Players can collect characters in a virtual reality background, in which reality and another world exist with more than 100 characters. This photo, provided by
What are some video game systems?
Well since you can look this up easily on Wikipedia as another answer pointed out, I will use this answer to describe the most obscure consoles of each generation and define the generations by the most successful (best game quantity and quality) console of that period. Keep in mind the lists will include home console eras in one list and portables in another.
NOTE: I spent way too much effort on this. Much more than I should have. I hope it’s useful, if not then sorry for wasting your time along with plenty of my own.
Generation H1 (Early 1970s) – Magnavox Odyssey
As the first home ‘video game‘ console ever in an era when Pong was the only video game period and hardly anybody knew the Odyssey and Pong were part of the same industry, this was a weird time that needs explanation: The Magnavox Odyssey was not even a real Pong game, just a device with two knobs on a single permanently attached corded controller. One or two people used the knobs to direct dots on-screen. There was no score-keeping except by the players, and plastic overlay sheets that clung to the front of CRT TVs were the closest thing the Odyssey had to graphics. It was also the only console of it’s time, making it the only console to be both the most successful and most obscure of it’s generation.
Generation H2 (Late 1970s – Early 1980s) – Atari 2600
Defined by the largest ever proliferation of home video game consoles, the reign of Atari in its heyday, and being ended by an almost total collapse of the industry in the form of the Great Video Games Crash of 1983; an event that video game consoles only lived through thanks to Nintendo.
Obscure consoles of the era are numerous, here’s what Wikipedia lists…
Emerson Arcadia 2001 – A generic, unabashed copycat that merged the feature set and interfaces of the leading consoles of it’s day (the Atari 2600, the ColecoVision and the Intellivision)
Vectrex – The first console to have a built-in display of any form, it required said display due to its abnormal choice of being a Vector Graphics-only console. Remember that game (or parodies of it in more modern works of fiction) with the wireframe tanks? You know that joke in Homestar Runner, the fictional game with the red wireframe Strong Bad that shot rectangles at the player? The scene from Escape from New York with the ‘futuristic’ display that looks less advanced than your elementary school tamagotchi? Yeah, those are what Vector Graphics looked like. While completely obsolete now, they gave birth to modern polygon-based 3D graphics.
Epoch Cassette Vision – Probably the most original console design of the 2nd Generation, barring the oft-copied Atari 2600 design.
Atari 5200 – The successor to the 2600, it failed utterly due to bad controller design that made them fragile under normal use, and the fact that most games playable on it were Atari 2600 games (and only if you bought an adaptor device). Considered the only console of the 2.5th generation.
Other generic Atari/_vision ripoffs of little note included the VTech CreatiVision, however many consoles of the design type actually preceded the ColecoVision and Intellivision, meaning those two consoles were ripping off of others and simply became much more popular. The Atari 2600, however, was only preceded by the Fairchild Channel F and Radofin Electronics’ 1292 Advanced Programmable Video System, neither of which had controls identical to the 2600 joystick.
Generation H3 (Late 1980s) – Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
This is a strange one. Like the first generation, the NES was the only console, as far as North America was concerned. Most 80s gamers in Europe used the ZX Spectrum or other home computers, and Japan is probably not the focus of your question.
However, the NES was the exact opposite of obscure. It was synonymous with video games in the late 80s, because after Nintendo single-handedly revived the home video game market, they proceeded to lock all developers and retail stores into contracts, in the tech industry’s biggest ever anti-trust conspiracy before Microsoft did the same thing with longer-term success with Windows for PC manufacturers throughout the 90s.
While there were a surprising amount of other consoles, the NES and the Famicom (Japanese counterpart and mass-produced pseudo-prototype of the NES) went practically unchallenged for the entire hardware generation, leading to a generation almost entirely composed of obscure consoles.
Sega SG-1000 – Sega’s very first console, preceding even its Master System console. It looked like a white Atari 2600 with a slightly wonky-shaped joystick very similar to that of the Atari 7800. A Japan-only console, it’s no wonder it isn’t well-known.
Sega Master System – Released in both North America and Japan, the NES-like Master System was pushed out of the market by Nintendo.
Atari 7800 – A device that was backwards compatible with the Atari 2600, was ‘re-launched’ because the original launch in 1984 got cancelled due to a sale of the company, and by the time it came on the scene in 1986 it was too little, too late. Nintendo had already secured its monopoly, though a launch in 1984 may have created a much different video game industry…
Casio PV-1000 – A Japan-only console with an Atari 2600-”inspired” design. It was housed in that ‘bley’-colored plastic used by a lot of non-beige consumer electronics in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Epoch Super Cassette Vision – Successor to the Cassette Vision, this console had only about 3 dozen games, and is so obscure that despite the Cassette Vision’s release in North America, I can’t find confirmation either way of the Super Cassette Vision launching or not launching in North America.
Dina – A console designed by Bit Corporation, and sold in the United States as the Telegames Personal Arcade. It had NO games, being instead a clone device that played SG-1000 and ColecoVision games. The controller was like an NES controller with no Start or Select buttons, the cord was attached to the left side, and the controller ports were on the back of the console.
