Winter is here, and with that comes Christmas and a season filled with gift-giving.
As so many of these presents are electronic, it is perhaps natural that whilst some are fascinating, dynamic and a lot of fun, others are limited to mere novelties, do not work or require an electrical installer on standby in case it blows and renders the whole street powerless.
Here are some of the ghosts of electronic gifts past that did little but disappoint people.
Tiger Electronics Deluxe Tabletop Games
During the 1990s, nearly every Christmas stocking had at least one stand-alone Tiger Electronics game. Typically these took the form of a dubious handheld game using the same technology used for digital watches and played a rudimentary game based on a popular license, such as sports, films, TV shows and other video games.
The strangest, and most disappointing ones, however, were the two tabletop “deluxe” games they made based on the arcade games Outrun and After Burner, as well as a similar Batman-themed game. They were huge lumps of plastic meant to resemble the front of a supercar, the cockpit of a fighter jet and the Batmobile respectively.
However, the games themselves were based on the tiny handheld version, leaving people to squint at a tiny screen, only to find that messing around with a calculator or digital watch provided more fun than turning the steering joystick and nothing happening whilst loud shrieking beeps occur.
Sir Alan Sugar’s first and only attempt to make a games console, the Amstrad GX4000 was released in 1991, just as the United Kingdom started to embrace dedicated games-playing devices such as the Super Nintendo, Sega Mega Drive and Game Boy.
Unfortunately, the Amstrad GX4000, much like the similar Commodore 64GS, was a massive failure, only selling a total of 15,000 units compared to the millions of its contemporaries, despite retailing for less than £100.
The reasons are somewhat difficult to count. It was entirely based on the Amstrad 6128 home computer, which at the time was not much more expensive. The Sega Master System was available at a very similar price with much better games, and games cost six times more than they did on the Amstrad CPC despite being often identical.
Almost no game cartridges were available at launch, and other than Switchblade and Robocop 2, nearly all of the games available were lacklustre.
Finally, the power supplies were very low quality, meaning that many would outright explode when in use, making the system an electrical hazard.
Mattel’s first games console since the very successful Intellivision, the HyperScan’s key feature was that it came with a card scanner that used RFID to read and write to “smartcards”. This allowed players to not only save their game data but also activate features, characters and stages.
On nearly every level the system was a monumental failure. Only five games were ever released and only two of which released a complete set of cards, meaning that the majority of the games have features that could never be seen by players.
The games themselves suffered from long loading times, controls that did not respond and graphical capabilities nearly a decade behind the HyperScan’s contemporaries. It was discontinued in 2007, although its key mechanic was somewhat similar to the later “toys-to-life” genre of games such as Skylanders.