You may think you know what the worst game console ever is; you may even think you’ve played it before. But maybe not. If you aren’t thinking of RCA’s Studio II, then you haven’t even begun to see bad. (Oops. Spoilers.)
There are always systems that people like to rag on constantly, like the Atari 5200 and Sega’s 32X. But what if I told you those don’t even come close to being the worst ever? This list will make paying $799.99 for a 3DO seem like the best idea ever.
Number 10: VM Labs NUON
This would have been more convenient for me to have listed this after the Atari Jaguar (spoilers), but I just don’t think it’s as bad.
VM Labs was a company founded by former Atari execs, the same ones that helped to run Atari straight out of business. Back in 1998 when PlayStation was king, N64 was dying, and Dreamcast was on the horizon, VM Labs announced “Project X,” (creative name, right?), which would be a “Mario killer.” Just check out the picture.
Gaming magazines, which loved to sensationalize these things, declared “Project X” to be a major contender in the upcoming console wars.
This wasn’t back in the B.W. era either. Forums full of burned Jaguar fans rallied behind the console.
I bet they were disappointed when NUON was announced; nothing more than a chip, called Ares 3, for DVD players that would allow for some enhanced features and well as video games, but gaming wasn’t even the core focus.
Samsung, Toshiba, and RCA licensed the technology, but not even every NUON enabled DVD player could play video games. That’s right. It’s a platform that didn’t even have full hardware support. The only player worth owning is the Samsung DVD-N501. How’s that for a cool console name?
Only eight games were ever released, two of them, Tempest 3000 and Iron Soldier 3, being sequels to Jaguar games. Even fewer movies hit shelves. Just four supported the NUON tech; hits like Bedazzled, and Dr. Doolittle 2.
The games worth playing are typically expensive. Next Tetris regularly sells for over $200. There is somewhat of a homebrew scene, however. Check out NUON-Dome for more info on that.
I don’t hate this thing. In fact, in the days before Blu-Ray, it was pretty cool to have. I could pop in homebrew DOOM and enjoy it. Now the tech is dated and there just aren’t a lot of games. VM Labs quickly went bankrupt, and by 2004 their DVD technology was extinct.
Number 9: Nokia N-Gage
Once upon a time in a world long, long ago, before Android and iOS phones existed, Nokia and their indestructible mobile devices were king of the cell phone industry. Their Symbian OS was the platform, and the primary one that mobile games were developed for. That seems like 100 years ago and yesterday both at the same time.
Nokia decided to capitalize on their market position by releasing a cellphone/portable game console in one. Makes sense, right? For the first time, everyone carried a cell phone. And if you already have a phone, why not also make it a console?
It wasn’t a terrible idea, but it was executed poorly. Nokia thought they did everything right. They got big developers, like Sega and EA to sign on, got big games, like Sonic N, and Red Faction as launch titles, and even had some critically acclaimed exclusives of their own, (Pathway to Glory, Asphalt).
What went wrong? Really, it was the wrong time. Released in 2003, it used SD cards as media. But by this time, advances in Wi-Fi and cellular technology made it so that sophisticated games could just be downloaded out of the air. When N-Gage games began showing up on other Symbian devices, it made it hard to justify a special gaming phone.
It had a particular hardware problem, too. Nokia obviously wanted to keep the screen at a standard ratio for cell phones, therefore making the games cross compatible (see above), but gamers hated it. We don’t like tall screens unless we’re playing 1942. We like nice wide screens so we can see where the fuck we are going. I recall this being particularly frustrating in SonicN, just about every game that wasn’t designed specifically for N-Gage. Despite that, the D-pad and raised action buttons were welcome and made N-Gage the best cell phone to game on.
What really fucked it from the start is the American system of subsidizing cell phones with contracts. This shit is illegal in most parts of the world. If a phone costs $300, you pay it and then hook it up with any carrier with no bullshit contract. Yes, contracts are bullshit. This meant that anyone already in a contract had to wait for it to expire if they wanted the subsidy. Worse, even if you were willing to pay the full price of the handset, it meant that if your carrier didn’t offer the N-Gage, you’d have to break contract and switch. My carrier didn’t support the N-Gage at all. I had to take to a back alley in a shady part of town to have it “flashed” so that I could use it as a phone.
