The history of portable games machines is festooned with joy. From Tetris on Nintendo's original Game Boy through to the near-TV console experiences of latter-day Nintendo and Sony machines – the handheld console is a pillar of the industry. But for every success there are many others which do not evoke the same happy remembrances – or indeed any remembrances at all. And with good reason: they were spectacularly bad and/or unsuccessful. Here are 10 such prodigious flops.
Watara Supervision (1992)
This budget alternative to the Game Boy came bundled with a game called Crystball, presumably because "Cryst" is exactly what gamers shouted when they switched on their Supervision for the first time. It was actually a licensed technology, hence being known as the Quickshot Supervision in the UK – and almost exactly aped the d-pad, A, B and Start and Select buttons – not to mention the green monochrome screen, which in most versions sat atop a weird bendable neck.
It could even support more colors if you connected it to a TV and make use of a Game Boy power supply – if, for some inexplicable reason, you wanted to own both. Its low-clocked processor meant ports of games from other systems were a struggle to develop, and instead the machine was supplied with clones of Nintendo titles. It was also significantly larger than the Game Boy. It tanked. No new games were released for the Supervision after 1993.
Mega Duck (1993)
Were there any justice, the Mega Duck would be the most successful portable games machine of all time on the strength of its name alone. Unfortunately you had to be literally quackers to buy one. Ahem.
In reality, the machine was very much like the Supervision: a cheap Game Boy clone with precisely zero third-party software support. Indeed, its games were later released for the Game Boy in 4-in–1 and 8-in–1 bundles. If you don't remember the Mega Duck, bear in mind it was known as the Cougar Boy in the Americas – it's possible that's the name you don't remember instead.
Virtual Boy (1995)
It's easy to think Nintendo hasn't put a foot wrong in the portable gaming space. But it has, and none wronger than the Virtual Boy, a machine discontinued a mere 5 months after its release, such was its wrongness. Though marketed as being sort of Virtual Reality, its real gimmick was 3D stereoscopic graphics – later revisited by Nintendo 3DS, which, in a stroke of genius, didn't require you to insert your face into it.
Doubtless designed with immersion in mind, it transpired that gamers didn't want to be immersed in a red monochrome blocky world of headaches and nausea. It was uncomfortable, barely portable, and little more than a gimmick. Thankfully, Nintendo moved on to bigger and better things.
Second only to Mega Duck in the quality name stakes, the WonderSwan was never released outside of Japan, where it enjoyed a small measure of success before being relegated to oblivion by the release of Nintendo's excellent Game Boy Advance.
Released by Bandai, the original WonderSwan was designed to undercut the Game Boy Color, though the color-screen WonderSwan Color and SwanCrystal (pictured) were subsequently released. True fact: the WonderSwan was designed by Gunpei Yokoi, the engineer behind the Game Boy. His novel design included an extra d-pad, in case gamers wanted to play games in portrait. Not an abject failure, then, but hardly one for the hall of fame.
If the Russian-made, US-marketed Cybiko looks like a walkie-talkie, that's because it sort of was: a handheld computer with text messaging support over a range of 300 meters (980 ft), hence the full QWERTY keyboard. It even had an MP3 player peripheral.
Attractive tech-fodder for teens, it sold half a million units – but it wasn't the best experience as a games machine, which is putting it mildly. To download games from the internet, you had to connect the Cybiko to your computer's USB port. History records that the Cybiko's downfall was the rise of the mobile phone and the less restrictive messaging this brought to the masses. But truth be told, it wasn't very good.
It must have seemed such a good idea at the time. Nokia was flying high as a mobile phone manufacturer, and it knew its phone users liked to play the odd bit of Snake. Why not release a phone with better support for games to take on the Game Boy Advance head on? After all, who wants a dedicated gaming device to carry around as well as a phone?Basically everyone it turns out.
In the weeks following the release of the US$299 N-Gage, it was outsold by the Advance by a factor of 100. Though Nokia did ship a few million, this was far from the numbers needed to make the N-Gage a success. Perhaps the most notable aspect of N-Gage was its phone mic and earpiece, positioned on the edge of the device. Consequently, you needed to talk with the phone edge-ways on, which gave birth to the sidetalking meme – possibly the best meme of all time.
With the opening of a prominent Gizmondo store on London's Regent Street and multi-million-dollar celebrity-endorsed marketing campaign, Gizmondo's subsequent sales of 25,000 units must go down as one of the greatest commercial disasters in gaming history.
It didn't help that the machine was a confused muddle of gaming and phone, complete with GPS. And it probably helped less that some of those at the top of the company turned out to have criminal pasts, including Europe Director Stefan Eriksson, who famously wrecked a Ferrari Enzo at 162 mph. Hopes had been high that the machine would take on the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, but the reality was simple: people didn't want one.
Resembling a cassette player as much as a games machine, the grammatically-challenged digiBlast, like the Gizmondo, took aim at the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP but suffered the same crisis of identity. This was a games machine that also wanted to be a camera and an MP3 player, albeit with the aid of hardware peripherals.
Conceived in the Netherlands as a device for children, the design was already dated even by 2005's cave-dwelling standards. Despite the low price, it failed to make an impact – perhaps because children didn't want and have never wanted a "personal media center."
Looking a bit like a Nintendo DS with a QWERTY keyboard shoehorned into the design, the Pandora is probably the most professional-looking device on the list – not the first word one conjures when thinking about games machines. Pandora's also a curious choice as names go, bringing to mind as it does a box that one definitely doesn't want to open.
The Linux device was built with homebrew in mind, and ran emulators for Dreamcast, PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and other older games machines. With a whopping US$499.99 pricetag, this was a niche device for a niche audience. After shipping a few thousand units, the hardware itself went open source – which was probably for the best.
It seems 2010 was very much the year for ill-fated Linux-based handheld games machines. The Caanoo actually had a rather nice, understated design complete with analog stick and a fairly reasonable US$150 price. It also had multimedia support and emulators for a number of consoles, but a lack of original games meant this was also a device with extremely niche appeal. A games console without games: Caanoo believe it?
We hope you enjoyed this trip down Calamity Lane. What other handheld games machines don't you remember? Let us know in the comments.
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