Atari XE Game System (Atari XEGS) – A very strange console-computer hybrid compatible with many past Atari products. It also had a product design more reminiscent of early 1990′s electronics than other late 1980′s devices. While obscure, the 100,000 units produced for the 1987 holiday shopping season sold out completely, likely due to its extensive backwards-compatibility and its ability to be used as a full-fledged home computer (home computers had many games themselves, could obviously be used for work or school, and the market for home computers and their games were completely unaffected by the Great Video Games Crash of ‘83). Killed off to allow Atari to devote all their resources to the Atari Jaguar (see Generation H4.5); It didn’t go well.
Worlds of Wonder Action Max – A good candidate for weirdest game console ever, launched by Worlds of Wonder in the USA exclusively, this light gun game-only console used VHS tapes instead of cartridges and had to be hooked up to a VCR because it couldn’t play said tapes on its own. Had only 5 games, with a 6th title unreleased when the console was discontinued.
View-Master Interactive Vision – Similar to the Action Max, it ran using VHS tapes. No word on whether or not the tapes were played using the console itself. The console and its controller are so uniquely shaped it has to be Games actually only had two endings produced by two soundtracks which were chosen by flipping between them depending on the choices the player made, and all titles were aimed at small children.to be understood. It had a very 1990’s design aesthetic, and from what I can tell the cord to the controller was not permanently attached but appears to be because the cord is permanently attached to the system; the port the cord plugged into was on the controller itself.
VTech Socrates – The most mentally advanced edutainment-centered game console ever. While it had plenty of games for younger players and a built-in digital mascot, the device had an upper age limit to its demographic so high that the least-”kiddie” title was a CAD program (admittedly it was the most mature title by a long shot). Unfortunately, the console was priced too high by necessity and competed with some of VTech’s other products, and thus was discontinued after a few years. The games can be played using a browser-based emulator , making it one of the most obscure consoles to have an emulator programmed to run its games.
Amstrad GX4000 – Based on Amstrad’s Color Personal Computer series, this short-lived console was only released in Europe and literally lasted less than a year. First console actually made in the 1990s to have that trademark 1990s design aesthetic.
Commodore 64 Games System (Commodore 64GS) – A cartridge-based game console version of the Commodore 64 home computer of the 1980s. Launched in 1990, the 64GS was one of, if not THE, last products made by Commodore.
Generation H4 (Early 1990s) – Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
The SNES came into being out of necessity, thanks to Sega launching and aggressively marketing the Genesis in this generation. That said, the generation was defined by 16-bit consoles, whereas the last was defined by “true 8-bit” consoles and the one before it by “8-bit” consoles (I’m not clear on the difference between 8-bit and true 8-bit consoles, just FYI, but apparently there was a difference).
TurboGrafx-16 – Also known as PC Engine, this is an odd console for the way it was manufactured, distributed and sold. Designed as a joint effort between Hudson Soft and NEC Home Electronics, the system went through several redesigns, had several variants and had the first CD-ROM adaptor in the history of video games. Notable variants were the TurboExpress (PC Engine GT outside the US; a portable Game Boy-like device that ran PC Engine-compatible games), the PC Engine LT (a luggable version resembling the PSOne redesign of the original PlayStation with its LCD screen accessory attached which would become available a few years later) and the PC-KD863G (a TV with a PC Engine built-in so you didn’t have to buy a TV if you had none). The console had limited third-party developer support and games were sold at far fewer retailers than the consoles were, but the designs were surprisingly high quality and efficient.
As it also was licensed out to third-party manufacturers, notable models produced by other companies include: The X1, made by the Sharp Corporation (and thus also called the Sharp X1) and was a hybrid that ran TurboGraphx games as well as being a fully functional computer, but the games had to be stored on a special media format called HuCards, and the devices ran on a variant of the BASIC programming language called HuBASIC. An add-on module for Pioneer Interactive’s LaserActive system (see Generation H4.5) existed. A variant called the PC Boy, with a strangely-shaped design resembling a flying saucer, is an apparently common clone of the PC Engine’s downscale model which was called the “Shuttle”.
A last note about the TurboGrafx/PC Engine line was the fact that not one of them had multiple controller ports; to use multiple controllers, one was required to buy a multi-tap (as this was long before the days when wireless controllers came standard on consoles) to play multiplayer. The only upside to this was that they weren’t so greedy with this obvious cash grab to only give you a couple ports, instead giving you a whopping 5 controller ports to work with.
Super A’Can – Produced by a Taiwanese company so obscure it was publicly called “Funtech” while being properly named as “Dunhuang Technology”, and the console itself was so obscure it had 12 games made for it that can be CONFIRMED to exist. The system was powerful for a 16-bit console, but was high-priced and launched so late in the 4th generation that 5th generation consoles like the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 were already on the market (Generation H5). Otherwise it was fairly forgettable for its generation.
SNK Neo Geo – A fairly generic console which played unaltered “ports” of arcade games, due to using the common arcade machine architecture of the same name. Aside from this fact, its only truly notable trait was being a herald of the 4.5th generation to come. While not a member of that pseudo-generation, it had the same traits of being both extremely powerful and extremely expensive for it’s time. and failing mostly because of its price and being before its time but with its lack of a respected pedigree being a contributing factor.
