Since the first home video game console over 40 years ago – the Magnavox Odyssey, released in 1972 – the industry has seen a flood of quality gaming hardware. Fan favorite consoles such as the Atari 2600, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Playstation, Xbox, Game Boy, Wii, and the Sega Genesis are just a few of the boxes that have been staples in our living rooms. Each is remembered fondly for its entertaining lineup of games and innovations.
A bit less memorable is the slew of gaming machines that were announced but never quite make it past the production stages. This list takes a look back on the video game consoles that never made it to store shelves, but we certainly wish they had. These devices had gamers extremely excited, but due to a lack of funding, a number of technical issues, and general corporate mishaps, never saw the light of day.
Here are the 12 Unreleased Video Game Consoles You Wish Existed.
12. Infinium Labs Phantom (2004)
The Phantom was certainly a video game console with promise, or rather, the idea behind the console was fairly promising at least. Essentially, the unreleased system was reportedly capable of running both current and future PC games, giving the newcomer an extremely large gaming library at launch. Claims from Infinium Labs – later renamed Phantom Entertainment in 2006 – stated that the console would be easy for developers to produce games on. Additionally, rather than utilizing discs and cartridges like the traditional consoles at the time, The Phantom was said to feature a direct-download delivery system. This direct-download delivery system would grant users the ability to preview games before purchasing. Not to mention, Phantom owners would be able to buy and rent games without ever leaving their couch.
This may all sound commonplace to gamers today, but it was certainly a remarkable feat for a gaming newcomer over a decade ago. As we now know, The Phantom never quite came to fruition, having missed each of its numerous slated release dates. This, along with other factors, led many to believe that The Phantom had become nothing more than a cheap ploy in order to inflate stock prices. In fact, the company’s CEO was found guilty of conducting a “pump and dump” scheme – illegally promoting penny stocks in order to excite potential investors, meanwhile knowing full well the limitations of the respective product – and thusly, was fined $30,000.
11. Atari Mirai (Late 1980s)
The Atari Mirai is known today as one of the gaming industry’s biggest mysteries. In fact, the only conclusive information concerning this unreleased enigma is a console shell featuring the system’s name and company logo. Actual Mirai prototypes are incredibly rare and potentially extremely valuable. Still, even a distinct lack of definitive facts has not managed to silence the waves of speculation.
Many believed that the console represented a rumored partnership between Atari, and SNK Corporation – a Japanese video game hardware and software company most notably recognized as the creator of Neo Geo family – suggesting that this top secret system would be capable of playing arcade cartridges. The claim has since been refuted by SNK Corporation (known since 2001 as SNK Playmore Corporation) and deemed somewhat unlikely by those inside the industry. As it stands, the Atari Mirai remains just as mysterious today as it was over 25 years ago.
Okay, so we still have no idea what this console actually is, or what it is capable of. That said, the mystique surrounding the Mirai has only served to stoke our desire all the more. With each passing day, it appears more and more likely that our questions concerning the system will continue to remain unanswered, and yet, we are just as curious to see what Atari had in store for gamers back in the late 1980’s as ever before.
10. Taito WoWow (1992)
In the early 1990’s, Taito, the Japanese gaming giant known for fan favorite arcade titles such as Space Invaders and Double Dragon, was an absolute titan in the industry as a software developer, but in an effort to expand their brand, they looked to make a splash in the hardware market as well. Despite having a ridiculous name, the Taito WoWow was actually quite the innovative product at the time. Featuring a CD-ROM drive and a satellite receiver capable of streaming games, the WoWow was poised to lead gamers into a new generation of possibilities – if it worked as advertised, that is.
The idea behind the console was simple yet groundbreaking: distribute games via satellite, not unlike the streaming of television programs via satellite, and charge gamers only for the time spent at play. Unfortunately, the system’s download speeds were not quite fast enough to handle the task of streaming multiple games at once, and the WoWow became nothing more than a valiant effort. The core principle of this forgotten relic was truly ahead of its time, and had it been successful, the gaming industry would have been changed forever.
9. Nurve Networks NanoGear (2003)
NanoGear is arguably the most intriguing product on this list. The handheld console was not only directed at gamers, but at aspiring software developers as well. Essentially, NanoGear was designed in order to create games as well as play them. With onboard tools and built-in networking, this piece of hardware would have allowed users the ability to produce their own games, store the aforementioned games internally, and share them with the world. Additionally, USB 2.0 connectivity was included, and the device even featured a virtual pet.
Unfortunately, NanoGear never quite materialized. Even if it would have hit the open market, it is hard to say whether or not the console would have been commercially successful, but nevertheless, the handheld still stands as an interesting concept. With numerous games featuring the “create your own level” option, and Nintendo’s successful Mario Maker title built around that very premise, it appears as though there may have been a market for this sort of thing after all.
