1. 3DO 2. Jag (32X has none)
RPG / Action-RPG – 1. 3DO 2. Jag (32X has none)
Sports / Card / Board – 1. 3DO 2. 32X 3. Jag (maybe; the Jag has my favorite overall game in this genre and maybe should be second)

Overall

3DO: 1st: 15 2nd: 2 3rd: 3 – 52 pts (3-1st 2-2nd 1-3rd)
Jaguar: 1st: 2 2nd: 12 3rd: 7 – 37 pts
32X: 1st: 4 2nd: 5 3rd: 9 – 31 pts

Overall, comparing these consoles this way the 3DO is the best no question, followed by the Jaguar and then probably the 32X. The 3DO is the winner no matter how you define the genres, but it’s close enough between the Jaguar and 32X that depending on how you redefine those genres either one could finish in second.

Detailed Comparisons

And now I will go in detail comparing each genre on the list above.  Note: Italics note games that are either console-exclusive or true exclusive; that is, games that are either only released on the platform in question, or are on computer and this console and not other consoles.  I will consider games exclusive if they have a substantial amount of exclusive content over other versions of the game, such as Virtua Racing does.  There is not an Overall category in this section because the Overall section above speaks for itself.

Hardware

Hardware Power – This is a tricky one, as these three systems use very different design philosophies.  Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the weaknesses are significant enough to help explain some of the reasons why all three of these platforms failed in the market. Going chronologically, the Jaguar released first, in fall ’93.  The first real 5th-gen console, the Jaguar was powerful for this time with 26 Mhz CPU and graphics chips, but it is quite bad at textured polygons and has numerous hardware bugs that make programming for it very difficult indeed and limit some of its power.   Getting the most out of the Jaguar is still hard, even all these decades later.  It is able to do pretty good 2d graphics as seen in Rayman, but the tough programming and design issues makes this hard sometimes; see bad performance of the Jag version of Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, for example. Next, the 3DO is perhaps not as powerful on paper, as it has only one, 12.5Mhz CPU.  Indeed, games like Doom or Wolfenstein 3D show how the Jag can run 3d games at higher framerates and with more graphical detail as well; even a much more optimized 3DO Doom would probably not have been able to match the Jaguar version.  The 3DO also requires developers program in C, instead of machine code; it was the first console to do this, and it was controversial at the time as it probably limits power.  However, the 3DO has none of the hardware bugs or issues that the Jaguar does, so it was much easier to program for.  Making 3d games was hard at the time and you see that on the 3DO, but it is a better-balanced, less broken design able to do some nice things when programmed for well.  It is better at FMV and polygonal 3d than it is 2d — 3DO 2d usually seems to run at only 30fps, as Gex shows — but still, it’s a good design for the time.  As for the 32X, it released a year after the other two, and in some ways is the most powerful, but also is, like the Jaguar, something of a huge pain to program for.  In the 32X’s case, this is because Sega decided to use a dual-core, 23Mhz CPU, at a time when nobody had any idea how to program for two CPUs.  Just like the Saturn after it, most games surely do not make good use of both CPUs; it was just too early for that.  It is hard to program for as well, as its odd design is kind of tricky — the Genesis and 32X are each working simultaneously, and the two video images are combined in output to make what appears to be a single image… but it is actually two entirely separate images being combined.  Games often have a 32X main image and sprites and Genesis menu bars and background, or vice versa.  The 32X alone is not designed to do things such as 60fps 2d, so most games have issues.  Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, for example,  has a 60fps Genesis background, with 30fps 32X sprites on top.  I may not notice much as I’m not framerate-concious much at all, but people who notice those things will really dislike this.  The 32X’s maximum capabilities are impressive, but the limitations of the CPUs and dual-system design hold it back.  So, I decided that the least broken design here, the 3DO, is best; it may be slower but games can actually get the most out of the system, and games which push it look great — see Blade Force for example.  Second, the Jag is busted but powerful when programmed for by a skilled team; see Skyhammer.  The 32X is similarly hard to program for, though perhaps easier than Jaguar, but I’m putting it in third because its best games and techdemos don’t match up to what I’ve seen from the best of the Jaguar — Skyhammer probably beats that infamous Zyrinx 32X techdemo video, for example.  I’m not a programmer though, so I could be convinced to change my mind on this category.

Controller – The 32X uses the Genesis controller.  All games work with regular 3-button Genesis controllers, but many 32X games support the 6-button controller for additional functions.  I definitely recommend the 6 button pad for the 32X, a lot of games do support it.  The official Sega 6 button Genesis controller is my favorite non-analog controller ever, so I gave the win here to the 32X.  It’s a fantastic and very comfortable controller.  In second, the 3DO has a very Genesis-inspired controller, with three face buttons along with two SNES-like shoulder buttons.  It is not quite as comfortable as a Genesis pad, but is a good controller regardless which fits well in the hand and works well.  For some games you do wish there was a sixth action button, though.  The 3DO does have the best assortment of alternate controllers, too — there is a light gun (the GameGun), a 3DO mouse, analog joystick (the CH Flightsick Pro for 3DO), and 6-button digital controllers in several designs, including from Capcom and others, for alternate controllers that give better controls in various kinds of games.  I have the mouse, joystick, and a few 6-button pads, and they are great options in supported titles.  The analog joystick really improves those flight games!  In last, the Jaguar controller is a lot more comfortable than I had ever given it credit for before finally buying a Jag earlier this year.  It may look huge and awful, but for those of us who like larger controllers like I often do the Jaguar controller is actually comfortable and feels good.  However, the decision to have a 12-button keypad, with only three action buttons and no shoulder buttons at all, is questionable.  While there are a few games which make good use of the keypad to allow things that would be a pain to do with any other controller, most of the time it just makes for awkward gameplay, as you have to reach down to the keypad for some important functions.  There s an expensive 6-button controller with shoulder buttons, but that just duplicates five of the keypad buttons onto the five added buttons, so how useful it is depends on how games mapped the keypad.  You will need to use that keypad, and it only sometimes works well.  Also, the Jaguar is one of the only 5th-gen consoles which has absolutely no analog control options released during its life.  There is now a homebrew mouse adapter with one or two things that support it, but for the most part Jaguar games are digital-pad-only, which is a real problem in 3d titles.  32X games are also mostly digital-only, but that is a last-gen addon so it is more excusable there than it is in this next-gen console.  The 3DO doesn’t have analog stick on its controller either, but the mouse, joystick, and lightgun controller options fill in there.  This is what decides it for me in the 3DO’s favor over the Jaguar, that the 3DO has analog controllers while the Jaguar does not; otherwise, between the two base controllers, it’s close enough that I could go either way.  But a lot of Jaguar games are screaming for analog controls that they system doesn’t have.  This was the case with a whole lot of games on all consoles at the time, until the N64 changed things, but it is an issue even so.