Generation H4.5 (Mid-1990s)
During the mid-90s, a couple things happened. The first was that Sega started releasing add-ons for the Sega Genesis such as the 32X and the Sega-CD. While these add-ons were expensive, failed miserably in quantity and quality of games that required them, and were created due to a schism in Sega management between Sega of Japan and Sega of America (the end result was that the failure of Genesis add-ons killed not just the Genesis but also the Sega Saturn which Sega of Japan had the experience to realise was the best course of action and intended to replace the Genesis with).
Despite the harm this did to Sega, Nintendo was worried it might actually work, since even the TurboGraphx/PC Engine was doing it. They attempted to create an updated version of the SNES with the assistance of another Japanese electronics manufacturer with a lot of experience with optical media like CD-ROMs. The device would be an ordinary SNES with an added built-in CD drive on the inside, and have an outside casing that was more in tune with the styles of the mid-90s than the SNES which had been designed as plainly as possible due to a lack of knowledge of what form 90′s design would take.
This device was to be known as the Nintendo Play Station, and its existence is that of an obscure console in its own right, due to never reaching mass production despite intense interest in the prototype. Confused? When I say “never reached mass production”, that’s only half true. Literally the day after the Play Station was shown to the public for the first time, Nintendo’s lawyers discovered that they f***ed up. The contract allowed Sony, the optical drive experts they’d collaborated with, practically 100% control of the product, the Play Station console. This was unacceptable, of course, but the results of breaking the contract would turn out to be far worse for Nintendo.
Breaking the contract gave Sony ownership of any patents and trademarks governing the device which hadn’t been filed by Nintendo for unrelated purposes. Nintendo said “screw it” and gave the seemingly worthless patents, thinking Sony was incapable of gaining the expertise in consoles to produce one, let alone pose a threat.
Sony of course went on to make the first Sony Playstation, however this story repeats itself, with humorously different results. Realising they needed a replacement device for the Nintendo Play Station, they made a deal to try again with Phillips, a Dutch electronics company with enough optical media reader experience to do the job. During development of the console, Nintendo’s lawyers discovered that they f***ed up (again). Phillips literally pulled the exact same trick as Sony, and then some! 100% control, blah blah. This was unacceptable, of course, but the results of Nintendo breaking the contract would turn out to be far worse for Phillips. Aside from the patents and trademark for the “CD-i”, Phillips also automatically received the rights to make 3 games each in the Legend of Zelda and Mario Bros. franchises.
The CD-i, unlike the Playstation, failed utterly. Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Tomb Raider, etc. were all developed by third parties (Sony didn’t develop games themselves) which turned out to be the right move when you have no development experience but a perfectly good console to make money with. Phillips thought that they should follow the example of Nintendo, but Nintendo had already made the Game & Watch video game-like toys and various arcade games when they launched the NES, as did Sega when they made the Genesis, and Atari when they made the 2600. So in reality Nintendo was a reason not to rely on first-party titles.
The result was that the CD-i, unfortunately, started the 4.5th generation, which as you saw in the Neo Geo’s description, was full of pricey consoles that mistakenly assumed that tech always won the day and were made by companies that did not have the goodwill and reputation of Nintendo and Sega (or in Atari’s case, had completely run out of goodwill and had a quickly-fading reputation to boot).
And that is why the 4.5th generation of consoles is exclusively made up of obscure systems.
Phillips CD-i – The CD-i was host to a bunch of educational titles, “self-improvement” media, CD-i-exclusive music, 3 horrible Mario games, and the “Unholy Triforce”. Physically, it was a massive plastic cinder-block whose various versions came with a few awkwardly-shaped and uncomfortable pieces of plastic with cords leading out of them that could, charitably, be called a video game controller, an ill-conceived computer-like mouse, and two actual video game controllers which were obvious ripoffs of the SNES and Genesis controller designs. An epic failure as a console, its hardware survived into the early 00’s in the form of digital information kiosks for god only knows what reason.
Pioneer LaserActive – A “convergent device” that was both a clone of any manufacturer’s game machines it could manage to license (including the Genesis) and a console in its own right (it played LaserActive games). That is, if you could afford the many, very expensive modules that gave it those functions. The device’s concept might have worked in 2000, but when it launched in 1993 it was a bigger plastic cinder-block than the CD-i, and that was WITHOUT any modules, and as mentioned its price was ridiculous like all 4.5th gen consoles.
Fujitsu FM Towns Marty – Oddly named,Japan-only console which is most notable for having bootable CDs years before Windows 95 and having variants that served as a self-contained car entertainment system/GPS navigator.
Amiga CD32 – Used CD ROMs and looked fairly generic for its day, with the exception of the controller; Its button layout was a blatant copycat of the SNES contoller, but the shape looks like somebody bent a chocolate bar made of cheap black plastic and then glued two horn-like protrusions to the ends.
