Amstrad – A World of Entertainment! So says the blurb on the side of the box for Amstrad’s only console, the GX4000. Never heard of it? You’re not alone – not many people have. Indeed, the GX4000 only sold in the region of 15,000 units worldwide, which is slightly less than Atari sold of the Jaguar CD.
For those who don’t know, Amstrad was a British electronics company who, in the 1980s at least, released a very successful line of affordable home computers that also played games. The Amstrad CPC (Colour Personal Computer) series was designed to compete against the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore64 in the 8-bit home computing war in the late 1980s and became very popular in Europe.
Naturally the Amstrad looked across the Atlantic at what Sega and Nintendo were doing with their cartridge-based consoles and decided that they wanted a slice of the pie. The master plan? Take an Amstrad CPC464 Plus, strip away the keyboard, tape deck and monitor and bundle the innards inside a (fairly attractive) beige case and flog it as a competitor to the NES and the Master System. In theory, it was a great idea – the CPC architecture is arguable a lot more capable than either the NES or the Master System, and there was already an installed user base in the EU who were familiar with Amstrad and the games it released.
The fly in the ointment? Just a little thing called the Genesis/MegaDrive. Amstrad went ahead and released their 8-bit console just as the Genesis was about to embark on a devastating assault on the gaming world. In the face of the 16-bit beast from Japan, the 8-bit GX4000 looked like something out of Medieval England, and the gaming masses spoke with their wallets…in that they didn’t purchase the GX4000. As a result, only 27 games were officially released and Amstrad cancelled their support for the system in 1991 – less than a year after release.
As with most consoles that fail to live up to their billing, there are several other things other than the timing of the release that went against the GX4000. The CPC series was still quite popular at the time of the GX4000’s launch (and for quite some time after it’s demise), and games that were released on cartridge for the GX could be purchased for far less cost than the CPC line as cassette tapes. Granted, the cassette versions of the same games had loading times (usually about 15-20 minutes if I remember rightly!) and the graphics were generally inferior, but a difference of £20-30 meant a lot in 1990.
Today, the GX4000 is a largely forgotten entry in the pantheon of the Games Console, simply because it made such little impact, but when taken as a stand alone system, it is quite impressive for the time. It featured a Scart connector and outputs for a monitor, as well as inputs for analogue joysticks in an age where digital was king. In a different timeline, and if Amstrad had a bigger marketing budget, we’d all be playing Amstrad consoles now. But as it is, the GX4000 is little more than a curio with a few innovative ideas and a minute catalogue. Still, at least it looks the part.