It’s not uncommon for home and handheld consoles to get a drastic makeover in the years after their launch. Sometimes even after they’ve begun playing second fiddle to a new more powerful sibling.
With the Xbox One S fresh in our memories and a thinner version of the PlayStation 4 all but confirmed, it’s the perfect time to look back at some of the most successful and unsuccessful console redesigns in gamings’ short history. We’re talking internal and external overhauls of existing systems, so you won’t see any Nintendo 64 Disk Drive or Atari Jaguar CD mentions on this list.
Let’s start with...
Launch Price: $49.95
Tag Line: Evolve or Become Extinct!
The Details: The console wars of the early ‘90s were at a fever pitch in 1993, a year when players were hard pressed to choose between Nintendo and SEGA consoles. Amidst all the 16-bit hype landed a cleaned up redesign of the Big N’s original Nintendo Entertainment System. The first NES wasn’t a very sleek looking system, at least not the version Nintendo decided to release here in the states. The Top Loader version, while smaller and vastly more sleek, still looks rather clunky. Clunkiness aside it managed to fix one of the problems that had plagued the NES for so long - cartridge loading issues. Not to mention the new “bone” controller, which literally took the edge off of playing some of gaming greatest titles.
Tag Line: Who Are You?
Launch Price: $99.99
The Details: With so many bulky add-ons being sold to illuminate Game Boy screens over the years it’s odd that it took Nintendo so long to realize players wanted a handheld system with a built-in backlight. Though they technically gave it a go with the Japan-only Game Boy Light in 1998, the GBA SP was their first worldwide release with such a feature. With a clamshell design and the ability to play any game in Game Boy history, the SP is a shining example of actually listening to your fans and drastically improving on a current design. Well, with the exception of the strange decision to scrap the standard headphone jack, a staple of every mobile Nintendo system before and after.
Launch Price: $129.99
Tag Line: Touching is Good
The Details: The original DS is far and away the most unattractive Nintendo handheld console to ever grace our sweaty hands. Nintendo must have realized this early on, as they released the newly designed DS Lite less than two years into the DS family’s long and prosperous run. While the vast majority of the DS Lite’s improvements were cosmetic, its battery life, brightness settings and slightly enhanced color display made it perfect for on the go gaming. Unlike the DSi, which we’ll talk about later, the DS Lite still allowed players to play any Game Boy Advance title on the market. It’s easily one of, if not the, best handhelds of all time.
Launch Price: $299.99
Tag Line: Lighter, Thinner and Powerful
The Details: When the PlayStation 3 launched worldwide it was touted as a powerhouse of innovation, though most consumers had a hard time seeing past its hefty price point ($600?!) and George Forman grill design. Eventually Sony wised up and released the PS3 Slim, a model that featured more memory, less shelf space, energy efficiency, and a quieter cooling system. Most important of all, it got rid of that god awful Spider-Man movie font that had adorned the original model. The Slim was a turning point for the PS3, as it attracted many more players and boosted Sony’s sales of both consoles and games.
Launch Price: $299.99
Tag Line: Sleeker. Slimmer. Sharper.
The Details: Hey! Didn’t I just mention this one in the intro? Yes, yes I did. The Xbox One S may only be a month old, but it’s already a shining example of how to give your fan base what they want without having to jack up the price. The original XBone (people still it call it that, right?) was criticized for looking like a ‘90s VCR and taking up an acre of precious shelf space. The One S is 40% smaller and its outward appearance actually looks more like a console from the distant future than one from the recent past. Throw in some key gaming attributes like 4K ultra HD and high dynamic range, and you’ve got yourself one of the prettiest and most powerful systems on the current market. Well done Microsoft. Now show us your Scorpio build.
Launch Price: $49.95
Tag Line: NA
The Details: Most Sega fans in 1998 were eagerly awaiting the launch of the new powerhouse console known as the Dreamcast. Meanwhile, gaming manufacture Majesco was granted the license to produce a new model of classic Genesis system of their own. Thus the Genesis 3 was born, a console alarmingly devoid of many of its predecessors charms. While the system did allow owners to play most Japanese Megadrive titles, its low processing ability and a few internal changes made it impossible to boot up dozens of previously released games. Sega CD and 32X fans were also out of luck, as the Genesis 3 could not be tethered to these add-ons like previous versions. In the end Majesco cut out too much of what made the Genesis worth owning. You know, like the games.
Launch Price: $249.99
Tag Line: It’s Go Time
The Details: Going fully digital is a feat that consoles in 2016 are still unsure about. Back in 2009 it was a pretty radical move to propose such a thing, especially for a handheld that couldn’t be hardwired to the net. The struggling PlayStation Portable brand decided to release the PSP Go alongside its standard model, hoping to appeal to technophiles who were constantly connected to the online world. In a market where physical sales far exceed digital ones, the Go was set to fail. And fail it did, selling a pitiful amount and falling into obscurity. The biggest drawback for gaming collectors is that the PSP’s digital store is now offline, rendering Go owners helpless to add more games to their arsenal.
Launch Price: $169.99
Tag Line: i Decide
The Details: While mobile PlayStation players had the option of going completely digital with the PSP Go, Nintendo decided to finally offer something in the downloadable realm to their customer base. While the DSi did feature an online game store, two cameras and a bunch of new bells and whistles, it ultimately felt like a step backwards from the popular DS Lite. This was mainly due to the loss of Game Boy Advance backwards compatibility and reduced battery life (9-14 hours as opposed to 15-19). You could play fewer games and for less time! Not exactly a win win situation, and a terrible incentive to upgrade.
Tag Line: Big Fun. Mini Price.
Launch Price: $99.99
The Details: Originally announced as a Canadian exclusive, the Wii Mini is an oddity of the digital age. Even though the original Wii wasn’t an online powerhouse like its competitors, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, it still featured a handful of well executed online features and a steady stream of must-have retro classics via its Virtual Console. Enter the Wii Mini, a console with no internet capabilities whatsoever. In an ironic twist of fate it was bundled with one of the best titles to feature online play in the Wii’s enormous library - Mario Kart Wii. Couple this with the fact that it, like the Wii Family Edition of 2010, couldn’t play GameCube games (or use the controllers for Smash Bros) and you have a system that virtually no one seemed to want.
Obviously different people have different experiences with consoles, original or otherwise. I could probably write an entire long form essay about my love for the Game Boy Micro (and I just might). What console redesigns did you find to be the most significant or disappointing? Let us know in the comments below.