RELEASE YEAR 1979
Intellivision, the mashing of the words "intelligent" and "television," hit the market as one of the Atari 2600's major competitor just a year after Atari's console offering landed on shelves. It didn't reach full market saturation until 1980, as the initial 1979 release was only in select markets and only had four games available.
The hardware was undeniably more advanced than the Atari 2600, with the ability to display higher resolution graphics and a more versatile color palette. The gamepads also showed how more advanced the system was over the "simple" Atari: these controllers featured a unique disc input system that predates the Nintendo thumb pad innovation, and offered a versatile telephone-like keypad as well as four action buttons, two on each side. Games made for the Intellivision featured specific overlays with artwork that slipped right on top of these 12 buttons to make it easy to understand which button does what.
Mattel excelled at marketing the device against Atari to show just how advanced it was, going so far as to hire author George Plimpton as the voice of Intellivision for its advertising campaign. The company also pushed for licenses in its games to strengthen the brand: the company offered MLB, NHL, NFL, and NBA licensed sports games, and even locked down the Tron franchise for a series of games in time for the potentially blockbuster film.
Though the Intellivision never managed to dethrone the Atari 2600 as the top system of its era, the console brought forth many considerable innovations: along with the advanced graphics, the system offered an add-on that brought speech to games, and it also introduced the concept of downloadable games with its ahead-of-its-time, test-marketed PlayCable that offered Intellivision games distributed over television cable.
RELEASE YEAR 1989
NEC had a hit on its hands in Japan with the PC Engine in 1987, a console that regularly outsold the Famicom (the Japanese NES) and wanted to replicate that success in America. So it turned to a marketing company to repackage the underpowered 16-bit machine and go head-to-head with the dominant players in America: Nintendo and SEGA. Perhaps it was the lack of third-party support. Perhaps it was the absolutely goofy inter-capped name TurboGrafx-16. Whatever the culprit, the Turbo just never made a dent in the American market.
It did not help that NEC marched right into a perfect storm. The Turbo was released in August of 1989, just as the hype wars between the SEGA Genesis, the NES, and incoming Super NES were at a fever pitch. The pack-in game, Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, was an unknown compared to Altered Beast for the Genesis, which was a port of a popular arcade game that looked remarkably close to the coin-op version. Though the launch library had a couple of gems, like the pinballer Alien Crush, there was just no shaking the competition. The Turbo did not benefit from early realization that the machine was just straight-up underpowered compared to the Genesis. It didn't even have a second controller port; you needed to buy a peripheral so two people could play at the same time. It's no wonder the Turbo quickly fell to fourth place behind the NES, Super NES, and Genesis -- and stayed there.
But a lack of sales does not necessarily mean the console is without merit. The TurboGrafx-16 is home to a solid catalog of games worth playing, such as NEC's attempt at a Mario-like mascot with Bonk's Adventure, the top-down shooter Blazing Lasers, and Namco's side-scrolling horror classic Splatterhouse. These are games worth playing. The Turbo was also the first system to have a CD-drive attachment, the $399 Turbo CD, which was grossly overpriced at $399, but was recognition that the days of cartridges were coming to a close as the new disc medium offered vastly superior storage.
RELEASE YEAR 1982
As the Atari 2600 and the Mattel Intellivision was getting on in years, toy manufacturer Coleco, who had already dabbled in electronic games such as plug-and-play Pong clones and licensed single game handhelds, decided to jump into the market in 1982 with a console of its own: the Colecovision.
Colecovision's claim to fame was its incredible accuracy in bringing current-generation arcade hits home. Coleco aggressively went after the rights to produce home versions of games that were enjoying success in game rooms, and the powerful hardware inside the Colecovision made it possible for programmers to produce close-to-perfect adaptations. Or, at least, far better adaptations than either the aging Atari 2600 or Intellivision systems could provide. Coleco even produced peripherals such as steering wheels and trackballs to even more closely convert the arcade experience for the home.
Coleco used Donkey Kong as a pack-in to show just how arcade perfect the system could be, and the inclusion of Nintendo's big arcade game as a bundle definitely attributed to the early success of the Colecovision. But this success was short-lived: the industry crash in 1983 took Coleco's console down with it.
Its strengths as a gaming console are its downfall when it comes to reliving the system in today's generation: most of, if not all, of the biggest hits on the Colecovision were games that Coleco didn't own. The company held very few gaming intellectual properties, instead putting all its money behind licensing other publishers' products. Telegames produced an official Colecovision compilation featuring emulated games for the Windows platform, but it lacked many of the titles that made the platform a popular system to own in the early ‘80s.
RELEASE YEAR 2001
The original Xbox brought Microsoft into the console gaming world. And while it didn't have the prettiest design or the greatest library of games, it laid the groundwork for many of today's gaming standards. Xbox gave us two important contributions to gaming: Halo and Xbox Live.
N64 fans will cry foul and suggest that GoldenEye made first-person shooters possible on a console, but it was Halo that modernized the genre. Almost every FPS that came after Halo utilized its control scheme and a modified version of its health system. But where Halo truly succeeded was in providing console gamers with the first-of-its-kind 16-player LAN battles. Halo was the first shooter that made PC gamers jealous and it signaled the beginning of a power shift in the genre.
The second contribution, Xbox Live, proved a testbed for the version that's become so beloved on Xbox 360. Though the SEGA Dreamcast had broadband gameplay, Xbox's Live service was the first that managed to capture a high level of quality among a large number of games. It gave us the first iteration of a Friends List and even had a few Xbox Live Arcade titles. The service kicked off with MechAssault and continues on through Halo 2, a game which is still played online by hundreds of thousands of gamers. With Live, the Xbox showed us the future of console gaming.
