Published on August 9th, 2013 | by Shawn Long, Features Editor
Remembering the Game.com – Somewhat Innovative, Not Very Successful
Tiger Electronics was a huge cash cow in the 1990s. Parents who didn’t want to buy their kids a Game Boy or Game Gear would instead opt for a (much cheaper) Tiger Handheld game, which was usually a low-tech device consisting of five sprites in various poses, as well as terrible sound effects. Despite this, the company had a huge following, and even had various SEGA titles from Virtua Fighter to Sonic the Hedgehog.
I’m not even going to sit here and lie: back then I would’ve seen Virtua Fighter and wanted it so badly that I probably would’ve mowed the grass for three weeks straight just to get it. In my simplistic mind, I thought maybe it would be cool, and unlike the other Tiger games, though, I’m sure it wasn’t. But damn if it didn’t look cool.
Anyway, at some point Tiger got ballsy — the company wanted a bigger piece of the gaming-profit pie. With the success of the Game Boy and Game Gear, Tiger wanted to enter the handheld market with its own console. So, in 1997, the company did just that. Tiger released a handheld console called the Game.com (simply pronounced “Game Com”).
To the surprise of no one, the system sucked. First off, it was a simplistic black and white color scheme, and with the Game Boy Color coming around the corner, as well the Game Gear’s color-filled screen, consumers were already moving on to the superior spectrum.
Another issue was a high price point accompanied by the terrible marketing. The console moved only about 300,000 units before it was terminated, while shipping only a mere 20 titles. Tiger then moved onto other forms of electronics, and the system faded into obscurity.
So, who the hell cares?
Well, everyone who enjoys handheld gaming should. The Game.com was a poor system, but it did feature some things that were way ahead of its time. You could use email right out of the box — which was big for something that came out in the late ’90s. The system had a stylus and a touch screen, which wasn’t super accurate, but the technology at the time was new and turned some heads.
Later on, the system also released a basic text browser in a cartridge form, aptly titled Game.com Internet. The cart allowed users to surf a limited version of the web via modem. Remember, this was back in 1997, and was seriously a major technological breakthrough that for some reason went unnoticed.
Almost everyone has a browser on their cell phone nowadays, so, who cares? At the time there was nothing like it.
Additionally, while the titles themselves were terrible, they were big-name games: Duke Nukem, Resident Evil 2, Sonic Jam, all of which were marque names that were featured on the system.
I almost want to think that Tiger wanted to appeal to an older audience, with web browsing and “adult” titles. The games themselves were not good, but the names alone would sell, and, to be honest, they didn’t look too bad in still motion (video below).
I could see the back packages of the games being a selling point alone, simply because of screenshots, such as the one featured to the left of Resident Evil 2. It looks primitive now, but at the time the thought of Resident Evil on the go or Fighters Megamix was astounding. There are even leaked pictures of a prototype Metal Gear Solid that was supposedly coming to the system.
Tiger didn’t really know what it was doing. This was an unexplored category for the company, and it showed with weak sales and a swift death of the Game.com.
It’s funny to think, eight years later we have a system with a touch-screen and online availability in a handheld is the new standard, especially when a company like Tiger is the one that introduced these elements in the first place. Yes, it sucked, it was ugly and it wasn’t any good, but it was innovative.
For that one reason alone, I salute the Tiger Game.com and fondly remember it, and feel that anyone who appreciates current handheld consoles should too.
Check out some stunning footage of the Game.com Resident Evil 2 port below: