The consoles, that is. I get asked about the consoles. Whether I'm among other tabletop game store owners who may or may not be thinking about branching into video games, or I'm at a "civilian" social setting like a party with my wife's friends or family, or I'm talking business with my pre-store friends/peers, whatever. Inevitably I get asked, what's the deal with the Super Nintendo these days. Or the Switch. Or what should I do with my old Playstation 3. Or is it worth getting my Xbox 360 fixed. Or what's the best-seller. Or what old system do people collect for. (Few people collect for pre-NES systems.)
Like asking a hobbit about his relatives, you don't want to get me started on every last fringe console, because I've heard of essentially all of them, I've owned almost all of them, and I feel competent to expound at length on virtually every piece of video game hardware, home or arcade, that has ever been built. That article will bore you right into your coffin. It's also not what people really mean when they ask me about consoles. They want to know about the stuff they're familiar with.
I'm omitting the handhelds here also, but I may revisit that in a future article. Where does handheld console leave off and smartphone software platform begin? It's a topic worthy of its own feature.
So here we go! One sentence each that I hope sums up exactly what matters about each of these consoles, right now, in early 2018, in the industry as we know it, with games as we know them.
Magnavox Odyssey and other pong machines: These are basically pointless today and exist mainly as museum pieces and curiosities.
Atari VCS ("2600"): The Atari is the granddaddy of them all, but is also only marginally playable in a real sense; even arcade-seasoned older players will struggle to enjoy it.
Mattel Intellivision: Quite possibly the worst controllers ever devised, and whoever engineered the Intellivision II to use a 16.7-volt power supply ought to be punched in the sternum.
Magnavox Odyssey 2: Not an accident there didn't end up being an Odyssey 3.
Atari 5200: I take back what I said about the Intellivision controllers.
ColecoVision: The second-most-playable of the pre-NES consoles, the Coleco still suffers from awful controllers and archaic hardware design, but has its fans nonetheless.
Atari 7800: "Hey, let's stop playing our NES for a while and try this system that Atari designed four years ago but only now released," said zero players at the time.
GCE Vectrex: The most playable of the pre-NES consoles, if you can find one.
Nintendo Entertainment System (NES): The cornerstone of everything about retro video games, from the ubiquity of Super Mario Bros to the common hardware repairs, and the first system to have video games that play fully in the modern sense of the experience.
Sega Master System: Come for Phantasy Star, stay for a few other titles but most people will be pretty much done after Phantasy Star.
NEC Turbografx-16: This thing is so much more Japanese than American players were ready for.
Sega Genesis: It hasn't aged well, but the Genesis is probably second only to the Xbox 360 in terms of pound-for-pound entertainment value per dollars spent.
Nintendo Super NES: The hardcore collectors crow about tracking down every obscure JRPG, but the top sellers by far on this system are the two dozen or so games that appear on the SNES Classic Mini.
SNK Neo Geo: I love that this system is basically the bridge into the arcade hobby, because for what it costs to collect and play a handful of AES games, you can basically get an MVS cabinet and plenty of inexpensive carts and have a purist's awesome time on it.
Multi 3DO: I wanted this system to be so much more than it became.
Sega 32X: I expected this system to become about what it ended up as.
Sega CD: Playing an original copy of Magical Fantasy Adventure Popful Mail on all-original hardware and a PVM is like taking one of those $300 shots of Scotch that are exquisite despite being wholly unnecessary.
Sega Saturn: I love that this system is basically the bridge into the otaku/Japan collecting hobby, because for what it costs to collect absurdly rare American versions of most meaningful titles, you can basically get a Japanese Saturn and play tons of inexpensive games, in native RGB video no less.
Sony Playstation: [PLEASE WAIT, LOADING. . . . . . . . . . .]
Nintendo 64: There are adults walking around today with jobs and houses and kids who look at this console and refer to it as "vintage" or "old school."
Sega Dreamcast: It will forever be November 27, 1998, both in our hearts and in the Dreamcast's stupidly designed motherboard CMOS battery assembly.
Sony Playstation 2: [DISC READ ERROR]
Microsoft Xbox 2001: The most common Pentium III 733mHz PC ever produced, and everything that goes with that distinction.
Nintendo Gamecube: Hated in its day but loved today, despite years without any sensible way to get the official component cable.
Microsoft Xbox 360: Fanboys and hardcores won't notice, but this system (if you can get one that hasn't imploded) is the best value in video gaming right now, with tons of outstanding games available for next to nothing both on disc and digitally via Xbox Live.
Sony Playstation 3: So much of both future-looking inspired engineering and past-hobbled crufty engineering combine to make a fascinating system that will one day be fodder for cult collectors, situated as it is between the two far greater successes of the PS2 and PS4.
Nintendo Wii: The big N's success at targeting the deep blue ocean and making motion control really work resulted in a console that performs differently in the aftermarket than any other: truckloads of seeming shovelware often find an audience in people looking for such lighter fare, and nestled in between are hidden gems that serious gamers chase after.
Nintendo Wii U: Too early, too underdone, and with an iPad gimmick that never truly added value like it could have, the saving grace of Nintendo's biggest market failure since the Virtual Boy is that it has more tier-1 games per capita than perhaps any other console.
Microsoft Xbox One: Redmond ruined the initial launch by telling gamers what they already knew but didn't want to hear about the inevitability of the end of transferable physical media; the resulting backlash crowned the PS4 the winner of this generation in hearts and minds, but I'll wait until the long-term implications of the Xbox-Windows Unified Gaming Platform become more evident before rendering final judgment.
Sony Playstation 4: The hottest platform right now and where the majority of the action is if you're into JRPGs or fighters in particular.
Nintendo Switch: This is what the Wii U and 3DS both should have been and eventually did become, and with any luck this system will have a long and bountiful lifespan full of awesome titles.
There we go! If you disagree then leave a comment on the web zone and like and subscribe and give me money on Patreon or whatever it is people are doing these days. Have a great week!
Image credit: Ars Technica (C) 2018