The 6 Most Baffling Attempts to Improve Classic Products
Products are great.
"YEAH! CONSUMPTION! FUCK YEAH!"
Not only that, many products are so consistently great that they become classics, respected and trusted by consumers for decades. Depending on the specific product, this often involves a slow process of redesign, the product getting refreshed and updated over the years to remain competitive and relevant to the market, while maintaining the qualities that made it a classic in the first place. This is a tricky business, and thankfully for the purposes of this article, it sometimes goes badly wrong.
Like all writers, I pick the title of an article first, and if the real world doesn't cooperate
by existing the way I need it too, then I'm fucked.
And so, with reality thankfully cooperating for me this one goddamned time, I set out to assemble a list of just such horribly misconceived reboots. To add to the challenge, I decided to omit movie and television remakes, there being so many awful examples of those that it would turn a bit into shooting Godzilla movies in a barrel.
Dodge Charger L-Body
Cracked doesn't normally talk about cars very much, so I won't make any assumptions about your knowledge level and will start right from the beginning. A car is a vehicle invented in 1973 by Gerald Ford of the Ford Motor Company, in response to the oil crisis going on at the time (he would later be named president of the nation for his efforts). Cars typically have between four and five wheels, a mirror, and for a time were the only places where people were legally allowed to have sex.
Until the invention of the car bed in 1978 by Jimmy Carter.
Cars are more than functional, however, and certain models are known for being extremely attractive. One of the best-looking cars ever made was the Dodge Charger, in particular the version made in the late 1960s. (It was the bright orange one from the Dukes of Hazzard, if that helps your pop-culture-addled mind.) The combination of gorgeous sheet metal and an enormous bruising engine makes Chargers from this era some of the most celebrated and sought after muscle cars ever made.
The muscle car era was squished pretty comprehensively by new fuel economy regulations in the 1970s, which most manufacturers responded to by selling cars with smaller engines. This resulted in many classic sports and muscle cars being remade in humiliatingly neutered forms, like the Camaro Iron Duke or the Corvette California. But fuel economy alone can't explain what happened to the poor Charger.
That Dodge Charger was made in the 1980s and was based on Chrysler's front-wheel drive "L" platform, made famous by the Dodge Omni your grandmother drove. Making all of 84 horsepower (about a quarter what the old versions managed) it also had the misfortune of being designed by someone with a deep-seated anger at the world. Look at the thing.
It's like the automotive equivalent of puberty.
As a crappy little car, it's kind of unremarkable -- that era was filled with crappy little cars. And they did end up making a souped-up model of the thing that, although still ugly as sin, had sort of credible performance. But calling it a Charger? That's not a Charger.
In that color it looks a little more like something a Charger ate, digested, then shat out in the middle of the road.
The CD-i Zelda Games
Every time someone makes one of those "Best Games of All Time" lists, the Zelda series of games regularly appear near, if not at, the top. An almost perfect blend of exploration, puzzle solving, and fast-paced, accessible combat, they represent the high-water mark of what games are capable of. Even the worst Zelda games are miles better than almost everything out there.
"Really?" you might ask. "Even the worst of them?"
"Ho ho ho ho ho ho! No."
What the hell was that? That fan-art-looking piece of crap is a screenshot from The Wand of Gamelon, one of three Zelda games made for the Phillips CD-i. How did a video game console originally intended to be a child's training toaster end up with three different Zelda games on it? In the early '90s, Nintendo backed out of a deal with Phillips to make a CD-ROM add-on for the Super Nintendo. Because Nintendo's executives didn't apparently know what the fuck they were doing, part of the condition of backing out gave Phillips the right to use Nintendo characters.
"But only on the condition that you animate them and make them look like horrible mutants."
The CD-i that Phillips made turned out to be hot garbage, and the Zelda games made for them weren't much better. The Wand of Gamelon seen above (and it's cousin Link: The Faces of Evil) featured an awkward side-scrolling perspective, floaty and unresponsive controls, and terrible hit detection. The third game, Zelda's Adventure, was even worse, and it also featured live-action video, which I highly encourage you to check out if you've ever wanted to see a programmer mumble exposition into a fake beard.
The best thing that anyone can say about these games is that they're some of the better games made for the CD-i, which is damning with the faintest praise modern scientific instruments can detect.
Coca-Cola has long been locked in a bitter war with its arch-nemesis Pepsi-Cola, a feud which began millennia ago when Pepsi-Cola killed their sensei in a duel. By the 1980s, Coca-Cola was losing this war, its flagship product hemorrhaging market share with each passing year. Pepsi's main claim to fame at the time was that it tasted sweeter than Coke, and holy shit, that was their main selling point? How could Coke not taste sweet enough to people?
It's actually kind of impressive that those all fit in there. Nice work, chemistry.
In response to this, Coca-Cola executives decided to create a new formula for Coke, one much sweeter than the original recipe. Test groups responded fairly well to the new flavor, although some respondents objected to the idea of the new recipe replacing Coke altogether. "Fuck 'em," I like to imagine the Coca-Cola executives said while hoovering up vast quantities of their product's namesake. Days later, New Coke was born.
"I FEEL AMAZING DON'T YOU FEEL AMAZING WE SHOULD DO THIS MORE OFTEN LET'S INVENT NEW COKE RIGHT NOW."
