In the mid and late 80's the video games scene was flourishing! It was the time that video games went straight from arcade machines halls, to living rooms through, what was later called, the 3rd generation of video game consoles! This generation was populated by a variety of machinery, produced by a variety of manufacturers but the most serious competition was found between the giants of the electronic industry, SEGA, Nintendo and Atari. That era was the peak of the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Sega Master System as well as the Atari 2600 (continuing from 1977!) the Atari 7800 and the PC-Engine.
In this competitive environment an effort was made from certain toy companies to introduce a game console that would have taken advantage of the mainstream media player machine of the era, the VCR player and recorder. Until early 90's, video consoles usually used a propriety medium to load games, such as cartridges, or using he simplest technology solution of a cassette player as was also used in micro computers. In 1986, a toy company called “Worlds of Wonder”, came up with another solution. Worlds of Wonder decided to develop a console which would load games through a VCR using a VHS tape. The manufacturers also supposed that the potential buyer would have already owned a VCR so it they would develop the console as an independent hardware which could be used in addition to any home VCR system used at those days. The console was named Action Max and was made available in 1987.
Just right after its original release, it was made clear, that the Action Max's potential was extremely limited. The console could only operate games that were recorded on a VHS tape and would run linearly depending on the length of the tape. The gameplay was also limited to light gun gaming (light gun was included in the package) in which the player used to shoot targets on the screen imitating the famous shooters of the arcade machines of the time, as an interactive-movie game.
Nevertheless, five games were released for Action Max : .38 Ambush Alley, Blue Thunder, Hydrosub 2021, The Rescue of Pops Ghostly and Sonic Fury. All of these game's playthrough can be found nowadays in Youtube. Respectively:
As it can be easily deducted, Action Max was not a successful project and was discontinued very quickly. Worlds of Wonder bankrupted shortly after the release of Action Max, mainly because of the 1987 market crash, most widely known as “Black Monday”.
Action Max was not the only attempt in the “VHS console” genre. One year after Action Max was released, came a competitive product from a company called View-Master Ideal Group INC, and was named (of course) the View-Master Interactive Vision! The manufacturer had a long presence in the media market, all the way back in the 30's when their core business was the production of the original View-Master projectors which used rotating still photographs to project an educational or entertainment story in front of your eyes. These projectors were popular, mainly as toys for little children, until now
At that time the company decided to enter the video game industry with the View-Master Interactive Vision, which (as Action Max) was an interactive movie, VHS console game system. VM had a different gameplay mentality. It abolished the light gun games completely and focused on simple kid's material.
Seven games were released for View-Master which were interactive movies and in which the player needed to make a choice at some point to determine the course of the recorded story. As it easily understood, the View-Master also needed the player to own a VCR as it operated as a simple add-on machine. Those seven games that were released had similar context. Six were based on the Muppets “mythology” and one was based on Disney's work. Those were the 7 titles: Sesame Street: Let's Learn to Play Together, Sesame Street: Magic on Sesame Street, Sesame Street: Let's Play School, Sesame Street: Oscar's Letter Party, Muppet Madness, Muppet Studios Presents: You're the Director, Disney's Cartoon Arcade. You can also find all these longplays in Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ne98JCFwuD4, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebc0cQnSkik, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zz707Xopf6A, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwVdyel3bGc
Following the Action Max's destiny, View-Master failed in the video games market, probably causing harm at the manufacturer who after almost 60 years in the market, was sold to Tyco Toys in 1989. The brand did not die but continued to live till nowadays through the View-Master projectors that are produced and sold by Fisher-Price.
All the aforementioned consoles were mainly released in the North-American market. Few were intended for Europe and that was the cause that those machines are almost completely unknown in our parts. In Japan though, that's a different story. Japan was and always will be a holy place for gaming. There existed legendary video games that were released strictly for the local market. In this environment, in 1987, a company called Takara Co LTD, made an effort to enter the limited interactive movie VHS game market with a product called “Video Challenger”. Takara was not a small or unknown company. It was a toy company founded in 1955 and it produced famous toys such as the MicroMan and the Dioclone which were released outside Japan, from Hasbro, under the famous brand of Transformers! The Video Challenger was even simpler than the competition as it was comprised from only the connectors to the common VCR and the light gun which included everything to play the game. The gameplay philosophy was the same as Action Max.... full light gun action games!
Eight titles were also released for this machine, which were way more popular than those of Action Max and View-Master. Those were: Space Challenge (built-in game), Thunder Storm, Road Blaster , Godzilla Challenger 1 and 2, Sky Wars, After Burner II and Turtle Challenge. Thunder Storm and Road Blaster were anime-graphic games, ported from Arcade machines, that were later released for many consoles and remain famous until today! Unfortunately, the console, seized to be produced very quickly as the competition was fierce mainly from PC-Engine console and NES which had a larger diversity of titles. Needless to say that longplays can also be found in youtube. :
That was the brief story of the shortly lived industry of VHS/VCR video game consoles. This console genre never quite succeeded to enter the mainstream video game market but it paved the road for the acceptance of the interactive-movie games which flourished in the 90's when the compact disc and the later the DVD, became the media of choice form computers all the way to video game consoles.