With Nintendo’s popularity at an all-time low, Xbox and PlayStation have become the Coke and Pepsi of home game consoles. But there was a time when there were many systems on the market from which to choose. Sure, there were two major companies, Sega and Nintendo, manufacturing most of these systems, but the relentless competition between the two giants resulted in around a dozen handheld and console-gaming systems throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Add Atari and SNK into the mix and you have a glut of options over 30 years. Here are five of the best.
The Neo-Geo was a great idea on paper and a nightmare in execution. The notion of delivering home gamers a system that matched arcade machines in terms of graphics and sound quality was revolutionary. Unfortunately, that kind of forward thinking came at a price—$649.99, to be exact. Despite having a great arcade-style controller and a respectable library of fun games, such as “Samurai Showdown,” “Metal Slug” and “Aero Fighter 2,” SNK pretty much priced themselves out of the competition, and the Neo-Geo died with a whimper.
When harkening back to the glory days of console gaming, this piece of hardware often gets lost in the shuffle. But while people tend to remember the Genesis first and foremost, no one should forget Sega’s last hurrah into the world of home consoles, the Saturn. This 32-bit system produced some of Sega’s most imaginative titles, from “Panzer Dragoon Saga” to “Nights Into Dreams.” Sadly, in the mid-‘90s, Sony’s up-and-coming PlayStation eclipsed the Saturn, and Sega would skulk off into oblivion. Players who do revisit the Saturn (or discover it for the first time) will find games with high re-playability value that feature the first shades of the lush, open-world environments gamers love today.
Originally released in Japan as the PC Engine, NEC was all but certain they could replicate the console’s popularity stateside. After all, it was the first video game console that offered a CD-drive attachment, signaling a new age of home gaming. So what if the attachment cost an additional $399—NEC was going to corner the market. Or so they thought. They released the TG-16 in ’89, amid the frenzy of Sega and Nintendo releasing their own new systems. In hindsight, this was sort of like an unranked club fighter taking on a prime Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali at the same time. Of course the TG-16 quickly faded into oblivion. But that doesn’t mean it was horrible, necessarily. In fact, the console offered some great games, such as the gory classic “Splatterhouse” and Mario clone “Bonk’s Adventure.”
Magnavox Odyssey 2
When you hear “Magnavox” and “video game” in the same sentence, you better believe you’re back in the ‘70s. To be sure, this system makes the list more for its place in history (and the fact it looks great displayed alongside other ‘70s/’80s kitsch) rather than any great gaming it offered. It was the sequel to 1973’s Magnavox Odyssey, and the second iteration, released in 1978, included a keyboard, which came in handy when playing those video game/board game hybrids. Overall. the gameplay was even clunkier than the Atari 2600; still, there’s enjoyment to be had in firing up a highly pixelated “Frogger,” or that Pac-Man rip-off “K.C. Krazy Chase.” Q’bert and Popeye even made an appearance on this console.
Retro gamers who keep an Odyssey 2 on display should keep the continuity going and purchase one of these bad boys as well. Blocky and with a space-helmet-like appearance, the Vectrex just screamed early ‘80s. Like the Odyssey, the overall quality of this console is debatable. However, the vector-based graphics were sleek for the time, and this home system even offered an arcade-style controller long before SNK ever came up with the idea.
These are just five overlooked and forgotten game consoles. What do you think—did we overlook some other gems?