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Under the Radar: Game Wave

Hardware

Welcome to the first of a regular feature here on Thunderbolt that aims to take a look at some of the more obscure consoles of each hardware generation. We all know of multi-billion dollar corporations like Nintendo, Sony & Microsoft who produce the hardware on which we fulfill our craving for electronic entertainment, but how many can say they’re familiar with the likes of Envizions, TecToy or Xavix?

The fact of the matter is that each and every generation of video gaming platforms witnesses the rise of small firms who defy the odds, who attempt to take down (or at the very least, compete with) the corporate juggernauts for a piece of the $10 billion per year video game pie.

For the debut column, I’ve taken a look at a system I purchased this past winter when pricing finally sunk below the $50 mark: The Game Wave Family Entertainment System from ZAPiT Games.

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Let’s face it: it requires unbelievable optimism, perseverance and possibly a miracle for a small video game developer to offer legitimate competition to Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony. A lesson companies like Sega (no lightweight in the industry at the time themselves) learned the hard way. Hence when modest firms like Canada’s privately held ZAPiT Games decide to try their hand in the home video game console sector, it’s a battle of incredible odds right from the get-go.

Yet in 2005, after two years of development, the company released the Game Wave in relative obscurity. Rather than challenge the “big boys” through traditional means such as pixel-pushing graphics, game licensing or online support, ZAPiT went the route of designing a console that would make use of the then-thriving DVD technology to deliver puzzle and family oriented game titles. The time of its release places it within the transition between the waning 6th generation of home consoles and the still current 7th generation (like Microsoft’s Xbox 360, which was released around the same time, the Game Wave is generally acknowledged as an early-example 7th gen system rather than a late entry 6th).

Packaged with four wireless controllers (each of which double up as a standard remote control for the system, which could also play DVDs without the worry of regional encoding), the system also drove home the point of its multi-player friendliness by including a pack-in family game entitled 4 Degrees: The Arc of Trivia. As if 4-player simultaneous support isn’t impressive enough, many game titles boast 6-player capabilities and as fate would have it, ZAPiT offers two additional remote controllers packaged in pairs.

Of course the prospect of using a DVD player’s abilities to offer a degree of human interaction is hardly a novel one; in fact a majority of commercial DVDs/Blu-rays come equipped with rudimentary games based on point and clicking or puzzle solving as a part of the “special features” set. Additionally some may recall a few years back when a company calling itself VM Labs attempted development of a DVD based video game console very similar to the Game Wave but ended up shutting down just shy of production back in ’01. They would end up coming away with a licensing deal of the technology they had developed for their own system (called Nuon) that did eventually find its way into several DVD players from the likes of Samsung and Toshiba.

Allegedly much of the development efforts of ZAPiT Games when developing the Game Wave stemmed from their partnership with several international research and development firms (such as National Semiconductor, Panasonic, Macrovision and Altera) to create the Game Wave’s operating system from scratch. Proof of this lies in the fact that Game Wave software cannot be read by traditional DVD players.

I came to the Game Wave party admittedly late, in fact spurred in no small part by the fact that prices of the unit continue to tumble (at the point of this review’s writing, south of $50); and always in need of a reliable region-free DVD player, the Game Wave has become somewhat irresistible. Heck, even if it couldn’t play games, 4 remote controls (and batteries for each), pack-in software, and an S-Video cable to accompany the AV cords makes this one still a bargain!

Setup is effortless and as simple as deciding whether to run the all three AVs into the back of your television (video and L & R audio) or the included S-Video cable for superior resolution (which still requires use of the AVs for stereo sound).

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The system is surprisingly quiet, even by modern DVD player standards. There is no audible “firing up” noise as the player begins spinning the media and perhaps even more impressive, no mechanical buzzing while the eye begins decoding the material on the disc. If the PlayStation 2’s notoriety was noisy operation, the Game Wave’s should be golden silence.

How much you enjoy the included titles depends heavily upon your level of appreciation for trivia games. The questions are all read aloud with brilliant clips of the subject matter serving as the backdrop, and the music and menus truly give off consummate game-show vibe. I may go as far as to say that the package is superior even to the popular Scene It? self-contained DVD games. The trouble is, all of the wonderful presentation in the world fails to mask the fact that the players are essentially selecting A, B, C or D on their remotes for the duration of the game. On the flip side, trivia buffs will likely delight in the material contained here. Six-player simultaneous play is another attractive feature.

Whether or not the Game Wave is still being supported by ZAPiT Games is a point of some debate. While their official site gives no indication whatsoever of declining support, founding member Gavin McDougald’s Facebook page lists him as the vice president of ZAPiT Games from Feb 2005 to Dec 2010. Earlier blog posts from Gavin confessed that the firm was struggling to stay in business and that their saving grace preventing having to pull the plug entirely came in the form of porting their Game Wave software onto both mobile phones and online as well.

At the time writing, 12 games have been produced for the Game Wave in addition to 4 Degrees: The Arc of Trivia that comes as a pack-in with the system. These include a sequel to Arc called 4 Degrees Volume 2, as well as a Bible specific version of the game. There were three Re-wind games (Re-wind, Re-Wind 2005 & 2006) which visited past pop-culture events as the source material for the trivia, action ( while the latter two were concerned with events that took place only in the years indicated). Combined these six titles make up the “Trivia Games” category.

Next up are the “Number Games”: Sudoku, Lock 5 (which mimics Yahtzee), and Zap 21 (double blackjack). “Word Games” consists of Letter Zap! combining the best of word search and Boggle and a very Wheel-of-Fortune-esque Click!. Finally, a pair of titles represents the “Puzzle Games” category. Gemz can best be described as Game Wave’s version of the classic Bejeweled series and Veggie Tales Veg-Out serves as a collection of 6 mini games; having the distinction of being the only Game Wave game to make use of a licensed property.

Gemz is perhaps the most unique of the titles offered thanks to the arcade-style gaming that works surprisingly well with the remote controllers. While it is extremely unlikely that any additional titles will be developed for the system at this point, it would be incredibly interesting to play other arcade ports (even if only generic versions) like Tetris, Pac-Man and so on. Perhaps there’s hope for a homebrew community emergence that will recognize such potential as well.

In all it’s pretty easy to recommend picking up a Game Wave Family Entertainment System on account of its ability to play DVDs without regional restriction coupled with the fact that it comes with 4 remotes. The game element is an undeniably attractive bonus. I know I will be doing my best to track down as much of the system’s library as possible, as the console seems to excel at attracting groups of players at every party it has attended thus far.

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2011.

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