Whatever Reworks

For as long as I can remember, revising the designs of video game systems has been pretty commonplace, whether it’s from the current generation or a previous one. Some have been full-on redesigns with new, streamlined looks and the seemingly arbitrary addition and subtraction of features compared to the earlier model. Others have simply been pretty much identical, but with a slightly cheaper and/or more efficient processor or power supply thrown in to save on production costs. Recently, another revision of Nintendo’s latest handheld, the 3DS was announced. Unlike the XL and 2DS, however, this one excited me, despite effectively being the 3DS’s answer to the DSi, another stopgap measure that left me underwhelmed. Still, boasting an improved CPU, an additional analog nub, some cool customization features and an exclusive I actually kind of care about, the New 3DS is actually shaping up to be something worth getting excited about. If only the name wasn’t so confusing: yes, I’m one of those people who actually tried to get the #Super3DS hashtag to trend on Twitter and failed miserably. Also, there’s the whole matter of it not being set to launch in my home region until sometime next year at the earliest. Stupid Australians.

So, in honor of how stupidly hyped I am for the 3.5DS, I’ll be taking a look at some of the best and worst major system revisions of the past. Now obviously, I’m going to be looking at things I actually managed to live through, so I won’t be looking at anything from before the big video game crash of ’83. Furthermore, I’ll also mainly be looking at stuff that appeared in more than a single region, mainly for the sake of avoiding a bunch of cool and/or wacky Japan-exclusive variants of some of our favorite systems. (You lucked out, Sega Nomad). As with my last article in this format, I’ll be alternating between best and worst, in descending order. Blue signifies the best of list, red the worst of. So without further ado, let’s get started.

5. Sega Genesis 2

I’m definitely a bit of an odd duck on this one: when I was a kid, I always preferred the look of the Model 2 Genesis over the far more popular original. To this day, it’s still the version of the console that comes into mind when I try to picture it. There are a couple of reasons why this just barely managed to slither onto the list. For starters, the Model 1’s superior sound card was limited only to early iterations of the system. Later-run Model 1s actually sounded pretty much identical to the more common, inferior Model 2. The Model 2 also ditched the Model 1’s headphone port in exchange for stereo output on TVs, which I’d say was a pretty decent trade for most people. Finally and surprisingly enough, the Model 2 was actually compatible with both versions of the Sega CD add-on peripheral. Not an entirely big deal, mind you, but it was pretty cool fun fact I discovered while I was researching the difference between the various Genesises. (Genesi?)

5. Nintendo 2DS

Yeah, yeah, I know how popular it is to rag on this thing. Frankly, I only put it on the worst revisions list because I couldn’t think of anything else to take up the number 5 spot. Boasting a tiny, yet bulky simplified design that can easily fit into the hands of its intended audience of young children, the 2DS really wasn’t meant to replace either existing model of the 3DS. It was mainly intended to appeal to a much younger demographic: a smart move, considering parental fears over the effects continued exposure to the 3D functionality of the 3DS would have on the eyesight of young children. If the 2DS really failed at anything, it was probably its lack of a Japanese release, thus foiling another of my many schemes to start importing games as cheaply as I possibly can. Super Robot Wars UX isn’t gonna just drop into my lap, fully functional on my North American 3DS, ya know.

4. Sony PlayStation 3 Slim

The original PS3 was a monstrosity of a machine. It cost roughly $500-600 at launch, boasted a tiny hard drive of either 20 or 60 GB and resembled some manner of kitchen appliance. To add insult to injury, only the first few releases of that particular model had backwards compatibility with the PS2, a feature so haphazardly implemented, it was dropped pretty much instantly to save on production costs. Fortunately, as with the original Playstation and the PS2, relief came in the form of a slimmer, superior model. Larger hard drives, quieter and more efficient cooling methods and  they finally got rid of that stupid Spider-Man font on the front. Of course, then they made an even tinier variant recently, but I’ll stick with the one that’s just right, thank you very much.

4. Nintendo Game Boy Micro

The Game Boy Micro was just one of those weird wastes of resources that I honestly never understood. Mind-bogglingly enough, it was released AFTER the Nintendo DS has already come out, despite the fact that the SP model of the Game Boy Advance was still going relatively strong. Worse still, it only excised features from the previous models, losing support for original Game Boy and Game Boy Color games. The Micro also had a really odd size factor, it was small to a ridiculous degree. It also bombed in terms of sales, managing to sell less than 2.5 million units during its complete lifespan.

3. Nintendo NES-101 (“NES 2”)

Of course, sometimes the best revisions of consoles aren’t the most popular ones.  Case in point, the top-loading NES. You remember how games sometimes didn’t work properly on the classic front-loading NES model? Many people, myself included, thought was due to dust build-up in the game carts. In reality, it was just a design flaw with the original front-loader that made aligning the system and cartridge’s PINs less reliable than that of the original Famicom, which also used a top-loading design. The “NES 2”, on the other hand, didn’t have those problems. It also had a smaller form factor and was sold at the low price of $50. The only real disadvantage was the lack of an A/V port in the North America version, but the Japanese counterpart (the A/V Famicom) did have one and apparently it’s easy and/or cheap to mod. Either way, it beats having to replace damaged connectors on front-loader units.

