The Game.com is one portable most people have probably never heard of. There were two versions released of this awkwardly-named system. The original featured a relatively large black and white display but its screen was not lighted. The second edition, the Game.com Pocket Pro, was lighted and is far more compact. Both featured eight buttons and a comfortable directional pad. The most innovative aspect of the system was its stylus and touch screen interface. No other mainstream system employed a touchscreen until the Nintendo DS in 2004.
When you fire up this system you're presented with six icons: cartridge, phone book, calendar, calculator, high scores, and solitaire. I guess it was supposed to double as a daily planner?
I do like how the system automatically records high scores and includes a built-in version of Solitaire. You can actually load two cartridges at a time into the right side of the original system. Unfortunately many games will not function if a second cartridge is present. The Pocket Pro had only a single cartridge slot.
The screen resolution of the original system was impressive but its gray-scale images look faint and can be difficult to discern. Since the original model lacked a lighted display, you need to play it under a bright light. You can crank up the contrast to some degree but that tends to make the details look muddy.
The Pocket Pro's lighted display is disappointing, especially when you consider how expensive it can be. The screen is actually front-lit, and the light is not evenly-distributed across the screen. Taking into account the new screen is also much smaller, the Pocket Pro is not much of an improvement - if any.
But what truly hampered the Game.com is its slow refresh rate. The animation is jerky and the objects tend to bleed, making it difficult to convey animation or any sense of speed. The Game.com is such an oddball I'm shocked it remained on the market for three years. The system rates low in terms of playability but 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. Its blue "chicklet" buttons really stand out and the stylus tucks neatly into the front (or back in the case of the Pocket Pro). The screen is sizeable but covered with a layered grid of distracting raised dots. Why? The two cartridges slots do seem a bit gratuitous.
The Pocket Pro is far more compact and also features a "light" button to toggle on and off. The outer edge of the system has a charcoal texture that looks good and is 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 lives up to its name, measuring in at a modest 5.5" x 3".
Controls: B. These systems have a comfortable directional pad and four soft action buttons. There are also three function buttons for the home menu, sound (on/off), and pause. The Pocket Pro lacks the sound toggle. For both systems the power button is slightly inset as to not accidentally hit it during play. The touch pad works fine.
Graphics: F. The black-and-white display is the Achilles heel of the system. The degree of detail is exceptional for static images, but moving objects tend to smear and blur. It can be difficult to follow the action in fast-moving titles.
Audio: C. The system produces very clear digitized sound effects, including voices. The limited number of sound channels means it has a difficulty producing music however.
Battery Life: D. I prefer to use an A/C adapter, but according to RacketBoy's Tiger Game.com 101 the battery life runs about 4-6 hours.
Media: D. The small black cartridges feel lightweight and cheap. Their labels are so tiny you can barely make out what the game is.
Packaging: C-. Game.com titles are packaged in glossy, colorful boxes that look far more appealing than the actual games. But while the boxes may look attractive, they feel very flimsy and cheap. They also tend to come encased in those aggravating (and dangerous) plastic "blister packs".
Library: D. On the surface the Tiger Game.com appears to have an impressive line-up, with big names like Sonic the Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil 2, Duke Nukem, and Jurassic Park. Unfortunately, the severe graphic limitations reduce these games to shadows of their former selves. Sonic is practically unplayable. The type of games the system seems to excell in are modest board games like Scrabble, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune. These also leverage the touch screen to good effect.
Collectability: C. The Game.com offers marginal play value, but an original system and most of its games are inexpensive and easy to obtain. In fact it's quite feasible to acquire the complete library.
Innovations: Touch screen with stylus, ability to load two cartridges at once.
Pros and Cons:
+ Cheap, easily available
+ Touch screen interface
+ Saves high scores automatically
- Faint graphics and bad animation
- Sparse audio effects
- Tiny library