What an ugly sounding gaming peripheral. Visual. Memory. Unit. Or VMU as we very quickly grew to know it as. The VMU was Sega’s answer to Sony’s Memory Card and Nintendo’s Controller Pak. They were both very bog-standard units which did the job of saving games and other bits of data to themselves but they did the job very well. Sega weren’t so comfortable with simply having a save device. They wanted to do something that ‘little’ bit more unique.
As far as I can tell, there’s been no other save peripheral out there as unique as this one, and I think it’s safe to say that universally, fans believed it to be a success. A LCD screen which let you take the action away with you when you’d finished playing the game, snugly accompanied by a cute little d-pad and 4 function buttons. Plenty of games let you get involved too. Whether it be Sonic Adventure’s Chao Garden development game, Power Stone’s trio of mini-games, or Marvel vs Capcom 2 allowing you to transfers stages and characters around, the device was extremely capable of giving you that extra bit of interactivity.
It could get crazier than little mini-games though. Did you know if you used the VMU whilst playing Silent Scope, you could actually play the game on the VMU screen?? It was black and white, but the ability is there and although it’s not very playable, it’s a wonder to see in action. The NFL 2K series allowed you to carry out secret plays on your VMU when playing against friends, so they wouldn’t know what you were going to attempt next. D2 gave you the added function of an always on-screen compass. Handy.
Then you had a variety of looks for the VMU, which is always desirable in the hunt to make it your own. Different colours, see-through and solid textures, branded VMUs, the options were out there, you just had to seek them out.
We will likely never see another first-party peripheral in the style of the VMU, after all; we all have mobile phones now which are EXTREMELY souped up versions of them really. Some games do utilise that connection between console and mobile phone, which naturally saves some expense if the need is there for such a thing. It’s a shame though, as the VMU tried it’s hardest to break out of the box and it did it with aplomb. I commend Sega for trying something so drastically different, and succeeding where unfortunately the console it was attached to ultimately bombed too soon.
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