3. Nintendo Wii Mini

It’s the same basic deal as the aforementioned GB Micro, except worse. While the Game Boy Micro took out backwards compatibility with older Game Boy models, the Wii Mini not only lacked Gamecube support (also missing from later iterations of the original model), but also internet support. Considering a great deal of people used the Wii to access streaming video services like Netflix, this pretty much made the Wii Mini useless. It couldn’t even play WiiWare and Virtual Console games. So it didn’t even have full Wii functionality. What a waste.

2. Microsoft Xbox 360 S

The original model of the Xbox 360 had its fair share of hardware issues and was infamous for having a huge failure rate. To this day, the Xbox brand is still widely associated with the “Red Ring of Death”.  Overheating was extremely common and while Microsoft was pretty good about replacing them, so many systems failed so quickly, that they just couldn’t keep up with the demand. While MS kept on changing the parts in the original model of the 360 in order to improve its reliability, their major breakthrough happened on their first major revision. Better ventilation, larger hard drives and it added a built-in Wi-Fi adapter (while keeping the standard Ethernet port). For what it’s worth, it also allowed the Kinect to connect to the 360 without an additional power cord. The only real disadvantage to the original is that it’s harder to replace hard drives, but since they have more storage space anyway, it doesn’t matter.

2. Sega CDX

Originally, I intended to put the Model 3 Genesis on this list. Turns out that was only released in North America, so it’s exempt. The Genesis has had a lot of bad revisions, the Nomad was a portable that required an extra peripheral to play on battery power and that only gave you 2 hours of gameplay for 6 AA batteries. The Genesis 3 was incompatible with the Sega CD and 32X add-ons and fixed a controller bug which inadvertently made it incompatible with certain Genesis games. The Sega CDX (Multi-Mega in Europe), however, was the worst one to be released in multiple regions. It’s also probably the most bizarre. It was a single unit that consisted of both the Genesis and Sega CD hardware. It could also double as a portable CD player, which could run on 2 AA batteries. Unfortunately, the CDX was prone to some hardware quirks, especially with the Sega CD portion of the device. There were also apparently some sound issues with the Genesis portion of the device. There were similar devices of better quality exclusive to Japan and the main draw of the CDX was its portability. The device itself was only about $100 cheaper than buying a Genesis and a Sega CD during its release and considering how unpopular the latter was at the time, it was just kind of a waste of money.

1. Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP

The GBA SP is what I compare all other system redesigns to. I feel it’s the closest thing we have to a revision that is objectively superior to its predecessor. The original Game Boy Advance was oddly-shaped compared to its predecessors in the Game Boy line, more horizontal in its design, not unlike Game Boy competitors like the Lynx, Game Gear and NeoGeo Pocket lines. The SP, on the other hand, returned to a more vertical design, with the screen at the top and the buttons at the bottom. Better still, it was the first Nintendo handheld to incorporate a clamshell design, which has appeared in most incarnations of the DS line. It’s also one of my personal favorite design choices for dedicated handheld video game system, due to both its ability to save on room when storing the device and the near-ubiquity of some form of sleep mode when the device is closed while one. The system really only had three minor flaws that keep it from being perfect: it utilized a front-lit LCD screen instead of a backlit one (which was later rectify in a later revision), it had no built-in headphone jack (but there were both several adapters for it and even special headphones that could plug directly into the charging port) and it utilized a rechargeable battery (which, to its credit, had a long life-span for its era).

1. Sony Playstation Portable Go

On the other hand, the PSP Go was a revision so unpopular, that despite being the last variant of the PSP to be released worldwide, it was actually discontinued 3 years before the system itself was. I understand what Sony was going for with this device: the UMD format was incredibly unpopular among gamers. So the Go was their attempt to rectify that mistake. Unfortunately, this meant doubling-down on another unpopular aspect of the system: Sony’s proprietary Memory Sticks, which were similar to SD cards, but comparatively more expensive.

Another problem with the PSP Go was that originally, Sony planned to do a digital conversion offer, allowing owners of previous iterations of the PSP to convert their game library to digital downloads. This was later scrapped due to legal and logistic problems, at least in North America and Europe. The design of the system itself was kind of a trainwreck as well: opting for something similar to a slide phone, with the screen on top and the buttons stored underneath. Some people even theorize that the PSP Go was an attempt to curb used game sales, due to its digital-only strategy. This strategy was also exacerbated by the fact that certain physical PSP titles weren’t capable of being released on the digital storefront (including MegaMan Powered Up, which I maintain is one of the few worthwhile exclusives the PSP had). Needless to say, the Go was such a despised failure, that it even had an impact on the PSP’s successor, the PlayStation Vita. It too utilizes physical media, although in the form of flash memory cards, not unlike those of the DS/3DS.

In the end, major console revisions tend to be a mixed bag. Sometimes they’re an improvement on their precursors, other times they’re completely inferior. Most times, though, different models of the same system have their strengths and weaknesses, it really all depends on the preference. Judging on what I’ve seen regarding the New 3DS, I’m cautiously optimistic that it will be a definite improvement on the other 3DS models. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that it sees a rebranding in North America. C’mon, Super 3DS!

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