When you look at it, we’ve had it pretty easy on the eyes in terms of console design this generation. From the sleek look of the 360 and PS3, to the minimalist approach of Nintendo’s Wii and DSi, there’s really not much to complain about. We’ve gone a good 5+ years without having to be ashamed of the consoles we owned, actively hiding them away whenever company comes over. I honestly think at this point, we’re a bit spoiled. Case in point: when the PSP Go was announced, it was met with a chorus line of people screaming about just how hideous this new portable looked. Evidently forgetting that just a few short years ago they were probably holding a original Nintendo DS in their hands without much of a complaint. And that fucker was the very epitome of a plastic chunk of shit.
So with that in mind, I think we should take a bit of time out of our day to take a step back, and look at some of modern gaming’s most hideous systems – if at least to make us appreciate what we have today, and not be so quick to denounce everything as a mutated beast that Mother Nature banished to the depths of Hades just because it doesn’t have a capacitive glass touchscreen. And hey, even if you didn’t participate in the eras some of these consoles were around, then just imagine one of these beasts in your living room or hands for an extended amount of time, and you should get the idea of how shitty things can get when console design goes horribly wrong.
(A quick note: All of these systems were chosen from 1990 up. No systems from the 80s were included. Besides, everything from the 80′s tech-wise was a monstrosity consisting of levers, plastic, and wood paneling).
Neo Geo Pocket
While I’m sure most hardcore gamers will faint at even the mention of any negative aspect regarding the Neo Geo Pocket, few can deny that the console looked like plastic loaf of bread with buttons sticking out. The system itself will forever be remembered with fondness among the seven gamers that actually bought one, and rightly so. It had some amazing games that eclipsed any portable hardware at the time. It’s just that SNK has never been known for sleek pieces of machinery, and the Neo Geo Pocket is no exception. While it was functional (and had the best 8-way stick on any portable system ever), it was still hard to get past its overall look. Especially when SNK seemed to love dressing it up in the worst color schemes imaginable (Blue camo, anyone?) A sad and rare case of function eclipsing form by miles.
The original CD-I model is possibly the most monstrous console ever created. And while many can argue that the CD-I wasn’t a game console (they’re wrong, btw), it still stands that this beast of a piece of hardware was marketed as a game console at the time of its death. Large enough to double as a microwave, the CD-I was as ugly and awkward as it was huge. Featuring an oversized disc tray, a controller port on the front AND back (WHY?!), and a controller that was more of a cruel joke than anything, the CD-I just begged to be hidden behind other pieces of electronics. Which would have been fine if you could have, but it’s size almost demanded its own place in the family garage. Simply unacceptable.
Another console that we will probably be flogged for including, the Super NES may be one of the greatest consoles ever, but I don’t think you can deny that the US version is one ugly piece of game machine. While the Japanese got the far more sleek Super Famicom, Nintendo must have figured that it needed a drastic redesign to fit our American tastes. In a way, they were right. Game consoles were still considered toys at the time, and so Nintendo set out to redesign a look that more closely resembled a high tech toy. The result is what we all know and love, but once you take off the rose-tinted glasses, you can see that things aren’t so pretty. Possibly the boxiest console ever made, the design even sacrificed basic functionality to pull the look off, IE: The weird eject button was prone to breaking, leaving you to pull out your games by hand. The far superior SNES redesign fixed all of this.
The Xbox is just a design nightmare. Microsoft’s first game console was (and still is) considered to be the monster of the console world. Not only was it heavy as shit, but the design just screamed “I let a 13 year old kid that just drank 11 Mountain Dews design this.” Whether it be the giant “X” strapped across the front, or the huge Xbox logo in the middle of THAT, nothing about the console screamed high tech. Mostly just big and bulky, something game consoles were moving away from. Thankfully, the guts inside were far better designed, and gamers eventually saw that it could play some genuinely good games. You just had to get over how ugly it was first. MS learned from their mistakes though, and made their next gen console a far sleeker and more stylish affair.
The Nintendo DS was a huge gamble for Nintendo. When everyone first heard about a dual screen console that used a stylus, most of us contorted our faces until they nearly tore off our face. Then we saw it. Never before has a console made such a horrible first impression, and went on to dominate the industry. Looking like something that had come straight out of 1991, the original DS did everything it could to make you not want to even be seen holding it, let alone play games in public with it. First off, it was just ugly. Brick or not, it is simply one of the ugliest pieces of electronic design I have ever seen. What Nintendo was thinking at the time is bewildering. Especially after they had just made the awesomely sleek Gameboy Advance SP, a clamshell design that made people who didn’t even want a Gameboy buy one. So how do you follow that up? Apparently by asking themselves, “What kind of system would Atari design if they still made a portable system?” And then there it was.
How can you have a list of terrible modern console design and not include the Virtual Boy? I know, you know, we ALL know it’s bad. A hulking piece of plastic that stuck onto your face, the Virtual Boy was dead on arrival thanks to its ability to completely destroy function with form. And not even good form at that. To their credit, they at least released a semi-virtual reality console. Something every other big player in the industry always talked about, but never got to market. Though I think we can safely see why now. No other console on this list outright prevents you from playing it because of its design. The Virtual Boy on the other hand, will make you pay with a headache and sore neck for even trying to play it. A design failure on every level.
Standing at nearly the size of a mini skateboard, the original Atari Lynx is everything that was wrong with the first generation of portable gaming. Mainly not quite understanding the whole “portable” concept. The Lynx is unquestionably huge for something you’re supposed to take with you. The Gameboy wasn’t exactly tiny, but it was infinitely more pocketable than the Lynx, which was actually approaching most home console sizes at the time. It was however, usable once you got to actually sit down with it and play it. But the whole point of the Lynx was to take it with you. And when your portable console is 1/4 your total height, and could chew through batteries in an hour, your portable console suddenly became a whole lot less portable. Atari tried to fix things with a second model that squeezed things in a bit, but it was still a massive chunk of plastic. Far larger than the then even smaller Gameboy Color.
That’ll do for now. This definitely isn’t definitive. Honorable mentions go to the original NGage, and 32X, but both are so well-panned by now that it’s not even worth including them. So there you go. Next time you see a new console shown for the first time, don’t be so quick to throw out judgement. After all, when you’ve had any of these in your living room for any amount of time, anything is an improvement.
Jeremy is a quiet, steadily mortified man hailing from Indianapolis.
Contact him this way: email@example.com (hint: it’s email)