Old Video Game Systems That Should Make A Comeback
If you love old video game systems but don’t want to fork over the big bucks on Ebay, it’s a fantastic time to be alive. There’s the NES Classic, the Sega Genesis Classic, the Atari 2600 and Intellivision "Flashback" re-releases, and plenty of official emulated options on the latest generation consoles.
But there are still plenty of old, neglected, or forgotten consoles out there in need of official revivals. Some are genuinely fun to play, while others may have something to teach us, fun be damned. With gamers champing at the bit for nostalgia, what’s the next oldie due for a rebirth? Let’s explore our options.
Super Nintendo’s Satellaview
The SNES is one of the greatest systems of all time, with some of the greatest games in history, but that alone isn’t why we want it back on shelves. No, we want an SNES re-release because it’s the perfect opportunity for Nintendo to unearth, in one form or another, one of its weirdest—and weirdly prescient—products ever: the Satellaview.
The Satellaview was an add-on subscription service for the Super Famicom (the Japanese version of the SNES) that allowed you, via satellite, to download games and stream satellite radio—in 1995. Through Satellaview, Japanese gamers had access to a bunch of exclusives, including a Chrono Trigger "visual novel" sequel (Radical Dreamers) and two new Zelda/Zelda-related adventures, presented with so-called "SoundLink" live audio voice acting. That’s right: live voice acting. Many of the games, in an odd and early example of DRM, could only be played during designated times, much like watching live TV, enabling actors to perform live voiceovers during cutscenes experienced by all gamers simultaneously, like a radio play. How weird/cool is that?
Releasing an SNES Classic, and making it internet-enabled, would give Nintendo the perfect opportunity to revive the Satellaview experience, with exclusive "performances" of retro SoundLink titles (but without, of course, the proto-DRM time limits). Nintendo could even learn a lesson from Lego and work with their fans, building on existing fan translations and localization efforts to get Satellaview to the US. Sure, this all may sound a little far-fetched, but remember: this is the company responsible for R.O.B., the Power Glove, and the Virtual Boy, so while a Satellaview revival would probably be their weirdest-ever move, it wouldn’t be by a wide margin.
Oh hey, speaking of that last one …
Yes, it was almost universally derided as a misstep for Nintendo, but there’s a part of every gamer that would love to have one of these clunky rarities on their shelf, right? Sure, it can cause headaches, eyestrain, and nausea, but so can the PSVR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and the Sun. If you’re strapping a screen to your face—or in the case of the Virtual Boy, leaning into a screen like you’re at the optometrist—you should expect there to be repercussions. It doesn’t mean the Virtual Boy couldn’t see a second life as a retro novelty, like something Urban Outfitters would sell next to their $38 portable cassette players.
A re-released Virtual Boy would also be a big hit at barcades, where many patrons are planning on waking up with headaches, eyestrain, and nausea anyway. It just so happens to be the rare console you could comfortably play (relatively speaking) while seated at a bar or high top table, so it’s a perfect fit. Keeping tipsy gamers from chucking it across the room after a frustrating round of Teleroboxer could be a challenge, but all things considered, it’s a hell of a lot cooler than a sticky old Megatouch machine.
The Nintendo 64 was such a popular console it will almost surely get a re-release at some point, but its successor, the GameCube, isn’t as safe a bet. It’s the third worst-selling Nintendo console of all time (lording only over the Virtual Boy and Wii U), with only 21 million units sold in its lifetime. (A marketing misfire, emphasizing its appearance as much as, if not more than, its library, surely didn’t help.)
But its fans are fervent: GameCube owners bought more games for the console than other Nintendo system in history, and the controller design is legendary. Even in the Wii and Wii U eras, Smash Bros. aficionados, for example, kept using GameCube controllers, thanks to backward compatibility on the Wii and a game-specific adapter for the Wii U. Nintendo recognized the desire to use the controller for other Wii U games, because it created official GameCube-style controllers for the system—an unprecedented move. Considering the rabid fanbase and insanely popular controllers, a budget-friendly re-release of the GameCube with wireless, Wavebird-style, Switch-compatible controllers would be an excellent bit of fan service—especially considering the baffling lack of GameCube titles on Nintendo’s Virtual Console.
Hindsight is 20/20, sure, but the editors of Time magazine probably feel a little foolish knowing they named the 3DO its "1993 Product of the Year," especially considering 1993 was the year the modern internet was invented. (Best part of the Time write-up? An utterly meaningless blurb about the 3DO "bidding to be one of the main vehicles on the data superhighway.") The 3DO also cost an absurd $700 at launch, making it the most expensive console of all time. A 32-bit, disc-based system boldly released a few years before the Playstation, it was a total flop, full of bizarre production choices (controllers you had to daisy-chain, multiple models, etc.) and was discontinued by 1996.
That said, if 3DO was able to re-release a cheap version of the console pre-loaded with a dozen titles or so, it would make a decent little arcade machine, especially with its near-perfect ports of Samurai Showdown and Super Street Fighter II Turbo. It never had much in the way of must-have exclusives, but a streamlined re-release could serve as a hassle-free way to explore the early days of the 32-bit era, if anything else. It would also be therapeutic for ’90s kids that grew up wanting to know what the hell $700 would even get them.
Much like the 3DO, the Jaguar was a system that tried to do too much, too soon, but at least Atari had the good sense to only charge $250 at launch in 1993. An aggressive ad campaign promised gamers 64-bits of muscle, a bold claim during the embarrassing "Bit Wars" of the early ’90s, when some of the worst systems ever made (3DO, 32X, Amiga CD32) tried in vain to flex their bits to sell units. Atari’s weirdly defensive website is still fighting the war, like those two marooned Japanese soldiers who didn’t know World War II was over until 2005.