Fuck all that though, let’s blame N-Gage’s failure on motherfucking side talking. Oh, never heard of that? It was a popular meme inspired by N-Gage. You see, the original model had the ear piece and receiver on the top of the phone, which looked silly, like talking into a taco. This therefore inspired people to talk into the sides of various other objects. Entire websites were erected as shrines to the phenomenon. Today we just have Reddit and maybe Tumblr.
Side talking was fixed with the updated N-Gage QD, a more compact version of the console-phone, but it didn’t fix the sales.
Number 8: Apple Bandai Pippin Atmark @World (WTF?)
How many fucking names does a console need? Who makes this piece of shit? Is it an Apple product, a Bandai product, or is Pippin a brand in and of itself? All three appear to be true to some extent. Let’s take a closer look.
A team at Apple designed it, Bandai distributed it, and Mitsubishi manufactured it (and smartly kept their name off of it). Pippin is not the name of the console, but of the product line slash software platform, and it was marketed as PIPP!N. The console itself is named “@World” in the U.S. and “Atmark” in Japan. Does that clear things up? Everyone calls it Pippin, though, so we will too.
Remember, this is 1995 Apple which would’ve gone out of business without an injection of cash from Microsoft. They had no idea what they were doing, and even Mac fans fucking hated Macintosh. And Pippin is a Mac.
This was a brief era where computers were too expensive for many families to afford, so companies were looking for alternatives. Sega created Net Link for Saturn. WebTV was released, and Apple shat out this turd. The era didn’t last long, either.
Pippin is a hard console to research because no one fucking owned it. Seriously, did you? Anyone you know? Ever even hear of it when it was new? Did EGM run a cover story of Pippin vs. PlayStation? No. I don’t even own one. It’s the only console on this list that I don’t own, largely because I can’t justify the outrageous price for an @World model.
For example, Wikipedia is so confused they have two articles on it under different names, and one says the thing was released in North America in 1995 and discontinued in 1997. That’s not the case. (Normally I’d fix something like this, but it’s such a cluster fuck I don’t care to clean up the articles). There are no press releases to be found online anymore, but this CNN article and another in PC World places the actual release of the @World in late 1996 for the low price of only $599. That makes for a hasty pre-Christmas launch followed by a post-Christmas early 1997 withdraw from the U.S. market, as the @World consoles were shipped back to Japan and rebranded as Atmarks. It’s the shortest lived console in history. Only around 46,000 units were sold worldwide.
In trying to think of something good to say about it, it did have a release of Bungie’s Super Marathon.
Number 7: Atari Jaguar
Raise your hand if you grew up with Atari. Okay, put your hands down. Those who didn’t, go buy an Atari Flashback 3 or something. Atari 2600 was awesome. Released in 1977, it was the first cartridge based console to go mainstream, primarily based on Atari’s rep in the arcades. (That’s right, arcade gaming used to be important.)
Company founder, and apparent idiot, Nolan Bushnell got lucky. He let the employees run the company, which must be why it was so successful. Later he sold out and sold the company to Time Warner, which led to the near destruction of the home console industry. Atari was then sold off to Jack Tramiel of Commodore fame. Tramiel didn’t give a fuck about the video game console “fad,” and branded Atari as a computer company instead, despite the fact that the 8-bit Atari 7800 was ready to go out the door in 1983. The new Atari apparently didn’t even respond to a Nintendo request to distribute the NES for them.
Once Tramiel saw Nintendo’s success, he rushed the 7800 out the door. A pretty good console, actually, which failed for various reasons that we won’t get into a lot here (ports of 1970s arcade games, no third party support due to Nintendo’s illegal practices).
So they lost the 8-bit wars. They decided to give it another go with the 16-bit generation and something called Panther. Who knows if that would’ve even been any good or not because they did the math and decided to scrap it for Jaguar, a “64-bit” console with some rudimentary 3D abilities.
