5th Generation

1993-2001: The 3D Era

The 3D era introduced both 32-bit and 64-bit graphics, and CD-based games. It began with the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer in October 1993. However, it was the PlayStation that would be king. This generation saw the rise of polygons and 3D graphics, bringing games to life in a whole new way. Along with the 3DO and PlayStation, other notable consoles included the Sega Saturn and the Nintendo 64, which offered impressive hardware capabilities and memorable titles. Additionally, advancements in computer technology allowed for more complex game mechanics, such as AI-controlled enemies and open-world exploration. The 5th generation was a major turning point in the industry, bringing video games to new heights of popularity and setting the stage for future generations of consoles to come.

Home consoles:

  • 1993, October 4: 3DO Interactive Multiplayer
    Company: The 3DO Company
    Original price: $699.99
    2019 price: $1209.31
    Sales: 2 million
    Number of Games: 286 (214 in Japan, 162 in NA, 30 in EU)
    Best-selling game:
     Gex (over one million)
    Media: CD-ROM
    Main controller(s): standard d-pad controller
    Other peripherals: 
    light gun

3DO: The 3DO Company was founded by several individuals, including Trip Hawkins, the founder of Electronic Arts, in 1991. Prior to entering the video game industry, Trip Hawkins was the CEO of EA, a successful game publisher, and developer known for franchises such as Madden NFL and The Sims. The 3DO Company was formed with the goal of creating a new high-end, multimedia gaming console that would revolutionize the industry. 3DO entered the video game industry with its 3DO Interactive Multiplayer console in 1993. The console was designed to be a high-end, multimedia machine that could play games, music CDs, and movie CDs. The console was expensive and had limited third-party support. Despite this, the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer helped pave the way for future CD-based consoles like the original PlayStation and Sega Saturn.

The 3DO Interactive Multiplayer was a console released in 1993 by the company 3DO. It was marketed as the first 32-bit console and touted as a revolutionary system that would change the gaming landscape. The console was licensed to various manufacturers, which allowed for multiple versions of the console to be released.

One of the most unique features of the 3DO was its ability to play both CD-ROM and audio CDs. This was a first for a gaming console and opened up new possibilities for interactive media. The 3DO also boasted impressive technical specifications for its time, including a 32-bit RISC CPU, 2 MB of RAM, and hardware acceleration for texture mapping and polygon rendering.

Despite its technical capabilities and unique features, the 3DO struggled to find a foothold in the crowded video game market. The high price point of the console and lack of exclusive titles limited its appeal to gamers. Ultimately, the 3DO failed to make a significant impact on the industry and was discontinued in 1996. However, its legacy lives on, as it paved the way for future consoles with CD-ROM capabilities and helped spur the development of more advanced graphics and sound in gaming.

  • 1993, November 23: Atari Jaguar
    Company: Atari Corporation
    Original price: $249.99
    2019 price: $431.59
    Sales: Under 250,000
    Number of Games: 50 (6 after discontinued)
    Best-selling game: Alien vs Predator (over 50,000)
    Media: ROM cartridge, CD-ROM via Jaguar CD add-on
    Main controller(s): Pro controller (large d-pad)
    Other peripherals: 
    Atari Jaguar CD add-on, Jaguar VR, JagLink (network play), and unlicensed peripherals

The Atari Jaguar was released in 1993 and marketed as the first 64-bit gaming console, although that claim is debatable. It was Atari’s last console release and unfortunately, it was a commercial failure. Despite this, the console garnered a dedicated fanbase due to its unique design and features.

One of the Jaguar’s biggest selling points was its innovative controller. It featured a number pad, two sets of action buttons, and a “pro” controller that resembled a flight stick. The console also had some impressive technical specifications, including a 64-bit processor and support for virtual reality headsets. However, the Jaguar’s library of games was limited and many were underwhelming in terms of graphics and gameplay.

Despite its lackluster sales, the Jaguar remains a popular console among collectors and retro gaming enthusiasts. Its unique design and controller make it a standout in gaming history, and some of its games, such as Alien vs. Predator, have gained cult followings.

