Epic Fails Part 2: Hand Helds

Hand Held Consoles, chances are if you’re into gaming you own or have owned some kind of portable gaming device along the way. The Nintendo 3DS and Sony PSP may rule the roost now, but what about all those other nifty little gadgets that have been left gathering dust in gaming history? It’s not all sweetness and light in the world of hand held gaming, and to celebrate the disaster pieces here are my top five Epic Fails: Hand Helds.

Nokia N-Gage

Back in 2003 Nokia decided that if people were going to play games while on their mobile phone, they should be able to have an array of titles bigger than Snake. As a result they created the Nokia N-Gage, a mobile phone with supposedly ‘serious’ video game capabilities. While the concept now seems obvious while we walk around on mobile phones with thousands of games applications at our fingertips, even a matter of years ago technology and design limited the capability and popularity of the N-Gage to a disastrous level.

The average feeling of an N-Gage owner

Unfortunately, Nokia’s design team couldn’t quite decide if the phone aspect of the device should come secondary to its gaming capabilities. As a result they created a Frankenstein’s monster of a mobile phone that had buttons that felt completely backward to game with, while making you look like some kind of jackass holding a shoe to their head when you answered calls.

The N-Gage, even with its very limited game catalogue, did spot a gaping hole the in the mobile phone meets hand held console market. Fast forward eight years and a large number of us are flicking birds into wood and concrete on our handsets. Ultimately it took development in technology and a much smarter company to tie all the ends together and let us game and talk on the move while not looking like fools doing it!

Sega Game Gear

The Sega Game Gear can only be described as a console that should have been huge, but didn’t really live up to scratch. Designed to be a portable Sega Master System, the Game Gear was created to rival the Nintendo Game Boy which had been a huge commercial success for almost two years by the time the Sega-made alternative hit shelves. Unlike the dominant Game Boy, the Game Gear had several technological advantages.

Firstly the console played in colour! While the Game Boy had opted for a monochrome display, the Game Gear hit the market like a Technicolor rainbow. Although less popular colour display hand helds such as the Atari Lynx had already hit shelves, the notion of a portable Master System could not be ignored.

Secondly, the screen was back-lit, allowing gamers to play in dark rooms without desperately trying to angle the screen towards a light source to play! Alongside this, Sega had opted to design the console to be played horizontally (compared to the Game Boy’s vertical design), which would have made the configuration of the Game Gear much more spacious and comfortable to play, if it hadn’t been so damned huge!

The downside to the Game Gear was the incredibly short battery life. While the market leading Game Boy could last from 10-14 hours on only 4 AA batteries, the Game Gear required six every three hours; the cost of colour is pricey, my friends! As a result many gamers felt increasingly frustrated with the high consumption rate of the console, leaving Game Boy to become the hand held device of choice for many, especially for long trips with kids in tow!

In short, the Game Gear came close, but not close enough, to fully understanding the demands of portable gaming. Pretty colours just don’t cut it if you can only get down the road before you need to stop at Woolworths to get some more batteries!

Atari Lynx

The most noticeable feature of the Atari Lynx was its ability to claim the title of ‘first colour display hand held console’. With a heading like that to its name you would assume the console would have had a much happier end than the fate it succumbed to; unfortunately the back story behind the Lynx is one full of bad mistakes and unfortunate timing.

The Atari Lynx began production around the same time as the Nintendo Game Boy in the late 1980’s. Boasting a colour LCD display and a reversible design that suited both right and left handed players, the Lynx was definitely a console with potential, on paper at least. In reality, a company the size of Atari could not compete with the likes of Nintendo and even Sega later on in its lifespan, particularly due to the limits of its games catalogue.

The Lynx was outshone by rival companies from day one, even at its first unveiling at the 1989 CES showcase. A colour handheld with a few potentially good games and a retail value of $180 just couldn’t look as fresh and exciting as a Nintendo made console with the likes of Super Mario Land and Tetris under its wing at half the price. One of the final nails in the coffin was Atari’s inability to supply its potential demand on the market upon release, leaving many people once again turning to Nintendo when they couldn’t find an Atari Lynx in stock; even when they were prepared to pay good money for one.

Despite revamping efforts to rejuvenate the console, Atari’s luck was always caught short. Yet another example of how bigger and better doesn’t always equal success.