People were outraged, and soon found themselves hording cases of "Old Coke," organizing letter-writing campaigns, or breaking down crying in the middle of traffic. It wasn't so much that the new flavor was unacceptable, people were just gutted by the loss of the old version. The taste of Coke, it turns out, is this fundamental taste that people get exposed to in childhood and become emotionally attached to. It's the same reason everyone thinks their mom's Thanksgiving dinner is the best, even though most of your moms suck. Losing the old Coke was like losing a piece of your childhood.
The decision was hastily reversed, and Coca-Cola Classic was introduced soon after. In the years that followed, Coke regained almost all of its market share, proving conclusively that nothing strengthens a relationship like a nice, well-timed threat to leave.
Microsoft's Windows operating systems take incredible amounts of shit, not always unfairly. Windows 95 and 98, although widely used and accepted, had enormous stability and security problems. Windows Vista was plagued with hardware compatibility issues and featured an obnoxiously dumb User Account Control that flooded the user with unnecessary prompts. And Windows 8 attempts to shoehorn users into a tile-based user interface completely inappropriate to the mouse-and-keyboard interface those computers still use. It's kind of ridiculous that the flagship product of a company can so consistently come out riddled with flaws.
"Hey, I got an idea. Let's forget everything we know about computer interfaces, then drink gasoline
by a whiteboard for 14 days to see what we come up with."
But even standing in that hallowed company, nothing compares to Windows Millennium Edition (or Windows ME), due to the simple fact that it didn't fucking work. Windows 95 and 98 had stability issues, but ultimately, they did at least get things done. Windows ME got rid of that. "Get out of here, working code," I imagine the product managers said, the air hazy from their breath. The result was buggy, slow, and lacking any features that weren't easily downloadable for Windows 98. Worse, there was no reason for Windows ME to be released. Windows 98 had just been refreshed, and the powerful and stable Windows XP was only a year away. Did no one consider just not putting out an operating system that year? Did you assholes honestly think taking everyone's money in exchange for a steaming heap of stool was the right thing to do?
"Well, it literally cost us nothing, so yes, we do."
iPod Shuffle (Third Generation)
Apple has made some of the most groundbreaking products of the last 15 years. The iPhone was years ahead of what anyone else was making at the time. The iPod didn't invent the Mp3 player, but it did basically perfect it. And the iPad essentially created a new category of computer.
The bathtub porn viewer.
But Apple has always had a bit of a "take it or leave it" approach with its user interfaces. Widgets, customizable keyboards, and other features found on competing smartphones have taken a long time to show up on iPhones. Macs have a bizarre, almost cultish devotion to single-button mouses. And the old iPod scroll wheel was stylish, but a bit unintuitive, needlessly confusing volume controls with basic menu movement.
And then there's the iPod with no buttons.
"Is there any way we can put less than no buttons on it?"
"Uh, not in this universe, Steve, no."
That's the third generation of the iPod Shuffle and, OK, sure it has a power switch on the top, so it's not quite no buttons. Still, that's not much for controls, is it? The iPod Shuffle was always a bit of an odd duck, by design too small to have a screen that would let you navigate the songs stored on the device. Still, at least the first couple generations had a button to, you know, switch to the next song. The third-generation Shuffle got rid of that.
Apple will pick the music for you, and you will like it, prole.
OK, realistically, this Shuffle expected you to use an Apple branded set of headphones with inline controls, which sort of worked, although that restricted you from using actually good headphones, or your car stereo jack, or anything else that an Mp3 player in 2009 should have been able to support. It was a ridiculous mistake, and I have no doubt at all that it made Apple 7 zillion dollars because it also came in a range of attractive colors.
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This is kind of cheating; there have been so many Barbie dolls that it's kind of inevitable that some of them would be terrible. Growing Up Skipper, the doll that gets taller and grows breasts when you twist her arm, has to rank up there.
As does Teen Talk Barbie, versions of which said, "Math class is tough!"
"My product manager has no idea what the fuck he's doing!"
But for this entry I'm going to talk about Pregnant Midge. Midge has been one of Barbie's friends since at least the 1960s, and in 2002 became a central part of the Happy Family line of Barbie toys, where she was given a husband and kids. All fine so far. At least until we get to the Pregnant Midge doll, which features a magnetically detachable fetus.
Just like in real life.
There was some controversy over this, much of it centering on the fact that, wait, is this a teenager or not? Oh, she's an adult now? OK, cool. Then someone noticed that she didn't have a wedding ring and wasn't packaged with her husband. And sure, fine, that's whatever; Mattel soon painted a ring on her. But no one really calmed down after that, in part because this was a doll with a magnetically detachable fetus. That kind of defies calming-downness.
"Forget the 'out of wedlock' business. I'm mostly upset they're making this look so easy."
Child birth is a hell of a thing. Honestly, there's a case to be made that our culture conceals it more than we should. It's kind of a critical part of this whole operation we've got going on, and maybe shouldn't be shoved in the shadows as much as it is. But holy dickwhistles, man. I don't know if a pregnant doll with a magnetically detachable fetus is the way to approach the subject. The real process isn't like that. There are no magnets at all, for one.
"Uhhh, nurse, is he head-up or head-down?"
It was, of course, soon recalled, and then, of course, soon a collector's item. You can buy one yourself if for some reason you ever want a terrifying way to teach your kid about childbirth. Or, for that matter, a terrifying way to teach them about magnets.
And be sure to check out 6 Movies That Actually Deserve a Remake and 5 Great Ways to Destroy Your Highly Anticipated Video Game.
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