The Atari Lynx was an early competitor of the Game Boy, along with other handheld consoles like the Game Gear. It was actually the first handheld to feature a color LCD screen, which allowed for more advanced graphics. There was even a second generation called the Lynx II, which featured a better battery life and improved hardware.
While the Lynx sold fairly well, in 1993 Atari shifted focus to the upcoming release of the Jaguar, which ironically also was a commercial flop compared to the PlayStation and the Saturn. As of 1995, support for the Lynx was quietly discontinued, and it was inducted into the console graveyard.
A console named for its ability to connect to the internet, the Game.com was released in 1997 by Tiger Electronics, not to be confused with Tiger Telematics who made the disastrous Gizmondo (also included on this list). And like the Gizmondo, Game.com is another history-maker on this list as well, as it was not only the first handheld console that could connect to the internet, but was also the first console ever to have a touchscreen.
While it was definitely ahead of the curve, the Game.com, unfortunately, didn’t sell very well, which caused its discontinuation in 2000. We like to think that the Game.com walked so the Nintendo Switch could run.
Borrowing heavily from the newfound technologies of the CDDA and CD-ROM in 1988, the CD-i was a joint venture between Philips and Sony to create a digital optical disc data storage format. The original plan was to create a versatile product that could be used for education, point of sales (i.e. using it for retail transactions), and home entertainment, but over time the CD-i was mostly known as a video game console. In fact, Zelda fans may recall a handful of games that were exclusively released on the CD-i, though these are considered non-canon and often the worst releases in the series.
Even though the CD-i was marketed heavily (see above), it’s sales were fairly weak. This lack of sales, as well as almost universal criticism of its games, led to its discontinuation in 1998.
The Gizmondo, developed by a Swedish company called Tiger Telematics, had a humble launch, as it was only released in and only featured games developed in the UK, Sweden, and the US. Aimed to compete against Nintendo and Sony, Tiger Telematics spent millions of dollars in promotion for the console; however, it sold fewer than 25,000 copies, making it the single worst-selling handheld console in history.
To add insult to injury, news also came out that several of the company’s executives had criminal pasts, including the CEO who was formerly part of the Swedish mafia. The console’s disastrous existence only ran for less than a year, from March of 2005 to February of 2006.
Speaking of being ahead of the curve, the Nokia N-Gage paved the way as one of the first gaming handheld console/cell phone hybrids. Created in 2003 in an attempt to pull sales away from the Game Boy Advance by also offering the telephone functionality, the N-Gage should have been a slam dunk. However, one glaring design flaw turned out to be its downfall: the buttons. Due to the layout of the buttons on either side of the phone, it was difficult to either game or text with any sort of efficiently.
While the N-Gage may have sold better than most of the other consoles on this list with 3 million units, it is perhaps the most openly mocked, and was promptly discontinued in 2005.
Codenamed “Project Mars,” the Sega 32X was designed as an add-on to the company’s popular home console, the Genesis. It was developed in response to the new Atari Jaguar, and was marketed as a low-cost option for playing 32-bit games. The writing was on the wall from the beginning, however, as Sega failed to attract any third-party developers as the Sega Saturn was releasing simultaneously in Japan in 1994.
There were also only 40 games in the 32X’s library, and none of them seemed to take advantage of the console’s improved hardware. While the initial reviews praised the affordability and power expansion to the Genesis, it ultimately sank in 1996 after failing to hit the one-million sales mark.
The Atari 5200, full name the Atari 5200 SuperSystem, was released in 1982 as a higher-end version of the popular Atari Video Computer System. While it had solid hardware, advanced software, and a nice control scheme for the time, the 5200 didn’t fare very well up against the ColecoVision, which was released in the same year and shipped with the first home console version of the Nintendo classic Donkey Kong.
While the Atari 5200 was expected to sell over 30 million units, it only sold about a million, and so the console was taken out of production only two years after its lackluster debut.
