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Was the Gizmondo Ahead of Its Time?
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on May 27, 2009   |   Episode 162 (Show Archive)  

   

The system is down here, guys!
As somebody who has made a lot of cruel jokes about the Gizmondo, it pains me to even consider that maybe Tiger Telematics' failed portable game system was ahead of its time. With a steady supply of terrible games, indecipherable button names and one of the worst console designs ever, it's hard to look at the Gizmondo as anything but the butt of a number of foul jokes. But believe it or not, the Gizmondo may have had some good ideas.

Look, I'm not trying to sell you a Gizmondo. The truth is, the only people that would want a Gizmondo now are crazy fools like me, gaming wackos that love to own every game system ever created. But that doesn't mean that the Tiger Telematic's Gizmondo isn't worth remembering fondly. It may not have had many good games and those hieroglyphic face button names were a crazy idea, but I contend that when push comes to shove the Gizmondo was way ahead of its time. Join me as I drag you kicking and screaming through my tortured reasoning to ultimately find the answer to the question, Was the Gizmondo Ahead of Its Time?

Johnny Whatever

I know this guy and he never looks this happy!
What Is It? Is it a music game ... or is it an action game about a musician? Actually, it's both. Johnny Whatever was a game about a guitar wielding badass who is said to be video game's "first punk hero." Here's what the E3 2005 Gizmondo buyer's guide says about this crazy game: "The game is set in a future Lower London, where the Iron Royals have enslaved the people, outlawed rock 'n roll and imprisoned the real Queen in a vat of mustard. Law and disorder is maintained by the evil ruler's Robo-bobbies, who apprehend Johnny's band mates, the Hooligans. Suddenly, our hero finds himself the focus of a one-man revolution. With some help from inventor Roland Clockworks, rocker Johnny's guitar becomes his weapon and riffing his ammo, in a fight to free Lower London's fine folk and save rock 'n roll." Yeah, that's exactly what I was thinking.


Because there's nothing more London Punky than The White Stripes!
Ahead of Its Time? Ignore the completely pointless story about the Queen, Robo-bobbies and the vat of mustard. Johnny Whatever isn't about coherent storytelling. This is a game about playing music and rockin' bad guys. You do this in two parts, one that has you playing a Guitar Hero-style mini-game and another that offers you a chance to strum your way to victory against the legions of Robo-bobbies. Oddly enough, both of these disparate game modes were ahead of their time for a portable game system. The music side would have preceded Guitar Hero On Tour by at least two years, not to mention that it would still be the only music game to feature the likes of The White Stripes and The Troggs.

It's also worth mentioning that the other game mode, which featured a 3D action game using guitars and demonic imagery, predates Brutal Legend by several years. Granted, this game didn't feature anybody as fascinating as Jack Black, but it did have a Sid Vicious-looking heroin junkie as the lead. That has to count for something, right? For a game a game doomed from the beginning, Johnny Whatever sure did have a bunch of good ideas.

Colors
What Is It? Despite its simplistic name, Colors is anything but generic. This was a 3D open-world action game in the same vein as Grand Theft Auto. The game's gimmick was its creative use of GPS technology, which allowed you to interact with real life

Colors? I see mostly red!
people in nearby locations to create a unique "alternate reality" experience. Better still, the game featured a soundtrack full of some of the biggest up-and-coming rap artists on that side of the pond. Unfortunately the game was canceled due to budget overruns and poor sales for the Gomzondo itself.

Ahead of Its Time? When I played Colors at E3 2005 I was shocked by the game's ability to render a full 3D world on what felt like an underpowered handheld. The game's graphics weren't anything to write home about and I still haven't listened to the rap-infused soundtrack CD they gave out, but I could certainly see the potential. All this is even more impressive when you consider that Colors was shown running well before Rockstar Games offered even a screenshot of Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. These days we're used to seeing open world sandbox-style games on all of the handhelds, even the Nintendo DS. But at the time it was impressive to see how far along developers Indie Studios (yes, that's the company's name) was. Throw in the impressive addition of GPS technology and you could have had a game that put both Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories to shame. Then again, without good gameplay, a cool story and a sense of humor, Colors would have been dead in the water.

