Though plenty of other game systems have been as poorly designed as the Philips CD-i, it's the console's involvement in one of the greatest stories of gaming history that earns it the top spot. See, Nintendo saw the wild success Sega was having with the Sega CD (har har…) and decided it might be nice to develop a CD add-on for their own Super Nintendo console. Originally they were working with Sony to develop this technology, though at the last minute they abandoned the Japanese electronics giant in favor of a deal with Philips.
"Screw you Sony guys. You'll never make this PlayStation thing work…"
Anyhow, it was just a few months into their partnership that Nintendo realized they'd made a horrible mistake, and the technology Philips was putting together was pretty gosh darn awful. Again they pulled out of the deal, though due to some contractual obligations, Philips still had the rights to develop games for their new console using Nintendo's own properties.
This is why even though the CD-i is really no more awful than any other terrible console out there (3DO, Jaguar, etc), it is definitely one of the most reviled, simply for having done its best to take a dump on the legacy of some much beloved Nintendo characters. Though Hotel Mario was bad, the trilogy of Zelda titles were a particular insult to the beloved franchise, with some cringingly bad CG cutscenes which will haunt the series for years to come.
To think, Nintendo could've co-owned the PlayStation brand with Sony, the two giants ruling together as the undisputed kings of gaming. Instead they let a bunch of jackasses rape some of their most famous brand names, sticking with overpriced cartridge-based media and letting Sony overrun them in the console race.
Oh what could've been…
It's going to be weird to have to explain to our children that human beings once experienced boredom. I thought it was bad when I found myself checking my phone in the Starbucks line, unable to withstand a whole minute of waiting patiently to make my order. Now I find myself browsing Facebook on my phone whenever the cat video I'm watching on the computer starts to drag on a little long.
My girlfriend is putting on a three-hour play this weekend, and I don't have the heart to tell her how many cat videos I'd rather be watching. My attention span is non-existent at this point.
Anyhow, the point is that there was actually a dark age when our phones were not superhuman distraction devices, where even being able to store a gig worth of MP3s or play some rudimentary version of Brick-out was practically mind-blowing. It was during this odd evolution of cell phones into smart phones that Nokia figured it was time to capitalize on the ever-growing gaming sector by designing the worst possible gaming device possible.
If you ever felt like talking into a taco, the N-Gage made it possible
In a perfect world Nokia would've maybe listened to gamers, many of whom actually wanted a gaming cellphone though would've preferred one that didn't suck. Instead they threw together this taco-shaped piece of crap, the N-Gage featuring an awful d-pad, awkward buttons, cartridges that couldn't be swapped out without removing the battery, and a vertical screen perfect for playing space invaders, and nothing else.
The best thing that came out of the N-Gage was the Sidetalkin' meme, where people posed with stupid pieces of technology help up to their heads, mocking the console's terrible design. There's actually an ancient picture of myself in High School somewhere on that Sidetalkin' site…
God I was a sexy beast
The story of the Virtual Boy is a sad one for gaming nerds like myself, as the death of one of gaming's most unsung heroes can be traced back to this piece of junk.
Gunpei Yokoi is one of the reasons Nintendo is still around today. If not for his many quirky inventions (including the Game & Watch line of LCD games), it's very possible the company would've went out of business long before Donkey Kong helped propel them to the forefront of the gaming industry. Not that this tinkerer was only capable of gizmos however, Yokoi also created the original Metroid and Kid Icarus games, as well as a certain handheld you may remember fondly:
That's the one.
Thing is, eccentric geniuses sometimes have to be reigned in, much like how Nintendo now only lets Miyamoto ingest acid when he's in a safe and controlled environment, with no sharp objects around. Thing is Yokoi designed the goddamn Game Boy, and having designed the most successful portable console of all time means people tend to listen to you when you say you've got the next great portable in mind.
Problem is, two seconds alone with the Virtual Boy and you can tell it's one of the stupidest things ever designed. Not that the architecture was flawed in any way, the few games created for the thing were actually pretty decent. Problem was they all required you to jam your head into the nerdiest VR headset of all time, with the danger of burning your retinas if you spent more than five minutes gazing into the red and black abyss.
There's really no way to play the Virtual Boy without looking like an idiot
Nintendo lost a ton of money, Yokoi left the company and got hit by a car and died. Somewhere in the middle of those two things he also designed the Wonderswan, which is perhaps the coolest name for a video game console ever. Kind of sad that it never made it stateside, Western marketers would've had a hell of a time localizing that thing.
