Tired of playing the same games, both new and retro? Well, just for you, I put together a list of some of the most obscure game consoles out there!
With the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X on the horizon, we have a ridiculous amount of console options to play a seemingly endless amount of games on. But what about the consoles from the past that aren’t so well remembered? For every beloved Sega Genesis or NES, gamers have a forgettable Atari Jaguar or Game.Com console to play on.
Over the course of 40 plus years of gaming history, it’s obvious that there should be video game systems that don’t garner a lot of memories from gamers. And just for you, I’ve put together a list of 5 of these not-so-well-remembered video game consoles to check out!
In a world of hyper-marketed video games, sometimes it’s nice to take a step back and enjoy something from the game industry you may not have heard of before. Hang on to your controllers, as we count down five obscure game consoles you should definitely check out!
3DO Interactive Multiplayer
Probably the most well-known console on this list, you just might have heard of the 3DO if you were an active gamer during the early to mid-90s. Commercials like the above video were ALL over the airwaves and promoted the 3DO as a more “adult” alternative to the SNES and the Sega Genesis. In the early years, the 3DO actually seemed to have a huge amount of promise that went along with it. In fact, Time Magazine named the console as the 1993 product of the year. The console also had a very interesting business model in that different companies would design their own versions of the console to sell on the market.
Some of the companies that made 3DO systems included Panasonic, Sanyo, and Goldstar. Despite this interesting business model, and being the most advanced system on the market for a time, the 3DO ultimately failed to make a lasting impact on people’s memories. One of the major issues was its price point. At launch, the 3DO weighed in at over $799 USD which is over $1400 USD in today’s money. Many consumers just could not rationalize spending that much on a console when there were more established options on the market.
There was also a lack of successful first-party titles to convince gamers to purchase the 3DO. Most of the best-received titles on the system were ports of PC or arcade games, with only a handful of exceptions. Another big contributing factor to the failure of the console was that its title as the most advanced console on the market was quickly re-claimed by the PlayStation, which launched in 1995. The final point was the previously mentioned manufacturing business model. Though it sounds like an intriguing concept, the idea was ultimately a dud. Eventually, Goldstar’s hardware was reduced in price to only $199, and ultimately sold at a loss after hoping they could make up for it with software sales.
The founder of the system, Trip Hawkins, admitted that third party manufacturing was one of the biggest contributory factors in the failure of the console. So with the above said, why is it worth checking out? Well, some of the ports on the 3DO were simply better. Games like Alone in the Dark and Star Control II ran fantastically on the 3DO system. The updated version of Road Rash on the 3DO is also one of the finest examples of excellence on the system.
In addition, though Gex was eventually ported over to the PlayStation, the original 3DO version ran far better. This was the case of many original 3DO titles. Though it ultimately failed, the 3DO and all of its different hardware versions are a curiosity worth checking out. For a couple hundred bucks on eBay, this piece of gaming history could be yours to explore.
Now before you roll your eyes at me, let me explain. I’m aware of the bad reputation the CD-I has, but I still think it’s a curious console very worth checking out. The CD-I actually has an interesting story behind it. Originally, Nintendo had an agreement with Sony to make a disk-based Nintendo console. After Sony pulled out, an agreement was made between Nintendo and Philips.
Though the agreement with Philips ultimately fizzled out, this work with Nintendo on a CD game console was what actually led to the creation of the CD-I. Their relationship with Nintendo also resulted in a licensing agreement that allowed Philips to develop games using Mario and Zelda characters. These games led to some pretty awful, but hilarious results that became legendary on the internet. Outside of these games, Philips had a small library of other games, many of which were educational. Philips also marketed the CD-I as a CD player and an interactive entertainment system that could play video CDs.
Some of the features were way ahead of their time, including the ability to use the console with the internet to check emails and browse the web. So, other than the weird Nintendo-based games, what was so wrong with the CD-I? One of the biggest reasons was its lack of a strong video game library. As outlined above, there were times where it seemed that the CD-I didn’t know what it wanted to be.
Though it is now commonly regarded as a video game console, Philips’ marketing was all over the place on what the system really was. As a result, many of the games that Philips released were more “edutainment” related experiences or were just not all that well-polished compared to other options on the market. Commercial prospects were never great, and the console only sold around 400,000 units, putting it firmly as one of the worst-selling video game systems of all time.
Despite this, it’s still very much worth checking out. The educational games are pretty intriguing to modern eyes, and the Nintendo character-related games are worth playing through for a good laugh. If you want this piece of gaming history, it’s going to cost you a pretty penny. For 250-500 dollars, one of these consoles can be yours on eBay.
Fairchild Channel F
At this point in the list, you might be thinking something like, “Come on Jesse, the 3DO? The CD-I? When are you going to get to the actually obscure stuff?” Well, first of all, you must be pretty knowledgeable about video game consoles! Secondly, I have something very obscure for you at number 3. At this position, we have 1976’s Fairchild Channel F. Initially called the “Video Entertainment System,” this console predated the Atari 2600 by about a year.
