The last few generations of consoles have accumulated large game libraries, from the PlayStation 2’s obscene abundance (2500+ across all regions) to the Wii U’s reasonable, practically meager offering (750+) and everything between. If you own a modern system manufactured by Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo, you have an embarrassment of riches at your fingertips — even before you start exploring DLC, backward compatibility, and the wilderness of download-only indie titles.
But it wasn’t always so. Before the Big Three reigned supreme, upstart companies whimpered into the fray with consoles so unappealing or undercooked their entire extant libraries wouldn’t fill one shelf of an IKEA Billy bookcase. On the other hand, sometimes the big boys of video gaming made huge missteps, resulting in broken promises and a woefully limited selection of games. For example…
Nintendo 64DD – 4 games
The 64DD was Nintendo’s failed attempt to upgrade the Nintendo 64 with a disk drive that fit under the console and allowed for larger games, more efficient system operation, and limited internet connectivity using a subscription service called Randnet. Like just about every console add-on ever made (Hello 32X! See you later on this list, Jaguar CD!), it failed for a variety of alternatingly entertaining and disheartening reasons. Mainly, Nintendo kept pushing back the launch dates, frustrating its fans to no end, before releasing the 64DD exclusively to an underwhelmed Japan in December 1999.
If you discount the expansion disks (think DLC minus the pesky downloading part) and the disk required to use Randnet, there were only four games ever released for the 64DD: Mario Artist, Doshin the Giant, SimCity 64, and Japan Pro Golf Tour 64. To make matters worse, the games weren’t even initially available to buy at retail: you instead had to wait for the games to be delivered to your house, old-school-Netflix-style, as part of your pricey subscription cost.
Action Max – 5 games
Is there anything more "1980s USA!" than a janky, VHS-based murder simulator? The Action Max, created by Worlds of Wonder–the same firm responsible for Teddy Ruxpin and Lazer Tag–is perhaps the most peculiar of the post-NES, third generation pretenders to the throne.
Released in 1987, the light gun-only and VCR-dependent console is just edging on interactive. You only get points if you time/place your shots accurately, so you’ll be pulling the trigger a lot, for sure, but the on-screen results in the Z-grade live action "story" are always the same. There were only ever a measly five games released, including the jauntily-titled The Rescue of Pops Ghostly, whose rescue from a haunted house (spoiler alert) involves a lot of gunplay, and is 100% successful 100% of the time, because Action Max.
Mattel HyperScan – 5 games
Launched in 2006, the HyperScan was Mattel’s low-rent entry into the hyper-competitive seventh console generation, which introduced Nintendo’s Wii, Sony’s PlayStation 3, and Microsoft’s Xbox 360—all game-changers. The HyperScan, however, was met with resounding "meh," or at least an irritated mid-pubescent squawk, since its five underwhelming games were all aimed squarely at preteen boys.
The toy-like console with a parent-friendly price ($69.99 at launch) could play Ben 10, Interstellar Wrestling League, Marvel Heroes, Spider-Man, and X-Men, the last of which came bundled with the HyperScan. The whole thing was a commercial and critical failure, but was innovative for its time: the HyperScan incorporated collectible and scannable cards that directly influenced gameplay, anticipating toy/game hybrid playsets such as Skylanders, Disney Infinity, and Lego Dimensions.
PC Engine SuperGrafx – 6 games
The original TurboGrafx-16, released by NEC in the U.S. in 1989 after two successful years of sales in Japan, never really broke into the North American market in a meaningful way. It was known as PC Engine in Japan, but NEC tarted up the name and look of the modest original console to bring game-crazy American kids the sleek and exotic TurboGrafx-16 Entertainment SuperSystem.
Or at least that was the plan. Ultimately, it was an interesting but underpowered system you saw glimpses of in U.S. gaming magazines, but it was rare to find a working console in the wild. The superior Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, in the thick of a relentless console war, just crushed it.