NEC PC-FX – Successor to the TurboGrafx/PC Engine, it uniquely shied away from both sprites and polygons, using jpg images of pre-rendered polygon-based graphics that it was able to decompress at a then-impressive rate of 30 images per second. The device was shaped like an actual PC tower, and had a mouse along with a controller that copied the layout of the 6-button Genesis controller. Ran on CD-ROMs, Japan-only and lasted a surprisingly long 4 years despite poor developer support and a high price tag.
Apple Bandai PiP P!N – Yes, that’s its actual name, despite being pronounced simply as “Pippin”. An unthinkably strange partnership to modern minds which came into existence during that weird period of the 1990s when Apple wasn’t run by Steve Jobs despite him still being alive, this “multimedia console” had a wireless controller that looked like a cross between an SNES controller, the prototype PlayStation 3 “boomerang” controller, and the trackball mouse of a mid-90s Macintosh Powerbook 500. Using CD-ROMs for games was its most generic feature; it was not only one of the first consoles to have an OS, that OS was Mac OS 7.5.2, had a browser, had ports for wired versions of the controllers, and adaptors existed which enabled PiP P!N accessories to be used with then-current Macintoshes and Macintosh peripherals to connect to the PiP P!N. The device was considered an Apple product in the USA, and a Bandai product in Japan. The device was so strange and awkward that, combined with Bandai’s last console giving it a poor reputation and Apple’s even worse repuation during the 1990s, the PiP P!N was discontinued in less than a year and sold far less units than were manufactured (less than half of the Japanese units produced were sold).
Bandai Playdia – Before Bandai teamed up with Apple to make the ill-fated PiP P!N, the toy company produced the Playdia, a Japan-only CD-ROM console which had a colorful plastic design typical of children’s electronics in the mid-90s and whose games were marketed accordingly. Despite this, the Playdia was not totally generic. It has a recess in the casing where its NES-copycat controller was to be stored when not in use. That’s singular, the Playdia only had one controller. Oh, did I mention said controller was infrared wireless?
Casio Loopy – A Japan-only console that made the mistake of marketing exclusively to girls in a way that has always been condescending towards girls: Assuming that pink plastic and stickers are all you need to appeal to girls. If you make a console, don’t make it gender-exclusive, it’s already bad enough that the medium tends to drive away women due to the pre-existing male majority and the continued existence of the Loopy’s tactic in things like “Cooking Mama”. Back on topic, the Loopy had a typical detachable-controller-which-is-redundant-because-it only-has-one-port and a redundant-mouse-which-is-sold-separately that made the ability to remove the controller slightly less redundant, a built-in color printer to make the aforementioned stickers from game screenshots, and an optional device that allowed it to connect to VCRs and TVs in a way that enabled screenshots to be taken of their output for making more stickers. Stickers that required special printing tape that was almost certainly proprietary and whose supply is now probably completely depleted. One of the few 4.5 gen consoles that used cartridges.
Atari Jaguar – Atari’s last ever home console. Used cartridges, copied the Sega add-on strategy, claimed to be a 64-bit console but had polygonal graphics that were not out of place in the SNES Star Fox game (which had untextured polygons made possible by a special cartridge), and had the most unergonomic controller of the 4.5th generation.
Generation H5 (Late 1990s) – Sony Playstation (PS1)
The most obscure console of this generation was the Sega Saturn, due to its company losing customer loyalty and consumer trust from the Genesis add-on fiasco. All obscure devices of the era fit into the 4.5th generation due to their defining common traits, leaving this as the first generation to have no systems that few remember.
Generation H6 (Early 2000s) – PlayStation 2 (PS2)
The 6th generation was dominated by the PlayStation 2, the most successful console of all time by units sold, quantity of titles and average quality of games. The 6th generation had few obscure consoles, but here they are…
VM Labs Nuon – The 6th generation was also host to the most obscure console of all time, the Nuon. It was a DVD player/console hybird released in only the USA and South Korea. It had 8 games, 7 of which only worked on American Nuons, and 1 of which only worked on the Korean Nuons. Controllers varied in design depending on whether they were manufactured by Samsung, Motorola or Toshiba. Samsung used what can be described as a Sega Genesis 6-button controller with pointy tips to the handles. A third party controller was made by “HPI” which looks like it’s a 3rd party N64 gamepad. Logitech made a 3rd party controller that strongly resembled the PC controllers that Logitech made at the time. No other information is known about the console’s controllers.
The Nuon was actually the chip inside the device, namely a DVD player, and because DVD was the next big thing and everyone knew it, the company’s long-term plan was to get said chip put in every new DVD player starting when it launched in 1999. Just one problem; it launched in 2000, after the DVD-capable PlayStation 2 began selling like hotcakes. Not only that, but the DVD players that Nuon would have gone into were priced normally for DVD players. The PlayStation 2 was also the most popular DVD player ever made, not just because it was also the most popular game console ever, but because it was the cheapest DVD player available at the time of launch and more reliable than the next cheapest devices. In other words, for less than an average DVD player, you could have a DVD player AND a PlayStation 2. Best deal ever for gamers, but it killed the Nuon quickly.