I was a kid when this came out, and anything 3D was cool and it was the future. Jaguar was pricy, didn’t have a lot of games, and neither I nor anyone I knew owned one at the time. But there was an Incredible Universe store within bike riding distance, so I used to play Cybermorph, the world’s most annoying tech demo. Still, when I got older I bought one so I could fully enjoy Tempest 2000, which has a glitch where you can’t die, and Iron Soldier, which is boring, but not nearly as bad as shit like Flip Out.
Despite the fact that it sucked and no one liked it, Atari doubled down on Jaguar, releasing an expensive and worthless CD attachment (well, at least it allows for homebrews), plans for Jaguar Duo, a hybrid Jaguar/CD console in one, and an upgraded Jaguar, not a full new console, codenamed Midsummer.
Ya… This left Atari literally bankrupt. The company was liquidated, and the rights to the name “Atari” have changed hands many times since.
Number 6: Phillips CD-i
Did you know that CDs were developed after LaserDisc? It’s true. Phillips was one of the pioneers of the format, along with Sony, and the two teamed up to make the CD a standard format.
In 1993 LaserDisc had exactly a zero percent change of catching on. Who wanted movies the size of vinyl records? Everyone always said, “I’ll buy it when it’s the size of a CD.” Well, guess what? Phillips listened and attempted to create a new standard. An upgraded CD. The CD-i.
As we learned with Pippin, CD-i isn’t really the name of a console. It’s the name of a standard. The “i” stands for “interactive.” A CD-i disc contains audio that can be played on any standard CD player, but could also contain graphics CD+G, and video, VCD, and as we know, games. The standard was developed by Phillips and Sony in 1986, but it was not until 1991 when the Phillips CD-I 910 player was released. This, and the 400 series models, are typically what are referred to as being CD-i video game consoles, though several variations were released.
CD-i fails as a game console because it wasn’t a game console. Not really. It was really the market’s first attempt at being a home multimedia center, similar to what the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are today. It was for all entertainment, music, movies, karaoke, and video games.
problem was that no big game companies signed on, and Phillips had no idea how
to make good video games. They hadn’t made a console since Odyssey2,
which is a pretty fun console, but they had that one handed to them and still
didn’t manage it well.
By 1994 the CD-i player was marketed as a game console, and failed. It was too late. By 1996 the platform was abandoned and the Phillips Magnavox WebTV was launched, which would compete directly against the Sega Saturn Net Link.
Number 5: View-Master InteractiveVision
What the what? View-Master, the guys who make those goggles with the sliders?
Yes, they made a console. It’s a rather long story that is rooted deep in the history of gaming. It involves Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, a never released console codenamed NEMO (also known as Control-Vision), Digital Pictures, the infamous Night Trap, and a little known Atari 2600 third party developer called Axlon. It’s so interesting there’s a whole article about it here.
InteractiveVision used the same VHS technology that was developed for the Control-Vision console. That’s right, VHS. Video cassette tapes.
The console itself was required to hook up to a VCR. Media came on regular tapes, and players would get a signal if the console was connected correctly. I felt that this process sucked. You could have done everything right and the console would still not detect VCR, causing you to start all over again.
The “games” were interactive versions of either Sesame Street or The Muppets, with the one exception being Disney’s Cartoon Arcade, which is the only one I can’t find.
The video effects are ridiculously impressive. Allow me to describe a scene for you. The screen is divided into four quadrants. In each quadrant there is a muppet. One muppet begins singing the rubber ducky song. Selecting one quadrant will instantly cause only that muppet to sing, and it transitions seamlessly from one to the other. A button on the controller causes all four to sing simultaneously. This has to do with milti-track VHS technology, and it’s how Night Trap originally worked… on VHS. Just imagine.
At various points in the video there are video game portions, all of which are ruined by this monstrosity of a controller. It looks like it was designed by Pablo fucking Picasso. As bad as it looks, it’s even worse than that I promise you.
