The Top 7... failingest handhelds

2. Tapwave Zodiac

Some of the entries on this list are genuinely awful (or at least problematic) pieces of hardware, but others are simply good ideas that never got a chance to flourish. The more we learn about the Zodiac, the more it seems to fall into the latter category, but given its obscurity and abysmal sales (around 200,000 by some estimates), it only makes sense to put it near the top of this list.

Don’t take that as a knock to its quality, however. Introduced in 2003, the Zodiac was another combination PDA/game machine, but unlike the, it actually had some muscle behind it. Sporting a small, sleek form factor and games that came on SD cards (for which it had two slots), the Zodiac boasted an analog stick, an extremely crisp touchscreen, smoothly animated visuals and even low-end 3D abilities. It even had some big developers behind it, and some of the earliest Zodiac titles were ports of high-profile games like Spy Hunter and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4.

Because it used Palm OS, the Zodiac also supported independent development, enabling ports of games like Doom and Quake, as well as several flavors of emulator. And on top of all that, it had Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and could store photos and play MP3s and videos, which was a huge deal back before smartphones were so common. A hit with tech journalists, the Zodiac quickly started to rack up awards for its impressive hardware.

Above: Uh… this shows some of its games, I guess

So with so much power behind it, just what went wrong? Well, price was probably a factor – at $299 for the low-end version with 32MB of memory and $399 for the higher-end, 128MB version, the Zodiac made the N-Gage look downright reasonable, quality be damned. Marketing also played a part; in the US, the Zodiac was only sold through CompUSA stores and wasn’t widely advertised, leaving many gamers unaware of its existence. Image also seems to have been a factor, given that the few ads seem to be geared more toward PDA-seeking hipsters than actual gamers.

Whatever the reasons, when the DS and PSP hit the market the following year, the Zodiac folded like old laundry. Rather than try to compete with Nintendo and Sony’s handheld monsters (which it arguably wasn’t doing in the first place), Tapwave pulled the plug on Zodiac and went quietly out of business soon afterward.

1. Gizmondo

In the end, it could only be this. Oh Gizmondo, we do so love to drag your stupid carcass through the mud.

Considering the amount of exposure and mentions Gizmondo still gets, it’s hard to believe that it was a bigger failure than the Zodiac, a handheld almost nobody knew existed even when it was on sale. But then, the biggest reason for Gizmondo’s notoriety isn’t how well it sold, but that everything about the system, from its games to its mall-kiosk sales strategy, was completely, wrongheadedly batshit. However, the weirdness hit a fever pitch in 2006, when Stefan Eriksson, Gizmondo’s Swedish-gangster co-founder, infamously sheared a $2,000,000 Ferrari Enzo in half in a crash near Malibu, Calif.

That’s a story for another article. Our focus is on Eriksson’s company, founded as Tiger Telematics, and the handheld disaster it eventually rolled out in March 2005. First envisioned as a GPS unit that parents could use to track their children, the Gizmondo’s game functionality was originally added as a sneaky way to get kids to carry it everywhere.

It snowballed from there, and by the time the Gizmondo was released, it had an impressive set of features that included not only GPS, but a built-in camera, text messaging, MP3 and video playback, motion-sensing accelerometers  and Bluetooth connectivity. It also had some impressive graphical muscle for its time, able to pump out smooth 3D visuals that looked about as good as the PSP’s (albeit on a smaller screen).

Following a flashy, celebrity-studded launch in London, however, it became clear that the Gizmondo was all flash and no substance. Retailing for a whopping $400 (or $229 with “Smart Adds” enabled, which would theoretically show mandatory ads to defray the cost but never actually did), it was roundly lambasted by critics as an overpriced, underperforming hunk of shit.

Meanwhile, the 14 games available for the thing were mostly generic racing and sports titles, with SSX 3 and Sticky Balls being the only real standouts. It was the planned, unreleased games that were the most eye-catching, however, with titles like Johnny Whatever and Mamma Can I Mow the Lawn promising weird, horrifyingly misguided experiences.

Gizmondo’s sales in Europe quickly declined, and a strange US sales strategy (consoles were reportedly only available at small kiosks in a handful of malls) ensured that it never had a chance to gain a stateside foothold. By the time the Gizmondo went under in February 2006, less than a year after release, fewer than 25,000 units had been sold worldwide.

Then came the crash and the revelations that the company was run by violent gangsters, and Gizmondo went from a puffed-up laughingstock to an indelibly creepy, tainted brand. Of course, that didn’t stop Gizmondo’s director, Carl Freer, from forming a new company, Media Power, and trying to relaunch the thing as the smaller, supposedly improved Gizmondo 2. Following a series of delays and the arrest of Media Power’s co-founder for fraud, however, the Gizmondo 2 currently looks to be scheduled for release sometime between the South rising again and Hell freezing over.