As such, NEC’s enhanced and confusingly-named follow-up, the PC Engine Supergrafx, was, unsurprisingly, a Japanese exclusive. Only six games were ever made for the console, including Capcom’s brutally difficult arcade classic Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. But to NEC’s credit, one of those games was cross-compatible with the older system, and the system itself was backwards compatible with games from the original PC Engine, so it wasn’t a total waste if you were one of the few who dropped cash on it.
Nuon – 8 games
You might have had one of these and not even known it, if, say, you lived with your parents between 2000 and 2003 and they inadvertently bought a Samsung, Toshiba, or RCA DVD player with snazzy Nuon technology built-in. The Nuon chip was meant to add 3D gaming capabilities and enhanced DVD playback and navigation to what was otherwise just an average DVD player, but it never took off. This all sounds rather quaint today, but the promise of a DVD/game console hybrid is exactly what the PlayStation 2, released later the same year in 2000, delivered on in a much bigger way.
You weren’t missing much: only eight titles were released, with Tempest 3000, the second overhaul of the 1981 arcade classic, as reportedly the only real standout. Another retro arcade rehash was Space Invaders XL, which added nothing to the 1978 original not already explored in superior Space Invaders ports available for the PlayStation and Super Nintendo.
Gizmondo – 8 games
If you’ve never heard of this little 2005 handheld, it’s understandable: only eight games were ever released in North America, and they were all launch titles. Delayed several times before finally being offered for an absurd $400 ($229 if you opt for the ad-filled version of the OS), the Gizmondo unsurprisingly never really achieved much altitude, with the company behind the gadget, Tiger Telematics, losing $400 million in less than four years.
It doesn’t help that the device itself looks like something you’d buy at Sharper Image in 1995 to digitize your favorite family recipes. But it wasn’t just poor design that kept the Gizmondo from achieving success: there’s also a fat dash of hubris and more than a pinch of organized crime.
One unreleased game, the Grand Theft Auto clone Colors, was supposed to be the world’s first "GPS video game," programmed to track a gamer’s real-life movements in real time. Considering that several Gizmondo execs were later outed as members of the Swedish mafia, it probably was in the best interest of the public in Scandinavia and abroad that Colors never saw release, and that the Gizmondo is now just an ugly little relic.
XaviXPORT – 10 games
Even though it was released two years before Nintendo’s massively popular console, the XaviXPORT shares with the Wii both an initially unpronounceable name and its gimmicky motion controls. Only 10 "applications" for it were ever released in the U.S., and they were almost all sports titles, rendering the console dependent on a menagerie of bundled controllers shaped like the real-life thingamabob you use to play the real-life game. Think baseball bats, tennis rackets, boxing gloves, and all the rest.
More an exercise motivator than a true gaming console, the XaviX will likely only be remembered, at best, as a sixth generation curiosity, and confused as a knockoff at worst — thanks in part to Jackie Chan.
Cassette Vision – 11 games
This early Japan-only console, akin to an Atari 2600, power-wise, had its "controllers" built into the body of the console itself, meaning a two-player-game required both players to huddle around the Cassette Vision and paw at its tightly-placed buttons, likely leading to plenty of accidental Game Overs.
To make matters worse, each player had to use two joysticks, but in a painfully 2D way: one for vertical movement, the other for horizontal. The 11 titles you could play using this unusual scheme (just ROMs, not actual cassettes) were standard fare for the time, including requisite "clones" of Donkey Kong (Monster Mansion) and Pac-Man (the brazenly titled PakPak Monster).
Atari Jaguar CD – 11 games
Like the Sega CD before it, the Atari Jaguar CD had a game library cluttered with outdated FMV quick-time event games (Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace), Mortal Kombat knockoffs (Primal Rage), and obligatory PC ports (Myst). But Atari’s CD add-on only ever inspired 11 games in its short lifetime, with the dreck crowding out the gems, 10 to 1 (who could hate Myst?).