I recall one such game known as “Wiggle the Stick.” Yeah, Big Bird is holding the abortion of a controller and starts singing “wiggle the stick, wiggle the stick, just wiggle the stick.” Everyone joins in and now we all know how to wiggle our sticks. It’s pretty fucktacular in a double-facepalm sort of a way.
The next video segment is an old one where kids are singing about how much they love school. But uh oh, there is a “brick wall” blocking the video. You need to “wiggle the stick” to navigate a school bus around the screen to clear the blocks. The school bus is pretty fucking big, by the way. As you drive, it clears the bricks and the video is revealed. How hard does that sound? Not hard, right? It’s one of the most fucking difficult things I’ve done in gaming. I can beat Comix Zone in one life, breeze through Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Halo on legendary? No problem. I cannot finish this in the allotted time because the controller does not respond to commands. I may as well be attempting mind control. And I’m a grown adult who has been a gamer my whole life. This was designed for toddlers!
I tried to get my son to play it when he was five, and he was basically like, ‘fuck off, Daddy.’
Number 4: Memorex VIS
Did you know that there’s a website that still sells these new with 15 new games for only $279? I paid $25 on eBay, which is about five or ten bucks too much.
EVEN IF YOU ALREADY HAVE A COMPUTER WITH A CD-ROM DRIVE this unit is very desireable (sic) at this price because it can help you to keep younger children from tying up and possibly messing up your valuable PC configuration. Why fight over one computer and risk having your hard drive erased? Why buy an audio CD player when you can buy this interactive player which automatically plays audio disks (and comes with numerous free CD Rom titles) for the same price!
Unbelievable. Sounds like it was written recently by spammers from India. Oh wait, you probably are still wondering what the fuck this thing is, right?
Remember Pippin and what a steamer that thing was? This is kind of like that, but worse. Perhaps a better analogy would be that it’s a worse CD-i, considering it was trying to be the same thing, a multimedia center, before it tried to be a video game console.
Also called the Tandy Video Information System, it was released in 1992, sold only at Radio Shack, and after no one wanted to but it for its futuristic “CD playing” abilities, it too was marketed as a video game console.
The system ran a custom version of Microsoft Windows 3.x called Modular Windows, which allowed for a ton of crappy interactive CD-ROM shovelware to be released for it, including interactive games, like Sherlock Holmes, (also released for Sega CD).
Number 3: Vtech V.Smile Consoles
Touted as “education” consoles that feature “learning” games, the V.Smile series of consoles preys on parents who are idiots. There are three in particular, V.Smile Baby, V.Smile, and V.Flash. Usually these kinds of systems get overlooked for lists like these. They have no collectable value and no notable games. But anyone considering buying one for their children needs to read this. Consider it a PSA.
When I was a new parent I was one of those complete idiots who tried this out. I wanted to get my son into gaming as soon as possible, and I bought him a V.Smile Baby console when he was ten months old. That’s right. It’s a game console for infants. It’s recommend for nine months to three year olds.
I could never get him to use it. I don’t even think he understood the relationship between the controller and the nonsense that was happening on the television. Not that I blame him, I could hardly figure it out myself. Fortunately, that controller made beeps and noises outside of the game experience, and he loved that.
When he got a little older I got a V.Smile. It’s like 16-bit gaming for little kids, ages three to seven. Big joystick, big button, should be easy. Boy was I wrong.
Like with the aforementioned InteractiveVision, these games are generally unplayable. There was a Thomas the Tank Engine game, where you’re supposed to catch crates in the train. He got frustrated and put it down. I tried it and the hit detection was so lousy that it was impossible. If one pixel from the crate landed outside of a train car, then you missed the catch and you lose.
I never even tried the more grown up V.Flash which is for ages six and up. I can’t imagine wanting to. Now they have a V.Motion (God only knows that that is), a handheld V.Smile Pocket for on the go torture, and a fake e-reader (guess what it’s called).
