Nintendo 64

Nintendo 64

5th Generation Competitors
3DO Jaguar Saturn Playstation CD32 FM Towns Marty PC-FX Pippin Playdia Loopy
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 23rd Jun 1996 2002  5.54M
North America 26th Sep 1996 2003  20.63M
Europe 1st Mar 1997 2003  6.75M

How do you follow-up two classic consoles like the Super Nintendo and the Nintendo Entertainment System?  For Nintendo it was the 64.  The Nintendo 64 was a 3D powerhouse designed to compete with Sony‘s Playstation and Sega‘s Saturn.

The first difference in this generation was the game medium, after the fiasco with the Super Nintendo and the CD system being designed by Sony (which ended up at the Playstation), Nintendo decided to stick to cartridges, unlike their competitors who changed to the cheaper and far more versatile CD.

Even the choice of technology wasn’t without drama.  The 3D capabilities were driven by a custom SGI chip.  SGI were masters of 3D, known for their workstations that helped deliver early CGI film effects.

But Nintendo weren’t the first potential customers, Sega were the original partners, but in a move just like Nintendo‘s own Sony CD decision, Sega Japan decided they couldn’t work with SGI.

Whilst the Nintendo 64 didn’t win in it’s generation, it was beaten by the Playstation.  It was certainly a powerful machine and delivered several revolutionary games.

Mario 64 and GoldenEye laid down the rules for 3D platformers and console FPSs respectively.  Mario Kart showed that fast local multiplayer games were a reality and Zelda: Ocarina of Time showed that story driven games were still possible on a cartridge medium.

The Nintendo 64 had 4 ports built-in and many games supported local multiplayer.  Nintendo also sold controllers in a variety of colours.

In an effort to support some of the advantages of CD (such as streaming music and larger storage size) Nintendo released the 64DD.  This was a magneto-optical storage system that more resembled large floppy disks than CDs.

The add-on wasn’t very popular and most games were cancelled, in the end it only came out in Japan (although a US prototype had been found).  As an example of how versatile the system could have been, the F-Zero X extension kit was released which added a map editor.

In the end the high price of the cartridges compared to the CDs of the Playstation stopped Nintendo from truly competing.  The Nintendo 64 would be the last console with cartridge support for quite a while.

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SNK Neo Geo CD

SNK Neo Geo CD

4th Generation Competitors
PC Engine Megadrive Super NES Neo Geo AES CDTV Philips CDI NEC SuperGrafx
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 9th Sep 1994 1997
North America Jan 1996 1997
Europe Dec 1994 1997

The AES was SNKs first attempt at a home console, due to it literally being the same hardware as the arcade it meant that the console and games were expensive.  To fix that they decided to release a cost reduced version that relied on optical discs rather than the very expensive cartridges, the Neo Geo CD.

This move was unsuccessful for a few reasons, although the games were far cheaper, the actual console was still expensive compared to the rest of the generation.  The CD was only single speed, meaning it took a long time to load the very large cartridge data.  Because the Neo Geo CD didn’t have much cache memory, it tended to need to reload often.

The failure pretty much finished SNKs home aspirations.  The company as a whole was experiencing financial difficulties due to the diminishing arcade revenues and the home failures piled on to that.

A revised edition, the CDZ, was released later in Japan.  This version featured a faster CD Drive and fixed some of the loading issues, but it was released around the same time as the Playstation and Saturn.  It lacked any 3D capabilities and just couldn’t compete.

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SNK Neo Geo AES

SNK Neo Geo AES

4th Generation Competitors
PC Engine Megadrive Super NES Neo Geo CD CDTV Philips CDI NEC SuperGrafx
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 1st Jul 1991 1997
North America 1st Jul 1991 1997
Europe NA NA  NA

SNK had a successful arcade platform in their MVS hardware, but they were feeling the pinch of a shrinking arcade and decided to increase profits by releasing a home version.

The AES was literally a boxed version of their arcade hardware with slight changes to the cartridge slot to stop people buying games from non home sources.

The benefit of this was some of the greatest visuals available in the home market and literally arcade perfect games, because they were taken directly from the arcade.

The downside was cost.  The hardware was exceptionally expensive compared to other consoles and the games were even worse.  This meant limited sales in the home.