The Nuon had a web browser and a few other features common in consoles at the time.
XaviXPORT – A device that formed the basis of a home entertainment system, with sports equipment-shaped controllers tracked by sensors on the controllers. The device ran on cartridges, but aside from that it was practically a 7th gen console. Launched in 2004, the device is apparently still being sold, if not produced. Its game selection is extremely limited, especially in North America where the Japanese titles tended not to get exported to.
Sega Dreamcast – The least-obscure of obscure consoles. Sega’s last console sold extremely well, but took time to gain momentum and was crippled by Sony announcing the PlayStation 2 a year or two before launch which drove up anticipation of the PS2 while discouraging the purchase of “another expensive console from a no-longer-trustworthy company that was past its prime and slowly dying” (all of which became self-fulfilling prophesy). Sales were high enough to give it constant 3rd party support and high-quality games, and was even popular enough that niche peripherals were common, but were low enough that Sega couldn’t make enough profit to operate, let alone manufacture more Deamcasts. And so, the Dreamcast was sadly discontinued shortly before the PS2 even launched.
The Dreamcast had it all, online multiplayer, music CD-playing capability, and even had a very unique “game”… As the console breathed its last breaths, a game that supposedly contained several Genesis ports was released by Sega. Hidden on the disk was an explanation that the “ports” were ROMs emulated by a Sega-built emulator, an emulator that the company originally planned to “lock” after publishing, but with the end of their run as a console maker, they left it open so that anyone could use it to emulate any Genesis game on the Dreamcast.
Generation H7 (Late 2000s) – Wii (quantity) & Xbox 360 (quality)
This generation was dominated in game quantity by the Wii, whose few good titles and cutting-edge motion control were so popular and well-marketed that it led to a flood of shovelware for the system. Despite the poor quality, the library of the Wii was so large that it wins in quantity hands-down. The Xbox 360, which was out-doing the PlayStation 3 after Sony’s meme-spawning PR disaster at E3 2006 (“$599 USD”) enough that it was the most successful console in therms of quality but could not match the Wii in quantity.
The big three had also homogenised the industry so much that competitors were exceedingly rare, especially considering that the Great Recession of 2008 delayed the retirement of the 7th gen consoles by several years.
ZAPiT Games Game Wave Family Entertainment System – Clearly made to leech of the success of the Wii, this modified DVD player had nothing but trivia games, licensed game show titles and a ripoff each of Bejewled and Mario Party. The system was controlled by 4 ordinary-looking TV remotes.
Zeebo Inc. Zeebo – The only obscure console in this entire list which didn’t fail. How? Because it was aimed at developing markets like Brazil, meaning it had no competition and the bar was pretty low. Still a relatively good machine.
Envizions EVO Smart Console – A hybrid of a “media PC” (set top box) and a console. Ran on a Linux build, had standard-looking controllers. Shiny black plastic and bright orange logo markings were the main product design aesthetics. Games consisted of a few Linux titles and later some “Amiga-based” ones, which appears to be the cause of failure at first glance until you realise it was also capable of playing Windows games. Its cause of failure is unknown; it’s website stopped updating after the original CEO left to form a new company and took the rights to the EVO 2 with him, so they claimed to be working on the EVO 2 DX which had both Android and Windows pre-installed, after which there were no additional updates and the company and platform silently disappeared.
Generation H8 (Early 2010s) – PlayStation 4
The PR fallout of E3 2006 had finally died down quite a bit, but Sony would be a distant second in home consoles if Microsoft hadn’t made their owninfamous blunder towards understanding their customer’s desires in a much more recent E3 (“TV” is stated at least a dozen times in the Xbox One reveal, with no mention whatsoever of games. As for Nintendo, they started the generation with the Wii U, but their most disruptive product of the generation was Splatoon, due to its unique concept as well as being both the first new IP by Nintendo since Nintendogs and Nintendo’s only-ever First Person Shooter.
This generation is the first to have no “unknown” consoles, and that includes both home consoles and handhelds. There are only the Wii U, the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, and their variants. Period.
Mobile (Portable) Consoles
Generation M2 (Late 1970s – Early 1980s) – Milton Bradley Microvision
This generation is much like the Magnavox Odyssey’s “domination” of the first generation of home consoles. It had only two, extremely obscure consoles; the latter of which (Entrex Select-A-Game) was launched in the same general period that the former went off the market (Milton Bradley Microvision).
Milton Bradley Microvision – Basically a ColecoVision controller with a screen, the device was the more successful of the generation, with 12 games released. However, poor parts quality used to keep costs low meant that leaving it in strong summer sunlight ruined the screen almost instantly, the button covers in the cartridges wore out easily, and practically no working example of the device exists today.
Entex Select-A-Game – Better built than the Microvision, but had only 6 games (all made by Entex). The device had no second- or third-party support and was pulled in favor of the Entex Adventure Vision (a strange device with both batteries and an AC cord, best-described as a “luggable arcade console”)
Generation M3 (Late 1980s) – N/A
The strangest generation of all. While home consoles were popular in the 3rd generation (though all but the NES were obscure), there was not a single portable console made during the generation, despite the 2nd generation having two.
