3DO?  OK... NOW!
by Jeff Cooper

Most of us gamers meet the news of a system's death with mixed emotions. Remember when the ColecoVision died? No more new games, end of and era . . . that was all depressing. But before long, tons of old ColecoVision games and even newer releases became available at wildly discounted prices. Those who didn't own the system had a chance to get one--with plenty of games--very inexpensively.

Lost amidst all the hullabaloo in the last year over the Playstation and N64 has been the rather quiet death of the 3DO.

Most people couldn't care less. They dismiss or even despise the 3DO, and won't even consider picking up a system and games, regardless of the price. I think the attitudes behind that response need to be examined.

The 3DO failed for many reasons. First, and most obviously, it was ridiculously priced. In pricing the console at $699, 3DO immediately eliminated kids, teenagers, and college students from the market. How much of a market is left after that? I own every system ever made, but never even considered buying a 3DO--in short, it was out of range for even hard core video nuts like me.

Okay, I'll take some of that back. I did consider the 3DO. Usually, I first decide whether I want something, then I decide if I can afford to buy it. 3DO so botched the release of their system that I never got to the second stage--that is to say, I never really even wanted a 3DO. Here's the scenario. I walk into Babbages in 1993 and I'm being asked to part with a cool $700 for the newest technology. Man, I think, this thing must rock. It must play the coolest, most revolutionary games. But what games were available? At first practically nothing. Nothing much I'd ever heard of. 3DO certainly didn't have the name recognition of Nintendo, Sega, or even Atari. I'm a sucker for anything new, but none of the first games looked so great that I really had to have them. In fact, as more software began coming out, the library seemed like a collection of really bizarre shit: those Putt Putt kiddy games, the ESPN sports instructional videos, maps and almanacs, stuff about birds. "What the hell is this thing," I thought. For this huge amount of cash I'm expecting a killer game system. But at one point I looked over the software on the shelf and a majority of the titles weren't even games!

Well games started coming, but the media was not kind to the 3DO. In hindsight, they didn't seem to approach the games in terms of whether they were fun to play, or whether they were an advance over anything out there. Rather, they said, "For a $700 system, this game better absolutely blow me away." If early titles like Escape from Monster Manor or some of the golf offerings had appeared on the SNES, the reviewers would have been blown away. But in light of the 3DO's price tag, the games didn't cut it, or at least that's the sense I got from the mags.

Other problems became greatly magnified by the 3DO's price point. A few games came out that genuinely stunk. That's the case with every new system, but the existence of bad games on a $700 console seemed all the more outrageous. And then word got out that the controllers sucked. I'll bet that even now if you took a poll among non-3DO-owning gamers, most would tell you that, as best as they know, control is a problem for many 3DO games. I think lots of people--like me--became hardened against the 3DO, and refused to consider buying one even as the price for the console dropped and dropped and dropped. With its absurd cost, the flubbed release, the bad press, the initial batch of crappy games or non-games, the 3DO was indelibly stamped as the Heaven's Gate of the videogame world.

Nevertheless, once the 3DO matured, over a million units were sold worldwide. And that (admittedly limited) success came because of problems the 3DO did NOT have: contrary to popular perceptions, the hardware is advanced (at the very least a huge leap over the 16-bit systems), and is there is no shortage of good 3DO games. Indeed, aside from the important and obvious fact that it's a dead system, just about all the problems associated with the 3DO are now gone, and for the giveaway prices involved, 3DO is one of the best bargains around on the videogame market. Let's look at specifics.

The Price: The unit once cost $700. Games typically ran about $55 each. You can now pick up a working 3DO with a sizeable batch of games on the internet for $150. Hell, I saw a 3DO system with forty-seven boxed games (most of them good ones) go for $110. That's better than you're gonna do buying used NES! That deal was a fluke, but systems are available from dealers for around $70 or less: see www.vglq.com, which also has a vast supply of new games that range in price from $3 to $12. (A DP staffer is picking me up a new 3DO for $39, but I don't know where he's getting it). Again, you can do real well if you buy a package deal off the net. Though you may be too late, Wal-Mart is blowing out games all over the place, new for $5. I don't know if Funcoland has any 3DO left, but they were basically giving games away over the summer.

The Library (Game Quantity): For the longest time, 3DO owners suffered the same fate that Jaguar owners did: they had a cool, expensive console, but little to play on it. This is no longer a problem. I don't know how many games were made for the 3DO, but the 3DO library is large and diverse. Whether you want sports titles, shooters, space games, driving contests, fighting games, or tests of strategy, you'll find good software for the 3DO. No, the library does not even approach the size of the PSX's. And the games are not as "advanced." But you're not paying $50 a pop, either (you can get eight to ten 3DO games for the price of one Playstation game), and most DP readers understand that games can still be a lot of fun even if they're "old."

The Controllers: I have a Panasonic 3DO model FZ-10, one of the later ones; I imagine they may have redesigned and improved the controllers over time. Regardless, I have had little trouble with the pads. Moreover, joysticks, a flightstick, a driving controller, a light gun, and a wide variety of third-party pad controllers were eventually released for the 3DO. I bought a 3DO/SNES controller adapter from www. swapusa.com, and it works great. Some of these items are tough to locate, but in general good controllers are readily available and really inexpensive. The "controller problem" (if it indeed ever existed) is a non-issue.

Game Quality: I recently went through hundreds of mags dating from 1992 to 1996, to see what they had to say about 3DO titles. The initial reception was quite cool. The problem, as I've indicated, was that, considering the system's price, the mags expected the games to be flawless and revolutionary. Few lived up to those expectations. According to the reviews, some were downright mediocre. Some, like a lot of the FMV stuff, were experiments that flopped. But, as we would expect, the quality of 3DO releases improved over time. Eventually reviewers began to give most new titles very solid (if not spectacular) grades. And the reviewers were so impressed by several games that they described them as "don't miss" titles and "system sellers"--even when the 3DO console was still going for $300-$400! Few gamers listened, but when all was said and done, many fine games appeared for the 3DO and remain available.

The bottom line is the bottom line--that is, money. A 3DO with a dozen games at $1,300 was a travesty, one of the great absurdities in the history of videogames. But today, a 3DO with a dozen carefully-chosen titles packs a lot of fun for $125-$150. And if you wish to expand your library to 30 or 40 titles, you can do so for a song--and you'll still be buying entertaining games. Start shopping around!

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Last updated Tuesday, February 13, 2007 06:01 PM