No matter the reason you clicked on this introduction article, be it sheer bewilderment as to why at least one of the team here at RetroGameGeeks would even think to cover this particular ill-fated and much disregarded handheld or perhaps simple: “I have no idea what that is”. Either’s plausible, but the point is you’re here now! So read on as we fill you in on the need-to-knows of the Tiger Game.Com…
Tiger Electronics were mostly known for their handheld LCD games in the late 1980’s and through the 1990’s, but they did have a couple of forays into the interchangeable cart-based, let’s say portable gaming market. Portable, as the other did not actually start it’s life as a handheld, but ended up such. But that is another console for another article. The Game.Com (or game.com (you don’t pronounce the ‘dot’)) hit the shelves Stateside (soon following elsewhere in the world) back in the September of ’97. Sega had bowed out of the handheld market and with the Game Boy being as dominant as it was, there was certainly some gains to be had through gaps in the market. Enter the Tiger.
Launching with a bizarre and forcibly hip marketing campaign that essentially called its potential customers brain-dead idiots (though in the principal of satire), it didn’t really cause much of a splash commercially at launch. But technologically speaking, it was at least different in a good way. Even if that means in theory alone. The console sought to be a part of a maturing audience of gamers, who would want their system of choice to do more. To facilitate, the Game.Com was a tad of a hybrid, with features such as a Phone Book, Calculator and Calendar – all of which was built-in/written to the ROM (along with Solitaire, as standard at the time). Peripheral-wise this went further, as you could even hook it up to a modem and go online to check your e-mails, etc. To top all of that, it was (fairly primitive by the standards set by the much later Nintendo DS) a touchscreen device and came with its own little stylus. If all that originality (at least for a handheld in ’97) wasn’t enough, it also had two cartridge slots so you could technically have two games on the go at all times.
Tiger being Tiger, they managed to snap up a few big licenses to help shift the console (not that it really did anything, after being ignored by video game journalists and the like), which included big guns like Capcom, Midway, Atari and most notably Sega to allow them to make in-house developed ports (yes, all Game.Com official titles were developed and distributed by Tiger Electronics themselves) of some big name titles. Also typical of Tiger, they nabbed the rights to produce tie-in games for both film and TV, as well as board games (branching out to their soon-to-be (and current) parent company no doubt (Hasbro, if ya don’t know!)).
So, what’s contained in that oblong plastic shell? Well, tech-specs time it is, then! Much like the original Game Boy, the Game.Com can be powered through the ease of 4xAA Batteries, but has its own button battery that keeps data such as High Scores, etc. in check (just like an old PDA). Also, like the Game Boy, you get a monochrome display which is black/white with 4 shades/levels of grey. The screen itself however is a 12x10 grid-based touch screen with a 200x160 resolution. What’s doing all the real work though is the decent Sharp SM8521 8-Bit CPU. Sound-wise, it’s mono-time as per usual with an 8bit PCM + FM-Synth, that at times gives out some ridiculously clear channels, but other times horrendous chip sounds. It has its own serial comm. port that allows connectivity to a number of peripherals available on the system, as well as the aforementioned dual cartridge slots; there is also audio out for headphones and an alternate way to power the system with the DC9V port.