Generation M4 (Early 1990s) – Nintendo Game Boy
The first true generation of portable consoles. Started when the Game Boy was released in 1989, the reason it stuck this time was largely due to the fall of the USSR, whose 2-year-long drawn-out death allowed Tetris to solidify the Game Boy’s legitimacy. This success led to many immitators, all of which are obscure save the Sega Game Gear. The TurboExpress was a portable version of the TurboGraphx-16/PC Engine that was part of this generation
Atari Lynx – One of only two portable consoles with “ambidextrous” controllers. Came out he same year as the Game Boy, could have succeeded but was killed off by Atari who bet everything (including the Atari XEGS) on the All-or-Nothing launch of the Jaguar.
Bit Corporation Gamate – A blatant ripoff of the Game Gear, with a Game Boy-like screen that was not nearly as high quality as the Game Boy’s display. Sold incredbly poorly for obvious reasons, but somehow managed to amass a respectably large library of more than 70 known games.
Mega Duck/Cougar Boy – Manufacturer not listed because Welback Holdings, the Hong Kong company that produced it, sold it under various different brand names worldwide – none of which were “Wellback Holdings”. The console was, in design, to the Game Boy what the Gamate was to the Game Gear. Its library has a bit less than 40 titles, and due to the numbering of each title we can guess from gaps in those numbers (known titles range between 001 and 037 with several not seen) that there may be unpublished or unknown games made for the console.
Watara Supervision – A cheap competitor to the Game Boy that could be hooked up to a TV. Could have succeeded if it hadn’t been for that meddling Nintendo- or rather, it couldn’t gain much developer support, and a screen that tended to blur was the hammer that put the nails in the coffin.
Generation M4.5 (Mid-1990s) – Nintendo Virtual Boy
This generation’s portables can be summed up in one word: Infamous.
Nintendo Virtual Boy – An attempt at a VR console that predates the PlayStation VR by 20 years, and the very reason that nobody was willing to try a VR console again for 20 years. The creator of the idea plainly told the company that the concept was not ready for production and could not be made ready without sufficient tech advances (in other words, the Virtual Boy can’t work because VR needs Oculus Rift-level tech to pull it off). They ignored him and had R&D turn it into the Virtual Boy. The thing had no straps for securing it to your head, that alone shows how bad it was. The graphics were monochrome black-and-red that made your eyes hurt as much as your neck did forcing your face into the goggles. The controller had two D-Pads for some reason. It had 8 games, all of them bad and one licensed from an infamously bad film of the time.
The Virtual Boy and Game Boy had both been thought up by the same man. The failure of the Virtual Boy led to its creator getting a “promotion” into a job that had no purpose or responsibility and no influence over the company. He quit and went to work for Bandai where he created the WonderSwan (see generation M5)…
Sega Nomad – Plain and simple, a portable Genesis. Could have succeeded and even extended the life of the Genesis, but insufficient advertising and (ironically) the damage that the 32X and Sega CD did to Sega’s reputation doomed it.
Tiger Electronics R-Zone – Best described as a game console shaped like a Scouter from Dragonball Z (or just look up “monocular hmd” in a Google image search. Transparent screen was hard to see and the headband hurt to wear after 5 minutes. It had a red monochrome display and came out at around the same time as the Virtual Boy, go figure.
Tiger Electronics game, Indy 500 racing game and any other action-oriented title by refreshing far too slowly. Aside from that, quality issues with games and a small library left it no hope of success.– Counts as “Generation M4.75”, due to being on the forefront of the 5th gen portables while having the first handheld to have a touch-screen and stylus as well as the first portable with online capabilities. It had PDA functions, an e-mail program, a text-only web browser, and two cartridge slots in early versions. The device had mildly good developer support and amazing licenses, with appealing titles instead of edutainment shovelware. Its speakers were good and the screen crisp. Unfortunately, many of its features were too ahead of their time, functioning poorly because of it. This focus on those features meant that more important components were underwhelming, leaving the console with a cripplingly slow processor that undermined the great display, ruining the Sonic the Hedgehog
Generation M5 (Late 1990s) – Nintendo Game Boy Color (GBC)
What gave the Game Boy Color its domination in the 5th generation was Pokemon Yellow and Pokemon Crystal, both exclusives despite Red/Blue (1st generation of Pokemon) and Gold/Silver (2nd generation of Pokemon) being compatible with the first Game Boy. The reason they were compatible at all was due to the Game Boy Pocket, a more compact variant of the original Game Boy that used less batteries over a longer period of time; the Game Boy and the Game Boy Pocket were the dominant portable until the Game Boy Color launched in 1998.
Sony Pocketstation – A console that was part of a larger console. (Insert outdated meme related to “yo dawg” or Inception here) Specifically, it was a Game Boy-like device that was also a Playstation memory card. Japan-only, had infrared output/input capability, and a few features you’d expect from any portable.
SNK Neo Geo Pocket – Portable version of the Neo Geo console, only sold in Asia. Generic-looking and equally generic feature set. Small games library that ended up being re-released for its successor console in color except for a few exception.
