The story of the SNES CD system is a long and complicated one.
1 SNES CD
It started in 1988 with Nintendo partnering with Sony – then yet to be established as a console giant – to update the SNES. The idea was simple: Nintendo planned to embrace the rising CD-Rom technology by bringing on board the experts of the time, Sony. The SNES CD was to bolster the Super Nintendo with a drive for the discs that back then held the future within their gleaming metallic undersides. But the partnership soured, with some suggesting Nintendo also began talks with Philips without Sony’s approval or knowledge. Ultimately the companies parted ways. Philips was reported to have secured some of the weaker Zelda and Mario games out of the collapse, which appeared on the less than successful CD-i console. Sony gained what would eventually become the PlayStation. And, for the time being at least, Nintendo stayed with game cartridges, releasing the N64.
2 Atari Mirai
Of all the unreleased games consoles, Atari’s Mirai is perhaps the greatest mystery. There exist photos of a muted console shell sporting the word Mirai, and some pastel-coloured buttons. Every other detail about the machine is utter speculation. Some have insisted the colour scheme could only be made for 80s living rooms. Others point to a gaping cartridge slot meaning a partnership with SNK. SNK built the still-coveted NeoGeo, which took huge carts evolved from an arcade system. SNK has since refuted claims about its involvement. But with the statement coming from SNK Playmore – the original outfit having been transformed through acquisition and the decline of the arcade industry – rumours persist that the Mirai really was the NeoGeo reworked. If that were proved, a Mirai prototype might just be one of the most valuable gaming collectibles in existence, such is the thirst for SNK rarities.
3 Sega Neptune
Where today consoles are reinvigorated with slim redesigns, in the 1990s life was breathed anew through the cartridge slots of existing systems by add-ons; new sections that plugged into a machine to introduce facilities such as updated cart formats. The 32X was such a device; a mushroom of black plastic that sat ungracefully atop the MegaDrive, endeavouring to eke out the life of the core console until the Saturn arrived. The 32X, named to usher in the 32-bit era, impressed technically, but commercially, it failed. And so the sleek form of the Neptune, which combined MegaDrive and 32X into a single form, never made it to mass production.
4 Panasonic M2
The 3DO Interactive Multiplayer almost made it big. Designed by 3DO for licence to other manufacturers, it was Time magazine’s Product of the Year for 1994 but by 1996 it had faded away to nothing, a victim of the over-saturated console market. But the follow-up console, the M2, was being designed by 3DO around the same time. Eventually Panasonic acquired the technology, but before release, the company had cold feet about the system, despite having games already in development. The planned release was canned. Yet the core technology was not wasted, and appeared in medical and architectural multimedia players, an arcade system, cash machines, coffee dispensers and vending devices.
5 Bandai HET
When Bandai’s engineers began work on the HET, they created a huge laptop-like apparatus for playing SNES games. But as with the SNES CD, this partnership formed around the Super Nintendo was one that would not come to fruition. Shrouded in mystery, the HET was shown at the 1993 E3 video games expo, where a 10cm screen, built-in TV tuner and apparent support for faxes and printers was on display. Yet unlike the SNES CD there are no tales of the companies falling out over the HET; indeed, there are almost no tales at all. Just speculation that the success of the GameBoy at the time meant Nintendo felt it had portable gaming covered well enough to cast the HET aside.
Initially touted for release in late 2003, the Phantom was a console with no support for physical media at all, instead opting to offer download-only PC titles. It was an idea a little ahead of its time, before game downloading was as established as it is today. In fact, many lambasted the console, even claiming it was unworkable, and labelling it as “vapourware”. Such allegations were fuelled by a stream of delays, with the system eventually disappearing from release schedules. The Phantom was shown at E3 2004, but even that display attracted accusations of fakery. A real keyboard was spun out of the project for use with multimedia centre PCs, suggesting some reality to the project, but any chance it had was long gone when the Phantom lost any and all real credibility.
At the recent EGX gaming expo in London, a strange leaflet was being passed around. “Jesus, For The Win!”, its cover proclaimed. Surely not a pro-Christianity booklet targeting rather than vilifying gaming? Well, praise the lord and pass that ammunition for the win, so it is. Gamechurch is (of course) an LA organisation that appears to be moving in on the UK’s game playing public, spreading their message at events like EGX. In it’s promotional materials Gamechurch proclaims video games “have something to say about the way we live, love, hurt, struggle, and overcome, and that is something worth talking about”. It’s a reasonable point, but whether a shared love of gaming is enough to bring non-believers to their side remains to be seen.
Helix, Michael Broug, £1.99
Developer Michael Broug doesn’t appear afraid of toying with the abstract, having already crafted several games that pay little regard to conventional design.
His latest creation is Helix, which while a new title and released for iOS, has a distinctly retro feel. It is simple, and it is hard.
The gameplay is rather minimal, asking the player to guide a contorted eye with the finger, banishing enemies by drawing circles around them. An entire game often lasts just seconds, as a barrage of absurd forms close in with speed.
The art evokes a feel for graphical glitches from the Commodre 64 era, and the sound is crunchy and rasping. Helix, in its strange way, is a brilliant, smart and eccentric game.
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