Tiger Game.com 101: A Beginner’s Guide

Game.com 101

Presented by Ack
Part of the Retro Gaming 101 Series 

USA, 1997.  Nintendo had just proven with the Japanese Pokemon craze that its nearly 10-year-old Game Boy still had the ability to dominate the handheld market without even trying, keeping themselves afloat despite problems with their two most recent console releases, the Nintendo 64 and Virtual Boy.  Tiger Electronics, makers of hundreds of LCD handheld toys, wanted access to that market share so bad it could taste it.  It had been burned in its first major attempt at a cartridge-based handheld, the R-Zone, a red-tinted device intended to compete with Nintendo’s Virtual Boy.

But now Tiger had a new plan: the Game.com.  This device incorporated technology from then-modern PDAs with the ability to access the Internet, while playing the newest game releases aimed at older audiences.  And Tiger wanted that older audience bad, as the Game Boy was dominating with the younger crowd in Japan thanks to a colorful handful of cartridges, and Nintendo was ramping up a multi-million dollar advertising campaign in the West in preparation for its 1998 release.

It didn’t work.

The Game.com is a strange oddity, the only true handheld produced by a company known for LCD games.  It brought several new ideas to the table, but its scope outpaced the available technology, its marketing was atrocious, and its games list was small and based solely around recognizable name brands.  It was very much ahead of its time, as the Nintendo DS borrowed many ideas from it successfully just 7 years later.  But the Game.com remains an interesting and important piece of handheld history, even if most folks agree that the games really aren’t that great.

Game.com Hardware by JunctionEight

Background Information

  • The handheld is actually called “Game Com,” not “Game(dot)com”.
  • Tiger Electronics released the Game.com in the US in September, 1997.  It retailed at $69.95.
  • The Game.com was aimed at an older audience and included many features not typically found in handhelds at that point, such as internet access via a modem as well as many PDA features.
  • The later major revision of the handheld, the Game.com Pocket Pro, retailed at $29.95.
  • The handheld was ultimately a failure, selling fewer than 300,000 units despite two revisions before its eventual demise in early 2000.

Historical Impact

  • After the R-Zone, Game.com was Tiger Electronics’ second attempt at jumping in the handheld video game market.
  • Though considered an attempt to bring down the Game Boy, the little grey brick ended up one-upping the Game.com savagely with an ongoing Pokemon fury.
  • The Game.com marks the first handheld to allow players to connect to the Internet and use a touch screen and stylus, hallmarks of the much more successful (and much later) Nintendo DS.
  • The Game.com also proved to be an example of how poor marketing could kill a console or handheld.  The most well known commercial was blatantly insulting towards its target audience.

Strengths

  • Tiger Electronics’ connections gave it access to a vast array of licenses, so games like Resident Evil 2, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, Sonic Jam, Duke Nukem 3D, and even Fighters Megamix saw releases on the handheld.
  • The Game.com was the first handheld to enable Internet connectivity and use a touch screen and stylus.  It even had an official ISP for use with the Game.com.
  • The Game.com featured an internal lithium battery for storing saves.
  • Built-in PDA functions included a phone book, calendar, and a calculator.  It also tracked the high scores in every game you played.
  • Tiger’s handheld included both a built-in version of Solitaire, as well as a pack-in game, such as Tiger Casino or Lights Out.
  • The Usenet community for the Game.com was actually visited by representatives of Tiger Electronics, who used it as a means to release information of upcoming titles directly to fans.
  • Tiger Electronics featured Game.com owners uploading high scores online to compare with others.
  • The small library makes it easier to build a complete collection.
  • Third-party ISPs were usable on the Game.com.

Weaknesses

  • The Game.com screen featured some image blurring, much like the Game Boy.
  • While the library included some well known franchises, they were all developed in house by Tiger Electronics.  Overall there was no third-party support beyond allowing the use of these franchises and contracting several games out to the company Handheld Games.
  • The game library is extremely small, limited to about 20 titles, though some of these titles include several games, such as Williams Arcade Classics.
  • The internet service required the use of a modem, meaning the Game.com could only go online after it was properly connected using the 14.4 kb/s Game.com modem and all required cables.
  • Versions of such games as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Metal Gear Solid were never completed.
  • Battery life was short, coming in at approximately 4-6 hours for the original model.
  • The Game.com ISP had a monthly fee, required multiple pieces of equipment, and was text-only.  The instructions given in the manual for setting up internet access with another ISP were incorrect, and setup entailed a long and drawn-out process that was not user friendly.
  • Certain games play extremely slow if they are running while a second cartridge has been inserted in the original model.

Game.com Game Packaging

Technical Specs

  • The Game.com’s CPU is a Sharp SM8521 8-Bit CPU.
  • Screen resolution is 200 x 160 and puts out color in black and white with 4 variations of grey.
  • 8-bit Mono audio from a single speaker in the upper left of the handheld.
  • 12 x 10 grid-based touchscreen
  • Size was reasonable for the time – see size comparisons (1, 2, 3)
  • The original model required 4 AA batteries, while the Pocket Pro required 2 AAs.
  • The original featured 2 cartridge slots, while the later model had one.

Variations

  • The original Game.com featured two cartridge slots, no lighting, and four AA batteries.  It also featured a sound switch to mute the audio along with a volume switch.
  • The Game.com Pocket Pro required 2 AA batteries, had 1 cartridge slot, offered a screen that blurred less than the original design, and came in a variety of colors.  The stylus had a different storage location on the Pocket Pro.  The Pocket Pro was also unable to access the Internet.  The original Pocket Pro unit did provide frontlighting, similar to the Game Boy Light.
  • Later releases of the Pocket Pro removed the frontlighting.  These versions were available in multiple colors.

Peripherals

  • Compete.com cables enabled 2 Game.coms to hook together for Vs. play in certain games.
  • The Web Link allowed players to upload high scores to the Game.com’s official website for tracking scores.
  • The Internet Browser cartridge was required to enable surfing the web.
  • Owners could purchase additional styli from Tiger Electronic’s website.
  • The AC Adapter would allow players to circumvent the short battery life span, as long as they remained near a power plug while they played.
  • The official Game.com modem was released in limited numbers.

Emulation

  • A Game.com driver is available in MESS.
  • Matt Scott of Byte-Size Sound was subcontracted to create audio for certain Game.com games.  He eventually sold his development kit and the software for roughly $700 in 2006 on eBay, which eventually ended up in the hands of Brandon Cobb of Super Fighter Team.  It is believed to be the only dev kit still in existence.
  • Tiger Electronics did develop an internal emulator and debugger for game development as part of its dev software.  It emulates the majority of Game.com games well, but has issues with Jeopardy.
  • The group game.commies managed to reverse engineer the Game.com in 2006 and dumped some of the games, but they never released any emulator.

More Information

10 Comments

  1. brendan says:

    i have one of these but one of the major issues actually the only mainly issue other then the small list of games is the screen quality on the original model it is not very good pixels on mine are half gone ! im still debating on buying another game.com but dont know if its worth it but intresting system none the less !

  2. ecco6t9 says:

    It’s a strange system, coming off as primitive even when compared to a Game Boy Pocket.
    During my ownership of one I did enjoy Lights Out,Frogger,Centipede, and Duke Nukem.

    The two mistake purchases were Sonic Jam and Fighters MegaMix.

    It’s a shame some of the planned games never surfaced.

  3. Seandood says:

    My oldest brother bought a Game.com when it first came out. To this day I don’t entirely understand why… he loved though and was kind enough to let me play the Williams Arcade compilation when I wanted to.

    Still, I talk like it’s such a low key device (and it really is) — I’d love it if my brother found it and gave it to me. I’d happily display it next to my Virtual Boy and R-Zone.

  4. pakopako says:

    Wait. The GameBoy Light used BACKlighting. A glowing electroluminescent pad. I believe the article meant to indicate the earlier GameBoy SP devices.

  5. Anayo says:

    You know Ashens? The British Youtuber who reviews electronics? His recent review of the Game.com did not endear me to this system. ~.~

  6. Philyman says:

    There is some information about the Game.com in Next Generation #31 for anyone who wants to get their read on :)

    http://www.retromags.com/forums/files/file/2496-next-generation-issue-031-july-1997/

  7. John says:

    I have one of these somewhere still. There is not slight image blurring – it is terrible! I remember the Batman game on the console was unplayable for me because the screen had such bad motion blur.

    I was really impressed with Resident Evil 2 however. It was pretty much a faithful simplified version of Leon’s quest A on the ps1, I might fire the game.com up sometime just to reexperience that

  8. king says:

    did this succeed?
    i thought it failed on lsunch
    i m amazed it got a guide on here

  9. Shooty-bloke man-type-thing says:

    I played on a Tiger Game.com once and i had to go to hospital after it tore my arms off in a fit of extreme rage!! …. oh, actually that was a real tiger. *exits stage right*

  10. Vetus says:

    I tried Game.com from a friend of mine who is a collector and the graphics and frame rate were so awful that even Gameboy Classic looks like a PSP in front of Game.com. It doesn’t differ much from the LCD handheld games that Tiger was making. At least they were cheaper, enjoyable and more playable.