System Design – I like the look of the FZ-1 3DO.  It looks like a VCR or other similar pieces of ’90s home electronics, and it’s a classy look that is extremely dated in a nice way.  If the NES was designed to look like an ’80s VCR, the FZ-1 3DO is a ’90s VCR, a bit like the one we had back then but with discs.  I have not seen the FZ-10 in person, but it looks like a fine console design.  It is nothing amazing, but okay.  On the other hand, the 3DO saves to a battery soldered to the board, which is bad; those batteries will die and need replacing.  The disc drive and tray are also high failure points.  The Goldstar’s not as nice, but it still looks alright.  As for the Jaguar, it is a good looking system with some nice lines, but the absence of a cartridge flap, and the exposed board ports on the back and front, look cheap.  The cartridges look nice, but don’t stack all that well because of their curved design and don’t have end labels unless you add them, unfortunately.  As for the 32X, it has great Sega design, but its odd, mushroom-like look is an issue.  The Jaguar CD drive similarly blobs up on top of the Jaguar, but as much as it is maligned for looking like a toilet seat and being absurdly failure-prone, at least the Jag looks like it was designed for that CD drive to sit on top of it, so the two fit together well; the CD kind of completes the look of the Jaguar.  The Genesis clearly was not designed for a top addon, so the 32X is this ugly blob on top of your Genesis.  As for saving, Jaguar games save to EEPROM chips on the carts.  These chips hold very little data, but are great and their write limits should last a long time.  32X games save to batteries or EEPROM or FRAM chips on the carts. The 32X is probably the most durable of these three systems, with the lowest failure rate by far.  Still, overall, the 3DO looks the best.  You’ll need to replace that battery sometime and may have laser issues, but it’s a mostly good design.  The Jaguar is in second, with better design than it usually gets credit for.  And as much as I love the Genesis, the 32X lags behind in last.  The Sega CD and Genesis look good together, but adding the mushroom on top kind of messes up the look.  32Xes are much more likely to work in the future than the other two systems are, though.

Genres

Please note, this is not a comprehensive list of all games on all three consoles.  I’m only mentioning some highlight titles.

Racing32XVirtua Racing Deluxe, Motocross Championship, BC Racers; 3DOThe Need for Speed, Road Rash, Autobahn Tokio, Wacky Races 2: In Space, kind of Off-World Interceptor (it’s mostly a shooter), Driving School, MegaRace, F1 GP, Crash ‘n Burn, BC Racers; JagSuper Burnout, Power Drive Rally, Club Drive, Checkered Flag, Supercross 3D, Val d’Isere Skiing and Snowboarding. All three platforms have some great games here, but I gave the win to the 32X because Virtua Racing Deluxe is an outstanding game that I love, and the 32X version is in some ways the best version of the game. This is definitely an opinion case, it’s easy to see why some people would prefer the 3DO for NfS and Road Rash particularly, or the Jag for Super Burnout particularly, but I like VR Deluxe enough to put it on top.  Really all three of these systems are winners in this genre.

Fighting (2d)JagUltra Vortek, Kasumi Ninja, Primal Rage; 32X – Mortal Kombat 2, Brutal: Above the Claw, Cosmic Carnage, Supreme Warrior, Primal Rage; 3DO – Samurai Shodown, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Ultraman Powered, The Eye of Typhoon, Sailor Moon S, Shadow: War of Succession, Yuu Yuu Hakusho, Way of the Warrior. For a non-MK fan like me, SamSho and SSFIIT make this a very easy win for the 3DO.  The anime fighters on 3DO are amusing games as well.  For second place, real MK2 is a whole lot better than the mostly poor MK knockoffs on 3DO and Jaguar, so the 32X finishes second. Of the 3DO and Jag’s MK knockoff games Ultra Vortek is the best one, but that’s not saying all that much. Oh, worst game here is actually tough — do you go with the unbelievably horrible, barely playable atrocity that is Shadow: War of Succession — a game that should score under a 1 out of 10 on any scale — or the incredibly awful wreck of a game that is Supreme Warrior, which is also horrendous? As much as I greatly dislike Supreme Warrior it’s at least amusing to look at, so Shadow is worst overall I think.  Kasumi Ninja is also a pretty awful game, but it’s not on the level of those two atrocities.

Fighting (3d) JagFight for Life; 3DOBallz 3D: The Director’s Cut; 32X – Virtua Fighter, kind of WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game. Here we have a very good version of a very popular classic — Virtua Fighter — and … two awful messes that very few people like, FfL and Ballz. I’ve never liked VF1 all that much, but it is a good game and the 32X has a great version. So the 32X has one of the biggest wins on the list, but who is second? Here I chose Fight for Life over Ballz, in part because FfL is a VF clone while Ballz is a slightly enhanced last-gen port, but you could go either way there, and maybe Ballz is better. Oh, and Wrestlemania the Arcade Game kind of counts since it plays like a fighting game with 3d movement, not a wrestling game. You have regular health bars and everything.

Shmup / Shmuplike / Run & GunJagTrevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy, Raiden, Defender 2000, Protector SE (PD), Total Carnage, Rebooteroids (PD); 32XZaxxon’s Motherbase 2000, Kolibri; 3DOCaptain Quazar. The 3DO has a lot of shooting games, but they’re all top-down free-roaming stuff or 3d into-the-screen games, not regular topdown or side-view shmups, arena shooters, or run & guns, which is why those genres are all combined into one here; these systems just don’t have many. So, the Jaguar, with a true classic in Raiden and a few other okay games, wins this, with the 32X in second with a good game in Motherbase. Though, since the two 32X games are exclusives while while Raiden is on many platforms and is not best on Jaguar, for exclusives you could give this to the 32X — it’s much better than the Jag-exclusive Trevor McFur or Defender 2000 by what I’ve seen of those games. If you include homebrew releases, Protector SE and Rebooteroids on Jag also look good. As for Captain Quazar, it’s an okay game.

Platformer (2D/2.5D)3DO – Gex, Phoenix 3 (the first half of the game), Johnny Bazookatone, Soccer Kid, Flashback, Out of this World; Jaguar – Rayman, Hyper Force, Soccer Kid, Zool 2, Flashback, Bubsy in: Fractured Fairy Tales, Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure; 32X – Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, Blackthorne, Spider-Man: Web of Fire, Knuckles Chaotix, Tempo. Rayman is probably the best overall game here, but as I said this is a tough one because for me personally none of these three systems have a platformer I really love. Rayman is good but too hard; I’ve never really liked the cinematic, high-animation style of game seen in Flashback, Out of this World, and Blackthorne, but of those three I like Blackthorne the best and while it is a port the 32X version does have an exclusive graphical overhaul and level; Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure is good, but both of these versions are quite flawed (it’s best on PC); Tempo, Soccer Kid, and Gex are decent to good games, but are slow-paced and kind of average; and the others, Bubsy Jag, Hyper Force, Zool 2, Spiderman, Phoenix 3, Johnny Bazookatone… average at best. Oh, and Knuckles Chaotix is interesting but very flawed and isn’t above average in my book either, not in its main game. I love platformers, but these three could go in any order really and be valid…

Platformer (3D) – The bonus levels in Knuckles Chaotix on 32X are the only thing here on any of these formats so it’s an automatic win for the 32X. They’re really good for the time!

RPG / Action-RPG – As the only one of these platforms with any amount of Japanese gaem support, the 3DO has an advantage here — the top Western RPG studios were almost exclusively PC game developers at this point, while in Japan RPGs were mostly a console genre.  So, the 3DO has some JRPGs.  It has a few Western ones as well, most notably a pair of pretty good first-person dungeon crawlers.  3DO Lucienne’s Quest, AD&D: Slayer (FPS-RPG), AD&D: Deathkeep (FPS-RPG), and a few Japanese-language games; JagTowers II (FPS-RPG). 32X none. This one’s a very clear win for the 3DO. AD&D Slayer’s better than Towers II alone, never mind the rest of it…

Adventure / FMV is a very clear 3DO win. All three systems have some adventure games, and some are on several of these systems, but the 3DO has the most by far.  Quite a few adventure games were ported to 3DO, particularly ones with FMV video in them; it was a good platform for this kind of game and the adventure genre is probably one of the strongest on the 3DO. If the Jaguar CD had done better and lasted longer this could have been competitive because Jag CD visuals do seem to regularly beat the 3DO in FMV, but it has so few games that it doesn’t. The handful of games on both platforms may all be better on Jaguar, perhaps, but even if they were, they can’t outweigh the pile of good stuff on 3DO.  Some games, such as Myst and Dragon’s Lair are on both 3DO and Jaguar.  Additionally, the 3DO also has games such as Psychic Detective, Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller, Dragon Lore, Putt-Putt Joins the Parade, and more.  As for the 32X, there aren’t really any in its cartridge game library, but all six 32X CD games are ports of Sega CD FMV games.  They aren’t really adventure games though, and most are quite awful.  The two from Sega, Fahrenheit and Surgical Strike, are the best of the six, but they’re still not great.  Only Fahrenheit is even kind of an adventure game, too; Surgical Strike is a FMV shooter.  So, in adventure games the 3DO wins easily, the Jaguar finishes second with a small but sometimes quality library, and the 32X trails well behind.

Action-Adventure / Survival Horror – This genre could be combined with  the above one, but I decided to separate it.  As opposed to the above games, these have combat beyond the ‘hit the button at the right time’ QTE gameplay of a Dragon’s Lair or Space Ace.  The 3DO is the first console with survival horror games as we know them today, so it is noteworthy for this.   3DOAlone in the Dark, Alone in the Dark 2, Doctor Hauzer, Robinson’s Requiem; Jag – Robinson’s Requiem, Highlander: Last of the McLeods; 32X – None. I’m no AitD fan, but this is a clear win for the 3DO.  The Jaguar is second by default; that Highlander game gets mostly bad reviews but it is something, which is more than the 32X has.  There are some PD Jaguar adventure and action-adventure games as well.

Strategy / Simulation (Building) is similar; all three have at least one, and there are a few good ones on Jaguar, but the 3DO‘s a clear winner. The great classic Star Control II, my favorite 3DO game, is the standout here, and one of the best games on the 3DO as well.  I don’t need to list these out for each platform, it is no contest at all.  The Jaguar does have some interesting strategy and simulation games, including Attack of the Mutant Penguins, Baldies, and some games released on both 3DO and Jaguar Cannon Fodder if you count it as one (it isn’t really), Syndicate (another semi-strategy title), and Theme Park, but Star Control II is better than any of those games, and the 3DO has plenty more besides, such as Guardian War, Panzer General, Theatre Wars, The Tower (SimTower), DinoPark Tycoon, The Horde, The Perfect GeneralKonpeki no Kantai, and more.  Some of these are Japanese-only, but still it’s a decent library.  The 32X has very little in this genre other than a Japan-only port of Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV, so it finishes well behind in last.  So, 3DO first, Jaguar second, 32X last.

Rail / into the screen shooter (with a movable character) – These are into-the-screen 3d shooting games where you control some kind of ship or character that you can move around.  JagTempest 2000, Zero Five, Blue Lightning; 3DO – Pyramid Intruder, Burning Soldier, Total Eclipse, Off-World Interceptor (racing/shooter), Novastorm, Microcosm, Sewer Shark (kind of), Rebel Assault (partially); 32X – Space Harrier, After Burner Complete. All three have good to awesome stuff here but Tempest 2000 is an all-time great and the best game on any of these three consoles so the Jag wins the category. The 3DO has the most games but I don’t love any of them, so it finishes third; 32X Space Harrier is amazing! A bunch of those 3DO games try to be like a Space Harrier, but they’re so much worse…

Light Gun / Light Gun Style Shooter  These are games where you can’t move a character or ship around, but instead just control a cursor on a railed path, shooting at things as they appear.  They may or may not support actual light guns.  JaguarMissile Command 3D; 3DOSpace Pirates (lightgun), Mad Dog McCree (lightgun), Mad Dog II: The Lost Gold (lightgun), Corpse Killer (lightgun), Who Shot Johnny Rock? (lightgun), The Last Bounty Hunter (lightgun), Crime Patrol (lightgun), Drug Wars (lightgun), Starblade (some consider this a rail shooter, but it’s really a no-gun lightgun game.); 32X – Corpse Killer (lightgun), Surgical Strike (kind of). The 3DO has a pretty obvious win here, with an actual light gun and a bunch of games for it.  I’ve never liked Mad Dog McCree at all, but the no-gun shooter Starblade is fun and some of those American Laser Games titles are cheesy fun even if their gameplay isn’t the best.  Choosing second place is harder, though.  Corpse Killer is an awful game with horrible controls.  It supports light guns, but still plays terribly even with one!  I know, I have tried.  Surgical Strike’s a lot better, but it is also an FMV game, so the controls are frustrating and environments repeat constantly. I haven’t played Missile Command 3D, but it wins anyway because I’d probably like it more than Surgical Strike.

