Through the years, there have been a lot of gaming consoles. Some of them were met with critical acclaim, while others faded into obscurity. Some of these systems changed the way that we viewed video gaming, and some changed the way that the entire world looked at video games and the systems that played them. So with us looking forward to the release of the latest entries into this pantheon of video-gaming godhood, we figured we would take a minute to look back at some of the gaming consoles that defined the way we play games.
Believe it or not, the very first gaming console was released not in Japan, but in America, by the Magnavox company. The Odyssey was the first dedicated video gaming system released for consumer use. Released in 1972, it was the very first digital-gaming console as well. Some collectors mistakenly call it an analog system, but only the outputs were analog–due to the fact that all TVs on the market at the time were analog. The prototype “Brown Box” of this system is on display today at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C.
Even though it wasn’t the first console to use cartridges (the Fairchild Channel F was), the Atari 2600 is lauded with bringing the concept of interchangeable games to console gaming. These cartridges were nothing more than simple ROM circuits that were fed into the system for the microprocessors to interpret and project onto the gamer’s TV. Earlier consoles used a small, motherboard-looking device that would re-route the processor to access different games that were already loaded into the system. This system was also the first to introduce the digital joystick-style controller.
SEGA Master System
Released in 1985, the SEGA Master System followed in the hallowed footsteps of its predecessors and used the cartridge-based system. But by this time, digital gaming (though still out-putting in analog) had come to the level of 8-bit graphics. Although the Master System predated the NES in North America by nine months, it failed to topple Nintendo’s foothold in American gaming–even though its games were actually sold in two versions: the SEGA card (a smaller, more affordable credit-card sized cartridge) and the standard cartridge, which was more expensive but held more information than its smaller counterpart.
Nintendo Entertainment System
The NES is considered by most to be the defining system in gaming. They say so because the NES sold more systems than any other gaming device of its time and because the complexity and graphical quality were far superior to other consoles released at the same time. Even though the SEGA Master System was a technologically superior system, Nintendo already had a vast stable of game-makers who were clamoring to get their games on the NES. So despite all attempts by any competitor, the NES reigned supreme for many years, topping out at an amazing thirty-four million systems sold in North America alone.
In 1990, you were either a Nintendo gamer or a SEGA gamer. Much like today, with battle lines dividing passionate, loyal fans, there wasn’t much choice until the Neo Geo came along. While the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo were fighting it out in retail outlets worldwide, the Neo Geo made a sneaky entrance onto the scene by first placing its games in every video game arcade in North America and then making an announcement via TV and comic-book ads that the Neo Geo home system was coming to America. SNK was the company that owned the rights to the system, and when it hit the shores of the west, it was met with applause, thanks to games such as Metal Slug , King of Fighters , and Samurai Showdown .
If you were a Nintendo fan from the beginning, the Nintendo 64 console was a mind-blowing experience in gaming. If you had been a fan since the release of the NES, you had followed the progression of the world’s favorite plumber, Mario, on his adventures to save Princess Peach. But once Super Mario 64 hit the shelves, Nintendo gamers the world over were brought to their knees with the amazing graphics, fully rendered world, open world, and the advent of the analog thumb stick. This system brought us the first real multiplayer FPS with Goldeneye and so many other games that literally changed the way we played.
1994 saw the birth of disc-based gaming in the form of the Sony PlayStation. The demo disc that came with the first PlayStation made some people think that they were watching a virtual reality of the underwater world as well as other amazingly rendered worlds. Then Sony took it one step further and brought us games the likes of which we had never seen: games such as Gran Turismo , Syphon Filter , Metal Gear Solid , Mega Man Legends , Legends of Dragoon , and a ton of Final Fantasy games that are still selling for hundreds on eBay. This system wasn’t just a new entry into the hall of gaming…it was a revolution.
SEGA tried to muscle-in on the disc-game market in 1998 with the release of the Dreamcast. Though it met with some acclaim, the year 2000 saw its demise as Sony released yet another killer system into the gaming mainstream. The PlayStation 2 took the lessons learned from the PSone and took us to a whole new level of gaming. No other system has had the vast catalog of titles the PS2 sports. Over 3800 titles have been released for the PS2, and they continued to release until 2011, making the PS2 the longest-lived console in history. It brought us the first online gaming for consoles with titles such as SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals . It topped out at 155 million new units sold, with untold millions of pre-owned units sold after its final production models were sold at retailers.
Beating the PS3 out to retailers by nearly a year, Microsoft took a billion-dollar gamble that paid off in the end. Its system quickly rose to the top of the gaming heap and brought a foaming-at-the-mouth horde of gamers with it. Titles such as Halo and Gears of War garnered a following of die-hard fans that truly bled green. Even though the system itself was rife with problems, the undeniable nature of its rabid fanbase is what puts the XB360 near the top of the list. With hundreds of millions of subscribers worldwide and nearly 79 million consoles sold, Xbox 360 and its online servers hold the number one gaming network in the world, and Xbox Live-ers are poised and ready to see what Microsoft brings them next.
Sony may have gotten out of the gate late with this console, and it had a rough time initially competing with the already-established Xbox 360. But what it lacked in timing, it made up for in shear gamer loyalty. Even though the Xbox and Xbox 360 has sold a whopping 78.4 million consoles worldwide, the PS3 eclipsed that milestone by selling a total of 79.1 million units worldwide. The XB360 may have had a faster processor (512Mb to PS3’s 256Mb), but Sony upped the ante by giving gamers the option of replacing their hard drive with a bigger one with no penalties to the user warranty. They also brought the high-storage capacity of Blu-ray to gaming. Gamers no longer had to switch discs mid-play to continue their gaming experience. Gamers were also afforded the opportunity to game online for free while XB360 users had to pay for this service.