  • 1994, November 22 (JP): Sega Saturn
    1995, May 11 (NA): Sega Saturn
    Company: Sega
    Original price: $399.99
    2019 price: $661.51
    Sales: 9.26 million
    Number of Games: 1019 (not including software programs)
    Best-selling game: Virtua Fighter 2 (1.7 million in Japan)

    Media: CD-Rom
    Main controller(s): standard d-pad controller
    Other peripherals: 3D pad, Saturn multitap, RAM backup cartridge

A year later in 1994, the Sega Saturn debuted in Japan. Sega began to feel the heat from Sony and the upcoming PlayStation. After announcing to American audiences the price would be $399, Sony’s president infamously took the stage, and dropped his scripted speech for one simple word, “$299.” By undercutting Sega by $100, and offering a similar product, Sony won over many fans before the launch of their initial console. Sega scrambled to launch its console, and the rest is history. Sega’s paranoia resulted in many of its games being rushed to production, hence, hurting its quality.

The Sega Saturn was Sega’s response to the growing popularity of the PlayStation. It was initially released in Japan in 1994 but had a limited launch in North America and Europe in 1995. The console had some innovative features, such as the ability to play games on multiple discs, but it struggled to compete with the PlayStation’s lower price point and more robust game library.

Despite being an advanced console for its time, the Sega Saturn was not as successful as its predecessor, the Sega Genesis. Sega’s mismanagement of the console’s launch and lack of third-party support hurt its overall sales. However, the Sega Saturn still has a dedicated fanbase and many classic games, such as “NiGHTS into Dreams” and “Panzer Dragoon Saga.”

Sega didn’t go down without a fight, Sinking a lot of money into its advertising campaign. This resulted in Sega continuing its “hata-rade” marketing campaign.

  • 1994, December 3 (JP): PlayStation
    1995,  September 9 (NA): PlayStation
    Company: Sony
    Original price: $299.99
    2019 price: $492.89
    Sales: 102.49 million
    Number of Games: 7,978 worldwide
    Best-selling game: Gran Tourismo (10.85 million)

    Media: CD-Rom
    Main controller(s): PlayStation Controller (four directional buttons rather than d-pad), Dual Analog Controller, DualShock Controller
    Other peripherals: PlayStation Link Cable (PlayStation to PlayStation), PlayStation Memory Card, PocketStation (Japan)

Sony: Before entering the video game market, Sony was primarily known for its high-quality consumer electronics products, such as TVs, audio equipment, and portable music players. They also had a successful music division, with their record label producing popular artists like Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen. In the mid-1990s, Sony entered the video game market with the release of the PlayStation console. The PlayStation boasted 32-bit graphics and was the first CD-based game console, which made it cheaper to develop and provided more storage for games, giving developers more freedom. The console’s success helped establish Sony as a major player in the gaming industry.

In December of 1994, the Sony PlayStation was released in Japan. During the development of the SNES, Sony was working on a CD attachment for the SNES. Long story short, Nintendo became paranoid over this relationship with Sony and left Sony at the altar. Sony appealed to…, who also left them at the altar. By doing so, Nintendo created its greatest nightmare, Sony decided to launch the PlayStation on their own. The PlayStation would go on to set a new sales record, breaking the previous sales record of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Boasting 32-bit graphics, the PlayStation could achieve some of the earlier 3D graphics, but more importantly developed a host of great games, both first and third-party. Frustrated with Nintendo’s Draconian restrictions on third-party developers, many developers switched their focus to the PlayStation.

The PlayStation was also a CD-based console, which made it cheaper to develop, and the medium provided more storage for games, thus giving developers more freedom. A typical CD held 700 megabytes of memory, much larger than any disk-based game before it. One of the most notable aspects of the PlayStation was its controller, which was an evolution of the SNES controller, but with the addition of two shoulder buttons and analog sticks. This controller design would become the standard for generations to come. Another key feature of the PlayStation was its emphasis on bringing 3D graphics to the forefront of gaming, which was achieved through its powerful hardware and the use of texture mapping. The console also had a memory card for game saves, allowing players to continue their progress in their favorite games.

The PlayStation’s success paved the way for Sony to become a major player in the video game industry, as well as inspired competitors to step up their game in terms of hardware and game development. The console would eventually sell over 100 million units worldwide, making it one of the best-selling consoles of all time. The PlayStation also saw the rise of iconic franchises such as Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, and Gran Turismo, among others. It was a pivotal moment in gaming history and one that would shape the industry for years to come.

  • 1996, June 23 (JP): Nintendo 64
    1996, September 29 (NA): Nintendo 64
    Company: Nintendo
    Original price: $199.99
    2019 price: $319.01
    Sales: 32.93 million
    Number of Games: 389 (296 in North America, 242 in Europe, 196 in Japan)
    Best-selling game: Mario 64 (11.62 million)

    Media: ROM cartridge (Nintendo 64 Game Pak), Proprietary Magnetic Disk via Nintendo 64 DD
    Main controller(s): Nintendo 64 controller (d-pad and analog stick)
    Other peripherals: Nintendo 64 DD (released in Japan)

In 1996, the Nintendo 64 was released first in Japan, and later in the US. The Nintendo 64 was a quality system with quality games and many of these games live on in the hearts of gamers today. However, this will be the first Nintendo home console that failed to win the console war for its respective generation. The major mistake Nintendo made with this system was sticking to the older and antiquated technology of a cartridge-based system. The Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation switched to disk-based systems, which were cheaper to produce and gave developers more storage for creating their games.

The Nintendo 64 was a groundbreaking console that was the first to feature true 3D graphics. It was also the first Nintendo console to introduce the now-iconic analog joystick. Despite these innovations, the system’s use of cartridges ultimately proved to be its downfall, as the cost of producing them was much higher than that of the CD-ROMs used by its competitors. The N64 still managed to produce many classic games, such as Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, that are still beloved by fans to this day.

One of the biggest selling points of the Nintendo 64 was its multiplayer capabilities. The console featured four controller ports, allowing players to enjoy games like Mario Party and GoldenEye 007 with friends. The system also had a unique look, with its distinctive trident shape and bold colors. The N64’s controller was also ahead of its time, with its ergonomic design and trigger buttons that would later become standard on controllers for future consoles. Despite the system’s relatively short lifespan, the Nintendo 64 remains a beloved classic among gamers, and its legacy can still be felt in the industry today.

Console add-ons:

  • 1994, November 21: 32X
    Company: Sega
    Original price: $159.99
    2019 price: $269.01
    Sales: 665,000
    Number of Games: 40 (36 in North America, 27 in Europe, 18 in Japan, one in Brazil)
    Best-selling game:
    Media: ROM cartridge

The Sega 32X was an ambitious attempt by Sega to upgrade their 16-bit console, the Genesis, to 32-bit graphics. The 32X was a peripheral that attached to the top of the Genesis, allowing for improved graphics and processing power. While it was a cool idea in theory, the execution left much to be desired.

The major problem with the 32X was timing. It was released in 1994, just as the 16-bit era was winding down and the 32-bit era was about to begin. The 32X was ultimately overshadowed by the release of the Sega Saturn, which was a true 32-bit console with a dedicated game library. Furthermore, the lack of a robust game library for the 32X made it difficult for the system to gain traction, and it was ultimately considered a commercial failure for Sega.

  • 1995, September 21: Atari Jaguar CD
    Company: Atari
    Original price: $149.95
    2019 price: $246.37
    Sales: N/A
    Number of Games: 11
    Best-selling game:
    Media: CD-ROM, (cartridge slot for regular Atari Jaguar games)

The Atari Jaguar CD was a CD-based add-on for the Atari Jaguar, released in 1995. Although it was meant to breathe new life into the Jaguar, the CD add-on was ultimately a commercial failure due to its high price point, lack of quality games, and poor marketing. It was released during a period when the video game industry was transitioning from 2D to 3D graphics, and the Jaguar CD was unable to keep up with its competitors, such as the Sony PlayStation and the Sega Saturn.

