This was going to be a column about drugstore electronics in general. The off-brand tablets and netbooks, the speaker systems for MP3 players, the last of the digital cameras from two years ago. Things that may not be the latest and greatest but at least made a somewhat honest effort to be the value-priced alternative to premium brands.
But one group of electronics sank so far below the others that it must be called out independently. It’s a series of cheapo plug-and-play game systems that might or might not be made by the same folks. The manufacturers certainly don’t proudly advertise their names — not because they’re ashamed, because shame is one of many things they do not possess.
The Wireless Air 60 is one of the newest and, I can only hope, worst of the bunch. I picked it up on sale for $20 at CVS. It will look familiar to anyone who’s laid eyes on the Kinect for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console. Above a small base is a wider black plastic rectangle, containing power and reset buttons, a red LED and a truly miniscule camera lens. Unlike the Kinect, there is no separate infrared sensor for ultra-precise motion sensing. There’s also no connection to a more powerful console — the 60 pixelly games built into the tiny unit are all you get.
That might sound like a lot of games. Consider that they include Fly Swatter, Mole Mash and Makin’ Burgers, though, and it’s less impressive.
OK, so I wasn’t expecting much. But some of the games looked like retro fun: a space shooter called Sonic Fighter, a stripped-down Rock Band-looking thing called Drum Master, a Super Motocross racer and a bunch of Wii Sports rip-offs like Bowling, Tennis, Baseball and Golf.
Oh, if ONLY they were rip-offs.
See, you don’t make natural motions to roll your bowling ball or swing your bat. You hover your hands on controls overlaying the action on the screen. I had to wiggle my fingers to get the controls to activate (unless they accidentally activated from some motion I didn’t remember making). On-screen instructions are sparse, and the included manual, having been translated at least four times, is of only limited use.
A few games do use direct hand movements. Air Hockey bounces a puck off your hand, or what it thinks might be your hand, in some direction usually not completely contrary to physics. In Break the Ice, you punch your hand in the general vicinity of disembodied hands shoving thin sheets of ice into your field of view.
If Wireless Air 60 coincidentally looks like the Kinect, the older Zone 60 system bears a striking resemblance to a Wii, with a slim main console and two remotes. There’s also a Wireless Hunting Video Game System, which uses a single orange rifle as its controller.
The new Zone 3D system also features Wii-like remotes, the PlayStation 3’s shape and two pairs of 3-D glasses — the red and blue kind, not the recent synchronized shutter types on expensive 3-D televisions. But hey, that means you can use just about any TV. Besides, only 20 of the 100 included games are 3-D anyway.
All these systems attach via old-fashioned red, white and yellow RCA cables. Which also means no HD gameplay for your giant screen. Which is probably for the best.
You’ll have more fun reading twitter.com/CitizenjaQ.