By Nelson Schneider - 06/29/12 at 04:01 PM CT
Last week, I covered the heroes of console gaming. But it seems that where there is good, there must always be evil. When acts of greatness are replaced with evil deeds, not only do gamers suffer, but the industry as a whole suffers.
This week, I will look at the five vilest villains of console gaming:
5. Sega Genesis + Sega CD + Sega 32X
In contrast to the wise philosopher-king of the 16-bit era, the Genesis was nothing but a sophist, attempting to lure-in the uneducated through tricky wordplay. ‘I do what Nintendon’t!’ it said. ‘Blast Processing!’ it said. And when its sophistry failed, the Genesis tried to seduce the lowest common denominator among American gamers (a nation where the villain actually found some popularity) with bread and circuses: ‘My version of “Mortal Kombat” has blood!’ Regardless of its evil nature, the Genesis made a fine rival for the SNES, and the competition between the two was part of what made the Golden Age golden. Sadly, instead of announcing a line of succession and retiring as it started to grow long in the tooth, the Genesis insisted on reinventing itself and clinging to power through the machinations of a private army of add-ons… to its utter destruction. Instead of extending its lifespan and expanding its abilities, the additions of the Sega CD and 32X merely fragmented the Genesis’ cult of fanatics and confused everyone else. The two Sega consoles that came after, the Saturn and Dreamcast, were never able to grab any industry power thanks to their ancestor’s major screw-ups.
The NeoGeo was an incredibly obscure console by fighting-game-developer SNK. What could be villainous about something so obscure? The NeoGeo committed the cardinal sin of hubris. Not only did it cost $650 at launch (in 1991 money), the games were $200 a pop! And what games were so great that they were worth that much? None! As the NeoGeo’s miniscule library consisted almost entirely of SNK’s own 2D fighting games. I actually know one person who owned a NeoGeo, so I did get the dubious privilege of actually playing some “Fatal Fury” on it; I was not impressed. By ignoring the example of the villainous NeoGeo, Sony fell into the very same traps with their overpriced PS3 and its miserable launch library. Never forget the past!
3. Nintendo 64
While the Nintendo 64 has legions of fanboys, I can’t help but think they’re suffering from some form of Stockholm Syndrome. Where did the N64 go astray after two generations of solid heroism from its ancestors? Where did it NOT?! First and foremost among the N64’s sins was the loss of third-party support. While Nintendo did make great games on the NES and SNES, it was primarily that small group of excellent third parties whose games made those consoles soar. With the N64, all of those developers abandoned ship for the PS1, with its cheap optical media and less-stringent licensing arrangements. Second, the N64 was all about 3D: Polygons everywhere! Sprites? What are those?! Yet the 5th Generation was not quite ready for nothing but polygons, nor did anyone really know how to make enjoyable games in 3D environments. That didn’t stop Nintendo from trying, as they re-invented all of their best franchises with all-new 3D gameplay. These entries in the ‘Mario,’ ‘Zelda,’ and ‘MarioKart’ franchises rank among my all-time least-favorites thanks to their hideousness, wretched camera controls, and awkward movement, not to mention the fact that they barely resemble their 2D predecessors. Finally, the N64 had one of the worst controllers ever designed. It was impossible to reach all of the inputs at the same time thanks to an idiotic three-pronged design that mandated two separate ways to hold the thing. The analog stick was a joke, as it was imprecise and the little ball at the bottom tended to melt, rendering the controller useless. Outside of fanboys who would buy anything with a Nintendo logo on it, the N64 dealt a crushing blow to Nintendo’s popularity and reputation among gaming hobbyists from which the company has yet to recover.
I have never understood why Microsoft, an operating system developer for PCs, felt the need to get into the videogame console market. Supposedly, the PlayStation was drawing too many developers and gamers away from PC gaming, with its cataclysm of driver issues, bi-annual $500 hardware refreshes, and genre stagnation resulting in a mire of FPSes and RTses. So, gamers are abandoning PC gaming for console gaming: Microsoft, WHAT DO YOU DO?! While any sane company would respond, ‘Make PC gaming more like console gaming! We’ll create a runtime environment in Windows that makes it easy to program for a uniform set of virtual hardware and easy to play thanks to rock-solid DOS emulation,’ Microsoft instead decided to make console gaming more like PC gaming. Thus was born the Xbox, a game console with a hard drive and internet connection, both of which were used for incredibly evil things. Thanks to the Xbox, console games could now be patched and updated. Thanks to the Xbox, online multi-player was easy. Of course, this also meant that games would be released unfinished (Why waste time and money on QA testing when you can just patch your game later?) and splitscreen multi-player would become increasingly scarce (Why stress the console by trying to run 2-4 instances of the game interface when you can sell 1-3 extra copies of the game and force people to play them on different consoles?). All of the ugliness of the 7th Generation of gaming can be laid at the Xbox’s feet, which is pretty impressive for a console that was only ever used to play “Halo.”
1. Atari 2600
The Gnostics believed that the universe was created by an utterly evil entity, frequently syncretized with Plato’s Demiurge or Judaism’s Yahweh, who took delight in the suffering of those trapped in the material world. The Atari 2600 is gaming’s Yahweh. Atari (delenda est) created the videogame industry and filled it with terrible things. Atari 2600 games were eyesores with no narrative and gameplay that devolved down to basic arcade-style ‘twitch’ and the accumulation of high scores. There were no standards, which allowed all the filth and excrement of no-quality licensed games to accumulate on the 2600… and Atari seemed to like it that way. Playing games on the Atari 2600 was nothing but suffering, and enough potential gamers abandoned their existence in the virtual world of videogames that the gaming universe imploded upon itself. Were it not for the Logos of the NES, the universe created by the Atari 2600 would have been but an ephemeral bubble, coming and going at the whim of its vile creator. Gaming would not exist.