Bandai WonderSwan – Remember the Virtual Boy? Yeah, the creator who got shafted by Nintendo and left over the console’s inevitable failure led to this. The WonderSwan was not as obscure back then as it is now, the reason being its history…
The WonderSwan was a strangely-shaped console with gyroscopes to sense tilt (like modern smartphones), and two pairs of button clusters. Holding the console horizontally left you with 4 buttons on the left to use as a D-Pad, and 2 on the right to use as ordinary buttons. Holding it vertically, with the side that had been to the left when holding it horizontally, gave you 4 buttons to use as a D-Pad that were unused in horizontal mode, and re-uses the 4 buttons which were the D-Pad in horizontal as action buttons.
It had all the advantages in its favor, the only failed console in video games history to have no major problems inherent in itself or its manufacturer’s reputation to kill it. The console’s creator had enough clout still that the WonderSwan got everything the Game Boy did; first-party support, third-part support, a Mons series franchise (Digimon) that could be used to create numerous first-party killer apps, multiplayer cable, good product quality and design with a nice aesthetic. It was priced lower than the Game Boy without compromising said parts and design quality. It had better battery life than the Game Boy. It was launched and quickly grew to be a rising contender to take down its older sister. It got a new version called the WonderSwan Color to make the games 16-bit instead of the monochrome Game Boy-like display of the original used to reduce price. That was then followed by the SwanCrystal.
The entire time, only two things held it back; Bandai wasn’t aggressive enough in selling and marketing the WonderSwan line, and it never launched in North America despite it showing a lot of support in American gaming magazines of the time. It still could have succeeded anyway.
Then the creator of the WonderSwan, Virtual Boy and Game Boy, Gunpei Yokoi, died in an accident on a Japanese elevated highway (uninjured from the crash, he was struck by a vehicle after getting out, very tragic). Along with Squaresoft abandoning the WonderSwan for Nintendo again, the “little console that almost could” died as well.
Generation M6 (Early 2000s) – Nintendo Game Boy Advance (GBA)
A repeat of the NES era of home consoles, for different reasons. By the time the Game Boy Advance launched, the failure of the Game Gear and WonderSwan to defeat the Game Boy line had made Nintendo appear unbeatable in portable consoles, and this perception has still not been proven wrong in 2017. As such, all GBA competitors were remembered for their awkward design at best, entirely forgettable at worst.
Nokia N-Gage – A cell phone/handheld game console hybrid from the era of the clamshell mobile phone and weird product designs for such phones (just look up “weird Nokia phones” and you’ll get it), the device had poor developer support, but the fact that you had to take the battery out to change the game cartridge and the fact that you had to hold it up to your head like a “taco-phone” didn’t help. The N-Gage QD, its successor, was built to fix the game/battery issue, but didn’t address its primary flaw or its most embarrassing flaw. The appearance of both devices fully demonstrated the fact they were both an early 2000s cell phone and a game console.
Tapwave Zodiac – A handheld console that used PalmOS (the dominant PDA software before Blackberry made PDAs obsolete and iPhones made Blackberries obsolete), and had poor third-party support like so many other failed consoles. Its not even known what its best-selling game was.
Sega VMU – Sega’s answer to the Sony Pocketstation, a memory card for the Dreamcast that doubled as a compact Game Boy with games and software resembling a tamagotchi that had to be loaded in digitally from a Dreamcast.
Neo Geo Pocket Color – The successor to the Neo Geo Pocket, it received the color remakes of the Neo Geo Pocket library, and was capable of being connected to the Dreamcast with a special link cable. It had poor third party support but was influential until SNK went bankrupt. Looked pretty much identical to the Neo Geo Pocket.
Game Park GP32 – A console made by a South Korean company, and sold in South Korea with a few units sprinkled throughout Asia and Europe. Had a firmware that was advanced for a portable of its day, giving it the ability to play MP3s (until they removed that feature) and a web browser, as well as application-launching capability. The GP32 had a shiny white design that was clearly in imitation of the iPod, but its most defining feature was how open it was, with games stored on a then-common media card format called SMC instead of using a proprietary cartridge format. Its control scheme perfectly copies the Game Boy Advance in layout. Aside from this, the console had only 28 commercial games, and was boosted to more than that thanks to being easily accessible to homebrew developers. Commercial games could be downloaded instead of bought on cartridge if you connected to the internet from within Korea.
Pokemon mini – The worst mistake Nintendo ever made, yes, worse than the Virtual Boy. Pokemon had become so popular that they made a tiny device specifically for Pokemon-themed minigames. The games were stored on a cartridge, and sure enough not one of them was part of any franchise or IP except Pokemon. It was still surprisingly technically-advanced, with force feedback, infrared multiplayer, internal clock, and a vibration sensor. All that was wasted on a Pokemon-only portable.
Guess what? They launched it in the tail-end of the Pokemon craze of the late 1990s (November 2001) and it died so fast it is barely remembered.
Generation M7 (Late 2000s) – Nintendo DS
The 7th generation was when the PlayStation Portable (PSP) was created to challenge Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance. Nintendo knew the PSP would wipe the floor with the GBA and launched their new console… an ugly, two-screened monstrosity that everyone laughed at and were sure would fail.
