By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
When you think of consoles that had long lifespans, which ones come to mind? NES, Game Boy, PlayStation 1 maybe? Well none of those even come close to cracking the top five. Below are the five longest amounts of time that passed between when a console launched, and when it’s last officially-licensed game was released (homebrew and unofficial releases don’t count). I guarantee that you’ll be surprised by at least one, if not more, of the consoles that made this list.
#5 – PlayStation Portable
Launch: December 2004, Japan
Final official game: Summon Night 5 (December 2015 NA, PAL release expected in Q1 2016)
Elapsed time: 12 years
Bet you didn’t know that there are actually still PSP games that are “coming soon.” Indeed, as of this writing, the European release of Summon Night 5 is still forthcoming, meaning that Sony’s vastly underappreciated first handheld might just last until its 12th birthday. Not bad for a system that many people had already prematurely declared dead and buried by the DS only a couple of years into their battle. Yep, leave it to localization legend Victor Ireland (now with Gaijin Games) to release a niche game for a (now) niche system after most people have long since moved on from it. It should be noted that a lot of people have, in fact, been actively playing their PSPs long after the last AAA games were released for it, but most have been using it for emulators (especially outside of Japan). So it’s nice that an official game is being released this late in the system’s life, just so people can’t say that emulation is literally the only reason to keep a PSP handy (besides also playing PS1 RPGs, of course).
#4 – Atari 2600
Launch: September 1977
Final official game: Klax (1990)
Elapsed time: 13 years
What is even more impressive than the huge gulf of time between the Atari 2600’s launch and the release of its last officially-licensed game is that Atari had released two successors to the system in that timeframe–the 5200 and the 7800–not to mention some computers and a handheld system. Even more impressive is the fact that the 7800’s final game came out only a year after Klax. Oh, and it should probably be mentioned that in 1990, an obscure little system called the NES had already completely conquered the world, and the first forays into the next generation of gaming–the Super NES, the Genesis/Mega Drive, the TurboGrafx-16, and the Neo Geo AES–were either already available or would be by the end of the year. Meanwhile, a dusty old system from the disco era still managed to sneak out one final game amidst all of that noise. Of course, the homebrew scene would ensure that literally dozens more games would eventually expand the life of ol’ wood panel-sides well into the new millennium. It was 1990 and there was, indeed, time for Klax, no matter how old the hardware.
#3 – Sega Master System
Launch: October 1985, Japan (as “Sega Mark III”)
Final official game: Mickey’s Ultimate Challenge (December 1998, Brazil)
Elapsed time: 13 years, 2 months
Sega may have given Nintendo a run for its money in the 16-bit battle, but the company’s attempt to produce a legitimate rival to the NES didn’t work out nearly as well. That is, unless you live in Brazil, in which case you have a very different view on Sega’s 8-bit debut. Not only was the SMS ridiculously popular in Blanka’s home country in the years immediately following its release, it has continued to be a consistent seller in the ensuing decades since. As recently as 2015, the SMS was selling upwards of 150K units a year in the country, matching the sales numbers of modern systems like the PS4 and XBone in the region. It’s hard to make a case that any single console has had such lasting success in any single region than the SMS has in Brazil. Given all of that, it might actually be a surprise that the last official SMS release was only 13 years in. So what the hell have the Brazilians been playing for the last 18 years? Unofficial, unlicensed games, most likely. Still, the fact that they continue to buy legitimate consoles to play their bootleg games on still means that at least Sega still sees some cash from the region, which is always a good thing. It also means that Brazillian game pirates at least have some semblance of loyalty–that’s more than I can say about all of you people playing NES games on your Android phones. I know, I know, you’d totally buy an official NES to play games on if Nintendo starting selling them again. I totally believe you.
#2 – PlayStation 2
Launch: March 2000 (Japan)
Final official game: Pro Evolution Soccer 2014/Winning Eleven 2014, November 2013 worldwide)
Elapsed time: 13 years, 8 months
When I initially set out to do this list, I was going to exclude sports games as I assumed that straggler annual installments to sports franchises would artificially extend the lives of system that otherwise had died long before that. As it turns out, the PS2 is the only system in the range of the ones listed here that actually had a sports title be its last official game. And to be fair, the PES series is extremely well-respected and is among the top-selling game franchises of all time, sports or otherwise, so this wasn’t some random third-rate baseball game that got pushed out the door hoping to snatch up a few extra bucks from holdouts who hadn’t made the jump to PS3 and/or X360 yet. Not that I or anyone else needs to make excuses for how the current best-selling video game console of all time by a basically uncatchable margin decided to ride off into the software sunset. The fact that a third-party company still found it economically viable to put even a sports game onto the PlayStation 2 literally the same month that the PlayStation 4 launched is a testament to the ridiculously high install base of Sony’s second-born. And people already find it hard to believe that there are still X360 and PS3 games being released…psh, those systems aren’t even 10 years old yet. I’m not impressed.
#1 – Neo Geo AES
Launch: April 1990, Japan
Final official game: Samurai Showdown V Special (April 2004, Japan)
Elapsed time: 14 years
The Neo Geo AES infamously launched at $650 in 1990. To put into perspective what a hefty price tag that is, when Sony announced that the PlayStation 3 was going to cost $600, the entire gaming community lost its mind–and that was a whopping 16 years of inflation later. And all the AES did was play video games! Still, for those that ponied up the cash for the luxury machine – still considered by many to be one of the most powerful 2D gaming machine of all time as well as the closest we’ve ever gotten to a true “arcade experience” in the home as it ran on identical hardware to Neo Geo arcade games – they were still able to buy new games for it nearly 15 years into its lifespan. That’s a pretty sound investment if you ask me – we’ll see if those people who paid $600 for a PS3 at launch are still going to see new games come to their system in the year 2021. And Samurai Showdown V Special wasn’t just some fluke release that hit years after anything else of substance came to the system–King of Fighters 2003 and Metal Slug 5 also came out not long before it. Three releases just shy of the system’s 15th year–an impressive cap on the life of a fascinating and surprisingly enduring piece of hardware.