5. Atari Lynx
We have another Atari console in fifth place,and our first handheld on the list. Like the 7800 above, the Atari Lynx did achieve moderate success, especially in European markets. Unfortunately it was hindered by its initial high price, poor battery life and lack of software support that allowed the Game Boy juggernaut to take control of the portable market. By the time the Lynx was officially discontinued by Atari in 1995 it had an official games library of just 72 games. Within that meagre amount though was a very high portion of real quality; in fact I’d argue that it has the best good-to-bad games ratio of any platform out there! The Lynx was particularly well regarded for its arcade ports with titles such as STUN Runner, Xybots, Klax, RoadBlasters, Ninja Gaiden, Steel Talons and Hard Drivin’ showing just how powerful the 16-bit handheld was compared to its competition.
4. SNK Neo Geo Pocket
It came as a big surprise to many when SNK decided to enter the handheld market; despite their arcade pedigree, their only previous endeavour into the home market was with the hugely expensive home version of their Neo Geo arcade hardware. We should probably mention first that there were two revisions of this system: the original monochrome version lasted less than a year before being succeeded by the Neo Geo Pocket Color. The NGPC could play all the existing games as well as portable colour versions of popular SNK franchises like Fatal Fury, Bust-A-Move, King Of Fighters, Metal Slug and Samurai Shodown. It also received very nice handheld versions of both Pac-Man and Sonic The Hedgehog. The arrival of the Game Boy Advance sadly killed off the SNK machine, which is a great shame as not only was it very capable hardware but also had the most amazing mini-thumbstick.
3. MB Vectrex
Like the ColecoVision, featured at number 7 on this list, the Vectrex was another victim of the North American video game crash. This is a much sadder story than any other casualty of the crash though, due to the machine’s total uniqueness. Milton Bradley’s machine came with a built-in monitor designed purely to display vector graphics, made famous in the arcades by games such as Tempest, Star Wars and Asteroids. This set it apart from the competition in several ways and offered up a totally different style of games. It also came with analogue sticks, well before the Nintendo 64 had even been thought of. There is no doubting that the Vectrex was totally revolutionary as far as home consoles go. The majority of the games were great too but the system is sadly becoming harder and harder to find now due to the high failure rate of the vector display and prohibitive cost of shipping.
2. Atari XE Games System
This entry on the list will no doubt be a bit of a surprise to many and may even leave some of you scratching your heads, but bear with me as I explain! For those who are unaware, the XE Games System was launched in 1987 as a console version of the Atari XE computer. But this wasn’t the first time Atari had tried to make a console out of their 8-bit computer hardware: the 1982 release of the Atari 5200 was based on the Atari 400 computer. With the XEGS, Atari corrected one of the 5200’s biggest flaws: it was compatible with all existing A8 hardware and software. In fact, this console could be expanded into a full-blown Atari 8-bit computer with the addition of a plug-in keyboard and a tape deck or disk drive! With an absolutely huge back catalogue of games and all the flash devices now available, the XEGS is a system that more people should be discovering.
1. Atari Jaguar
Finally, we get to number one on this list, and a console that still receives more unwarranted bad press than any other system out there. The Jaguar is a system that was plagued with problems from day one. As one of the new generation of consoles brought out to usher in the 32-bit era in 1993, it was initially greeted with a great fanfare and predictions of Atari returning to their former glory. The Jaguar won numerous awards and was soon attracting interest from all corners. However, a seemingly endless list of problems with the hardware, manufacturing, software development and some downright bad luck saw the poor Jaguar fail miserably, selling less than 250,000 units. All the early problems could not be recovered in time and before Atari knew it, the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation had arrived and it was game over. It’s a shame that we never really got to see what this 64-bit powerhouse was really capable of (and yes it definitely is 64-bit) or that many people never got to see some of the games released later in the system’s life that really started to show the machine’s potential. The Jaguar’s price continues to rise as it becomes more and more collectable, and it’s easy to understand why when you look beyond the well-known titles such as the iconic Tempest 2000, Rayman and Alien Vs. Predator and see there are a host of superb exclusives waiting to be played such as Power Drive Rally, Iron Solidier 1&2, Hover Strike CD, Super Burnout, Zero 5, I-War, Battle Morph, Missile Command 3D and Ultra Vortek.
Cover image copyright Moparx via Flickr