25 Video Game Cartridges, Ranked
From function to finesse, here are the greatest slabs of plastic that stored our video games.
Have you ever seen anything nicer than that? Image: Flickr/Bryan Ochalla.
Rumours have been brewing for some time, but it's looking more likely than ever that Nintendo will use some form of cartridges for its next console, a system currently known as the NX. While Nintendo's home consoles haven't used cartridges since the Nintendo 64, their handhelds have continued to use a form of them, including the current Nintendo 3DS. Given that the NX has long been rumored to be a handheld and home console hybrid, it makes sense that it will use cartridges as well. You don't want to travel with a bunch of Blu-rays, do you?
Also, cartridges are fun. We all have great memories of all the clunky hard plastic games in our lives, stacked in piles or neatly in shelves, blowing at them and rattling them when they don't work as if morning breath is some great repair method. Not all cartridges are made equal, however. So Motherboard proudly presents its official and DEFINITIVE ranking of the best cartridges. From worst to best. This is not up for debate. It has been decided.
25. PSP UMD: This is technically more of a disc inside a plastic casing, but we have to include Sony's short-lived format here because the thing shoots out like one of those Ninja Turtle pizza launchers if it's opened the right way. It sucked. It was no wonder Sony ditched the disc entirely for future handhelds. Most of the entries on this list are due to design and overall aesthetics, but the UMD is the one entry that truly, truly, sucks the garbage water from the bag.
24. N-Gage: While resembling handheld cartridges to come, the N-Gage was it's own special sort of self-destruction. In order to swap the cartridges, one would have to unscrew the back of the system, slip out the battery and slide in Tomb Raider, Tony Hawk, Sonic the Hedgehog and several other games you'd save time, money, possibly your marriage, by just playing on another platform.
23. Magnavox Odyssey: Essentially a comb that plays a video game, the Magnavox Odyssey also came with a larger storage unit that, while apparently stored different video games, all featured the same dominating Odyssey logo. The video game brand with a Napoleon complex.
22. Virtual Boy: Sure, you've seen the system that gave America's children headaches, but have you seen the cartridges that just looks like featureless Game Boy bootlegs? I bet you haven't!
21. Atari Jaguar: The Atari Jaguar was best known for, if anything, decent versions of games that would become available elsewhere (Rayman, Alien vs. Predator, Tempest 2000). The Atari Jaguar cartridges are best known for, if anything, a strangely unsettling handle.
20. Game Gear: There's nothing wrong with the cartridges for Sega's handheld, the Game Gear, which was known mostly for its sweet color graphics and not being a Game Boy. That raised bump at the top made them easy to pull out, and a lot of the carts had cool art. They're just...not Game Boy cartridges.
19. Commodore 64: It's like a video game is going undercover as something more boring.
18. ColecoVision: Small, bland and black, ColecoVision carts look like something you weren't supposed to buy off a trade show floor. Counterpoint: I like the way some say "ColecoVision Presents" to add that personal touch.
17. Intellivision: With the entire logo on the front end, the Intellivision cartridges stored nicely but looked like a part of a car. And not one of those fun parts of a car that make music sounds or lights wacky tobaccy.
16. Nintendo DS: I'm a big boy now, said the Nintendo handheld. I can play big games like Super Mario 64 and first person shooters. I'm not a kid anymore, said the Nintendo handheld, I'm old enough to buy lotto tickets, move out of the house! I need a cartridge that discards the days of youth, it's time for adult business, thinks the Nintendo handheld, buying a small black uniform outfit that it believes will emit respect and responsibility.
15. Nintendo 3DS: The DS cart but in a dull white with a little chupchik on the side. Holds a lot more though, can't flack that.
14. Nintendo 64: One of the most divisive cartridges in history, it was the first act from Nintendo going backwards with their design, taking away the functionality of a flat top with a logo in preference for an unlabeled lump. A good cartridge is stackable, friends, for storage and ease, for civilization, to help keep that big blue Earth turnin' around. If there was one step forward it was the renewed embrace of coloured cartridges: a red Spider-Man here, a green Sarge's Heroes there, a golden Zelda and half-and-half Pokemon Stadium 2.
13. NEO GEO: The most memorable thing about the NEO GEO cartridges is that they are huge, to store all those detailed pixels SNK was known for. Massive. Giant. Grotesque. Humongo. You ever see the tow truck that's called in when a double decker bus breaks down? That kind of startlingly big. It doesn't look like it's supposed to be plugged into its native NEO GEO. "Do you find something comical about my appearance when I'm plugged into my video game console?" asks the NEO GEO cartridge to Nelson Muntz. "Everyone needs to be played in a video game system, even the very tall."