The Vectrex is another console with a unique place in gaming history, is it became the first and only vector display-based gaming console to ever be released when it hit the market in 1982 or 83, depending on the region. Developed by Smith Engineering, the Vectrex didn’t require a television to play. It instead came with its own monochrome monitor, over which players could place translucent sheet overlays to produce other colors.
There were even some gimmicky peripherals, like 3D glasses and a pen that allowed players to draw on the screen. After being discontinued in 1984, the console developed a cult following, so at least it won’t be entirely forgotten.
Released in 1993, the Pioneer LaserActive was a fairly versatile console, as it was able to take Laserdiscs, Compact Discs, console games, and LD-G karaoke discs. It also sold extra add-on modules that allowed it to play games from other consoles, and had no regional lockout, so players could play games from anywhere in the world without issue.
The LaserActive’s options did not save it, however, as the console was arguably overpriced at $970 (which is not even accounting for inflation), and this steep price point is likely what led to its ultimate demise in 1996.
With the success of the Genesis, Sega decided to capitalize on the hype by releasing a handheld version of the console in 1995, known as the Nomad. The last of Sega’s handheld consoles, the Nomad was initially intended to be used on airline flights in Japan, and could also utilize a video port to work with a television set. At the time of release, the console was considered the best portable system on the market and had access to the entire Genesis library of games, but it was criticized for its expensive price point and its painfully short battery life.
It’s certainly not the most colossal failure in video game history, but the Nomad quite didn’t see the success of its predecessors, especially when you place it next to the Game Gear.
The 3DO Interactive Multiplayer was a home game console created by The 3DO Company, which is notable for being founded by Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins. It was yet another console that had an aggressive marketing campaign, even being named the “1993 Product of the Year” by Time Magazine. However, as one might guess considering the title of this list, it didn’t exactly help.
The foremost issues were that the console was far too expensive for the average consumer and that it was being released into an already overly competitive market. The 3DO just couldn’t seem to gain the traction it needed, leading to its discontinuation in 1996, only three years after its debut.
The TurboGrafx-16, otherwise known as the PC Engine in Japan and France, was a 16-bit console designed by Japanese game developer Hudson Soft and sold by Japanese tech company NEC Home Electronics released in 1987. The console was originally supposed to compete with the 8-bit NES, but a delayed release in the US meant that it ended up against both the Sega Genesis and the SNES, which were just as powerful, and offered a wider selection of games.
While seventeen different models of the TurboGrafx were ultimately created, the console’s less than stellar run came to a close in 1994.
The Fairchild Channel F, or Channel Fun for long, actually holds a place in gaming history, even if it was a bit of a commercial flop. Released by American semiconductor company Fairchild Semiconductor in 1976, the Channel F was the first-ever programmable ROM cartridge-based gaming console, which means it was the first to have different games that could be plugged into the system.
This console may have only sold about 250,000 and been discontinued in 1983, but no one will be able to forget how its innovation changed the entire gaming landscape.
When most people think about failed virtual reality consoles their first thought (logically) goes to the Virtual Boy, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find this tiny Tiger nugget. While both virtual reality systems were released around the same time, the R-Zone was designed—for better or worse—to be much more mobile. Consisting of a cumbersome headset and battery-operated controller, the R-Zone featured its own LCD screen which would then project the game into a mirror in front of the player’s eye.
The R-Zone’s gaming library was a veritable who’s who of big-league names, including Mortal Kombat, Star Wars, Virtua Fighter, and even Batman Forever. Although three different versions were released, none made a significant splash, leading Tiger to discontinue the system only two years after it debuted. Surprisingly, it lasted a full year longer than Nintendo’s Virtual Boy.
Certainly boasting the most eccentric name on this list, the Apple Bandai Pippin was a multimedia console released by Apple in 1996. The objective was to create a more affordable computer system that used CD-ROM based multimedia software, most of which were video games. There were only 100,000 Bandai Pippins produced, with 42,000 of them selling; in fact, production was so limited, there were more keyboards, controllers, and other accessories than there were actual consoles.
Considering it had a lifespan that lasted around a year, it’s not surprising that the Bandai Pippin is often regarded among gaming’s biggest flops.