Pocket Ping Pong 2005
What Is It? Pocket Ping Pong 2005 is an esoteric take on the plight of humanity, one ball at a time. It's all about the inner struggle we all have conforming to our society and staying within the confines of the norm. It takes its inspiration

Yet it was the Plain Jane Rockstar Presents Table Tennis that won the day!
from everything from A Brief History of Time to The Holy Bible, ultimately providing a real look into the brain of psychopath. No wait, it's a ping pong game.

Ahead of Its Time? This is an easy one, Pocket Ping Pong 2005 was ready to bring back table tennis a full year before Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis. The gameplay wasn't good and the graphics were on the low end of the spectrum, but it was way ahead of its time when it came to bringing back China's most beloved indoor sport. Unlike either of the other two games we've talked about so far, Pocket Ping Pong 2005 actually hit store shelves, though only in the United Kingdom. It featured a scantily clad woman seductively sitting on a table tennis. Hey, get off of that thing! We have a game to play! Oddly enough, the out and out sex appeal that this game tries to put forth is the complete opposite of Rockstar's more mature approach. Who knew that Rockstar Games could be the mature ones for a change?

Milo and the Rainbow Nasties
What Is It? No, it's not a new Milo and Otis game, but rather a game that makes you paint

Don't ask!
the painfully dull black and white world you live in. Using a paint gun (a la Super Mario Sunshine), you add reds, blues and greens where ever you can. Sadly, this game was never shown to the game playing public and was scrapped early in development. With a Mario-style hero and a crazy cast of characters, Milo and the Rainbow Nasties proved to be one of the most promising games in the Gizmondo's stable. It's a shame that when Tiger Telematics went under they took so many brilliant third-party companies with them.

Ahead of Its Time? While it's certainly a shame that a good company was hurt by Tiger's antics, this concept lived on and became one of the most exciting action games on the Nintendo Wii console. Don't know what I'm talking about? Then I guess you didn't play de Blob, explained as " a platform puzzle video game that allows players to explore and liberate an alien city from the evil, monochromatic INKT Corporation that has taken over the city and outlawed all color and fun from daily life." Sound similar, well it should because clearly Warthog Game had the idea first. If you're one of the people that missed de Blob the first time around, then you have no excuse not to pick up this budget title.

Advertisement-Powered Gaming

In the future everything will look like this!
What Is It? There's a reason the Gizmondo never caught on. It wasn't the enormous price tag, the hieroglyphic face buttons or the fact that nobody knew who Tiger Telematic was. Instead the reason you never bought it was because of advertising. That's right, advertising. Unlike every other console ever made, Tiger Telematic had the brilliant idea that they could not only get you to buy their system and games, but also make you sit through personalized advertisements. In order to play a game, a player was subjected to a short commercial on every start up. Imagine, if you will, excited to play your new copy of Rock Band: Unplugged only to find that you have to sit

If you paid money for these games then you are part of the Gizmondo Generation!
through a commercial before the game even loads. That's what Gizmondo owners suffered through, and they liked it, dammit.

Ahead of Its Time? Let's be honest, in-game advertising is nothing new. We've been seeing in-game advertising for twenty years, and it's not about to stop any time soon. But the Gizmondo was different. It actually wanted you to watch the advert before playing a game, something more akin to television. So far nobody has followed suit with Tiger's crazy visions of an advert-dominated gaming landscape. Instead they give us games that are heavily sponsored by one or two companies, mostly given away for free. A good example of that is the upcoming 1 vs. 100 Xbox 360 game. Here is a game that allows you to play for free, but you are forced to sit through commercials for real world products and games.

There's another, most direct, parallel to advertisement-powered games. These days we're inundated by one advert-game after another, products whose sole purpose is to sell us something. Not only do we get free games for Yaris and Doritos, but Burger King actually made us pay for their substandard advertisements. Yet people bought it in droves, which leads me to wonder if Tiger really was on to something. They may not have been able to predict when it would happen, but they were on the cutting edge when it came to knowing that the public would be ready to accept any old commercial you throw at them. Heck, they might actually be excited to get it. That alone is proof that Tiger Telematic was way ahead of their time.

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