The Jaguar CD was also plagued with technical issues, such as long load times and compatibility problems. Despite the add-on’s failure, it did have a few standout titles, such as “Blue Lightning” and “Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands.” The add-on’s failure also contributed to the decline of the Atari brand, which had been a dominant force in the video game industry during the 70s and 80s. Ultimately, the Atari Jaguar CD is remembered as a cautionary tale of the dangers of poor timing, high prices, and a lack of quality games.

  • 1999, December 1 (JP): Nintendo 64DD
    Company: Nintendo
    Original price: N/A
    2019 price: N/A
    Sales: 15,000
    Number of Games: 4 (23 canceled)
    Best-selling game:
    Media: Disks (36 megabyte ROM drive)

The lowest-selling console in Nintendo’s history, the Nintendo 64DD was an add-on for the Nintendo 64 that was released only in Japan in 1999. It was marketed as an extension to the N64, with the ability to play games in a rewritable magnetic disk format. Despite its potential, the 64DD failed to catch on, and it was eventually discontinued. One of the reasons for its lack of success was its high price, as the 64DD was priced at around $200, which was significantly more expensive than the Nintendo 64 itself.

The 64DD was also plagued by a lack of developer support, as many game developers were not interested in creating games for the add-on due to its limited market penetration. Despite its shortcomings, the 64DD did manage to release a few noteworthy titles, such as Mario Artist and F-Zero X Expansion Kit. Despite its limited release, the 64DD remains a cult classic among Nintendo fans and collectors, with its rarity and unique design making it a coveted item for many gamers.

Second-tier consoles:

  • 1993, February 23: Fujitsu FM Towns Marty (Fujitsu)
  • 1993, September 17: Amiga CD32 (Commodore)
  • 1994: September 9: Neo Geo CD (SNK)
  • 1994, September 23 (JP): Playdia (Bandai)
  • 1994, December 23: NEC PC-FX (NEC)
  • 1994: CPS Changer (Capcom)
  • 1995, March 28: Apple Bandai Pippin (Bandai)
  • 1995, September 21: Atari Jaguar CD (Atari)
  • 1995, October (JP): Casio Loopy (Casio)

Portable consoles:

  • 1995, October: Sega Nomad
    Company: Sega
    Original price: $180
    2019 price: $294.78
    Sales: N/A
    Number of Games: 897 from the Sega Genesis (13 games have issues)
    Best-selling game:
    Sonic the Hedgehog (for Sega Genesis)
    Media: ROM cartridge

The first true fifth-generation handheld system was the Sega Nomad was another innovative concept, obstructed by poor timing and a high price point. Like the Turbografx Xpress, it played console games on the go. Like the Turbografx Xpress, it had a high price point that priced itself out of the market.

Despite being released in 1995, the Sega Nomad boasted impressive hardware that outpaced its competition. The system featured a color screen, a six-button layout, and compatibility with Genesis cartridges. However, the system’s high price tag of $180, coupled with the release of the cheaper and more successful Game Boy, led to disappointing sales for the Nomad. Additionally, the system suffered from short battery life, limiting its portability. Despite being a unique and ambitious handheld system, the Nomad struggled to find a place in the market and ultimately faded into obscurity.

  • 1995: R-Zone
    Company: Tiger Electronics
    Original price: $29.99
    2019 price: $50.23 (approximately, release month unknown)
    Number of Games: N/A
    Best-selling game:
    Media: N/A

Tiger Electronics: Tiger Electronics was a subsidiary of the toy company Hasbro and primarily manufactured low-tech toys such as handheld electronic games, electronic toys, and talking toys before entering the video game market. They were known for their inexpensive and simple electronic toys that were popular in the 1980s and 1990s. They also produced licensed products such as toys based on popular franchises like Star Wars, Power Rangers, and G.I. Joe. Tiger Electronics eventually entered the video game market with their line of portable LCD games, which were a huge success in the 1990s.

The Tiger Electronics R-Zone was a handheld console that was released in 1995. Its main draw was its unique display, which utilized a head-mounted LCD screen that required the player to look through a viewfinder to see the game. Unfortunately, the R-Zone suffered from poor execution and low-quality games.