As the first console to ever use cartridges, it’s safe to say that the Channel F is one of the most influential consoles ever made. Prior to the Channel F, video game consoles were little more than glorified Pong machines. Suddenly, video games were more like actual GAMES. Despite being crude to modern eyes, these games were nothing short of revolutionary to consumers in the late 1970s. Compared to what was available before it, Fairchild provided gamers with an experience like no other.
So what happened? Why was a game system so ahead of its time so quickly forgotten? One word: Atari. Despite coming out a year later, the Atari 2600 quite simply put the Channel F to shame with its release. Though the games had a similar graphics style, the 2600’s games blew Fairchild’s work out of the water. With their arcade ports and dedicated third-party designed creations, along with their superior marketing and larger game library, it’s no wonder why Atari’s console just simply performed better.
Throw in Coleco’s Colecovision console and Mattel’s Intellivision, and the Channel F just could not realistically compete. As a result, it only sold a bit over 250,000 units and was phased out by 1983. Despite this, it’s still very much worth checking out on the basis of gaming history and to get a nice change of pace from your typical retro fare.
The games haven’t necessarily aged the best, but there is a sense of charm you get from playing the first cartridge-based games ever made. As such an old piece of hardware, it can be rather difficult to find on platforms like eBay. That said, if you can find this old gem, it is well worth adding to your gaming collection.
From a very obscure console, we head towards a rather famous console failure, the Virtual Boy. Though many who were alive in the 90s may remember the infamous handheld, it has been largely forgotten over 25 years after its release. Despite its status as a console failure, Nintendo’s Virtual Boy serves as quite a curiosity to modern gamers. While other “handhelds” looked and functioned more with a smaller screen and attached buttons, the Virtual Boy used a binocular like headpiece and a wired controller hookup.
Through the eyepiece, the player was immersed in 3-D graphics that functioned as a sort of pseudo virtual reality. The graphics had an ugly red filter over them and are still quite an odd sight today. As a matter of fact, those red graphics were the cause of a lot of headaches and adverse health effects to anyone who played the Virtual Boy for long periods of time. Each game had to have a 15-30 minute prompt urging the gamer to take a break.
These risks, along with the lack of games for the system, ultimately led to sharp commercial failure. The gimmick sounds like it could have been intriguing, but it was ultimately held back by how negatively the technology affected gamers. It’s also clear by how successful the Game Boy was before and after the Virtual Bo, that many people just did not care about gimmicks when it came to their video games. So with all of the negatives, is it really worth checking this system out? I’d still say yes. As a curiosity, the Virtual Boy is unmatched in how different it is from every console released before and after it.
Say what you want about the headaches, the technology is really one-of-a-kind. You could also argue that the three-dimensional effects ultimately inspired the highly successful Nintendo 3DS. Some of the few games released also are pretty good. Virtual Boy’s versions of Mario Tennis and Wario Land are legitimately quite phenomenal, and even some of the lesser-known games like Teleroboxer are pretty cool uses of the Virtual Boy’s gimmick.
I’ve seen Virtual Boys sell for anywhere between 300 and 500 dollars on eBay. If you have the money to spare, I can’t recommend adding this curiosity to your console library enough. You should definitely make sure to take breaks frequently while playing it, but the struggle is worth the experience.
From one failed handheld to another, we finish up this list with the bizarre Gizmondo. Before its release in 2005, this little gadget had an unbelievable amount of hype around it. At the time, many game journalists predicted that it could possibly rival both Nintendo and Sony in the handheld market. With some of its features, like a built-in camera, GPS system, and MP3 player, it’s honestly not hard to see why people might have been rather optimistic about it.
On top of those features, the device even had Bluetooth support and the ability to send text messages. One could argue that the Gizmondo was a sort of predecessor to smartphones with all of its features in a compact design. If all of that wasn’t enough, there were some impressive games planned to be released for it. Firstly, they had a game planned called Colors that would have served as the first-ever GPS related video game. Think of something like Pokemon Go, but in 2005. Another exciting game for the console was a planned port of Halo: Combat Evolved that would give gamers the first and only handheld Halo experience out there.
If that wasn’t enough, the Gizmondo also had games with Bluetooth based multiplayer modes people could play with their friends. So what happened? Well, for one, games like Colors and Halo: Combat Evolved were never released. Much of this was due to the financial difficulties of the Swedish parent company releasing the system. In fact, only 14 games were ever released for the Gizmondo. Some of these games were pretty cool, but couldn’t carry a handheld console from a new company to prominence.
What caused the financial difficulties? Well, it might have something to do with one of the main backers of the console being the leader of a criminal organization. No, I’m not kidding. After racking up an impressive amount of debt, the Gizmondo was doomed to fall far below the lofty expectations some journalists gave it only a year or so before. With the wild story behind it and being so ahead of its time, the Gizmondo is assuredly a console to check out.
Games like the port of SSX 3 show that the game system wasn’t all bad. Outside of ports, they were able to develop some interesting first-party titles as well. The hilariously named Sticky Balls is legitimately one of the most addicting puzzler games I’ve ever played. You should be able to find a used Gizmondo for under 300 dollars if you’re ever patrolling eBay for your next gaming fix.
Well, did you enjoy your ride through obscure gaming history? Shoot me a comment below and tell me what you thought of the list! Do you have any additions you’d make? What’s your favorite obscure game console?