With the touchscreen acting as its own selectable buttons of sorts, you also get you’re A/B/C/D buttons, an on/off button and Menu/Sound/Pause buttons all on the right hand side, with the mono speaker and MD-inspired D-Pad on the left. The stylus gets tucked away just beneath the screen. With all of this featured on the face of the thing, you are guessing correct that it is pretty much a behemoth of sorts. A cumbersome, yet surprisingly comfortable feeling (for me at least) beast that isn’t something you could whack in your pocket as a kid. Or an adult, for that matter. But, hey…Mobile phones were bricks back then too and it’s still slimmer than the likes of the Game Gear (though it doesn’t have half the library either). If you’re the type who collects over games when it comes to all things retro, then the Tiger Game.Com in retrospect could indeed be a system for you. There’s very few games on the system, but multiple versions of the console itself (including the Pocket Pro, etc.) and it sold in small numbers (rumoured as fewer than 300k) so it has all the makings of a collectable. Much like many retro gaming collectables…
Peripherals! Yes, it had these in abundance. Well, in abundance when considering its life span and issues regarding poor marketing, distribution and sales. A serial cable called the Compete.Com was available to link systems, there were the typical carry cases and the like (earphones, blah blah, etc) but most important of all (at least historically) was the Game.Com modem and internet cartridges. Now, I’d already mentioned this in passing above, but seriously. Internet connection, on a handheld games console, in 1997. Mind blowing to me at least, back then. To access the net you had to connect to the exclusive ISP for the system. There it was all about high scores, emails and web-surfing. Unfortunately I never had the chance to experience the service when it was running so cannot confirm or deny anything; allegedly the information given on the Tiger site and in the instruction manual for the internet access was incorrect and the whole ordeal was essentially anti-intuitive and very user unfriendly. Nonetheless, I stand by it being cool it existed at all. The servers died with the console itself in 2000.
More about the games I’m guessing you’re wanting to know, right? Well, OK. Erm, they were mostly terrible. I can’t lie, especially when revisiting them nowadays. There were four launch titles in Duke Nukem 3D, Indy 500, Mortal Kombat Trilogy and the pack-in Lights Out. Certain games actually look, in you take in emulated screenshot form, rather stunning for the tech and the time and Duke in particular has some very nice voice samples present, audio wise. But the good many are incredibly clunky, unbalanced or a complete mess to actually play. Much of this is to do with the screen and its ghosting issues (the refresh rate feels like once every blue moon), but even that being corrected with the Pocket Pro front lit model (which is a fairly clean looking and sharp screen by comparison, but smaller also which brings about its own problems) can’t take away from the fact that Tiger’s in-house developers produced duff game after duff game, with simply bad controls (and some horrendous responsiveness) and many lacking any real physics. Think games made by people who don’t make games. Yyyyeeeahhh
Other titles available for the Game.Com? Well, I can list them all here: Batman & Robin, Centipede, Fighters Megamix, Frogger, Henry, Jeopardy!, The Lost World, Monopoly, Resident Evil 2 (actually rather good), Scrabble, Sonic Jam (an abomination), Tiger Casino, Wheel of Fortune/2 and Williams Arcade Classics. Every game is slow, there’s certainly no blast processing here, folks. Some are better than others and it’s unfair to write off everything. Jeopardy! and Scrabble for example are perfectly acceptable versions of their source materials. However, games like Batman & Robin will drive you mad with frustration with its wonky controls, dodgy animation (even if well designed sprites) and horrendous tinny bleeps standing in for actual sound. There’s a fair few cancelled titles for the system, too – but it’s likely they would have suffered similar fates as to the finished products on display for us now.
I was so hyped for the Tiger Game.Com, I wouldn’t even let reality hit me when I did finally get one (for pocket-money price at an Asda, in a bargain bin), that the thing actually was rather rubbish. It was all those pioneering ideas it brought to the dance that remained a hook for me. Which is a large reason that I’m even writing this intro article for the system. With all its flaws, it remains cool in my eyes. The first handheld with touchscreen, internet connectivity, twin cart slots (shut up, Pocket Pro with your singular slot) and PDA functionality. Tiger beat Nintendo to the punch with something, only to mess up on their own accord with the lack of true third party support, long periods between releases, misguided marketing and really bad distribution.
Perhaps with more time and money, it could have truly been a thing of beauty that everyone would revere. Alas, the Tiger Game.Com remains an overlooked oddity of the fifth console generation, only reappearing to be ripped apart in brutal fashion. But ask Olly023 of RGG? I’ll tell you this: “it was ahead of its time”. True that, player.
And that’s why we at RetroGameGeeks reckon you could spend your money on worse than the historically relevant Tiger Game.Com! - Yeah it's called the Atari Jaguar (Megatron - lol)