For every console success story, there’s one that bombed. They didn’t just perform below par like the Nintendo 64 or Sega Dreamcast or have mixed success like the Atari ST and Sega Saturn. These machines appeared on retail shelves and were shaken by the competition faster than a hiccup.
Still, their owners found ways to make lemonade out of those lemons, as their releases still had some winners among them. These good games made these failed consoles worth investing in.
8/8 Atari 7800: Commandos
After the North American gaming crash of 1983, Atari tried to get back into the market with the Atari 7800. In a vacuum, it could have been a challenger to the NES. But that ship had long since sailed by the time it came out. The 1980s belonged to Nintendo’s white toasters. That said, it still had a good list of solid and fun titles.
The best game has to be Capcom’s vertical run and shooter Command. The original arcade game inspired the likes of Ikari Warriors and Rambo, and it was rendered quite faithfully on the 7800. The only downside is that it lacks the in-game music that the arcade and NES ports had. Game-wise, it was still a winner.
7/8 Sega CD: Snatcher
For a failed addition, the Sega CD has its fans. The Sega Genesis Mini 2 actually got some extra buzz when it was announced that it would also include some of the Sega CD library. In a perfect world it would have too Snatchersa port of Hideo Kojima’s cyberpunk visual novel that saw Junker agent Gillian Seed and her comrade Metal Gear go after identity-stealing robots called Snatchers.
The Sega CD version was the only version localized for the West, complete with surprisingly solid voice acting for the 1990s. Instead, the only official modern release was on the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, where everything was in Japanese regardless of which version of the machine people bought.
6/8 Sega 32X: Star Wars Arcade
This mushroom-like addition to the Sega Genesis bombed harder than the Sega CD. The device was abandoned almost as soon as it was released, as the Sega Saturn was due out within its first year. It had a few winners, like its port Virtua Fighter was better than the Saturn’s launch port, and its version of Space Harrier was the first truly arcade-perfect release of the Yu Suzuki classic.
Still, if there was any reason to pick up the 32X, this would have to be it Star Wars Arcade. The game was a spiritual successor to the vector-based arcade game from 1983. Players flew around in an X-Wing or Y-Wing against Imperial Forces in levels based on the original trilogy. The controls could get fiddly, but played much better on a 6-button Genesis pad.
5/8 3DO: Star Control II
If founding Electronic Arts wasn’t enough for Trip Hawkins, he also helped produce the 3DO. Unlike some of its more notorious rivals, the 3DO actually gained some international traction. It got some solid wickets off Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo and Samurai Shodown 2 which appealed to the Asian markets. Still, the writing was on the wall for the console, and it said “PlayStation is cheaper and has better performance.”
It would be easy to recommend Policemen, another Kojima game, as the best title. However, it was beeped to the post by Star Control II. The player must recruit allies across the cosmos to escape the clutches of the Ur-Quan in this free-wheeling, strategic space adventure. Originally released on MS-DOS, the 3DO port brought new life with improved graphics, presentation and voice actingwhich really showed off the machine’s potential at the time.
4/8 Philips CD-I: The Apprentice
The CD-I wasn’t technically Philips trying to get into the video game market. They entered the multimedia market, as it had newfangled features such as e-mail access and web capabilities along with educational materials such as The Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe. Still, the games ended up being the legacy, leaving it better known for its awfulness Zelda game and its subsequent YouTube Poops.
At least it had The Apprenticea vertical platformer made from the future god of warprogrammer Tim Moss and Dutch developers Vision Factory. Marvin, the titular apprentice, must perform a series of tasks for the wizard Gandorf in a game that combines Bubble Bubble-esque gameplay with a European sense of humor. It was fun and funny at the same time, with some interesting ones Mortal Kombat-Easter eggs hidden along the way.
3/8 Atari Jaguar: Tempest 2000
With its complicated hardware, dodgy controls, and even worse CD add-on, the Atari Jaguar was a joke upon arrival. The commercials asked people to “do the math” by pitting their 64 bits against the PlayStation’s 32 bits. But power isn’t enough when it can’t be harnessed to make good games. Jaguar’s lineup was so underwhelming that it’s why most fans know it as “the Tempest 2000 machine.”
This sequel to the 1980s arcade game featured the same fast-paced gameplay, with players scrambling from one level to another to blast enemies. Designer Jeff Minter (by TxK and Polybius fame) only spiced it up with new power-ups, bonus levels, a 2-player mode and psychedelic “Melt-O-Vision” graphics. It has since been re-released on PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC on Atari 50: The Anniversary Collection.
2/8 Ouya: Knightmare Tower
Think this little white box appeared on the front of magazines as a step forward for gaming. It was an Android-based console that would have given developers a platform to be as experimental as they wanted, and gamers the opportunity to try them before they bought them. In the end, putting games designed for smartphones on TV screens was more of a step backwards.
Its roster had a few diamonds in the rough. Knightmare Tower is one of the brighter examples. Originally a Flash and iOS game, players ascended the titular tower to rescue 10 princesses by hacking away at a wide variety of monsters across 70 levels. As simple as it was, it was addictive to play and had a lot of content on offer.
1/8 Wii U: The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD
Maybe it’s a bit strong to put Wii U next to Jaguar and CD-I. The Wii U feels more comparable to the Dreamcast with its strong selection of games. While most were ported to the Switch, others like Super Mario Maker and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD are still exclusive to Nintendo’s first HD machine. Still, they weren’t enough to make up for the design flaws and lagging sales.
If it ends up being a bona fide failure, the owners can cry all the way to the proverbial bank with The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD. It improved upon the original game with Swift Sail speed and streamlined controls. The GamePad could even be used to aim the bow, and it worked quite well. But it still supported the regular Pro Controller for those who’d rather control the action directly. For a “failure” it sure feels like a winner.
MORE: Things old consoles did that were way ahead of their time