Vehicular Combat (flat plane) – These are vehicular combat games where you do not have any form of real height control.  So, you’re in a tank, hover-tank, or such.  You may be able to jump, but can’t fly up or down.  These games include: on JaguarHover Strike and its improved CD release Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands, Aircars, I-War, Iron Soldier (this is also kind of a vehicle sim), Iron Soldier 2 (also kind of a vehicle sim); on 32x T-Mek, Metal Head; on 3DO Stellar 7: Draxon’s Revenge, BattleSport, Shockwave and its expansion Shockwave: Operation Jumpgate, Shockwave 2: Beyond the Gate, Quarantine, maybe Return Fire (overhead, not first/third person) and its expansion Return Fire: Maps o’Death. Return Fire is a great game and probably pushes the 3DO over the Jaguar, though it’s very close — the Iron Soldier games on Jag are also quite good. Aircars, I-War, and Hover Strike on Jag and the Shockwave series on 3DO are somewhat similar games and I’ll call them about even, though I do have a fondness for Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands and I-War that I don’t for Shockwave, so I’d probably lean Jag here.  On the other hand, I do also quite like BattleSport, so it is close.  As for the 32X, I like both of its games in this genre as well, but the games on the other two systems outshine them so it is in third for sure.  This is another genre where all three platforms do well, the 3DO and Jaguar particularly.  I guess I’ll stick with the 3DO being in first for now, but I could switch them sometime, the Jaguar has some games here I really like.

FPS3DO – Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Defcon 5, Immercenary, Iron Angel of the Apocalypse, Iron Angel of the Apocalypse: the Return, PO’ed, Escape from Monster Manor, Killing Time, Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels, Cyberdillo, Creature Shock (kind of, and partially; it’s also a rail shooter). 32X – Doom. Jag – Doom, Alien vs, Predator, Wolfenstein 3D. JagDoom is the best overall game here but the sheer number of 3DO FPSes puts it in first overall I’d say; some of those games are also quite solid. One great game can win a category if it’s THAT amazing, but there are a lot of ways to play Doom and the combination of flawed but interestingly weird games like Space Hulk, PO’ed, Immercenary, and Cyberdillo and good simpler shooters like Killing Time give the edge to 3DO, I think. AvP also is pretty interesting and Jag fans could give this to the Jag on a “quality over quantity” argument, but for now I lean 3DO. And the 3DO does have Doom, it’s just got a very low framerate. I find it fun anyway… Oh, and the 3DO also has two fps-rpg games and the Jag has one, though I’ll count those as RPGs I guess. The 3DO ones are great, I think — see the RPG genre.

Flight Combat (often slightly simmish) – 3DOStarfighter (also kind of a sim), Blade Force (a little simmish), maybe Super Wing Commander and Wing Commander 3 though they are also vehicle sims; 32xStar Wars Arcade, Shadow Squadron (almost a simmish game, but… not quite I think), Darxide, Star Trek Starfleet Academy Starship Bridge Simulator (simple combat with some sim elements); Jag – (note: all of these are also kind of vehicle sims) Skyhammer, Battlesphere + Battlesphere Gold (both PD), Cybermorph, Battlemorph. All three systems have some great games in this genre so it’s hard to decide objectively, personal opinion will probably decide it.  Even that’s hard though, I really like Starfighter and Shadow Squadron, and surely would like Battlemorph.  Star Trek, Blade Force, Star Wars Arcade, Skyhammer, and Cybermorph are good fun games too, with some issues.  I said 3DO first, 32X second, and Jag third, but you could make a case for these three going in any order depending on which games you like the most.  And while Cybermorph really is a good game, Battlemorph is better, and Skyhammer is a very impressive game for the Jaguar, my longtime love for Shadow Squadron and Starfighter put those systems above the Jag, I think.  And between 32X and 3DO, the other 32X games do some impressive things but they don’t match up to Wing Commander; I may never have been a fan of that series, but I can admit to their quality.

Vehicle Sim3DO Flying Nightmares, VR Stalker, Scramble Cobra, and the Wing Commander games, Blade Force, and Starfighter if you count them here; Jaguar has no exclusively vehicle-sim games, but does have the Iron Soldier games, Battlesphere, Skyhammer, and Cybermorph/Battlemorph if you count them here instead of where I put them earlier. 32x has none unless you count Shadow Squadron, which I likely wouldn’t, and Star Trek Starfleet Academy Starship Bridge Simulator, which … maybe. The 3DO is the only one with legit vehicle sims so it wins this by default. If you include all of the other games I just listed it’s a lot closer because all three have some great a-bit-simmish space or futuristic vehicular combat games, but the 3DO still probably wins if you include all the games I just listed. Shadow Squadron is one of the best games on that list but isn’t amazing enough to beat all of the other games listed, so the 32X is probably in last, though not by much. Those Jaguar games are also pretty good, Iron Soldier especially, and I haven’t played Battlemorph or Battlesphere so I can’t judge it entirely. As for 3DO, I like Blade Force, but find it super hard; Starfighter’s great but the controls are odd; and I’ve never been a Wing Commander fan, but they are good certainly. So uh, personal opinion might lean towards the Jag? I’ll need Battlemorph, Battlesphere is multiplayer-focused and insanely expensive. For now, for the sci-fi games portion of this genre, I put 3DO on top because of how much I like Starfighter. Of course, it also wins because it’s the only one with actual sims. Not good sims going by reviews, but sims.  I’ve never cared for fighter jet sim games though, so I can’t imagine liking them much myself.  Still, it has them.