12. Sega Master System: Unrecognizable from its descendant the Sega Genesis, the Master System was the Texas Instrument Calculator of the Sega Family. Its boxes were all the same black grid on a white background, and all of it's cartridges a hard rectangle dipped in sharp velvet hue. An aesthetic that would grow more appealing in time, but in its day without a doubt the cartridge to get the most wedgies in video game cartridge school.
11. Turbografx 16: The most inconvenient to store but the coolest to hold up in bundles like a poker hand, the Turbografx 16 cartridges were a flat card that slid into a side port of the console. Admirable in a pitiable sort of way, half the cartridge features the square art and label, with the entire other half a black top of chip and connectors. There's no cartridge quite like it, or any other as satisfying to wave in the air saying "eyyyy look at this!"
10. Game Boy Advance: It's like a Game Boy cart, but smaller. These things hold entire Super Nintendo games! How do they do it?! Science. Design. Style, and yes, probably some dark magick.
9. Famicom Disk System: Nintendo's early days in its home country were filled with big ambitions and weird ideas, and none of them illustrate that like the Disk System. A workaround to Japan's ban on game rentals, the Disk System let kids with smaller take rewritable cartridges to stores to have a whole new game swapped on to them. The concept never made it to the west (not for lack of trying), but the Disk System's legacy lives on with those sweet yellow cartridges and their anxious looking mascot, Disk-kun.
8. Atari 2600: Similar in size and appearance to an 8-track and fawned over by the same people, the Atari 2600 did merge its form and function with lending space to those wonderfully lush covers that tried to make the 8-bit Breakout look like Chariots of Fire.
7. Game Boy Color: An interesting design challenge, to introduce not one but two types of cartridges, and one Nintendo met. The new, jet black ones for games that could be played on the Game Boy Color and the now peasant Game Boy, but for the cool kids with divorced parents there were transparent cartridges that showed you all of the game's guts!
6. Game Boy: I got my first Game Boy second hand, and the person my father bought it off of threw in a large plastic grocery bag full of games. There must have been around 25 sloshing around (don't get too envious, there were a lot of duplicates, three Little Mermaids and the god awful Terminator 2 and Ren Stimpy games). Because I was a child and children do this sort of thing, I continued using that same plastic bag to store and carry all the games. But those Game Boy carts, designed to be on the go and used by lil' idiots, they are resilient creatures. I would lose some, but none ever stopped working, even if I carried them in a manner you would reserve for gloves and water bottles. The Game Boy was always celebrated as being nigh indestructible, but let's not overlook the games for being survivalists as well.
5. Super Nintendo: Essentially Nintendo workshopping their way out of the NES' problems, plenty of grips to pry out from the system (if the eject button somehow fails you), more protective shell around the pins to do away with all the blinking screen frustrations. A label format with an IMAX cinema vibe. An improvement in every way. And yet, where's the love?
4. Super Famicom/Super Nintendo (EU): It's the American SNES cartridge with the mumps. I think that's cute!
3. Nintendo Entertainment System: It taught us. It trained us. Every high, every low, every laugh and every tear we learned from you. They told us not to blow, but we blew. We blew because we cared. And we blew because we were short on patience and only had Panic Restaurant on a three day rental from Blockbuster.
2. Sega Genesis/Mega Drive: Rounded without becoming difficult to manage. A prominent SEGA logo that doesn't overpower the individual game. The Genesis was equilibrium, the system zen enough to bring us not one, not two, but three Ecco the Dolphin games.
1. Nintendo Famicom: If I buy a cartridge in 2016, there's a 50/50 chance I'll ever actually boot it up. If I buy a Nintendo Famicom cartridge, there's a 0 percent chance I will boot it up, because I do not own a Nintendo Famicom. But here's the important distinction: I have bought more Famicom cartridges in recent years than any others, because they are gorgeous. Multi-coloured with panoramic art labels, not to mention featuring the more ridiculous and liberal Japanese art. They are the prettiest cartridges in the world. The Mother cartridge looks like it could store a rose water liquor. There's a reason there's a popular annual gallery show based around them. They are inspiring. None of these cartridges have modern technical functions, but only one of them works decoratively.