But the system’s tiny library included the curious Highlander: The Last of the MacLeods, the second successful stab at making a video game based in the Highlander universe and one of only four Jaguar CD exclusives ever made. Behold its almost entirely sound effect-free glory (and sub-Thundercats animation, which is actually based on the oft-forgotten Highlander Animated Series) in the video above.
Capcom Power System Changer – 11 games
It was supposed to be Capcom’s Neo Geo killer: a way for Japanese fans of the publisher’s excellent arcade titles to enjoy their favorite games at home, without compromising on quality. But it ended up as Capcom’s one and only attempt to make a home console.
A rash of odd decisions seemingly doomed the now-obscure console at launch. To name just one: Capcom decided to use Super Famicom/Nintendo controller ports instead of their own proprietary tech, meaning you could use any gamepad or joystick compatible with Nintendo’s console for your CPS Changer. Why?
"Japanese manufacturers did this fairly regularly," video game collector and obscure console expert Lawrence Wright told Nintendo Life. "Nintendo sold the Super Famicom without a power supply, for example, because it was assumed the players still had their old Famicom at home."
If selling the the CPS Changer controller-free didn’t damper enthusiasm, the limited distribution model and lean-but-expensive game catalogue surely did. You could only order the console directly from Capcom, and its 11 games set you back more than $150 a piece. But what games! Final Fight, Knights of the Round, Saturday Night Slam Masters, and three classic Street Fighter titles, among other gems, and all at arcade quality.
Casio Loopy – 11 games
A Japan-only 1995 console targeted to female gamers, the Casio Loopy featured 11 games with names such as Bow-wow Puppy Love Story and Dream Change: Kokin-chan’s Fashion Party. But no matter how aggressively gendered the whole concept is, it’s the only console to ever come with a built-in thermal color printer used to make stickers out of screenshots. That’s worth something, you guys. That you can use the optional "Magical Shop" accessory to make stickers out of any DVD and VCR content is just icing on the cake.
Oddly, for a console with multiple dress-up and dating sims, the Casio Loopy is a strictly one-player affair, with no multiplayer capability to speak of. So if you want to go head-to-head with your bestie in whatever I Want a Room in Loopy Town! is, you’re out of luck.
Super A’Can – 12 games
The Super A’Can is a Taiwan-only 16-bit console released in 1995, which was not a great time to release a 16-bit console, to put it mildly. The 3D era was already underway, with the PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and (to a lesser extent) the Sega Saturn firmly in place as the next big things. But as any Stardew Valley or Shovel Knight fan will tell you—or anyone older than 25, for that matter—3D graphics aren’t everything. So what did the Super A’Can have to offer?
Not much. Only 12 games were released in the console’s short history, including African Adventures, a Monopoly clone with Hitler as a playable character. Yes, that Hitler. But as the above video demonstrates, the graphics were charming, and on par with late-stage Super Famicom/Nintendo.
Game Wave – 13 games
Released in 2005 by Canadian upstarts ZAPiT, the Game Wave was a misguided attempt to make a "family-friendly" DVD-player/video game console hybrid. With its remote control-shaped gamepads, the game-capable part of it was destined to be a board game-like curio, only dusted off and played sporadically. To its credit, it comes with four controllers, so it’s potentially a party in a box, but quality games were just never developed.
Despite the above instructional video’s assurance that the Game Wave plays "all sorts of games," the console featured almost exclusively tired trivia and puzzle games in its 13 game library. The exception? Veggietales: Veg-Out! Family Tournament, a Mario Party clone featuring everyone’s favorite anthropomorphic Christian vegetables.
The total lack of impact the Game Wave made on the industry is perhaps best summed up on its Wikipedia page, which, as of the time of this writing, includes the following snarky editorial footnote after the totally benign and accurate claim that the console is "part of the seventh generation of gaming": .