Curious Video Game Machines review - a series of strange consoles such as the Casio Loopy

Curious Video Game Machines review – a trip into the dark side of gaming

If there’s one thing to be said about video games is that one might never know what’s coming up next. Other industries might – perhaps – get more respect from the general audience, but the gaming industry always knows how to surprise the consumers with strange ideas and off-the-wall mechanics. Naturally, some of those strange ideas might become the next big hit, like the Nintendo Wii for example, but others might just become nothing more than future Curious Video Game Machines. And that’s where Lewis Packwood comes in.

Packwood is the author of Curious Video Game Machines, a 235 pages book all about… well, the title says it all, doesn’t it? Here be a series of quite strange video game machines. Lewis takes a dive into several quite obscure and strange machines, ranging from VHS consoles to the Master System Girl, the Casio Loopy and the Barcode Battler(s), to see how they came to be developed, why they were – for the most part – not very successful and what happened next.

Some of the chapters are focused on a single machine or computer, for example the first chapter which goes all in on the 1977 Kimtanktics, a unique wargame machine developed and built by Chris Crawford. Other chapters seem to delve more on a more broad “topic”, for example checking how there were an incredible number of VHS-based gaming consoles which have been, today, all but forgotten such as the ActionMax and the Video Challenger.

The book features so many beautiful images from collectors all around the world, happy to lend their photographic skills to the project. But make no mistake, this is not a book “by collectors for collectors”, this is all about gaming history, and curious history at that. Right from the get-go, Packwood establishes a true and refreshing historian look at things, going out to interview the original developers – where possible – but also surgically reconstructing the history of all these strange and weird machines.

Naturally, trying to establish a true history of machines that, for the most part, have been forgotten by time is no easy task at all, but Packwood has been working on this topic for quite a few years and his wealth of information is definitely impressive. Many of these machines were already the topics of articles he has written in the past, so the experience definitely pays off.

Especially interesting to read today are the chapters on Virtual Reality and the second life of the Amiga CD32. Engineer Richard Holmes talks about the short experience with the Virtuality series of machines, an early 90s series of virtual reality cabinets (and huge ones at that) which came in different versions, like a stand-up version or a sitdown one.

While the work started on the Amiga, it would later go on with PC as well. The team had to grapple with problems – still very much present today – of users feeling vulnerable while being shutdown from the outside world or going to hurt themselves. Despite their success with the audience and machines being shipped all around the world, the company would still have to fold by the late 90s, because of rising costs and failed partnerships.

The Amiga CD32 is definitely a machine with a story, one that was not particularly successful, as Packwood retells the history of the Amiga series and its less-than-happy ending with Commodore’s rushed and failed attempt at a console. But the CD32 would not bite the big one just yet, as unsold consoles were being repurposed to, well, arcade machines.

Luca Crisafulli talks about the CUBO CD32, since apparently the Commodore consoles were “ideal to act as arcade innards, since they were easily destructible and the games were updateable: you only had to send the disk!”. Dozens of games were developed for the CUBO so, at the very least, Commodore had one last true shot at glory. In Italy, at least.

Curious Video Game Machines by Lewis Packwood is a well written and well researched piece of obscure gaming history. It will definitely make for a great addition to any gamers’ home. With a curious author on the hunt for stories to tell, this is a book that could easily get a sequel and I, for one, would be more than happy to take a look.

Our review of Curious Video Game Machines was made possible by a review copy provided by the publisher, White Owl. Curious Video Game Machines is available on Barnes & Noble.

Curious Video Game Machines: Curious Video Game Machines is an incredibly well-researched book, filled with obscure stories, wonderful photos and juicy tidbits. A manna from heaven for any gaming historian and gaming lovers in general. Damiano Gerli

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Damiano Gerli

Damiano Gerli was born with a faithful Commodore 64 by his side. It taught him how to program basic adventure games and introduced him to new genres. Then, he fell in love with Sega -- while the Master System wasn't as powerful as the Genesis, it was where he played Sonic and Outrun. Years later, he got the idea that he was the most Sega-knowledgeable person in the world, so he opened a website in 1997, The Genesis Temple. Damiano is a gaming industry professional and historian, loves adventure and indie titles, but he never shies away from action and triple-A RPGs. Basically, Damiano is been writing about videogames for 20 years, with no plans to stop. Say hi to him on X at @damgentemp.