ALL THE POWER OF THE MAJESTIC SWAN, NOW IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND.
Thankfully, Nintendo definitely learned their lesson from the Virtual Boy, realizing that stupid visual gimmicks aren't enough to justify exorbitant price tags.
Uh… never mind.
I've always thought that you'd have to be a real son of a bitch to take a job marketing products to children. See when an adult buys something stupid, it's their fault for having huffed so much paint in high school. Kids however, are naturally dumb as rocks, and will fall for just about every trick in the book. I can't tell you how many boxes of Trix cereal I forced my mom to purchase, just waiting for the day that silly rabbit would show up and I could soundly kick his ass in defense of my delicious cereal.
You're a rabbit! STARVE AND DIE
Point is that while it's probably defensible to hawk three dollar boxes of cereal with colorful cartoon characters, straight up misleading kids into buying horrible toys takes a particularly black heart, and I imagine there's a special layer of hell reserved for the jackasses who helped market the Action Max:
Let's put this in perspective. In the 80s, kids had no goddamn idea how a video game console worked, and to be honest, their parents probably didn't either. Seeing this incredible commercial, with realistic fighter planes swooping around the sky, they had no way to suspect that the Action Max was a horrible, horrible lie.
The source of those fantastic visuals? Pre-recorded VHS tapes, all featuring giant robots or jet fighters or whatever other crappy 3D models the Action Max developers were able to whip on the computer in their garage. All five of the console's "game cartridges" were in reality nothing more than terrible, terrible movies with awkward targeting visuals scattered about the screen. This meant there was no way to really interact with these "games" at all, though the system's score display would go up if you pressed the trigger at the right time!
Best of all, it came out in 1987, right around the same time as the original Nintendo. Imagine getting an Action Max for Christmas instead of the NES you asked for:
Let's start with the console which first gave me the idea for this article, the Sega CDX (known in other markets as the Sega Multi-Mega). Now when the Sega CD first came out, gamers were in a frenzy, eagerly lining up outside their local electronics retailer in hopes of being among the first to purchase the thrilling new console…
Actually wait, that didn't happen at all. Truth is that most people didn't even really seem aware of this odd Genesis add-on. Unfortunately, Sega's marketing department put a lot of stock into the idea that people were ready to blow obscene amounts of money solely for the novelty of insanely pixilated video sequences. After all, your mundane Power Rangers sidescroller is mad a million times better when a five second clip from the show plays before boss fights, right? Meanwhile, full motion video games, or FMVs, were anticipated by many to be the new industry dynamic, turning those boring old games into playable movies.
Yeah, bet you couldn't wait for this crap to load…
Well, it turns out that nobody really gives a crap about controlling a bunch of B-movie actors as they bumble around abandoned porno sets (nobody except for the United States senate, who saw these undeniably terrible games as a threat to the future of America's children). FMV games weren't fun, and with nobody knowing what else to do with the CD format, the system ended up saddled with little more than some minorly-spruced up ports of games people already owned. Even when one of the best Sonic games of all time dropped as a Sega CD exclusive, most people just rolled their eyes and kept playing Sonic & Knuckles.
So, as a last ditch effort to get people interested in the Sega CD platform, Sega came up with this brilliant idea: a portable CD player that also played Sega CD and Genesis games. In theory this is a kind of awesome idea, letting you bump around town rocking out to your Blues Traveler CDs, with a pair of controllers and a copy of Mortal Kombat jammed into your backpack in anticipation of a fun afternoon at Steve's house. Problem is, it's hard not to look like a jackass with a giant fifteen pound CD player jammed into your waistband, especially when you're replacing the unit's three AAA batteries every hour or so.
I loved this song as a kid, but it wouldn't have justified a CDX purchase.
Point is, I found one of these things at a thift store for $5 yesterday.
I think I paid too much.
Though console fanboys like to claim such nonsense as "the PS3 sucks balls" or "the 360 is a piece of crap," the truth is that none of the modern gaming systems are really that awful. Sure the Nintendo Wii only has five games worth playing, but at least grandma can enjoy a round of Wii Golf now and again. Point is that we're taking a look at five truly stupid video game consoles. Ridiculously designed pieces of plastic meant only for eating your money and making you sad.
Did you own any of these clunkers?