The console’s limited processing power and lack of button controls made for clunky gameplay, and the R-Zone’s screen suffered from poor resolution and a lack of color. Despite these flaws, the R-Zone did manage to produce a few interesting titles, such as a port of the classic game Mortal Kombat. However, it ultimately failed to capture the attention of gamers, and Tiger Electronics would eventually abandon the console market altogether.

  • 1995, July 21 (JP): Virtual Boy
    1995, August 14 (N/A): Virtual Boy
    Company: Nintendo
    Original price: $179.95
    2019 price: $296.24
    Sales: 770,000
    Number of Games: 22 (19 in Japan, 14 in North America)
    Best-selling game:
    ROM cartridge

The Nintendo Virtual Boy was a groundbreaking but ultimately unsuccessful console that hit store shelves in 1995. It was unique in that it was one of the first home video game systems to use virtual reality technology, which allowed players to experience games in 3D. However, the system’s high price point, clunky design, and limited game library ultimately led to its downfall.

The Virtual Boy was marketed as a portable console, but its bulky headset and reliance on AC power made it inconvenient for on-the-go gaming. Additionally, the system’s red-and-black color scheme, which was intended to create a 3D effect, often resulted in eye strain and headaches for players. Despite the system’s shortcomings, the Virtual Boy did have some innovative and enjoyable games, such as “Mario’s Tennis” and “Teleroboxer.” Nevertheless, the system’s failure contributed to a slowdown in the virtual reality market, which wouldn’t see a resurgence until the mid-2010s.

  • 1997, August: Game.com
    Company: Tiger Electronics
    Original price: $69.95
    2019 price: $109.50
    Sales: Less than 300,000
    Number of Games: 17 (6 canceled)
    Best-selling game:
    Lights Out
    ROM cartridge

The Tiger Game.com was an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful handheld system released in 1997. It was designed to be a multi-purpose device that could play games, access the internet, and even serve as a personal organizer. However, the execution of these features left much to be desired.

One of the main issues with the Game.com was its low-quality screen, which lacked backlighting and made it difficult to see the graphics. Another problem was the lack of quality games for the system. While it had some popular titles like Resident Evil 2 and Sonic Jam, many of the games were poorly designed and unenjoyable to play. Despite these issues, the Game.com was an interesting precursor to modern handheld devices that integrate multiple functions. However, its limitations ultimately prevented it from becoming a successful product.

  • 1998, October 21 (JP): Game Boy Color (GBC)
    1998, November 18 (N/A): Game Boy Color (GBC)
    Company: Nintendo
    Original price: $69.99
    2019 price: $107.42
    Sales: 14.51 million
    Number of Games:
    882 exclusives (1049 backward compatible Game Boy games)
    Best-selling game: 
    Pokémon Gold and Silver (Tetris if counting backward compatible Game Boy games)
    ROM cartridge

Released in 1998 by Nintendo, the Gameboy Color was a successor to the original Gameboy and boasted a number of improvements over its predecessor. For starters, it featured a color display, allowing games to be presented in full color for the first time on a Nintendo handheld. It also had twice the processing power of the original Gameboy, which meant that games could be more complex and visually impressive. What really set the Gameboy Color apart was its library of games. With classics like The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX, Pokémon Gold and Silver, and Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, the Gameboy Color had something for everyone. Whether you were a fan of action games RPGs, or puzzle games, there 2as no shortage of titles to choose from.

Of course, one of the most iconic features of the Gameboy Color was its design. With its compact size, classic button layout, and signature “power-on” light, the Gameboy Color was instantly recognizable and became a cultural phenomenon in its own right. While the non-backlit color screen pales in comparison to modern solutions such as IPS kits exist to breathe life back into these units. Despite being released over two decades ago, the Gameboy Color continues to hold a special place in the hearts of gamers everywhere. It’s library of games remains as impressive as ever, and it’s design remains a testament 6i 5hr enduring appeal of classic gaming hardware. With its timeless design, impressive library of games, and legendary status in gaming history, the Gameboy Color is a true classic that will always be remembered fondly by gamers everywhere.

