The future is awaits! It can be yours for only $300. It slices, it dices, it’s a legitimately good idea. Or perhaps it’s got dollar signs written all over! But alas, some things in life are just not meant to be.
No, we’re not talking about the Sega Activator or the Power Glove. Those things didn’t work at all. What I’ll be addressing today will be devices that actually worked to some degree or were well ahead of their time but for some reason or another just couldn’t get off the ground.
5. PSP Go
The aim: To be an enhanced remodel for the PSP, which has already slimmed down a ton in a way to compete with the Nintendo DS lines. The design had a smartphone-esque design as Sony began its retaliation against the Android OS phones and iPhones.
Why it was a bust: Compatibility issues by stripping away UMDs, high price tag for a system that was already on life support in the US, and questionable button quality. Mix in the Xperia Play and the recent PS Vita which both boast the similar plays to the phone crowd but did it better. The Xperia Play was actually a phone with a few decent niche users and the PS Vita did everything and more, even with its somewhat obtuse way to get UMD games back onto it.
What could have been: If the Go was better contrived, Sony could have had a very good rival to the DS, especially since the DS’ later models were closer in price to the DS fat. But alas, the Go suffers an inferiority complex to its better cousins. A “different” PSP 3000 would have sold the point for a more focused product.
The aim: Straight out of Hal Laboratories, collect cards, scan them, play games, and unlock new abilities when you duel in real life in the Pokemon TCG. Pokemon support was the strongest with boosters that gave owners of Ruby and Sapphire extra battles and items.
Why it was a bust: Most of the classic games you could play via E-Reader, like Donkey Kong, required scanning five cards and of course if you lacked one of them, you couldn’t play. Since they were sold all in one pack, you may as well popped in a cartridge. The single-card Game & Watch games and the Pokemon minigames fared better since the Pokemon cards had value themselves and the G&W games only took up one card.
Availability was also a great issue. Simply finding these cards was a great challenge, even the Pokemon cards. The Pokemon E-expansions are the rarest card sets in the history of the game. Combine lack of general support with high production costs and this venture in media-integration petered out of existence. At least it’s still wonderfully compatible with anything GBA, even the Gamecube.
What could have been: If the technology was stronger, a wider variety of games could have been played outside of a few Game & Watch games. The E-Reader could have opened a new innovation for Nintendo as well as had new integration with TCGs, but the gimmick was short lived. It could have given an extra-content experience, like with the battle e-reader cards, which gave Pokemon players extra items and new opponents. Perhaps extra content in that form could have enhanced present GBA and GCN games.
3. Nokia N-Gage
The aim: Cash in on the phone crowd, almost a decade in advance. Clearly this was a device that was well ahead of its time. In a short amount of time in its rocky lifespan it underwent a few redesigns and even opted for downloadable games.
Why it was a bust: With no real library games, an uncomfortable layout of buttons, and design flaws as a phone, the N-Gage quickly became the laughingstock until it died. The giant price tag also hurt sales significantly and the mega-hit GBA SP would rout this competitor before it could get out of the gate. By that time, people flocked to Nintendo and its familiar heroes at a cheaper price and settled for carrying both their communications and gaming separate.
What could have been: Nokia would have had a huge jump into the future. It was something ahead of its time before Sony started taking cues from the cell phone market in their PS Vita. Perhaps if it was designed with a more gamer approach, instead of its oddly oriented screen and poor button choice, it would have done somewhat well. Attempting an FPS on this phone would be a bad idea, but a more casual or arcade lineup that didn’t push the weak speakers and screen would have sold much better. But with the DS and PSP coming on their way, and many developers pledging their allegiance, the phone faded into obscurity.
2. Game Boy Micro
The aim: With the iPod Nano and other miniaturization that were going on around the mid 2000s, Nintendo decided to cash-in on the craze with its smallest Gameboy yet. It traded stereo sound for a compact design more ergonomic than the SP and with a crisp screen boasting five levels of brightness. With a customizable faceplate it was part of Nintendo’s “who are you?” campaign as Nintendo was ironically trying to find its identity in the 6th generation consoles.
Why it was a bust: There were only three or four Micros available: black, white, a Pikachu one, and the Famicom/NES retro style. Only six faceplates were available and they weren’t even sold separately from the Micro itself. Even once you snagged the Micro, say goodbye to multiplayer. You had to buy all new adapters and link cables to have this sucker communicate with other GBAs and the Gamecube. With the DS around the corner, the supposedly customizable single-player GBA was dropped. To this day, the Famicom Micro is perhaps one of the greater collectors’ items for a Nintendo fan.
What could have been: It could have made a few extra bucks and the device itself wasn’t too shabby. Owning the Famicom Micro personally, it’s more form-fitting than the SP with better buttons. It really does turn a few heads when people think you’re on a phone too. People these days love the ability to customize and personalize cosmetics, and if the Micro perhaps came with the adapters to the regular GBA it may have sold more. Better timing would have been better as well, but then again, Nintendo didn’t have much faith in the DS, which would become a breakaway hit for Nintendo’s reformed image.
The aim: Sega’s final console before they went on a software-only venture. A CD-based console to rival the N64 and the forthcoming PS2. The Dreamcast had great games with solid netplay before Xbox Live and even a creative memory card system. Online had a full 56k modem support (remember, this was good in 1999) so you could surf the net by jacking in a keyboard and mouse on a then fast connection.
Why it was a bust: The Dreamcast’s decline was not induced from itself but from Sega’s own struggles. Poor design choice and gimmicks weren’t what killed the Dreamcast but the ghosts of bad business choices. 32X failed miserably and the fall of the Saturn put Sega into the red, not giving them the assets to make this diamond in the rough really shine. With Sonic, Jet Set Radio, Power Stone, and Phantasy Star the lineup was all-star. The juggernaut of the PS2 was looming ahead with DVD support, old rival Nintendo was about to unleash its then-mysterious Gamecube a year later, and Microsoft was readying to crash the party with the Xbox. Sega reevaluated its role in the industry and proceeded to focus more on games, but not without sending its stellar games to be ported on other consoles, like the Sonic Adventure games. Fortunately, the Dreamcast has obtained cult-following and even indie games are still being developed for it with its friendly GD-ROM development.
What could have been: The Dreamcast could have kept Sega in the console market with its first and second party name-recognition, and SegaNet could have given a much coveted online-gaming status to the company before Microsoft could even think of Live. Perhaps if the Dreamcast was still going on today, we would have excellent netplay from Sega instead. The Dreamcast pioneered many things that are considered the standard for today’s games from how memory is managed to even game-design philosophy (cell-shading anyone?). To this day, you can still feel the Dreamcast’s legacy in even the Wii U pad with its screen on the controller and many classic late 90s games.
Anyway, even though most of the technology or financial support was not up to snuff for most of these devices, the ideas remained and would later be capitalized on. Innovation (and marketing genius) doesn’t wait for anyone. Join me next time when I strap a Wiimote to a glove.