Sports / Card / Board – With its very influential versions of FIFA International Soccer and John Madden Football, I think the 3DO has to win this category. There are other football and soccer games on all three platforms, but those two are the most important by far. The Jaguar has two football and two soccer games, including a solid version of International Sensible Soccer, but they look quite dated compared to those two, with much more 4th-gen-like visuals. The 32X has a version of FIFA and it’s good, but the 3DO one is better. Also, Olympic Soccer on the 3DO’s a decent game as well. In golf games the 3DO also has a huge lead — the Jag has none, and the 32X one okay one, while the 3DO has quite a few, a full eight in fact, most exclusive. The 3DO has the most other sports games too, such as boxing, FMV “how to ski / how to play tennis” tutorial discs, an okay summer olympics game, and more.  They’re mostly exclusive or console exclusive, too. For wrestling the 32X does have two WWF games though, while the 3DO and Jag have nothing. I don’t like wrestling, but WWF: The Arcade Game is alright.  For baseball, the 32X has two Genesis-style overhead baseball games, while the 3DO has two Japan-only more 3d baseball games (one by EA, oddly enough; why not make a US version too?) and a hitting trainer. As I don’t like Genesis World Series or RBI Baseball, even though I haven’t played the 3DO ones yet I’ll give the 3DO the edge here.  The EA one, Pro Yakyuu Virtual Stadium, looks good, and was EA’s first attempt at 5th-gen baseball in the Triple Play style; the other one, Pro Stadium, looks worse. For hockey though, the 3DO and 32X have nothing, while the Jaguar has one average effort in Brett Hull Hockey (aka Jaguar Hockey) so the Jag wins hockey. As for basketball, NBA Jam T.E. is on the 32X and Jag and is one of the best sports games ever made. The Jaguar has a couple of other much less good basketball games as well, in White Men Can’t Jump and Barkley: Shut Up and Jam (unreleased but leaked), but forget those.  There are two 3DO basketball games, Slam’ n Jam ’95 and Jammit, but they’ve got nothing on Jam, though Slam n Jam’s 3d perspective is kind of cool for the time. So this is a category where the sports game I’d most want to play, Jam, is on the two losing platforms but not the winning one… oh well, I love Jam TE but it is on lots of systems and I don’t love it so much I’d put the 32X or Jag over the whole, much larger 3DO sports library just because of it. Maybe they should win though, because the 32X and Jaguar versions of Jam T.E. are often mentioned as maybe the best versions of the game. The Jag version of Jam is a port of the 32X one with slightly better visuals.  As for card and board games, it should be no surprise that the 3DO dominates, as it does in this category in general, with multiple chess, mahjong, and shogi titles.  So, the 3DO wins here.  As for second place though, in part because baseball is my favorite sport and the Jag has no baseball games while the 32X at least has some, the 32X takes second.

Puzzle / Trivia – The 3DO has a quite clear win here. There are a few good puzzle games on Jaguar, such as Zoop, Vid Grid, and such, and more from homebrew developers, but the 3DO has more and better, including the all-time classic Bust-A-Move. That alone makes this an easy call; I do like Zoop, and the Jaguar has the only console version of Zoop that actually saves your high scores, but BAM’s one of the greats. The 3DO is also the only one with trivia quizshow games, such as Zhadnost: The Peoples’ Party and Twisted: The Game Show.  It has Lemmings, Shanghai: Triple Thread, Gridders, Trip’d, The Incredible Machine, and more, as well.  Several of those are good version sof all-time classic puzzle games. The 32X doesn’t really have anything in these genres, they’re all just on Genesis.

 

My Top 10 Favorite Games, Overall and On Each Platform

Now, I posted a list some years back of my favorite games by platform.  It’s getting a bit old though, and does not include the 3DO or Jaguar, so here are some little updated lists just for these three platforms.

3DO

1. Star Control II
2. Starfighter
3. Samurai Shodown
4. Return Fire & Maps o’Death
5. AD&D: Slayer
6. BattleSport
7. Super Street Fighter II Turbo
8. The Incredible Machine
9. BladeForce
10. Shockwave 2: Beyond the Gate

Honorable Mentions: Doom, Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed, Wing Commander 3: Heart of the Tiger, Shanghai: Triple Threat, Gex, AD&D: Deathkeep

Jaguar

1. Tempest 2000
2. Super Burnout
3. Iron Soldier
4. Zoop
5. Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands
6. Rayman
7. I-War
8. Cybermorph
9. Val d’Isere Skiing and Snowboarding
10. Club Drive

Honorable Mentions: It’s not a game, but the Jaguar CD VLM is amazing!  Like, really amazing.  Also Battlemorph would probably be in 5th or so if I’d ever played it, but sadly I have not.

32X

1. Virtua Racing Deluxe
2. Space Harrier
3. Shadow Squadron
4. After Burner
5. Zaxxon’s Motherbase 2000
6. Star Wars Arcade
7. Metal Head
8. Star Trek Starfleet Academy Starship Bridge Simulator
9. Virtua Fighter
10. Tempo

Honorable Mentions: T-MEK, Blackthorne, Mortal Kombat II, Knuckles Chaotix (for those cool 3d bonus stages)

Overall – 3DO, Jag, and 32X

1. Tempest 2000 (Jag)
2. Virtua Racing Deluxe (32X)
3. Space Harrier (32X)
4. Star Control II (3DO)
5. Starfighter (3DO)
6. Shadow Squadron (32X)
7. Super Burnout (Jag)
8. Samurai Shodown (3DO)
9. Return Fire (3DO)
10. AD&D: Slayer (3DO)

Honorable Mentions: Iron Soldier (Jag), Zoop (Jag)

All of these 12 titles mentioned in Overall are B+ or better grade titles in my opinion, from the A+ all-time great Tempest 2000 on down to the B+-grade honorable mention titles.

Conclusion

 

In conclusion, this little exercise may not have proven much, but hopefully it does show that the 3DO had a nicely broad game library, with interesting games in a wide variety of genres.  Some of those games are good and others are not, but many of them are well worth playing, particularly if you like games from the era or are interested in mid ’90s experimental titles which try new things older consoles could not do. Overall, Tempest 2000 on the Jaguar is the best game here, and it is one of my favorite games of all time.  It is an exceptional classic, and I am thrilled  to finally own the original version.  The Jaguar is a very charming console too, with a mostly exclusive library of very odd games, for both good and ill.  Jaguar-era Atari gave games extremely small budgets and the system had nearly nonexistent third-party support, so seeing how much teams could accomplish on clearly far too little money is pretty interesting stuff.  Sometimes the results were good and other times quite the opposite, but that’s part of its charm, oddly enough.  The Jaguar’s ongoing, strong homebrew development community is another reason to be interested in the system — of these three systems, it has the most homebrew software by far. The Jaguar is an expensive endeavor to collect for, but I’m glad to finally be doing that.  Some Jaguar and 3DO games are very bad, but even that kind of thing can be pretty interesting, I think; just how unbelievably unplayable Shadow: War of Succession is, for example, must be played to be believed!  As for the 32X, the thing is an interesting system indeed.  On the one hand, Sega never should have released it.  The 32X proved to be a major mistake, helping to totally ruin Sega’s reputation among gamers.  You simply cannot abandon a platform that quickly after releasing it and expect there to be no consequences for that!  It’s sad, because some really cool 32X games were casualties of its very early demise such as the impressive-looking X-Men, but the quick death and major reputational damage shows that Sega’s best move would to have been to never release the thing.  However, it does exist, somewhat unfortunately, and… yes, if you like Sega and the Genesis absolutely get one!  The 32X library may be tiny, but among those few games are some fantastic classics.  Any Genesis owner will love some of the games on the 32X, and its best titles stand with the best on the Genesis.  The 32X is a lot cheaper to buy and collect for than the 3DO or Jaguar are, too, and the hardware is more reliable and less likely to fail in the future.  It may have the overall weakest game library of these three platforms, and it absolutely does lag behind both overall, but it’s still a weird and interesting platform I like.

