Back in The '70s, videogame consoles were invented. But unlike subsequent generations, First-generation consoles did not store games on removable media that could be swapped out to play different games: Instead, game(s) were stored (or hardwired) directly into the console itself. The obvious consequence was that you never purchased games separately: Just buy the console, hook it to your TV and power, plug the packaged-in controllers if they're not already connected, and you're all set.
With the popularity of the Atari 2600, this practice fell in disuse and most game consoles from the second generation onwards have accepted games stored on removable media,note with the only "dedicated" consoles remaining being handhelds (from Game & Watch to Tiger Electronics to Tamagotchi). However, dedicated consoles found a new opening in the nostalgia market, now housing compilations of second- to fourth-generation games.
Also known as TV Games, plug 'n' play games are game consoles that plug directly into a TV. The most notable difference between a plug 'n' play console and a regular console is that all of the games are contained within the console itself. These consoles usually have screens that allow players to select the different packaged games on the system. Cartridges are rarely used, though they are used in some consoles such as the Sport Vii.
Some of these consoles are packaged directly into their game controller (known as handheld TV games), while others have separate console and controller parts. The former kind are what typically comes to mind when a such a game is mentioned in the US, especially the joystick games of Jakks Pacific. Name an IP that was popular with children in the 2000s, and it's almost guaranteed that Jakks created a console for said franchise.
Unlicensed games are included on some of these consoles, especially if they're micmicking the NES or the Wii. There are several upon several of these consoles in existence, each with different selections of games to play. Some, nicknamed "famiclones", are based on NES hardware, and they occasionally feature hardware changes that allow for more colors and more built-in games than the original NES. Some of the Famicom's patents expired in 2003, making it legal to produce and sell hardware based on the NES. However, it is still illegal to load copyrighted games on these systems. On the flip side, entirely original games can and have been sold on these devices, which technically means new games are still being made for the NES to this day, even if they aren't exactly on a proper cart. That isn't to say there aren't licenced games on these consoles as well: major game companies have licensed their older titles for plug 'n' play retrogaming collections, such as the outsourced consoles of AtGames or the in-house systems of Sega and Nintendo. Companies like Jakks Pacific were also known for making licenced games for their systems, typically coming with a unique themed controller.
Tropes associated with plug 'n' play games:
- Game Mod: Unlicensed consoles will usually change the graphics or other minor features of the games being copied, likely in an attempt to avoid copyright issues.
- Licensed Game: Several children's series have received plug 'n' play games. Many of these were made by Jakks Pacific. These games are usually marketed as toys rather than full-blown consoles. Some retro consoles are officially licensed by the original manufacturers.
- Recycled Script: Some manufacturers re-use old games on new consoles, but they usually add in a few new games or at least change the graphics.
- This also happens within the consoles themselves; a single console might contain Bomberman, Bomberman 3, Bomberman 9, and Bomberman 24, even if they are all the exact same game.
- Retraux: Usually, these consoles contain 32-bit hardware at best, and the most common consoles are either 8-bit or 16-bit. Because of this, they often feel reminiscent of classic video game consoles, despite how new they actually are.
- Shoddy Knockoff Product: Many unlicensed consoles imitate the aesthetic of the Wii or the PlayStation 3, despite having vastly inferior hardware. The latter are often called PolyStations.
- Updated Re Release: (Well, kinda) Some companies package a "Greatest Hits" compilation of beloved older titles onto a plug 'n' play built to look like a mini-version of the console associated with the games, such as the Genesis, SNES, or PS1. However, these are usually a "Warts and All" version from the company's master disc.
Examples of plug 'n' play games:
First and early-second generations
- Atari's earliest consoles used this system, with games such as Pong and Arkanoid.
- An early example is the Color TV Game series of consoles by Nintendo. The first consoles included clones of Pong, but other games were included with the later consoles.
- Atari has their series of Atari Flashback consoles which let you play Atari 2600 games. The first version used a chip, but the second version used actual Atari hardware. From the third version onwards, they emulate the 2600.
- AtGames produces official plug 'n' play consoles based off Sega and Atari hardware under their "AtGames Flashback" label (this includes the Atari Flashback line since 2011), and they also allow for players to use their own cartridges. While the hardware is licensed from the copyright holders, some of the games are not, meaning these consoles are simultaneously licensed and unlicensed.
- Nintendo has its modern-day "Classic Edition" series, which are plug 'n' play consoles that emulate retro Nintendo titles.
- Jakks Pacific has produced several licensed plug 'n' play consoles based off of Shrek, SpongeBob SquarePants, Star Wars, and more.
- Sony created the Playstation Classic as a 20th anniversary milestone. Like the NES Classic, it came pre-loaded with 20 games and emulated the source hardware.
- Sega developed their own plug 'n' play console, the Sega Genesis Mini, with help from game developer and emulation experts M2. The device comes with 42 Sega Genesis games, including a few that had limited releases the first time around.
- The TurboGrafx-16 Mini was released by Konami in 2020 with a selection of 58 games for the Japanese version (PC Engine Mini) and 57 games for the international versions.
- In the mid-2000's, Radica produced a series of Plug N' Play games that featured built-in Sega Genesis games, namely first-party titles from Sega. Most of them had one controller, but there was one that had two controllers to play Street Fighter II and Ghouls and Ghosts. There was also a Light Gun variant that had games designed to work with the Sega Menacer peripheral.
- In 2003, they released a Tetris plug and play console. It was controlled by twisting a square block.
- The Samuri is a plug 'n' play console made by Hummer Team. It features Hummer Team's mascot, The Hummer, in some of its games, including a hack of Somari.
- The Sport Vii is a 16-bit plug 'n' play console and one of the first to be modeled after the Wii. It features various arcade and sports games with motion controls. Some of its games were later used on the Zone 60 console, which was developed by the same company.
Plug 'n' play games in media:Video Games
- WarioWare: The aforementioned Color TV Game was included as one of the microgames in WarioWare: Smooth Moves.
- JonTron: In the episode "Plug and Play Consoles", he reviews several of these consoles and the games included on them. In the end, he decides that none of these consoles are worth playing. He reviews Star Wars consoles in the episode "Star Wars Plug and Play".
- Rerez: Shane has a series titled "The Worst Ever Series" in which he a reviews a console and most, if not all of the games contained on it. He always hopes that he'll find at least one good game on the console he's reviewing, but he usually only finds shovelware titles and hacks of existing games.
- Vinesauce: Vinny has a series titled "Plug & Plague" where he plays plug 'n' play consoles that are sent in from viewers. He has played both unlicensed consoles, such as the Zone 60, and licensed consoles, such as the ones by Jakks Pacific.
- Voltron: Legendary Defender: At a Space Mall, Pidge finds a shop dealing in items from Earth, which includes a gaming console and video game Pidge absolutely geeks out over. Upon scraping up enough money to buy the game and escaping the overzealous mall cop, Pidge and Lance return to the Castle of Lions, ready to play their new game. . . only to find that, amidst all the hyperadvanced Altean Magi Tek, there's nothing with the requisite AV ports. Pidge eventually MacGyvers a workaround.