RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Apr 26th 2008 at 06:36:22 PM by (Marriott_Guy)
Posted under System Overview, System Overview, Worlds of Wonder, Action Max, Nintendo, Atari, VHS, VCR

The year was 1987 and the video gaming world was ruled by the Nintendo Famicom, followed by a somewhat strong competitor in the Sega Master SystemAtari was still a big player at the time, though their recent releases of their 5200 and 7800 systems could not effectively compete with these newer breeds.  A company called Worlds of Wonder decided to enter into the fray with the release of the Action Max.  Though they had already established considerable ties to the gaming community during the mid 1980s, this system was already dead on arrival when it hit the store shelves.

Worlds of Wonder was founded by a group of former Atari programmers.  Being the original distributor of the Nintendo NES in the United States, they had strong ties to both technological and manufacturing resources.  The actions and reasoning behind the development of the Action Max is unknown.  Coming off the video game crash of 1984, many hardware manufacturers went bankrupt and new developers shied away from this video game console field (NEC being the main exception).  Obviously, this did not deter their efforts in creating a new system built upon possibly the most media formats ever devised – the VHS video cassette tapes. 

It is important to first describe how this system works, rather than to describe its physical and technical features as is the norm.  The Action Max is one of the few video game consoles that are not able to display graphics on its own – a VCR is required for game play (not included).  The system works by attaching directly to a VCR.  The VCR in turn transmits the video signal to your television.  Sound is delivered through the Action Max system itself – there is no option for external output.  The included Light Sensor must be plugged into the console, then 'connected' to the television screen via a suction cup.  As mentioned before, games are VCR tapes.  Pop in the game into your VCR, power up the Action Max and plug in the controller (light gun) and be prepared to fire away.  All games (a total of 5 were released) are the same, whether it is shooting a ghost or a submarine, these are simple point and shoot affairs.  What's worse, there is no change/reaction to anything being displayed to you when you score a 'hit' – a small noise is emitted from the console and the score counter increases.  There is no way to win or lose at these games – just high score bragging rights among your friends (better right them down since the Action Max doesn’t keep track of them at all for you).  Also, remember that this is a dumb VCR tape – replay value is -0-.  The tape itself cannot change, and playing a new game repeats the same positions and appearances of all foes.  Memorize where they will appear, maximize your score.

Now that the basic concept of the working of the Action Max has been described, let’s look at the console itself.  The system itself is rather nondescript.  The dark grey exterior casing is shaped and has the size of an aluminum container used for the family sized portion of a Stouffer’s pre-made meatloaf dinner.  Come to think about it, the weight is about the same as well (about 2 lbs.).  A white elongated "S" shaped plastic wedge breaks up the dull, solid colored top facing.  Residing here is a combination of three toggle switches and two dials that control the difficulty level and the number of players (supported two player mode).  The player's score was displayed here as well in classic, old-school red LED numbering. 

The front of the unit has jacks for a headphone and the controller, along with a toggle switch to mute the volume.  The back of the unit is more of the same – a jack for the power (external, not included but the unit can run off of C batteries), two mini-RCA jacks for the light sensors.  The controller is a more of the same - a simple dark grey light gun that feels rather fragile and does not have any girth to it, though it does fit OK in one’s hand.  'Shooting' the 'gun' emits a rather satisfying mechanical clicking noise – nothing like cap guns of the era, but still, with this console, it is all about the small pleasures.

Worlds of Wonder entered into bankruptcy in 1988, less than a year after the release of the Action Max.  The company is more noted for the development and production of various children’s product, including the Teddy Ruxpin interactive bear.  Many of the associates of Worlds of Wonder went on to join Nintendo in various capacities.

The Action Max was a short-lived system, and rightly so.  Compared to it's contemporaries, the static game play and poorly acted video VCR games did not stand a chance.  Think of the worst Sega CD FMV game released and multiple your disdain for it by 1000% - that would not accurately define an experience with the Action Max, but it would come close. 

This system is only recommended for collectors – there is no value here at all for among gamers of any level.  The unit is light, but the box is HUGE for this system – the packing alone is around 10" in depth.  I am not sure why the packaging was so extensive for this system – perhaps the marketing gurus at Worlds of Wonder thought that 'bigger was better' when seen on a store shelve.  It is certainly not needed for what it was designed to protect.  Though not seen a great deal for sale, these systems are pretty cheap to acquire through eBay.  Expect to pay no more than $50 USD for a complete system.  Games are not too rare either – they will run you around $10 USD a piece. 

The link to the full review of this system (including ratings, pictures and video):

Thanks all.

Terry (a.k.a. Marriott_Guy)
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