We’ve seen the videos. We’ve read the top 10 lists. We’ve heard the arguments. A lot of gamers firmly believe that there are, or have been, terrible game systems in the past. They’ll tell you how such and such system had no good games, was poorly designed, had a crappy controller, and generally was an abysmal failure. A few of the usual targets include the Atari Jaguar, Phillips CD-I, and 3DO. To a lesser extent the Sega CD, 32X, and Virtual Boy also get called out. Handhelds aren’t immune either; plenty of abuse has been directed towards the likes of Nokia’s N-Gage, the Gizmondo, the SuperVision, Atari’s Lynx, and Tiger’s Game.com. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s all a bunch of bunk. There’s no such thing as a bad game system.
How a game system gets a reputation for being awful is largely predicated on prevailing narratives online; essentially people posting on message boards and making YouTube videos about old systems. For those who aren’t old enough to remember these consoles, or simply have no direct experience owning them and playing games on them, the videos, articles, and board posts make it seem as though these maligned machines were akin to a dumpster fire. The truth is this; there are at least a few good games for pretty much every mainstream commercially released game system. In some instances we’re not talking about a lot of games, but still some. There is no inherent fault or defect with a console that renders it incapable of having any good games. When a system doesn’t do well the culpability lies with the parent company.
Atari, for instance, is notorious for its ineptitude, both in terms of internal, first party game development as well as marketing and securing third party support. There’s little doubt of their incompetence and the impact it had, especially on the Lynx and Jaguar. Nevertheless, there are still great games for both systems. The Jaguar had Tempest 2000, Defender 2000, Super Burnout, Raiden, Ruiner Pinball, Aliens vs Predator, and Power Drive Rally to name just a few. The Lynx had a ton of great arcade ports like Toki, Stun Runner, Checkered Flag, Hydra, Klax, Ms. Pac-Man, Shadow of the Beast, and Ninja Gaiden. And, unbeknownst to most of the gaming public, games are STILL being made for the Jaguar and Lynx to this day, including dozens of ports of Atari ST games for the Jaguar and entirely new titles designed specifically for the Jag and Lynx. There’s even Jaguar and Lynx cartridges that will allow you to play ROMs on the actual hardware via an SD card.
Any piece of hardware can run great software, it just depends on the developers understanding how to get the most out of said hardware. Revered consoles like the SNES and PS2 had plenty of abysmal games alongside some truly fantastic ones. The same is true of reviled systems like the Jaguar and CD-I, but their commercial failure resulted in a much smaller library of games, which adds to the perception that they have few, if any, quality titles worth playing. Had a company like Nintendo or Sony released hardware identical to that of a failed system like the 3DO or Jaguar, chances are they would’ve fared a lot better. That’s because, again, the fault isn’t with the system itself but with the company tasked with promoting and supporting it.
So, the next time you see a “Top 10 Worst Consoles” video or read a blog post about how a certain console was terrible and awful, do a little digging and see if that’s really the case. Fire up an emulator and try some games out. They’re meant to be played after all; you may discover that what you’ve seen, read, and heard isn’t entirely accurate.