Number of games: 20
Initial Price: $70
This is one portable system most people have never heard of, and that's probably for the best. There were two versions of the system released. The original Game.com features a relatively large black and white display but its screen was not lighted. The second edition, the Game.com Pocket Pro, was lighted and far more compact. Both featured eight buttons and a comfortable directional pad. But what's truly novel about the system is its stylus and touch screen interface. No other mainstream system employed a touchscreen until the Nintendo DS in 2004.
When you turn on the system you're presented with six icons: cartridge, phone book, calendar, calculator, high scores, and solitaire. I like how the system automatically records high scores and the built-in solitaire game is a nice touch. You can load two cartridges into the right side of the (original) system, and pressing the cartridge icon lets you select your game. Unfortunately many of the older games will not function if a second cartridge is present. The Pocket Pro had a single cartridge slot.
The resolution of the display is impressive, but the gray-scale images tend to be faint and difficult to make out. Since the original model didn't have a lighted display, you'll need to play it under a bright light. You can crank up the contrast but that makes the details look muddy. The Pocket Pro's lighted display is disappointing. It's actually front-lit and the light does not cover the screen evenly. When you account for the fact that the screen is much smaller, the system is not much of an improvement - if any. What really crippled the Game.com is its slow refresh rate. The animation is jerky and the objects tend to bleed, making it difficult to convey any sense of speed.
On the surface, the Game.com appears to have an impressive line-up of games including Sonic the Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil 2, Duke Nukem, and Jurassic Park. Unfortunately, the severe graphic limitations reduce these games to mere shadows of their former selves. Sonic is virtually unplayable. The only games the system seems to handle well are board games like Scrabble, Jeopary, and Wheel of Fortune. These titles also leverage the touch screen interface to good effect.
The Game.com is an oddball system and frankly I'm shocked it remained on the market for three years. The system rates low in terms of playability but it may be of interest to curious collectors.
NOTE: When two grades appear, the first applies to the original Game.com system and the second applies to the Pocket Pro.
Design: C+/A. The original Game.com is not a bad looking piece of hardware with its streamlined design and silver/gray color scheme. The blue "chicklet" buttons stand out, and the stylus tucks into the front (or back on the Pocket Pro). The screen is large but covered with a layered grid of raised dots which are distracting. The two cartridges slots seem a little gratuitous. The Pocket Pro is far more compact and features a "light" button and a single cartridge slot. The outer edge of the system has a "charcoal" texture that's both attractive and comfortable to grip.
Size: C/A. Measuring 7.5" x 4.5", the original Game.com is wide but not very thick. The Pocket Pro is definitely pocket-sized, measuring 5.5" x 3".
Controls: B. The system has a comfortable directional pad on the left, and four soft "action" buttons on the right. There are also three "function" buttons for home menu, sound (on/off), and pause. The Pocket Pro only has home and pause buttons. On both systems the power button is slightly inset so you won't accidentally hit it during play. The touch pad is sensitive enough.
Graphics: F. The black-and-white graphic display is clearly the Achilles heel of the system. The degree of detail is exceptional for static images, but moving objects smear and blur. It can be difficult to follow the action of fast-moving titles.
Audio: C. The game produces very clear digitized sound effects, including voices. The limited number of sound channels means it has a difficult time producing music.
Battery Life: D. I used an A/C adapter for my review, but according to RacketBoy's Tiger Game.com 101 the battery life is 4-6 hours.
Media: D. The small black cartridges feel lightweight and cheap. Their labels are so small you can barely make out what the game is.
Packaging: C-. Game.com titles are packaged in glossy, colorful boxes that made the games look a lot more appealing than they actually are. But while the boxes may look attractive, they feel very flimsy and cheap. They also tend to be encased in those aggravating "blister packs".
Games: D. The Game.com library is very small and the big-name titles like Sonic the Hedgehog and Mortal Kombat translate poorly to the system. The best cartridges tend to be classic arcade games or modest, stylus-driven word games.
Collectability: C. The Game.com has marginal play value, but the system and its games are very inexpensive and easy to obtain. It's an attractive option for curious collectors, and it's even feasible to acquire the complete library.
Innovations: Touch screen with stylus, ability to load two cartridges at once.
Pros and Cons:
+ Cheap, easily available
+ Saves high scores automatically
+ Touch screen interface nice for word games
- Faint graphics and horrible animation
- Sparse audio effects
- Limited library