SNK attempted to lower costs by releasing a CD based version of the AES, but even this was more expensive than the alternatives, plus the power advantage had largely been lost.
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NEC PC Engine Duo

NEC PC Engine Duo

4th Generation Competitors
Neo Geo CD Megadrive Super NES Neo Geo AES CDTV Philips CDI
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 21st Sep 1991 1995
North America 10th Oct 1992 1995
Europe NA NA  NA

Whilst the SuperGrafx was largely failing in the market, NEC kept pushing the PC Engine platform.  One of it’s various versions (and my personal favourite) was the PC Engine Duo.

The Duo took the PC Engine and combined it, in one sleek package, with the SuperCD addon.  It was certainly successful in terms of hardware, the unit was far more convenient than the previous add on units had been and was very reliable.

The Duo was also released in North America as the TurboDuo but never made it to Europe.

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NEC SuperGrafx

NEC SuperGrafx

4th Generation Competitors
Neo Geo CD Megadrive Super NES Neo Geo AES CDTV Philips CDI PC Engine
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 8th Dec 1989  1990  6.26M
North America NA NA  NA
Europe May 1990 1990  NA

When the PC Engine started losing ground to the Megadrive, NEC decided to try and maintain the same platform but extend it.  The result would just about keep up with the soon to arrive 16 bit generation and have the advantage of being backwards compatible to the extensive PC Engine library.

Unfortunately, NEC still did not trust their platform enough to push worldwide and Nintendo and Sega already had Japan sewn up.  The Megadrive had been released early the same year and had catapulted Sega to the top of the fight and the SNES was due not long into the next year and was already growing a fan base.

The SuperGrafx did not sell well in Japan and only saw a limited release in Europe.  It only received 6 games that took advantage of it’s extra power.

NEC took some time away from the console market after the failure of the SuperGrafx and, apart from some special editions, only returned with their entrant to the 32 bit Era, which also did not go well.

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NEC PC-FX

NEC PC-FX

5th Generation Competitors
3DO Jaguar Saturn Playstation Nintendo 64 FM Towns Marty CD32 Pippin Playdia Loopy
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 23rd Dec 1994  1998  400K
North America NA NA  NA
Europe NA NA  NA

When the SuperGrafx failed to make ground up on the 16 bit consoles and with the 32 bit generation on the horizon NEC realised they had to develop a new machine from scratch.

NEC looked at the Playstation and Saturn to see the areas they needed to concentrate on.  They chose a fairly powerful 32 bit chip in the RISC based V810 and they picked a very speedy double speed SCSI CD drive.

Unfortunately they missed what would turn out to be the single most important aspect of the new consoles.

The PC-FX had no 3D capabilities at all.  It was a very powerful 2D machine, but this didn’t help it against the onslaught of 3D games that came with the 32 bit generation.

Aside from the 3D aspect, the PC-FX was a powerful machine, capable of moving large 2D images around and using Jpeg animation in-line with other 2D assets.

It was also a very expandable machine, including a memory slot for backup and an in-built SCSI chain to add various SCSI devices (although none were ever announce or supported).

In the end the PC-FX ended up being a repository of Hentai titles, much like most failed consoles in Japan.  This failure also saw NEC leave the console market, which was a shame given their previous attempts.

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NEC PC Engine

NEC PC Engine / Turbografx 16

4th Generation Competitors
Neo Geo CD Megadrive Super NES Neo Geo AES CDTV Philips CDI NEC SuperGrafx
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 30th Oct 1987 1994  3.9M
North America 29th Aug 1989 1994  500K
Europe 22nd Nov 1989 1993  1.4M

The PC Engine is an unfortunately forgotten piece of gaming history.  For a long time in Japan it was the second place console and is one of the few consoles to successfully straddle two generations, selling in the 8 bit and 16 bit eras.

NEC was a big player in Japan’s PC98 world.  Seeing the success that Nintendo had garnered in the console world they considered entering the market themselves.

Enter HudsonSoft.  HudsonSoft were a successful software company in Japan, they’d developed a hardware platform involving thin card sized cartridges nicknamed HuCards.  Realising they couldn’t develop it, they approached NEC to partner with them.

The resulting console was incredibly powerful for it’s time and managed to hold second place in the Japanese console market, holding off Sega.  They eventually released in the US and Europe, with a larger remodelled version called the TurboGrafx 16.

Unfortunately, NEC were not sure of these markets and did very little advertising.  Europe didn’t even receive a full stock of units, meaning it never had a chance to compete against Nintendo or Sega.

At the beginning of the 16 bit era, NEC realised their machine could still compete, software development was mature and the initial titles being released on the SNES and Megadrive were not especially more impressive.