Mar 28, 2011

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  • sexyman500 - August 9, 2011 6:34 a.m.

    shash. This whole article is humorous due to the 3ds failing as well. lawls
  • Acteon - June 1, 2011 9:40 a.m.

    I had an Atari Lynx (still have one actually) and loved it. I fondly remember nights spent playing Electro-Cop and Scrapyard Dog. I only recently started collecting old handheld consoles - love the NGP and Game Boy Pocket, but its the Turbo Express that remains the holy grail at the moment. And for those of you hating on the PSP, shaddup :) It might be fashionable to knock it, but it still has a great games library. I'm still working my way through Persona 3, Dissidia 012, Prinny 2, Ys Seven and Parasite Eve. Not enough hours in the day...
  • PanaMusica - April 3, 2011 7:54 a.m.

    must..sidetalk... with my Sony VGN-UX280P.. itz laugh or cry
  • GamesRadarMikelReparaz - March 31, 2011 4:43 a.m.

    @v8ninety Of course it's not a real word. But you knew what it meant, didn't you? It's succinct.
  • JBizFoShiz - March 31, 2011 4:24 a.m.

    I had an NGPC. Silver. Played the hell out of Sonic, both SNK vs. Capcom games, and Metal Slug. Also, some robot RPG or something that I cannot remember. Those games robbed me of so many hours, and they deserved to. That was NOT a bad system. It just could not compete with the GBC and the eventual GBA. Now, I don't own a 3DS, but the NGPC still, to this day, has the best thumbstick on a portable system. In fact, this and the GBA are my personal top two handhelds ever. RIP Neo-Geo. There's always eBay.
  • Transmatrix - March 30, 2011 11:19 p.m.

    Awesome article, thanks Mikel. For a more comprehensive list: I'm surprised that at least one of the Linux-based handhelds didn't make the list...
  • e1337prodigy - March 30, 2011 11:01 p.m.

    I have the NeoGeo pocket colour. With a lot of games - i still play it more than the DS... Are you saying it's rare? am I finally rich?
  • revrock - March 30, 2011 7:46 p.m.

    Sega Nomad? Where's it @?
  • Agent79 - March 30, 2011 5:30 p.m.

    I haven't seen so many horrible things since my GPA.
  • kiraisjustice - March 30, 2011 1:02 a.m.

    im reading this article with an N-Gage QD in front of me, something i never thought i would say
  • Yeager1122 - March 29, 2011 11:16 p.m.

    Ive never heard of ant of these and after reading this i know why.
  • Memph - March 29, 2011 11:01 p.m.

    I still have my cobalt blue NGPC :D 16-bit graphics it was certainly not, but still Sonic Pocket Adventure, SNK vs Capcom: Match of the Millenium and Cardfighters Clash were all fantastic games. The clickety-stick was also the greatest method of control ever to grace a handheld. I also bought Gals Fighters (a mash-up of many SNK fighter female characters) and Puzzle Bobble, which were both great too.
  • SpaceOdysseus - March 29, 2011 10:54 p.m.

    I was wondering if maybe someone remembers the cybiko. I do. i found mine in a box in my parents house the other day and spent an hour playing the games i had loaded on there, i wish there was still a way to find them.
  • zymn - March 29, 2011 10:12 p.m.

    This reminds me of an article that I wrote for a website i used to have. But it was the Top 5 Worst Game Boy Rip-Offs. Mine certainly wasn't as creative as this one though.
  • Deders14 - March 29, 2011 8:48 p.m.

    I loved my Ngage its a shame every1 else slags it off! I had it for about 5 years in various forms. Infact it still in the draw!!!
  • onewingedantista - March 29, 2011 8:47 p.m.

    Where PSPgo?
  • therawski - March 29, 2011 6:23 p.m.

    The momma can I mow the lawn video had me loling and asking myself wtf about every 2 seconds, that photo of the crazy enzo never get's old, where's the rest of it?!
  • MrWeaselTips - March 29, 2011 6:20 p.m.

    I had a Lynx in 1992 (pretty sure it was bargain basement by then) the cartridges were similar in size to a game boy one so - being a kid - I stuck a Lynx one in a Game boy. Didn't work (obviously) so I put it back in my Lynx and my god did it mess up my Lynx! So literally, the Game boy killed my Lynx
  • philipshaw - March 29, 2011 1:28 p.m.

    I remember all of these, lucky I didn't pay money for any of them
  • morbiusdog - March 29, 2011 12:26 p.m.

    OK,so the PSP wasn't really a fail, but what about the PSP GO! Surely that should be at number 1.

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