8. Bandai HET (1993)
Bandai Namco Entertainment Inc. is widely known today as a Japan-based video game publisher, responsible for numerous popular gaming franchises, such as Dark Souls, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm, Digimon Story, Ace Combat, and Tekken just to name a few. Back in 1993 however, Bandai Co. looked to expand its reach into the console market with the Bandai HET. This not so little piece of hardware was designed as a portable gaming machine capable of playing Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) cartridges.
Most likely unwilling to have another console competing with its own handheld, The Gameboy, it is widely speculated that Nintendo pulled the plug on this console before it ever got the chance to see the light of day. That’s a real shame: despite looking like an archaic and massive laptop, Bandai HET accomplished the age-old gaming dream of taking the home console experience on the road. Given the size of the console, as well as the lack of success of Bandai’s later portable gaming devices – the WonderSwan and the WonderSwan Color – it is hard to say whether or not the HET would have been a hit, but teaming up with the likes of Nintendo sure would have been a major coup for the gaming company.
7. Atari Cosmos (1981)
This handheld gaming device is yet another example of an unreleased Atari product. Not unlike a fair number of consoles on this list, the idea behind the Atari Cosmos was actually much more exciting than the hardware itself, but if it would have worked as advertised, this portable system could have certainly been a game-changer. The Cosmos was essentially Atari’s attempted foray into holographic technology. In fact, the gaming company bet pretty heavily on this tech, purchasing all of the rights having anything to do with holography.
With two-layer holographic images superimposed over moving LED’s, the Cosmos was intended to be a 3D-like gaming experience. What was not advertised however, was the fact that this tabletop system was actually a dedicated console, a console with built in gaming software unequipped to play additional titles. In fact, all of the console’s nine games were coded directly onto the device, and the cartridges only served to add the holographic images and a special notch in order to identify which title it was. After some negative feedback, the Atari Cosmos was pulled before it began mass production. With only five units known to exist in the world, this piece of gaming history has become a collector’s item.
So, it is possible that if this tabletop device had released in 1981, it would have gone on to be a major disappointment in the gaming community. If it had actually given gamers a quality, 3D-like gaming experience on a nondedicated console, then it would have surely been a piece of hardware to write home about. That is certainly a big “if,” but Nintendo has since proven that 3D technology in gaming works with the success of their current handheld system, the Nintendo 3DS, so there is no reason to think it would not have been marketable back in the early 1980’s.
6. Panasonic M2 (1997)
Hot on the heels of the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, a home video game console hailed by Time magazine as “1993’s Product of the Year,” a successor to the high-tech device was announced in the form of the Panasonic M2. The 3DO Interactive Multiplayer was incredibly advanced – so advanced in fact, that it was one of the only home consoles at the time capable of running successful PC and arcade ports such as Myst and Star Control II. It was also extremely expensive, launching with price tag of $599. This questionable price tag was one of the leading reasons that the 3DO failed to achieve commercial success, and ultimately lead to the demise of the M2 before it ever hit store shelves.
That said, if the Panasonic M2 had been able to feature a more reasonable asking price, we are sure that this unreleased console could have capitalized on the success of its predecessor. There was even rumors circulating that the scrapped hardware would later have sported a DVD player, years before the Playstation 2 hit the market. Ultimately, Panasonic and The 3DO Company were unwilling to compete with the Playstation and the Nintendo 64 after being dominated by the Nintendo SNES and the Sega Genesis in the previous gaming generation. That said, we still can’t help feeling that the Pansonic M2 could have been an interesting console and a bit of healthy competition for the two Japanese gaming giants.
5. Indrema L600 (2001)
Yet another interesting console idea came in the form of the Indrema L600. This home console would have been the first of its kind, sporting the Linux operating system, and not to mention, the L600 would have been the only open source gaming console on the market, allowing users the ability to observe, alter, and distribute software. Additionally, this piece of gaming hardware was designed to act as an all-in-one media center, featuring a DVD player, a CD player, web browsing, MP3 storage, and a TiVo-like video recorder built in. Now, gaming hardware today might be seen as media hubs, but back in 2001 this was unheard-of.
The Indrema L600 featured some quality ideas that were just ahead of the curve, but ultimately, the console failed to garner its required funding. Falling about $10 million short, the L600 project was aborted, and even if this console had hit the market, it would have met some tough competition in 2001. Early in the new millennium, the gaming hardware market was crowded with the Playstation 2 and Sega Dreamcast already available, and just around the corner was Nintendo’s GameCube and the Xbox, Microsoft’s introduction into home console market. That said, Indrema’s L600 may have been a unique enough idea to flourish in the early 2000s console war, finding an audience and potentially changing the gaming world.