But this was a losing battle.  As developers got to grips with the newer machines the PC Engine started looking less and less powerful.  Eventually NEC tried to reclaim some market by releasing a slightly improved version in the SuperGrafx, but it was too little too late.

The PC Engine also received a CD Rom addon.  This was only a single speed drive and suffered from developers cramming the discs with unskippable film sequences, but it had some very impressive titles and was certainly the most successful of the CD Rom addons.

One of the biggest flaws the PC Engine had was a reliance on a single joystick port, this meant any multiplayer required purchasing a multitap device.

The PC Engine is considered to be the best platform for shoot-em-ups and also had some of the most impressive arcade conversions of either the 8 bit or 16 bit eras.

 

 

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Microsoft XBox

Microsoft XBox

6th Generation Competitors
Gamecube Playstation 2 Dreamcast
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 22nd Feb 2002 2006  24M (total)
North America 15th Nov 2001 2009
Europe 14th Mar 2002 2007

Microsoft had dabbled in the console world when they helped Sega with some of the technical aspect of their ill fated Dreamcast console, primarily licensing the rights to use Windows CE for easy porting of games.

So some engineers in the DirectX labs, the people responsible for the graphical libraries that Windows games were commonly built on, put together a prototype using old laptop parts to show the executives.

This prototype succeeded and resulted in the XBox.  Whilst the XBox wasn’t the first console with broadband (many consoles had addon’s and the Dreamcast could be purchased with the option built-in) it was certainly the first to make it standard.

The XBox also came with a built-in Hard Drive.  This allowed developers to use it to offset the (relatively) slow access speed of the DVD Drive.  It also opened up the opportunity to patch and update games, and even have DLC.

The option was so useful that it surprised pretty much everyone when the follow-up, the XBox 360, was released with an option to not have a hard drive, limiting it’s ability to be used to it’s full extent.

In the end the XBox was certainly the most powerful console of it’s generation, but due to Microsoft‘s lack of experience in the market and the general distrust for American manufacturers in Japan, it did not perform incredibly well but did manage to take second place, easily beaten by the PS2 and narrowly beating the Gamecube and the Dreamcast which had been killed early in the generation.

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Mattel Intellivision

Mattel Intellivision

2nd Generation Competitors
Atari 2600 Vectrex
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 1982  1990  3M (total)
North America 1980 1990
Europe 1982 1990

Mattel decided to enter the console world in 1977, but they didn’t release the Intellivision properly until 1980.  That placed it squarely in the second generation of consoles.

Due to Mattel‘s manufacturing and supply power they were able to ship huge amounts of consoles to shops and they got some powerful exclusive titles, like Nintendo‘s Donkey Kong.

The machine will go down as one of the best consoles of all time, and it’s contribution to the pre-crash console world cannot be overstated.

The controller was interesting, the joystick was quite nice to use and it had a keypad that could use overlays (an idea borrowed by Atari for the Jaguar).  Both controllers slid into a compartment on the main machine for easy storage.

It’s main competitor was the Atari 2600, 5200 and 7800

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3DO

3DO

5th Generation Competitors
CD32 Jaguar Saturn Playstation Nintendo 64 FM Towns Marty PC-FX Pippin Playdia Loopy
Region Release Date Discontinued Lifetime Sales
Japan 20th Mar 1994 1996  2M (total)
North America 4th Oct 1993 1996
Europe 4th Sep 1994 1996

The 3DO was born from an idea that Trip Hawkins had.  Trip had started Electronic Arts and had witnessed how the console market worked.  He’d been frustrated with how the manufacturers (Nintendo and Sega) controlled the market and had come up with a different idea.

So he started the 3DO company and his engineers came up with a set of basic specifications for a console.  The idea was that different manufacturers would then build their own machines based on those specifications.

Each manufacturer could push those specs a little and case it however they wanted as long as the resultant machine was compatible with all the others.

A few manufacturers signed up but machines were only created by Goldstar and Panasonic, although Creative did create a 3DO PC card.

The machine was a flop, mostly due to the high prices.  Normal consoles of the time made a loss on the machine but made the money back on game licensing.  But the 3DO system did not allow license fees to be shared, so each manufacturer had to make a profit on the hardware.

After the other manufacturers pulled their support even Panasonic and Goldstar took their consoles off the market.  It was a powerful console and 3DO were designing the follow-up machine, the M2.

The 3DO company finished their life making games for other consoles.

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