Zeebo: A Seventh Generation Console We Never Got

Introduction

Produced from 2009 to 2011, with a more limited global reach than offerings from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, the 3G-enabled Zeebo gaming platform was about winning over customers in developing nations where many consumers may have had little or no access to gaming technology and limited income to get into gaming with. Not only could this short-lived budget platform play games, it could also do internet browsing, social media, educational content, and play music all in the same package. The console was also designed in a way that could counter piracy common in some parts of the world; it had a disc-free, digital-only approach with an attractively low price tag.

Only the Brazilian and Mexican markets ever got the chance to actually buy the Zeebo, which might explain why it’s not more well-known globally. A look at the software portfolio could create the impression that the Zeebo was not as advanced as the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, or PlayStation 3, but then again it was not designed to outdo them in terms of power and processing in the first place. Where it seemed to have clear advantages was in the relatively low asking price and the seemingly temporary backing of game industry giants like EA, Activision, and Capcom (among others). Owners back in the day could get ports of games like FIFA 09 and Crash Bandicoot: Nitro Kart 3D that were built to fit their new modestly powerful gaming kit. The digital-only idea was clever, and it was something Sony and Microsoft have embraced with the recent launch of their newest lines of gaming powerhouses.

So, what do Zeebo games look like, exactly? Well, if we go by video footage of games being played on it, the word “basic” fits well as a description of appearances in contrast to what other seventh gen consoles were getting at the same time. In terms of graphics and visual impressiveness which this thing can achieve, think along the lines of PlayStation One or mobile phone quality. The potential aesthetics for the player to view may not have been as intricately detailed in contrast to what the bigger hardware hitters of its era could muster up, but there are definitely games to be found all the same – fifty seven of them, to be exact. Before we look a bit at the results and fate of this exact device, let’s first look into two games that the Zeebo had to offer.

Game Glance: FIFA 09

The bestselling EA Sports’ FIFA franchise has come to multiple formats across a number of industry eras including the Zeebo with its edition of FIFA 09. While this franchise has had nips and tucks here and there, and new content additions with tweaks throughout the years, one constant is the fact that it’s all about the footie and capturing victory with your team of choice.

 In terms of the basic game, the Zeebo’s FIFA 09 did appear to do what you’d expect. However, when compared to some of the other platform releases of the time, it’s not hard to see that this version was done to a higher virtual standard elsewhere. There does seem to be a fair amount for the player to do though, which is good. 

Game Glance: Crash Nitro Kart 3D

From 1999’s Crash Team Racing to 2019’s revamped HD remake known as Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fuelled, Crash Bandicoot racing games do have quite a history. One game among several to be found in the time gap between those two releases was the mainly mobile headed title known as Crash Nitro Kart 3D. This game was ported to the Zeebo in 2009 and does give you at least the basic quirky kart game staples and features.

 Characters from the universe that the game is located in? Check. Go-karts and a number of themed tracks? Check. Oh, and there’s the inevitable power ups and competitive races in there too. While I haven’t played Nitro Kart 3D on the Zeebo, gameplay footage does hint at the game being rather PS1 era in appearance. It offered players a time filling experience, but there have been more enticing looking entries in its genre, such as the Mario Kart game series. Mr. Bandicoot has been in more successful outings, but die-hard Crash fans might still want to try the Zeebo version.

Reception And Results

Did the Zeebo thrive as a platform in the markets in which it arrived? Not as much as desired, it would seem. In Brazil, Sony’s PlayStation 2 offered some stiff competition and overall system sales didn’t exactly line up with the Zeebo company’s projection. In the end, the budget-friendly console only got sales of 30,000 units (compared to the 600,000 the company was hoping for) and would hang around in its two markets for a mere two years due to lack of profitability.

Discontinuation of the device happened in September of 2011 and we haven’t seen any concrete follow up as of 2020. The Zeebo may not have performed as well as hoped, but you can definitely see where its creators were coming from and the potentially large amount of customers it could have reached. An intriguing idea, just not one that would ultimately bear much fruit.  

 

Words by James Gillespie


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