Here is wisdom: No one is going to make a better video game than actual video game developers. Period. Vtech aren’t game developers and the games they put out suck shit like some sort of shit sucking Hoover.
My son is now nine, and guess what he has? An Xbox 360, an Android tablet, and a Windows 8.1 laptop. He actually uses DOSBox all on his own to load Scorched Earth, and other classic games. Bravo.
Kids don’t need kiddy learning consoles. They need real electronics that they can use for both learning and entertainment. There’s a special place in Hell for Vtech.
Number 2: Tiger Game.com
When this thing came out it was 1997. Gameboy was an unstoppable juggernaut. I first saw one in the Church’s Chicken next to my high school. I had to give it a double take. Tiger, the company behind all of those LCD games, made a real handheld console.
It had a touch screen and came with a stylus. It had, get this, a 14.4kb/s modem and could do email. There were even special websites that were basically text only so the Game.com could render it.
There were multiple versions too. The classic “chrome” version, as I call it, followed by more compact colored consoles (not color graphics, just colorful plastic casings), followed by the same thing only with a built-in light. It had a pack in cartridge and built in applications like a phone book and calculator. Poor timing, everyone was getting cellphones by then.
SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket Color would come out the next year and be in color, and have awesome games. In 2001 the Gameboy Advance would be released and once again fully dominate the market.
That’s not why Game.com failed. This piece of shit simply did not work. The developers were way to over ambitious, trying to get Sonic and Resident Evil 2 to work on this thing. Sega Saturn didn't even get Resident Evil 2.
The Sonic Jam game moves at about three frames per second. Resident Evil on this thing was a pipe dream. I once fired up Fighter's Megamix, and quickly turned it off, packed it away, and never played it again. I don't know what they were thinking. There’s a version of Duke Nukem for it too. I don’t even want to try it.
Despite all of those flaws, the biggest failure of all would have to be the marketing campaign. Tiger commissioned a series of commercials in which a midget calls gamers slackers, morons, and idiots. Because being degraded by a midget makes me want to buy your shitty product. And why a midget? I am sure that somewhere there was an activist group for little people up in arms over that shit.
Today the console and games, still sealed usually, are very cheap. There’s almost no collectable value here. Every once in a while I do have fun busting it out to show people just how bad it is.
Number 1: RCA Studio II
Of all failures in the history of gaming, this is the biggest. If we rewind back to the 1960s, inventor of the home video game console, Ralph Baer, was trying to sell his invention. RCA turned him down, and in the end Magnavox produced Odyssey, which launched in 1972.
By the mid-70s “Pong” consoles, that is to say, consoles that played only built-in games, were becoming more and more sophisticated, boasting better computing power and sharper graphics. Big companies were in on this. APF, Atari, Magnavox, Coleco, and more.
Everyone knew that the “next’ big breakthrough would be a console that is “reprogrammable.” In other words, one where you can change the game programs.
At the end of 1976, Fairchild Semiconductor was the first out the door with such a console, the fantastic Channel F.
Meanwhile, RCA had been racing to get their very own cartridge-based system to the market, the Studio II. It hit store shelves in early 1977, just after the 1976 holiday season. This thing was literally dead on arrival.
First it didn’t have controllers. Why the fuck didn’t it have controllers? Not even a joystick. Just two number pads on the console. The RF cable is 15 feet long, because RCA expected you to set this on your lap to play. For a two player game you may as well be fucking your opponent because that’s how close together you need to sit.
There’s literally no excuse for this. Odyssey way back in ’72 had detachable controllers. Many of the best Pong consoles, like the Odyssey 3000, had wired controllers. The Channel F’s controllers had eight direction control and four actions.
Studio II was also in black and white, despite the fact that the games were programmed in color. Again, color wasn’t a new concept. Channel F and many of the Pong consoles were in color.
The graphics were a joke too. Just as big of jokes as the games. Games like Freeway, where you endlessly drive a car on the road. A calculator could play a better game than this.
The “tennis” game wasn’t even built-in. It was sold separately and it about the worst version of Pong I’ve ever played, with the ball changing direction at random. (I am told this is intentional, but feels like a glitch.)
