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Gizmondo: The little handheld that couldn't


I had planned on my second entry to be about the Handy Fami 8, a wondrous device that plays original Nintendo games, however, I recently received a Gizmondo from the Ebay and spent the time I had set aside to write about Handy Fami 8 mucking about with the Gizmondo. By mucking about I mean trying to install a software update that would allow it to run unsigned apps. Why is homebrew so difficult to get installed? I think that homebrew software is poorly documented in addition to being from questionable sources. Please homebrew people document your software and make it easy to install. Cause even barring the possibility that I am a moron, I am inherently lazy.

The story of Gizmondo is frankly more interesting then the device itself. I recommend searching for "The story of Gizmondo" on YouTube. It's like Romeo and Juliet but with nerds and cars and no love story to speak of. So really nothing like Romeo and Juliet at all. Cliffnotes version goes like this, Gizmondo starts up and pays it's CEOs stupid amounts of money for coming up with business plans that include selling a device with "Smart Ads", a feature that drops the price of Gizmondo with this 'feature' but force owners to watch ads several times a day. Huge press events are held complete with champaign and booth babes, these events equate to bonfires of cash and help shake investor confidence. Next, Stefan Eriksson, a CEO, drives his Ferrari Enzo down California's Pacific Coast Highway drunk at 200 MPH and blames a mysterious German for the wreck and then claims to work for homeland security. Things go downhill from there. It is at once awful and hilarious. One of the most endearing thing about some of the more obscure handhelds is their rather spectacular levels of failure. Although the system itself is merely mediocre the company that made it more than made up for the Gizmondo units's relatively modest amount of suck.

The device itself is roughly the size of a closed original DS and has about half the screen space of either the PSP or Nintendo DS and probably better screen resolution aside does not seem to be as graphically robust as either. This could be due to the fact that very few games were released for Gizmondo and developers never really figured out how to best program for the device, or could be simply that it is in fact an inferior product. I tend towards the latter explanation since the device does a bit of everything and none of it very well.

So what all does Gizmondo do?

    1. It plays games (discussed later).
    2. It plays Music and Video reasonably well.
    3. It has some PDA functionality but no touch screen that PDAs really need.
    4. It has GPS which seems to require a service plan.
    5. It can send text messages and surf the web, with a cell provider.
    6. It’s a camera of cheap cellphone quality.
    7. It fits ergonomically into your hands.

This last point is rather interesting since the trend for portable electronics has recently been to mimic an Apple product as much as possible. Gizmondo is curvy with a row of softly shaped unresponsive buttons along the top edge and a pair of antenna like trigger buttons that give the console “Shrek head” like appearance. I did not come to this last observation on my own as a quick google search for “Gizmondo Shrek head” will attest. The buttons also have a unique labeling system foregoing traditional letters or shapes and replacing them with Stop, Go, Fast Forward and, Rewind buttons. This might be an early sign that this is not really a gaming device but a kin of the PMP type devices that seem to be constantly developed in China or Taiwan.

Really though what matters most in a game machine is the quality of the games. There are around a dozen games for the system. Most of them are pretty much trash but P.O.D. is decent. I do need to mention that the system takes several seconds to boot up then most of the games I tried take several seconds to load. P.O.D. is an exception probably because it has very simple graphics and game play. The same techno tune chirps thru the built in speakers the entire game. The game itself takes place on a grid and is not entirely dissimilar from Centipede. This old schoolesque game does not suffer from poor framerate or low poly 3d which saves it from the problems that other Giz games face.

Overall I could recommend this system to nobody except the collector. Maybe if It had been made with a bit more focus on games and less ill conceived bells and whistles it would still be in the fray with Sony and the Big N. Sara is insisting that I come to bed. I spent much of the day recovering from a bike wreck that I had last night. My handle bar hit a fence and I fell so that the tip of the bar hit my ribs with the full force of my body. I would feel bad about it but then I think of Eriksson who wrecked his Ferrari Enzo then his entire company. I suppose I should thank him both for the perspective and for one more system in my collection.

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