  • 1998: October 28 (JP): Neo Geo Pocket
    Company: SNK
    Original price: N/A
    2019 price: N/A
    Sales: N/A
    Number of Games: 82 worldwide (9 monochrome games designed for this system)
    Best-selling game: 
    Media: ROM cartridge

Released in the Asian markets, the Neo Geo Pocket was never released in the West. Interestingly enough the Neo Geo Pocket is forward compatible with most games from the Neo Geo Pocket Color, although the games do play in monochrome. It featured portable versions of classic SNK games such as Baseball Stars. However, the conception of this system was poor timing. A week before this monochrome system came out, Nintendo rolled out the Game Boy Color. The system was discontinued within a year to make way for its successor, the Neo Geo Pocket Color.

  • 1999, March 4 (JP): WonderSwan
    2000, December 9 (JP): WonderSwan Color
    2002, July 12 (JP): SwanCrystal
    Company: Bandai
    Original price: ¥4,800, ¥6800, ¥7800
    2019 price: ¥4,853.83, ¥6,952.43, ¥8,105.45
    Sales:  3.5 million (1.55 million, 1.2 million, 750,000)
    Number of Games: 102
    Best-selling game: 
    ROM cartridge

Bandai: Before entering the video game market, Bandai was primarily known for producing toys, including action figures and model kits. However, the company began to show an interest in video games as early as the late 1970s, when it partnered with Magnavox to release the Magnavox Odyssey 2 in Japan. In the following years, Bandai produced a number of arcade games, including Pac-Man and Galaxian. Bandai’s first major entry into the video game market was with the release of the WonderSwan in 1999, a handheld console that was developed in collaboration with Gunpei Yokoi, the creator of the Game Boy.

The WonderSwan had some decent third-party support, bringing over Final Fantasy games and arcade classics such as Space Invaders. However, the controls were considered inferior and it lacked basic ports, including a charging port and one for headphones. Bandai believed its monochrome system could defeat Game Boy Color, the same way Game Boy defeated Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear. Bandai could not hope to challenge the monolith that was Nintendo, especially since the Game Boy had evolved into a color version.

  • 1999, March 16 (JP): Neo Geo Pocket Color
    1999, August 6 (NA): Neo Geo Pocket Color
    Company: SNK
    Original price: $69.95
    2019 price: $105.37
    Sales: N/A
    Number of Games: 82 (48 backward compatible)
    Best-selling game:
    ROM cartridge

In 1998, SNK released the Neo Geo Pocket Color, a handheld console that could compete with the Game Boy Color. The system boasted a 16-bit color screen, high-quality graphics, and excellent sound quality. The Neo Geo Pocket Color had an impressive battery life and was praised for its comfortable design.

The system had a small library of games, but the games were of high quality and some were even ported from the Neo Geo arcade system. The Neo Geo Pocket Color also had a unique feature called the “link cable” that allowed players to connect their handhelds and play multiplayer games. Despite its great potential, the Neo Geo Pocket Color was overshadowed by Nintendo’s Game Boy and eventually discontinued in 2001, leaving fans of the console feeling like it was a forgotten gem in the history of handheld gaming.

  • 2000, December 9 (JP): WonderSwan Color
    Company: Bandai
    Original price: ¥6,800
    2019 price: ¥6,952.43
    Sales: 1.1 million
    Number of Games: 102 (18 backward compatible titles)
    Best-selling game:
    ROM cartridge

The WonderSwan Color was a handheld console developed by Bandai and released in Japan in 2000. The console was an upgraded version of the original WonderSwan, featuring a color screen and improved hardware. Despite the console’s success in Japan, it was not as popular in other regions, with limited releases outside of Japan.

One of the unique features of the WonderSwan Color was its ability to connect to Bandai’s popular Tamagotchi virtual pets, allowing players to raise and interact with virtual pets on the handheld console. The console also had a unique design, with a vertical orientation and a single speaker located at the top of the device. Despite its limited success, the WonderSwan Color had a dedicated fanbase and a library of unique games, many of which were only released in Japan.