The original Neo Geo Pocket

Neo Geo Pocket/Pocket Colour

Meet the Neo Geo Pocket, a hand held console released by arcade giants SNK in 1998 that had the almighty life span of *drum roll please*… one year! You would think that being the descendant of a games company responsible for classic titles such as Fatal Fury, Puzzle Bobble and King of Fighters would give it some leverage, but unfortunately despite its good breeding the Neo Geo was born among giants.

At a time where hype surrounding video games consoles was primarily directed towards the Sony PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and the upcoming Sega Dreamcast, the hand held console arena had begun to plateau. The market had been solidly dominated by the Nintendo Game boy for just short of a decade, and was starting to get whispers of a new model in the Game Boy Advance being in production. The original Neo Geo Pocket was behind before it hit shelves, particularly due to its monochrome display, and was soon scrapped to make way for the Neo Geo Pocket Colour.

The updated Neo Geo Pocket Colour

SNK, however, did have the potential to compete at a strong level, and although listed here as a failure, can arguably be described the best of the flops. Initial sales were strong, particularly in North America and in terms of units sold was the biggest rival to the Game Boy next to the Sega Game Gear.

Unfortunately, SNK were a company in financial trouble, and a moderately successful hand held console did little to retrieve them from imminent doom. By 2000 they were bought out by Aruze, who soon put a stop to production on all SNK Neo Geo consoles due to poor reception and sales. Given a little more financial backing and support the Neo Geo could have grounded itself enough to be classed as notably successful, however it wasn’t meant to be.


Ladies and gentlemen, please do not put your hands together for what is officially known as the worst selling hand held console in the history of gaming – the Gizmondo!

Spawning from virtually unknown company Tiger Telematics, the Gizmondo was released in 2005 to a dead reception. Launched from a store in London’s Regent Street, the fate of the Gizmondo was obvious from the start. Tiger Telematics were a company living the dream, assuming that gamers would blindly invest in a console that had little credibility with no solid advertising campaign bar an overly glossy launch party with over-paid celebrities endorsing the product before a penny of profit was made.

The company’s poor knowledge and lack of respect for the industry was supported with less than 25,000 unit sales of the device, primarily due to its lack of development and poor availability, particularly in North America. Unsurprisingly Tiger Telematics were bankrupted within a year citing ‘development costs for the Gizmondo and non-cash expenses’ as the main cause of financial strain.

Ms Minogue you really don't add anything to the credibility of the Gizmondo. Do you even know what a video game is?

Little about the console was groundbreaking. Two variations of the console were available, the only difference being the cheaper of the two devices displayed advertisements on the Gizmondo’s home page via a GPRS signal to subsidize the cost of the console. Despite the planning of the advertising system, (including a built in map application that would direct console owners to the nearest stores offering the advertised products) the ‘Smart-Adds’ application was never initiated, allowing buyers of the cheaper console to be left with exactly the same console as those who had (if at all) invested in the more expensive machine.

The Gizmondo in many respects was influenced by the Nokia N-Gage, implementing mobile telephone technology to add features to the design and despite its failure, did boast the first in-built camera for a hand held console. However Tiger Telematics should have learned more from the N-Gage lesson in that if a successful dominator of the mobile market couldn’t make it work, a small-manned operation with no real knowledge of the games industry and a penchant for buying things they couldn’t afford would undoubtedly flop quicker than SuBo on a diving board…

And they did!

That, my friends, concludes the top 10 devices (console and hand held) that you really shouldn’t have bothered owning. In retrospect most consoles have their part to play (even the Gizmondo!) in opening someone’s mind to a newer, better and more evolved machine that will take our gaming world into even headier heights of wonder. They say you always learn from your mistakes, and judging by this bunch we have a lot of lessons behind us!

Coming soon Epic Wins: Games consoles that changed the World

Read Epic Fails Part 1: Consoles







3 responses to “Epic Fails Part 2: Hand Helds”

  1. Danny avatar

    NGPC rocks so hard… Neo Turf Masters, Card Fighters Clash and Match of the Millenium are amazing. ;_;

  2. Simon avatar

    I loved the Game Gear. Mickey’s Castle of Something….Illusions maybe…..it was cool beans.

  3. James avatar

    A friend of mine had an Atari Lynx. He only owned one game: some shoddy surfing affair. It was a nightmare. By the time you’d strengthened your wrists enough to hold the unit steady, peered through the screen glare and coaxed your dude to the top of a wave, the batteries would die.

    Yet I was still jealous.

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