Overall, I can see why most people never bothered with all three of these consoles, and why many collectors will pass on all three of them.  Try some games on one sometime, though; sure, many are rough by modern standards, but others still hold up well, and seeing the progress of the industry in that time of extremely rapid change is fascinating.  Tech this century has not changed anywhere near as rapidly as it did in the ’90s.  So yeah, get a 3DO.  And consider a Jaguar too, if you can afford it.

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Update

Sorry for the lack of any new articles, but some things happened.

First, I was planning on continuing the Guild Wars Game Opinion Summaries series for a while longer, but after the rape and allegation about Guild Wars music composer Jeremy Soule, I decided to put that off for a while.  He denies the allegations, but they sound quite credible. I will get back to my Guild Wars screenshots series — the soundtrack is only one component to that incredible game — but I think I’ll wait a bit longer before doing so.  I wish that they could remove that soundtrack and replace it with something  not written by someone evidently a total creep, but that’s not going to happen unfortunately I am sure.  Separating art from artist is sometimes difficult, and this is one of those times; Soule has never been one of my favorite game composers, but he did good work in a lot of prominent soundtracks.  It’s really too bad he seems to have abused that power.  This allegation is from after he completed work on Guild Wars 1’s soundtrack, but it’s still really bad, particularly in the context of other slightly less awful but also bad allegations that have surfaced about him.

So with that off the table for now, I tried to come up with something else but don’t have anything anywhere near postable yet.  I think I will do another Game Opinion Summaries list or update, probably a Genesis update covering all the games I’ve gotten since I finished the Genesis list.  I thought this was a good idea since the Genesis Mini is just about to release, so why not cover that fantastic console a bit more?  The other Game Opinion Summaries lists that I plan to do are a Colecovision one, following up my past Atari, Odyssey 2, and Intellivision lists with one for the other pre-crash console I have, and a TurboGrafx/PC Engine HuCards list.  I will do the Colecovision list this year, perhaps soon, and the TG16 one perhaps early next year, since that’s when the TurboGrafx Mini releases so why not?

As for what games I am playing other than classics, it’s mostly still random handheld puzzle games, Mario Maker 2 and They are Billions, which I got back into after its final release.  I have covered both of those games and they are what they are, extremely addictive games I love… or love to hate, depending.  Both can be quite hard and frustrating, in their own ways.  Mario Maker 2 is one of the best games ever, with an endless supply of Mario levels on all skill and competency levels, from extremely easy and basic to impossibly difficult.  My skill is probably somewhere in the middle, so I can’t handle the ones which require the super high-end skills but greatly enjoy the game anyway.  It’s perfect for anyone who likes Mario gameplay!  I still have not finished any levels in Mario Maker 2, but if I do I’ll write a post about it.  As for They are Billions, I love the strategy, but find the randomness very frustrating.  I’ve beaten several maps and am at the desert one now, which is quite hard.  I like the additional things they added to the game over the course of its time in Early Access, and it is a bit easier than it was when I first played it, but it’s still a very difficult game.  When you finally complete a map and survive that final wave it’s an amazing feeling, though!

So that’s the state of the site right now.  I’ll get something finished for posting this month.

Posted in Articles, Classic Games, Genesis, Modern Games, PC | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Guild Wars Memories and Screenshots, Part 13: April 2007 – November 2008

In early 2007, I got a new computer.  While my old one was a 1.5Ghz Pentium 4 with 384MB of RAM, a 32MB GeForce2 GTS graphics card, and Windows Millenium (which I still love! But anyway.), the new one was a Core 2 Duo E6600 with a brand new 320MB GeForce 8800 graphics card,  the new OS Windows Vista (which I also like a lot), and lots of RAM.  It was a huge upgrade, and I’d end up having the computer, with a few upgrades, for ten years.

When I got it, I remember thinking that maybe now I’d play PC games more again, like I used to.  By this point I already noticed that I was playing them less than I had before, in favor of classic console games mostly.  Well… that didn’t change.  The computer was a lot better than the old one in many ways, but I mostly kept playing older console games, only playing games on the PC here and there.  I started playing more modern games again in maybe 2016 and would say that now I play a mixture of older and newer games, but that’s well in the future here.

So, when the new PC arrived, I made sure to try out Guild Wars, still one of my favorite PC games, and I immediately noticed how much better the game looked!  These screenshots are the same exact game as before, it’s just running on a better computer actually able to get the most out of the game.  The difference is dramatic and looks great, and it ran at a stable 60fps almost all of the time too!  Despite this I still played a lot less of the game than I had in the previous few years, but the repetitive nature of the almost entirely clicking-a-skillbar gameplay had kind of gotten old so I wanted a break.  Still, enjoy the nicer-looking screenshots.  This article has 45 screenshots in four parts, ten from for April ’07, four from the August ’07 Guild Wars Eye of the North Sneak Peak event, 11 from November ’07, and 20 from January to October ’08.

Please note, the first images here are from April and then it skips to August because that’s what my screenshots do, they go from February to April to August.  From this point on long gaps like this between screenshot batches will be normal.

Additionally, with these larger, higher-resolution screenshots, please remember to click, or center-click, on the images to open full-size versions of the images, instead of the small thumbnails.

A. April 2007:  Heroes

In the world of Guild Wars, while the game was still fairly recent, 2007 was the last year with new paid content released.  Ten months after Factions, Guild Wars: Eye of the North released in August 2007.  Unlike Factions and Nightfall from 2006, which are technically stand-alone and do not require owning Prophecies, you can only play EotN after finishing one of the previous three campaigns.  The campaign is set in new parts of the Prophecies area of the continent, but you don’t need to own Prophecies, any of them will do.  Before EotN released, though, GW went quite some time with few updates.   Arena.net was having some problems deciding what they wanted to do next — did they want to make another full stand-alone campaign, an add-on, or what?  How will it work?  One campaign in progress got cancelled before Eye of the North was finally approved.  The resulting game was fantastic, but for paid content that was it for the game.  I’ve always been disappointed that the game was abandoned so quickly for a successful game of this kind, it deserved so much better!

