Ranking the Revisions (Guest Feature)
Well, we’re now the best part of a month removed from Christmas and, for many of us, January is a month in which to cut down on excesses and trim the fat.
But we’re not the only ones. In the world of video games, console manufacturers have also frequently taken that opportunity in the past to trim some fat of their own and save a few manufacturing dollars by revising their hardware. Some of those hardware revisions have been pretty poor – I’m looking at you, Wii Mini – but, generally speaking, revisions have worked out pretty well for the companies who have released them. Although that begs the question, which have been the best? Here are the six that I consider to have been most successful, both in terms of the redesign itself and the acclaim that those redesigns have garnered.
#6 – Xbox 360 Slim
I originally considered leaving the Xbox 360 Slim off this list, bearing in mind its creation was arguably out of necessity above anything else, but there’s no denying that it was a substantial improvement in every way imaginable. Quieter optical drive? Check. Smaller form factor? Check (and the reveal that it could fit inside an original model was a very nice touch). More energy efficient? Check. Most importantly, a much reduced chance of hardware failure? Check. This was a revision in the truest sense.
#5 – Megadrive 2 / Mega CD 2
The original Megadrive is a good console. A brooding slab of black plastic, it was the antithesis of the Super Nintendo. The original Mega CD is not a good console. Looking like a knock-off hi-fi separate, it increased the height of your Megadrive by a good four inches (don’t even get me started on the height of your set-up, once you added the black mushroom-shaped turd that was the 32X) and the disc tray seemed in permanent peril of just falling off of its own accord. So, eventually, Sega found a way to take that monolith and turn it into an impossibly small horizontal unit. The reduced Megadrive was impressive enough, but the reduced Mega CD is absolutely unrecognisable. Didn’t make the games any better, mind you, but as an engineering feat, Sega deserves top marks.
#4 – Game Boy Advance SP
The GBA is fondly remembered as one of the best handhelds of all time for its exceptional games library, being home to some of the most beloved handheld games in history. The same can’t be said for the original GBA hardware though. Whilst it was pretty decent ergonomically, the whole thing was crippled by a truly awful screen which, criminally, had no backlighting, meaning it was essentially useless in any kind of daylight. So, there was infinite rejoicing when the GBA SP model arrived. Adopting the clamshell form factor that would become a Nintendo handheld staple over the years, the SP was an even more portable device than the original and, more importantly, could actually be used outdoors, thanks to that much-needed backlighting.
#3 – PS2 Slim
If the term “monolith” was used in derisory terms to describe the crime against technology that was the Megadrive/Mega CD/32X tower of shame, then it can be used as a term of endearment when describing the original Playstation 2. It was, by no means, the most svelte of consoles, but there was something to be said for its skyscraper-esque stature, when stood on its side, allowing it to dominate any entertainment set-up without being garish. So, why is its first revision – the humble PS2 Slim – so high on the list? Well, much like the Mega CD 2, it doesn’t seem possible to fit such a large initial collection of chips and transistors into such a tiny box (something that Sony would prove remarkably adept at doing, as you’ll soon see). If the original PS2 was designed to dominate, then the Slim was designed to blend in, and it did so perfectly.
#2 – PS One
The PS One is a remarkable piece of re-engineering. It took the original PlayStation – itself a pretty nice piece of kit back then – and shrank it down to something small enough to fit ideally into an attache case or the thigh pocket of a pair of fashionable combat trousers (I’m hoping that quote rings a bell!). Combined with the advent of affordable small LCD screens, you theoretically had a portable games console that you could take and use anywhere. Even by modern technology’s standards, it’s difficult to imagine any piece of hardware being reduced in size to such an extent, but Sony have managed it not once, not twice, but three times with PlayStation consoles. I, for one, am very much looking forward to the fairly inevitable PS Four.
#1 – DS Lite
The original Nintendo DS was a perfectly acceptable piece of hardware in terms of what it could actually do, but it was also a pretty ugly console. What Nintendo did with the DS Lite was produce the perfect handheld console. Every aspect of it is in service to every other aspect of it. The reduced form factor accentuating the book-like feel of it (perfectly illustrated by the likes of Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training), making it much easier to hold. The microphone ingeniously moved from the bottom-left of the device to smack-dab in the middle of the hinge. Every button redesigned and better placed for control and comfort. A brighter screen making it more suitable for outdoor use. More than any other redesign on this list, it may also have been responsible for an increase of sales – the DS went on to become the best-selling handheld of all time and the Lite was undoubtedly a big reason for that. Add it all up and there can be little doubt that the DS Lite represents the best hardware revision of them all.
Of course, as with all appreciation of aesthetics, this is an entirely subjective matter (except for the original Mega CD – we all agree that was an objectively bad console, right? Right?). One man’s PS2 Slim is another man’s Atari Jaguar. Or something like that. Not entirely sure where I was going with that. Anyway, I’m curious to know what your favourite console revisions are, so hit me up in the comments, where I’ll be happy to argue Xbox 360 S vs Xbox 360 E all day long. All. Day. Long…
Editor’s note: This post was written by none other than Andy Manson, you can find his work on various sites ranging from Playboy to TheGameJar. If you want to pester him about his choices or show your support for his work, you can find him on Twitter under @PsychTyson.