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Remembering the Amstrad GX4000

The GX4000 was Amstrad’s short-lived attempt to enter the games console market. With a higher spec graphics card and more memory Amstrad saw the GX4000 as serious competition for Sega’s Master System and market leaders Nintendo’s NES.

The 8-Bit console was into the European market in September 1990 and given a 20 million pound promotional budget. Competitively priced at £99 the console received rave reviews; its games graphics and the sleek design of the console itself, which would later have a small influence on Nintendo’s N64, were highly praised.

Amstrad had also worked with the game developers to make sure those games ported to the GX4000 stood out against the versions on their competitors consoles. It’s versions of Robocop 2, Navy Seals, Pang and Switchblade were all seen as the superior to the ones on competing consoles.

So what went wrong?

Well first off the GX4000 was 8bit; Sega had released its 16bit Megadrive, in Europe, at almost the same time and Nintendo’s own 16bit entry to the console market, the SNES, was only two years away. Amstrad also didn’t have its own in-house game development studio, meaning it had to rely on third party developers; if you can get the same game on a system that also has Mario or Sonic then why would you buy a GX4000? Also the developers themselves did not always live up to the promise of making the most of the systems higher spec graphics card and faster CPU. Most games were just ported across from Amstrads 464 computer with little to no tweaking. The price difference you paid for the same game; the GX4000 cartridges were £27, the cassettes for the 464, £3.99.

There were also issues with the systems peripherals. The console itself may have looked sleek, but the joypads looked cheap, the joystick fared little better making most games feel clunky and the only two games released for the light gun came included in its purchase bundle.

Amstrad could also not compete with Nintendo’s and Sega’s advertising budget. The message just did not get out and within months of release the price of the console had dropped to £29.99 and within a year in was discontinued.

To try shift the unsold games Amstrad added a cartridge port to its 464 computer and dropped the price of the cartridges to make it closer to the cassettes. It tried to push sales on the shorter load time, but it did little to help.

Due to its limited release the Amstrad GX4000 is now seen as a collector’s item and is highly sort amongst the retro gaming community. Also Amstrad were not the only company to fail in the console market. Amiga, Phillips and Panasonic all tried and all met the same fate as Amstrad. Even Sega would eventually lose out to new comers Sony and their Playstation range; with Nintendo having to release unique console designs to continue to compete.

History has been hard on the GX4000 and in some ways its justified. In other ways it was a brave attempt to enter a market which, at the time, was dominated by two companies. 

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