So, while Factions had been followed with Nightfall only six months later, most of a year went by between Nightfall and Eye of the North.  I did not capitalize, however, and continued barely touching Nightfall.  It’s a good campaign and I like a lot of things about it, but somehow I kept stopping for long periods of time, sometimes because it was hard and I was playing it all solo and sometimes because, while great, I just didn’t enjoy the campaign quite as much as Prophecies or Factions.  Still, having FINALLY finished it much more recently, Nightfall is a fantastic campaign I should have played a lot more of earlier.  I didn’t, oh well.

Now, Nightfall released in the previous article, but I did not discuss the following issue that I have mentioned here and there at length then, so I will now.  Nightfall, beyond having a large and quite difficult new campaign, added one other major new feature to Guild Wars, which I have mentioned here and there and is both essential and unfortunate: Heroes.  Heroes are AI allies that you have much greater control over than the Henchmen that were the only thing available previously.  Where Henchies each have a specific build you cannot change, Heroes are fully customizable.  Indeed, you set Heroes’ skillbars up yourself, working from the skills you have unlocked on your account.  You can also buy skills for Heroes only, if you want some more skills for classes you don’t really play.  The AI won’t necessarily be as effective with some skills and builds as a human would, so reading up online about what kind of Hero builds work better is very useful, and Heroes are much better if they are in classes you have played extensively with other characters, but even so the ability to fully set your AI companions’ skillbars was fantastic.

The other major addition ANet made with Nightfall is giving players greater control of AI movements.  Nightffall added some new buttons to the minimap which you can direct your AI allies with.  Four buttons appear during gameplay when you’re in a mission or explorable area with AI allies.  The first three AI allies can be individually controlled, and the rest of your AI allies can be all moved together with a fourth button.  Where before they would just follow you around and could not be controlled beyond that, STRONGLY disadvantaging them versus human allies and encouraging the random-player-groups gameplay that I loved so much in the PvE (humans vs. AIs) part of the game, with these two additions that quickly started to break down.  To be fair, the sheer volume of content that had been added to the game, and people like me starting to play the game less, didn’t help either; where before everyone was playing the same campaign, now there were three and people were scattered through all three, without as many people in each of them.  As the years progressed, having AI allies became essential, as finding player groups for any number of PvE tasks rapidly became nearly impossible where it used to be easy, pre-Nightfall.  I still very much miss this element of the game, it was one of the things I loved about Guild Wars and Nightfall took it away.  My dislike of this is an important part of why I didn’t play much Nightfall for a long time.  However, how playable would Guild Wars be now without these additions?  A lot of the game would be even more impossible solo!

So, on the one hand, I greatly miss the Guild Wars of 2004-2006, where mostly randomly collected player groups did missions, quests, and explored together.  But on the other hand, Heroes and, perhaps even more, being able to give your AI allies direct ‘move here’ orders are essential things in a game with a lower and more spread-out playerbase.  You would never be able to always find human allies in every mission of this game at any time even if they had never added these things, so they are good.

It’s just a shame they had to add them, because it probably did more harm to the game than good — people really noticed how much better AI allies had become, and looking for player groups dropped off dramatically in very short order. Even when the playerbase was still high, while it was certainly still possible to find player groups sometimes, a whole lot of people who previously would have looked for players to group with moved over to Heroes instead because they’re almost as good and are always available.  It’s a very understandable choice that I would eventually do as well, because it makes the PvE game playable at any time, but as a result the game lost a lot of the sense of community that it had before.  Where in 2004 I had preferred Guild Wars over World of Warcraft in part because GW emphasizes grouping with other players you aren’t in a guild with much more, by ’07 that differential had surely gotten closer.  But, again, these changes also made the PvE game possible to play today in a way it would not be otherwise.  Late-game Guild Wars PvE is crushingly difficult as it is, without Heroes it’d be too hard to bear!  These changes really go both ways.  So, for both good and ill, the addition of Heroes is quite possibly the biggest change Guild Wars would have in its life so far.

Even if I was not playing a lot of Guild Wars anymore like I had been in 2004-2006, however, it was still a game I went back to with at least some regularity.  Including my estimates for beta playtime, in early ’07, as I say in this conversation with some random person, I was at maybe 900 hours played since the first beta.  I would only add a couple hundred hours to that over the next ten years.

Yup, I’m still playing more Factions than Nightfall.

Hey, it’s Nightfall! I’ve finally finished the first post-starter-island mission and gotten onto Kourna proper.

The Sunspear Sanctuary is kind of your base of operations during the campaign.

Kamadan, meanwhile, is the campaigns’ main city for interaction with other players. It has since become Guild Wars’ main social hub and trading place.

The random arenas.  And yup, this weird water-surface bug still works. Everything looks so much better now though, it’s all smooth and great looking!

In battle in the Random Arena.

… That didn’t end well. Too bad, but it’s almost always fun anyway.

I always like to go back to seared Ascalon every once in a while, it’s the first area I saw in this game and still is probably my favorite.


B. August 22-24, 2007 – Guild Wars: Eye of the North Sneak Peek Weekend (Beta Event)

A week before the game released, Arena.net held a very late promotional access weekend event, allowing anyone who owned a Guild Wars campaign to try out the beginning of the soon-upcoming new expansion.  I may not have played the game much in months, but was back for this event, I wanted to see how this new campaign would turn out.  I only have four screenshots from the event, but from the dates on the files they do show that I was once again here for a Guild Wars “beta”.  I don’t think I missed any public test events for the first Guild Wars.

My first impression of EotN was that I was impressed.  The first area is a beautiful snowy forest, like the South Shiverpeaks but more detailed and better looking.  It’s a pretty stunning looking area and one of the best in the game.  And in terms of gameplay, by starting from max level, EotN allowed for harder, more focused play.  I liked what I saw in the beta and wanted to play more.  And indeed, EotN would end up having a fantastic campaign loaded with interesting features and challenges.

Both in the beta and in the final game, you start EotN with a mission through a pretty great looking cave, fleeing from a threatening invasion…

Time is running out, will I make it?

And here we have maybe the first screenshot to really, really show off how much better the graphics are in Guild Wars in my ’07 PC than my ’01 one. From the anti-aliasing to the shiny lighting effects, this looks fantastic!  Indeed, the visuals in this shot still hold up extremely, extremely well.  Guild Wars’ graphics are some of the best ever.