The original Xbox helped usher in a new era in videogames. From that point forward, consoles began drawing in PC gamers, while still servicing the core console gamer. While the console itself was not among the ten greatest of all time, its impact will be felt for the next decade.
RELEASE YEAR 2006
The Nintendo 64 and the GameCube were capable, sustainable consoles with excellent support and fantastic games, but the increased competition from Microsoft and Sony made it difficult for Nintendo to see the same victory it did in the previous years. After two attempts to repeat the success it had with the NES and Super NES, Nintendo decided to shake things up and offer gaming experiences that stray from the expected.
Enter the Nintendo Wii, a system that put much more emphasis on the user interface than it did on the high definition, surround sound experience. The way we play was the biggest change to what we play: the idea was to introduce something that anyone could pick up and understand, and with the new input, it was hoped, a new market would form and a new audience would step forward to play games.
The company gave birth to the Remote, a device that had few buttons but offered motion control as well as a pointing device, two ideas that were relatively new to the console market. But to get this to become a standard, Nintendo had to introduce it as the core device of a new system, not as an optional peripheral for its current hardware.
The strategy worked. The Wii isn't much more advanced than the GameCube, but the controller – a device Nintendo has stated began as a GameCube peripheral – has converted millions of casual gamers to become system owners. The idea of bundling Wii Sports with the system was an incredibly smart move, as people immediately understood what the Wii was and what it could do in a simple to play, well designed experience.
The Nintendo Wii, in its fourth year on the market, continues to shake up the industry and shifting its direction, inspiring competitors like Microsoft and Sony to adopt this new way to play for their own videogame strategies.
RELEASE YEAR 1996
Nintendo's last cartridge-based home console, N64, may go down in history as something of a disappointment (compared to expectations) and primarily because of its media format, but it actually housed several major hardware innovations as well as some of the biggest and most beloved games of the generation.
The Big N had even bigger plans for the once-codenamed 'Ultra 64,' including revolutionary control mechanisms, cutting-edge graphical processing power and an exclusive list of handpicked third-parties (known as the “Dream Team”), and it certainly started the system off with a bang. Not only did legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto unveil the N64 controller complete with the uber-sensitive analog stick and rumble pak, but he also showed off the genre-shaping platformer Super Mario 64, considered to this day to be one of the greatest and most important videogames ever made. And yet, even with a string of hits, some of them monumental, N64 never came close to matching rival PlayStation in popularity. In fact, Sony's disc-based platform outsold Nintendo's by a margin of more than three to one.
Despite the PlayStation’s bigger install-base, third-party advantage (including Dream Team members), Nintendo and Rare still churned out N64-exclusive master works from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (one of the only games to earn a perfect 10 rating from IGN.com) to Conker's Bad Fur Day and GoldenEye 007.
RELEASE YEAR 1999
Despite its comparably short lifespan, the SEGA Dreamcast was the first system in the sixth generation of video game consoles, which included the PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox. The Dreamcast first hit stores in 1998, over two years before the PS2 and three years before the GameCube and Xbox. Although the Dreamcast had sizable chronological leeway over its contemporaries, it was inevitably stifled by stiff competition and the advent of DVD technology. But before it met its untimely demise in 2001, the Dreamcast certainly left its mark on the console industry.
As its second disc-based console, SEGA sought to learn from the mistakes it made with the Saturn with the Dreamcast. The Dreamcast marked a comprehensive overhaul of SEGA's marketing and design strategy, aiming for a more diverse audience with quality software and a number of technological innovations. The Dreamcast was the first console to incorporate a built-in modem for online play, and while the networking lacked the polish and refinement of its successors, it was the first time users could seamlessly power on and play with users around the globe. Additionally, the Dreamcast also launched its own proprietary disc format, GD-ROM, which boasted an extra 500 MBs of data capacity over CDs.
As a platform, the Dreamcast brought SEGA's biggest franchises to the next generation, including Sonic the Hedgehog and Virtua Fighter, but also introduced new series like Crazy Taxi to the gaming community. Unfortunately, the Dreamcast was SEGA's last venture into console territory; but its impact, legacy, and notable franchises are still evidenced today.
RELEASE YEAR 1995
Sony's first foray into the console market kicked off a big change in the long-time, one-on-one war of Nintendo versus SEGA. Not only did the system help open up the doors for Microsoft to enter the market in the following generation, but it also helped transition the industry to a disc-based format, introduced the Dual Shock controller and its classic form (which is still being used and mimicked to this day), and introduced a number of incredibly important and classic titles. Like the SEGA Saturn and Nintendo 64, the PlayStation was among the generation of consoles that helped bring gaming from the 2D days of old to the current 3D content that we're still playing to this day.
The library of original titles introduced on the PlayStation can read like a history lesson in videogames. The likes of Metal Gear Solid, Gran Turismo, Resident Evil, Tony Hawk and much, much more were seen here for the first time, and these franchises continue to be some of the biggest in all of gaming. Were it not for the PlayStation, a number of genres that we take for granted these days may never have come to fruition, or at least been popularized so well.
One interesting bit about the PlayStation's marketing and focus is that it was targeted to an older audience than most any system before it, helping to establish the PlayStation brand not only as something that kids played, but that their parents enjoyed as well. This shift in marketing has continued across the industry to this day.
Continued on 3rd part