Once RCA got wind that Atari was releasing its first programmable console later that year, they pulled the plug and pretend that Studio II never happened.
Studio II is in fact so bad, that we have a separate article on why it’s the worst game console ever made in the history of time. Check it out.
The console I hate the most isn’t on this list!
Anytime anyone does a top ten list of anything, not everyone can be pleased. What I hope is that this list was both entertaining and educational, as several of these don’t crop up in a lot of the lists that I see, and at least not in this detail. Usually it’s more like, “and at number three, we have the Apple Pippin, which we learned about on Wikipedia and no one bought it. That’s all we know. Moving on to number two…” We do our best to get you in depth, interesting information.
There are a lot of awful consoles that have been released. Sometimes it’s hard to choose. I could’ve made it a top 15 list, but I’m already 4,336 words into this article and the line must be drawn somewhere.
Further, I feel that a lot of the consoles that make appearances on these lists aren’t really that bad.
3DO, for instance, was mind blowing when it was released in 1993. Games like Road Rash easily hold up the 32-bit consoles released in the coming years. It also didn’t matter how many controller ports the system had because the controllers could be daisy chained off of each other to accommodate more players. What sucked about it is that it cost $799 because it was a new way to enter the market. A failed experiment. The console and a few games can be found today for under $100 and it’s a great addition to anyone’s collection.
Sega CD and 32X often make these lists too. I love hearing the urban legend that got cooked up in the beginning of the A.W. era about how they were so abysmal that they sunk the Saturn and caused Dreamcast to fail.
Please. Sega CD was a niche console that was a success in its market. It was expensive so few people had them. Still, Snatcher is one of the best games ever, and for reasons I don’t quite understand Sonic CD is held up as one of the best Sonic games.
32X, by the way, had a lot of shovelware, but some excellent games as well in Star Wars Arcade, Virtua Fighter, and over a dozen others, which is a pretty good ratio for a console with less than 40 games total. Truth is, 32X was the hot item in Christmas 1994 selling rapidly. It was short lived because it was supposed to be. The goal was to sell a very cheap (only $150!) add on to hold people over until the Saturn arrived, and to prevent Nintendo from overtaking Sega’s lead during the 1994 holiday season. It did that and more. Read all about it sometime.
Some people have suggested that ColecoVision and Intellivison were total crap as well. They were simply not-Atari, but in many ways better, and had some amazing games, ColecoVision in particular had super crisp graphics.
Atari 5200 you say? Ya that sucked. Not backwards compatible and a broken controller. So did Emerson Arcadia 2001, but mostly because by the time it was released in 1982 it was a generation out of date. The APF M-1000 was equally pointless.
Tiger’s LCD console, R-Zone was pretty bad as far as consoles go, but it did exactly what it advertised it could do. Play LCD games. It did it pretty well, too, though the headgear model was pretty dumb.
Which brings me to Virtual Boy, Nintendo’s first commercial failure. Really though this is a case of the idea coming before the technology. It was a battery sucking monster that caused headaches and couldn’t be played for very long. Still, Wario Land was pretty amazing, and games like Mario Tennis makes collecting it fun, even if only as a curiosity piece.
As I am writing this someone suggested Pioneer LaserActive. No way, it plays TurboGrafix and Sega games, plus its own, and laserdisc! It’s too cool. And too valuable and collectable.
As for non-U.S. consoles, I ignore them completely. I don’t care how bad the Bandai Playdia is as all of the games are in Japanese and I’ll never play one.
Differences of opinion?
Of all the crappy consoles in history, I didn’t find them as bad as the ten I chose. I am sure that everyone has their own idea of the worst console ever. Maybe ones I named are your personal favorites, or you think you know of a console that puts all ten of these to shame. That’s cool, we all have different opinions.
Fortunately, we’re on the internet and can have two-way communication. You can share your thoughts in the comments, which you can do without having to register. Just write whatever you want and throw in a fake email address. Then it’s there for me and everyone to read.