What all the bit-measuring obscured, however, was that the Jaguar actually had potential. The controller looked like a calculator with a glandular problem, sure, but there were a few promising titles that hinted at what might have been. You could re-release a cheap, pre-loaded Jaguar on the strength of Tempest 2000 and Alien Vs. Predator alone, but toss in its Doom and Wolfenstein 3D ports, along with Rayman, and NBA Jam? You could sell it at Target—with a more manageable controller—for $24.99 and watch it finally catch up in the bit war, 20+ years too late.
If the Intellivision and Atari 2600 can get re-released, why not the 1982 Vectrex? Its icy-cool minimalism has aged extraordinarily well, and the games still look amazing. The re-released console would have to come with its own CRT monitor, just like the original, because that’s critical to the experience. Also critical? Those sick screen overlays, unique to each game, that are unlike anything in modern gaming.
Retailing for $150 at launch—including the vertical CRT monitor and two controllers—the Vectrex was the first home console with analog controls, which brought the arcade experience home for an absolute steal. It was also the first 3-D system on the market, thanks to the now ultra-rare "3D Imager Goggles." There’s also a healthy homebrew community, meaning we wouldn’t just be stuck with the original cartridges. VHS tapes are hip now (allegedly), so surely we can get a Kickstarter going for a Vectrex revival, right?
Thanks to an aborted contract between its manufacturer and Nintendo to make a CD attachment for the SNES, the Phillips CD-i is perhaps best known today for its atrocious, Russian-sourced FMVs using beloved Nintendo characters. Behold Exhibit A: Hotel Mario, featuring everyone’s favorite lovable plumber, pale as all indoors, looking like a squiggle-free Squigglevision cartoon, impotently imploring the player to "check out the enclosed instruction book" to learn how to save the Princess. What fun!
Let’s be real here: we’re not endorsing the Phillips CD-i as a legitimate console worthy of a revival. But as an historical curiosity for Nintendo fans, a console compiling Hotel Mario and the three Zelda titles, at the very least, would be a treat. Surely Philips and Nintendo could bury the hatchet and release this with a wink, right? At the very least, they could get Hotel Mario on the Virtual Console. Hey, we might see "CD-i Luigi" as a Smash Bros. character someday, like they did with R.O.B. He could slap Mega Man with some slightly-less-than al dente spaghetti noodles.
Magnavox Odyssey 2
Let’s not mince words: the 1978 Odyssey 2 is all about its video/board game hybrids, such as 1981’s Quest for the Rings. Otherwise, you’re looking at cheap knockoffs: Pick-Axe Pete! is Donkey Kong, UFO! is Asteroids, and K.C. Munchkin! is Pac-Man, to just name a few. (The exclamation marks are an Odyssey 2 thing, by the way—Magnavox wasn’t into the soft sell.)
Quest for the Rings is like Dungeons & Dragons crossed with Atari’s E.T. crossed with Gauntlet. That’s a lot of crossing, true, but it was—and still is—a pretty groundbreaking concept. You play a video game while playing a board game? Sign us up! Where’s the Xbox One/Risk board game hybrid? How about Settlers of Catan with PS4 Pro graphics? No one’s doing this anymore.
Considering the primitive technology involved here, you could re-release this and all the other Odyssey 2 "Masters of Strategy" titles Chromecast-style on an HDMI-stick, with Bluetooth controllers and all the sweet board game gear. A savvy Magnavox could take advantage of the increased profile of pen-and-paper RPGs, courtesy of Stranger Things, and ride that dweeby wave all the way to the bank.
Famously botched by an inept, months-early, hype-less release, meant to catch the upcoming Sony PlayStation off-guard (it didn’t work), the Sega Saturn is ripe for a second look, especially in a budget-friendly, nostalgia-fueled package. While not as programmer-friendly as the superior Playstation, the Saturn is known as a "geek’s dream" for the depth of its programming potential, unparalleled at the time.
A Saturn reissue is especially appealing if you weren’t enchanted by the polygon-heavy early days of 32-bit gaming. The Saturn was arguably the last console that favored sprites, meaning if offered up great ports of beautiful 2-D arcade favorites such as Street Fighter Alpha and X-Men: Children of the Atom, while the Playstation was hitting 3-D hard. The Saturn still had plenty of top-notch 3D games, however, including the Panzer Dragoon series and Virtua Fighter 2, but Sega didn’t let go of its old-school, 2-D, sprite-based past, which could well pay off in today’s market.
Bizarrely, the Saturn’s downfall can actually be traced, as the Guardian‘s Keith Stuart notes, to Sega of Japan president Hayao Nakayama’s okaying the Saturn’s doomed predecessor, the 32X, a Genesis add-on, which "muddied the waters." Why rush the 32X? He was afraid, believe it or not, of the newly released Atari Jaguar. Oopsie.
Considering its backlit color screen and 16-bit guts, the Atari Lynx should have been a Game Boy killer, but was instead handicapped by a high price, tiny library, terrible battery life, and lack of true portability. Blame focus groups that wanted big, big, big, but later had buyer’s remorse. A re-release is overdue for the world’s first color handheld console that most people have never even seen, let alone played.
Do you remember those ridiculous add-ons that let you play a magnified Game Boy screen at night? Can you believe we settled for that nonsense? It just goes to show: good games are what it’s all about. Millions of gamers squinted at a dark, snot-green Game Boy screen for years because the games were tight. A reissued Lynx would show us what we were missing, specs-wise, and also help introduce today’s gamers to titles such as Todd’s Adventure in Slime World, where the titular Todd fights slime creatures with a water cannon, because, uh … on second thought, squinty Tetris sounds amazing.