Instead, the PSP found out that unlike home consoles where optical media was superior to cartridges, on a portable with limited battery and a low tolerance for loading times an optical drive was a bad fit. Worse, the UMD proprietary format and the problems with using a high-speed spinning disk in a portable device combined with the proprietary Sony memory stick format killed the device slowly.
At the same time, the DS was boosted a bit as a console for casual gamers by the Wii coming into existence. Then games like Mario Kart DS and Animal Crossing: Wild World proved its merit, and the DS Lite redesign made the DS cool.
Neither the DS or PSP was obscure, so here’s the relevant devices…
Nokia N81 – The last of the N-Gage line, a normal cell phone with the N-Gage 2.0 system built in. Unfortunately it felt like cheap plastic and was unergonomic, and the software was shit.
Tiger Telematics Gizmondo – The manufacturer is not to be confused with Tiger Electronics, a much older company which also outlived the death of Tiger Telematics. As for the Gizmondo, it was praised for it’s innovative design, was extensively marketed, and came in a cheaper ad-supported version. Game developer support looked good at first as well, even casinos and banks were requesting special versions to loan to resort guests or give to new account holders like they were free toasters. The console had dedicated stores in posh shopping districts of major cities.
The first sign of trouble was when the launch titles didn’t quite match what had been promised. Then it became clear that (at least according to some sources), the ad-supported version was basically just the same product for less price because the ad servers were either not operational, or the company couldn’t find anyone willing to advertise on the console. Then the company designing the console variations started noticing that their innovative product designs were getting praised but never built because the launch of the Gizmondo’s first facelift kept getting pushed back, until the PSP’s launch meant that the competition was too tough. Their final design for the “Gizmondo 2” was either an ugly device with a plastic lump sticking out of it to store the GPS antenna, or a smartphone-like device that was called the “alito”.
The fan was finally hit by you-know-what when the CEO was arrested on drug and embezzlement charges, then found dead in what little was left of his Ferrari after he crashed it at top speed while drunk.
Appearance-wise and in terms of button layout, the Gizmondo that made the first and only launch was a more ergonomic SNES controller with a screen and a few more physical buttons for menus than just “Start”, “Select” and “Home”.
digiBlast – A console with an interesting shape (vaguely resembling an ancient scroll) and not much else of note. Aimed at younger kids, IPs were mostly licensed from cartoons.
GamePark Holdings GP2X Caanoo – GamePark continued its tradition of open consoles with the Caanoo, an open-source console that ran on Linux and played music. Button layout is that of a rectangular SNES controller. All developers that supported the console were also open-source, making “sales” non-existent and download figures untrackable.
GP2X Wiz – Not sure of the difference, but apparently Game Park and GamePark Holdings are separate entities, both focused on open software and hardware, and who teamed up to create the GP2X Wiz. It preceded the GP2X Caanoo, and had a touch screen and two D-Pads but less buttons.
Mi2 – A typical “X0-in-one” console given better parts and design quality, and the ability to download more games off the internet. It took about a year after launch for said downloads to become active, however. Not much information otherwise.
OpenPandora GmbH Pandora – An open-source portable console/laptop hybrid. Like the GamePark devices (it even has an origin connected to the GP32 and GP2X), it is completely homebrew- and open-source oriented. This makes gauging software numbers impossible and, along with its crowdfunded production, means that it was purchased online and available worldwide. It currently is still available, however its successor, the “DragonBox Pyra”, is set to replace it soon if not already.
Generation M8 (Early 2010s) – Nintendo 3DS
While the PSP launched a major offensive against the DS, the PlayStation Vita would inevitably inherit the debts of reputation from its predecessor. In addition, smartphones ate up a significant (we just can’t measure how significant, due to the differences in smartphone and game console sales record-keeping) portion of handheld market share. This is to the point that the 8th generation had not a single console other than the variants of the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Vita.
Generation X9 (Late 2010s) – Nintendo Switch
The second generation to lack any sort of obscure outsiders making consoles. The Switch is a hybrid of a home console and a handheld, and the last of a dying breed as smartphones and gaming PCs nibble steadily at market share. The closest thing to resemble a “competitor” to the Switch without being a non-console is the PlayStation VR accessory for PlayStation 4 and “Project Scorpio” for the Xbox, both VR systems and both experiencing troubles of their own as VR loses momentum. While PC and smartphone VR still have a shot at survival, console VR appears to be dead due to lack of confidence in continued support.
The list of rare and forgotten consoles is long and strange, and has come to a close as electronics manufacturers universally concluded that making a console for free money has never worked, followed shortly by decreasing market share in favor of smartphones and PCs. Specifically, PC has a wider range of titles, and smartphones a more convenient form factor. The Switch can offer neither the library of Steam nor the compact size and universal computing ability of a smartphone (universal in that, while an iPhone or Android can’t do everything well, they can do pretty much anything a PC can and do much of it exceptionally. Plus, just try making an actual phone call or using GPS on a laptop) and thus have no niche left to fill.