The moon in the sky over this snowy mountainscape looks pretty nice too. I like this shot quite a bit.

 

C. November ’07 – Gameplay After the Guild Wars: Eye of the North Release

I believe I bought Eye of the North shortly after its release, digitally, but did not take any screenshots for a while.  So, this next screenshot batch is from November, when I took 11.  Many are quite similar, but I’m going to post all of them anyway.

Eye of the North is a great campaign, but it is quite different from past Guild Wars releases in important ways.  The difficulty is higher, as ANet cut back on lower-level content and started moving towards adding more high-level options to the game; the new skills and abilities are fewer and more focused, with far less of the bloated overlap of the skillsets that the two 2006 releases have; ANet started experimenting with having things go on in the world as you explored, something they would do a great deal more of in Guild Wars 2; missions do not have dedicated outposts before them like they used to, so you gather in towns for them; and more.  The previously mentioned uncertainty about what ANet should do with Guild Wars shows in the game, as they tried many new things in each of the four retail Guild Wars releases, but somehow they all work well together despite that, and perhaps in part because of it — the unique touches to each of the four campaigns keep them all interesting and worth revisiting!

As far as the story goes, there will be some very minor spoilers here, so I will block out this paragraph for anyone who wants none. Highlight the text to read it. EotN, as an expansion pack, was the first thing which actually continued the plot after the end of Prophecies, instead of telling other stories set elsewhere.  So, the plot returns to the issue of the Charr, among other things.  The game introduces several new friendly races, too, including the techie little Asura and the giant, warlike Norns.  You still can only play as a human, but the new races add some variety and both fit in the setting pretty well.  The expansions’ attempt to show different factions in the Charr and create a friendly, less evil Charr faction kind of works too, though even the “better” ones are still quite violent… though of course, so are humans.  That kind of equivocation would be the direction Guild Wars 2 would go in, but thanks to the way Guild Wars began, with the Searing, I don’t want to forgive the Charr.  On a related note, that GW:EN brings back the character Gwen is a clever touch, naming-wise.  Gwen’s position on the Charr’s a good one.  Anyway though, ignoring what they would do in GW2, EotN’s story is well-done, following up on the first game in some interesting ways.

I remember enjoying EotN and steadily playing through it, but looking back, I would not finish the campaign until late June 2009, almost two years after its release.  I don’t seem to have any screenshots from then, sadly — the screenshots I have from ’09, which I will start posting next time, do not show any of the ending parts of EotN — but did post about it online, so I know the date.  The basic structure of this game is that it has a main campaign of moderate to high-ish difficulty to go through, and optional side dungeons if you want some intensely challenging dungeons designed for human groups.  With AI companions most of the dungeons are too difficult for me and I did not have many people to play with anymore by this point, so unfortunately, though adding dungeons to the game was a fantastic idea, I still have not gone through most of them.

The new ice caves might look even better than the ones from Prophecies, which is definitely saying something.

Unfortunately, it’s not all shiny ice, there are monsters to deal with as well, in the dirt…

What, is this cave also a mine? Those are some oddly evenly-broken formations…

That little tree would probably look better with the camera a little farther away… but this was a ‘lots of first person shots’ set, so instead I got maybe too close for it to look ideal. Oh well. Anyway, we’re running through the wilderness, on the way to our next destination. As always.

At this point in the earlier parts of the EotN campaign, you compete in a tournament, facing off against a series of opponents, many of whom are familiar to people who have played the other campaigns. Here is Warmaster Tydus of Ascalon, a story character.

And LIttle Thom, from Kryta. He’s a henchman.

Melonni, a Hero from Nightfall.

Kisai, from Factions. She was a Henchman, but only in the starter island.

Sure you will…

This guy is from Ascalon as well… heh.

And last, of the ones I took screenshots of anyway, Cynn, one of the main story and henchman characters. Cynn’s “I want to kill as many Charr as possible” probably goes too far, but is not too far off base given what they did to Ascalon… Charr are the enemy!

D. 2008, January to October

These 20 images are all of the screenshots I took in the year of 2008.  Yeah, it’s not very many for a whole year; I may not have had many from ’07, but this is even lower.  Still, I was playing the game here and there, mostly focusing on slowly working my way through Eye of the North.  I may have been only sporadically playing the game, but was making slow progress through EotN, and was definitely enjoying it along the way.  This game has some fantastic looking areas, as this image set shows!  And the better computer better shows off just how good the game looks, too.

Yes, character models can take a while to load sometimes even on a better PC.

This place is creepy, look at the size of those cobwebs up on the ceiling… great sense of atmosphere!

Meanwhile, however, what the party, of me and Heroes as usual now, is doing is fighting some monsters.

I often use only two melee characters in my party, so Zenmai here has a tough job…

What an interesting, and ominous, building this is! What is that, spike-filled openings in the roof revealing a burning sky? With all of its dungeons, EotN very much makes up for previous Guild Wars campaigns having quite limited numbers of indoor areas, that’s for sure.

I know Guild Wars architecture is often hugely oversized, presumably to work well in a game, but this fireplace is kind of ridiculous if you think about it…

This hazy cave has a nice sense of atmosphere.

What is going on here, something is opening…

I don’t remember what this is at all, but it’s very cool looking!

And now it’s traveling up towards the flames above…

The amount of flowing lava here reminds me a bit of the Fire Islands, but this is somewhere else for sure. It’s also somewhere impressively dangerous-looking, though.

I know I say it all the time, but this game has truly spectacular art design. This scene here is yet another example of that.  The dark cave contrasts with the bright lava, surrounded with those tooth-like rocks…

Yes, it’s more dungeon traversal in EotN. These places are often really tough, particularly solo with heroes. I never have beaten most of them.

And unsurprisingly, given the firey theme, we see that this area is populated with Charr.

Hey, I didn’t turn the interface off!  It looks like things are going reasonably, my death penalty isn’t too high.  Warband of Brothers is one of the dungeons, and a quest, in EotN. You’re helping your Charr allies defeat some of the really evil Charr. Not that many of them are really all that good…

The way everything is on fire may make for neat scenery here, but the Charr’s addiction for burning things is horrible, as the Searing showed!

Same scene, interface off.

This area is pretty dark, I hope we’re getting out of the cave soon…

And indeed, I did! For a nice change of pace, here’s a bright, reflective ice cave.

Ah, it’s a mission. EotN’s missions were consistently very well designed and fun.

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