Game.com (1997, $70)
How can you tell that the Game.com was instantly and hilariously rendered outdated by the progress of time? Well, it’s an internet-capable system that is now largely incompatible with the modern internet. You have to type “game dot com” if you want to find any information about it online, all because websites were a new and exciting thing when it launched in 1997, and Tiger Electronics (hello again, Tiger) presumably thought “.com” was an exciting and modern name. It’s like designing a car right when they were first invented and deciding to call it “Wheels.”
The Game.com, made of cheap gray plastic, and featuring a black-and-white screen that was technically better than the old licensed Tiger handhelds from the early ’90s (but not by much), came out at $70—the same price as the Game Boy Color. Its big hook was that you could connect it to a modem (sold separately) with a special cable (sold separately) and download your emails or browse text-only web pages. Later revisions also introduced the ability to share your high scores on the Game.com website, but you couldn’t actually play any of the games online. As for the games, the system has what sounds like a fantastic library on paper: Resident Evil 2, Duke Nukem 3D, and Mortal Kombat Trilogy could all be played on the Game.com. And they all played and looked terrible. But hey, the Game.com was the first handheld console to have a touchscreen and internet capabilities, beating Nintendo to those innovations by many years. But, again, it did those things, and everything else, poorly.
Sega Nomad (1995, $180)
The Sega Nomad is pretty much the definitive gaming example of a piece of technology that’s ahead of its time, to the extent that it’s almost hard to believe it came out in 1995. What makes it so special? Well, the Nomad is essentially a portable Sega Genesis. It plays real Genesis games on its own little screen, you can hook it up to a TV and use it as a controller, and it even has multiple controller ports so you can play multiplayer games. The Genesis (or Mega Drive if you’re outside the U.S.) was Sega’s SNES competitor, and it was still on the market when the company came out with a new device that could play its games on the go—nearly two decades before Nintendo came out with the Switch.
The catch, because there obviously has to be one when you’re making a fully portable game console in 1995, is that the system cost $180 at launch (almost $100 more than the regular Genesis cost at the time, and $110 more than the Game Boy Color at launch). Also, the thing ate batteries even faster than Sega’s original Game Boy competitor, the Game Gear, which is really saying something. It took six AA batteries, and YouTube channel Gaming Historian says it wouldn’t even last for three hours on that charge. That’s the price you have to pay for the ability to play Comix Zone on the bus, apparently.
PasoGo (1996, ~$300)
Nintendo’s great success with the Game Boy family of systems was in focusing only on the specific things that technology at the time could easily handle, and then doing those things as well as possible. Koei’s PasoGo is sort of the dark inverse of that philosophy, because it can only do one thing, and didn’t even do that one thing particularly well. Released in 1996, the PasoGo was sold for over 39,000 yen (upwards of $300 at the time), and its library of games included a digital version of the classic board game Go, a second digital version of the classic board game Go, a third version, a fourth version, and… seven additional versions. Yes, the system cost over $300, and all of its games were different variations of Go, with different cartridges allowing you to play against computer opponents or re-create classic historical Go matches—at least that’s how it seems, as concrete information about the PasoGo is pretty rare. Apparently, it was such a flop that people refuse to remember it ever existed.
But hey, at least playing Go on the thing was probably a terrible experience! Not only was the PasoGo enormous, but it its big two-color LCD screen was of the “unavoidable eyestrain” type.