March 13, 2009

Handhelds Like No Other

Kube00 Says: Everyone knows about the Sega Nomad, but what about the Nintendo Virtual Boy, or the Game.com?

Virtual Boy
The Virtual Boy, also known as the "red screen of death," graced the American Market in 1995. Touted as the first handheld that created true 3D, users were forced to stare into a bulky headset, which attempted to create a 3D environment. The headset today reminds me of things they have at the Optometrist’s office.

The controller had six buttons and two d-pads, which most developers never fully utilized. There was an extension, or EXT, port on the side for multiplayer play. Unfortunately, very few games took advantage of this feature. Fourteen out of 22 games made it stateside, and most of those were first party games.

So what made it so bad? After all, it was a marvelous piece of technology. First off, it was uncomfortable and heavy to use, so it wasn’t much of a handheld or a portable console. There were warning labels on the console stating it was not recommended for those seven and under. People complained of getting headaches after about 30 minutes of play. And finally, although Nintendo released such games as Mario Clash, Mario Tennis, and Virtual Boy Wario Land, there were almost no third party support. To most gamers and the press it was an expensive piece of hardware that wasn’t in color. In fact, only 800,000 shipped before the Virtual Boy died a quiet death in 1996, and by that time some stores dropped the price down to $25. If you can find one in good shape today it’s still worth hanging on to as some of the games have grown immensely in value.

The Sega Nomad
Nothing like a portable Genesis, this bulky monster sputtered into the gaming scene in 1995. The Nomad came equipped with a/v jacks to plug into the TV, and featured a second controller port. One player could use the Nomad’s screen while the other stared at the TV. What’s not to love about the portable version of a console that became the bane of my youth? Lots. It sucked batteries; all six of them, gamers got 2-4 hours of play time if they were lucky. Sega’s powerful add-ons, such as the Sega 32X and Sega CD would not work on a Nomad without a clumsy and dangerous third-party adapter.

Although gamers had over 600 titles to choose from, the Nomad was too bulky to be portable. Unfortunately, it appeared at the end of the Genesis era when systems like the N64, PSX, and Sega Saturn were making headway. And to think I had one back in the day… It was great for short car rides, but beyond that, the regular Genesis more than filled the role.

Tiger's GAME.com
Gamers were blessed with the GAME.com in 1997. Originally targeted to an older audience, the GAME.com had a PDA-like interface with a touch screen and stylus. There were two cartridge slots and a 14.4 kps modem. What’s not to like? Well, getting online was a battle and a half. You needed the modem, which plugged into one of the cartridge slots, and the Internet Cartridge to access the web, which was limited to text only. Hey, at least you could check your email. Oh yeah, there was also a monthly fee, and even if you had a quick Internet connection there wasn’t any multiplayer support.

The GAME.com low points included a dim backlight with black and white graphics and dependence on a button battery to save data. Duke Nukem 3D and Resident Evil were titles that were supposed to draw in gamers but were painful flops. By 2000, the lack of third-party support, poor marketing, and ghosting served to bury this hybrid PDA and its successor, The Game.com Pocket Pro. A bright point is that you could say the touch screen idea might have influenced the Nintendo DS.

There are you are, three handhelds that lived less then successful lives for one reason or another.


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