4. Red Jade (2001)
Handheld gaming has been a Nintendo-dominated market for some time now, but competition looked to rear its head in 2001, in the form of the Red Jade. Ericsson’s foray into gaming hardware – long before its mobile phone division and Sony’s acquisition of the company – came in the form of a $10 million investment into a portable, all-in-one device code-named Red Jade. Interestingly enough, the Red Jade acted more or less like a cellular phone today. In fact, the device featured MP3 audio playback, PDA functionality, GPS support, a wireless internet connection, web browsing, Bluetooth technology, and oh yeah, cell phone capabilities. On the gaming side of things, Ericsson’s console reportedly featured graphics that matched the original Playstation. All things considered, this certainly would have been no small feat for 2001.
It is easy to write off this console, considering most of us have far more advanced versions of this gaming device in our pockets today in the form of smart phones. That said, the Red Jade would have been far and away the first of its kind, and would have seen a release almost six years before the original iPhone. Ericsson’s transition into mobile phones certainly appears to have made a lot of sense, but we are insanely curious as to what the gaming and mobile phone markets would be like today if the Red Jade had taken off in the early part of this century.
3. Action GameMaster (1991)
Active Enterprises had the granddaddy of all ideas in this 1991 handheld device: make all of the most popular games available to play on one console, the Action GameMaster. This of course was a lofty pursuit, but one that could have been uber successful had it worked. Compatible with Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Sega Genesis, and CD-ROM titles (all via adaptors which were sold separately), the Action GameMaster looked to be the one stop shop for all of your gaming needs, and on top of all that, it was portable. Additionally, the handheld gaming device would have featured a 3.2 inch color LCD screen, a television tuner to watch your favorite programs, a built-in battery charger, and a cigarette-lighter adapter for motorized vehicles.
Unfortunately, as much as there was to like about the Action GameMaster, there was plenty to dislike as well. Firstly, the console was massive, and probably not all that portable. Additionally, it is estimated today that the retail price for such a device would have been fairly astronomical. Still, the Action GameMaster had potential to be a fan favorite product that we would be happy to have in our living rooms, had it actually been released and not incredibly bulky.
2. Sega VR (1993)
Virtual reality is hailed by many today as the next big thing, and yet this tech was almost made popular over twenty years ago. Under development by Sega – the mastermind behind the extremely successful Sega Genesis console – this virtual reality headset was slated for release with both arcade and home console versions. As we now know today however, only the arcade headset ever actually made it to the consumer.
The home console version of Sega VR was reportedly an add on to the Sega Genesis (and potentially the Saturn), launching with four games and a price tag of $200. Scheduled for release in fall of 1993, and then later in the spring of 1994, it was eventually announced that the Sega VR project was cancelled. While the stated reason for the cancellation being Sega’s fear that consumers may find the experience “too realistic” and ultimately hurt themselves upon moving around, it is far more likely that reports of tester’s side effects, which included headaches and motion sickness, were the true cause.
As major companies have recently bet big with virtual reality technology (over 20 years later), it appears as though this medium is making a push on the market. With companies such as Google, Samsung, Sony, and Oculus all producing products that are either in stores or available for pre-order, it seems likely that this tech is here to stay – despite a lack of early adopters. That said, imagine how much further along we might be if Sega had popularized virtual reality back in the mid-1990’s.
1. Nintendo/Playstation SNES-CD (1993)
The SNES-CD – also known as the Nintendo Playstation or the Super Disc – is perhaps the most notorious console on this list. Representing a collaboration between Nintendo and Sony, the SNES-CD was compact disc based peripheral for the already popular SNES. Realizing that the future of console gaming took place on discs rather than cartridges, a Sony engineer by the name of Ken Kutaragi began work on an add-on to the SNES that would allow the system to play games on CD. A contract was eventually signed by both Nintendo and Sony, and development began on the aforementioned console.
Unable to reach any sort of agreement concerning control and licensing however, the two companies began to drift apart. In fact, Nintendo, unbeknownst to pretty much everyone in the industry, approached Sony’s rival (Philips) in order to team up for the SNES-CD project. Around the same time Nintendo announced its partnership with Philips, Sony had announced its very own console entitled Playstation. The rest, as they say, is history.
Nintendo had not only created an enemy, but they have also allowed a fierce competitor to flourish. Sony has since gone on to produce several more consoles, most of which are among the best selling and highly regarded of all time. If only these two companies had played nice, gamers might be enjoying the fruit of a prosperous partnership between the two industry giants, but as it stands today, this is certainly not the case. That said, competition breeds innovation, so while it is unfortunate that Sony and Nintendo were not able to reconcile their differences, at least consumers have more options on the open market.
What are some of your favorite unreleased video game consoles? Make sure to let us here it in the comment section.