Ranking Physical Game Media (Part 3)

Ranking Physical Game Media (Part 3)

Last time, I ranked all of the cartridge based media I could think of that I’d actually ever used. This post, I’ll be ranking other forms of media. How exciting and/or tedious!

Tape Based Media

Cassette Tape
Ah, that most remembered of all ZX81 tapes – Cassette Four.

This one is pretty easy. Of course, the actually loading scheme of tape based computers varied, with different collections of loading noises (some computers never actually let you hear this, others did), but the tapes were all normal cassettes. They melted, they stretched, and for some computers they needed tape alignment kits and head cleaners, but the cassettes were essentially the same.

There were other tape formats, like the Wafadrive and the Microdrive, and I even have a number of drives and tapes for the latter, but I’ve never played a game from one so they’re not being ranked.

Magnetic Disk Based Media

As mentioned before, there are three main types for this – 5.25″, 3.5″ and 3″ floppies. There’s also the Famicom Disk System disks, but I’ve never used those, and the N64DD similarly passed me by. Zip disks and Jazz disks and OnStream disks were never used for games.

Floppy Disk
When HD meant 1.44MB rather than 1080p.

Of the three I have used, the 3.5″ is by far the most common, and in it’s High Density variation has the largest storage capacity. The 3″ is much sturdier though, but only used in Amstrad devices like the Spectrum +3 and Amstrad PCW and CPC ranges. The 5.25″ disks were far too easy to accidentally pierce or fold in half as not only were the “platters” floppy (hence the name “floppy disk”), but the casing for them was too. Interestingly, the 3″ and the 5.25″ disks both had to be physically ejected and turned over (on most drives, anyway) to read the other side – the 3.5″ drives could generally read both sides of a 3.5″ without ejecting. Aside from the first, very old, single sided 3.5″ disks of course.

To rank from worst to best:

5.25″ Floppy is worst because it’s slowest, lowest capacity and easiest to break.

3″ Floppy because it’s relatively bomb-proof and feels more like a cartridge than a disk.

3.5″ Floppy because of storage, speed and ubiquity.

Card Based Media

Let’s see what I’ve managed to list for this category. Lynx (after a false categorisation as a cartridge, sorry), Master System, PC Engine/TurboGrafx, DS, 3DS, N-Gage and Vita. That it? That’s it. I hope. Again, from worst to best:

N-gage CardN-Gage Cards
Look, it’s basically just a standard MMC type card. You can drive a bus over them and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with them, but how you use them is why it’s the Worst Type Of Card Of All. In order to put the card in, you have to take the back off the phone (the N-Gage is a phone, in case you didn’t know), and remove the battery. Ridiculous. The updated N-Gage, the QD, fixes this issue but by then it was too late.


Lynx CardLynx Cards
They look as though there’s no way they can actually contain any data (they’re reasonably thick for a card but appear to be made of nothing but plastic – the chip hides behind the label!), they seem rather big for what they are. About the size of a Game Gear cartridge but obviously much slimmer, they have a curious curve at the “pull” end. Except that some of them (California Games, for example) don’t, which disturbs me. These completely flat ones are just as nice, and the curve is replaced with some “grippy bumps”, but the two conflicting shapes knock this down the chart.

3DS Card3DS Cards
3DS cards are exactly the same as DS cards, but with an “ear” poking out of the top right which prevents them fitting in a DS’s card slot. This ear ruins the aesthetic and as a result, the 3DS cards lose out to the DS cards.

Vita Cards
Mainly because they only have Vita games on them, and the Vita has no games. Oh ho! Seriously though[ref]Seriously, seriously though, it doesn’t. At least, not on card. Well, it does, but they’re hard to find, especially on the high street where the Vita has never had much of a presence. Almost my entire Vita library is digital – I only have two cards and play neither of them. One of them I’ve never even used.[/ref], they’re fine. I actually like their rounded tops and diminutive size.

Master System Cards
Cheaper to produce but with a lower capacity than Master System Cartridges, many early MS games came on these cards. Aside from the arrangement of pins, they’re virtually identical to (although obviously not compatible with) HuCards. HuCards just pip it, as they were better supported and higher capacity.

hucardPC Engine HuCards
Almost exactly the same dimensions as a credit card, and barely thicker (especially if you take the raised credit card numbers into account), HuCards must have been a wonder of miniaturisation at the time. Even now it seems there’s nowhere for the chip to exist on the card. A nice touch is how on the back there’s a space for you to write a name. Your name, presumably, as the name of the game is already on the label. A big advantage of these cards was that when portable PC Engines (like the LT and the similar-to-a-Game-Boy GT) came out, they could make use of the same cards. No so with the Game Gear, which was capable of running Master System games, but the Master System cartridges were huge. The western TurboGrafx was basically a PC Engine and also used almost identical HuCards – only the pins were wired up differently to effectively region lock the console.

DS Cards
Little square providers of joy. When they came out, they were one of the smallest forms of game media available, and contained an almost secret reference to the Game Boy by replicating the single rounded corner that the earlier Nintendo handheld had. Lovely.

Optical Disc Based Media

And this is the final category to rank (since Dead Tree is a format all by itself). To look at, most variants of this media form are the same to look at. The GameCube discs are smaller, and the UMDs for the PSP are in a caddy, but the rest are the same size, and virtually indistinguishable. PS1 discs have a bizarre black colour on the data side (apparently to prevent piracy – it didn’t work), Wii U discs have that glorious rounded edge, and different formats tended to have slightly different hues, presumably due to the dyes used to make up the material.


In part one of this topic, I ranked them already, but didn’t include PSP and GameCube, which I’ll do now. Again, worst to best:

Because it was stupid. A spinning disc on a handheld. Go home, Sony – you’re drunk.

CDs (PS1, PC, MegaCD, Neo Geo CD, etc.)
Relatively low capacity of around 700MB.

Dreamcast GD-ROM
Almost a CD, but with 1GB of data squeezed on.

DVDs (PC, PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360 etc.)
Like CDs, but with up to 9.4GB of data on a dual layer disc.

GameCube MiniDVDs
Lower capacity than DVDs (it’s just 1.8GB) but it has a faster read speed than them, and awwwwww! It’s soooo cute! Look at how ickle it is! Awwww! Much kawaii. (?????)

Bluray (PS3/4, Xbone, PCs)
Another evolution in the CD format. Up to 50GB of data.

Wii U Game Discs
Although unconfirmed, these are likely very similar to Bluray discs, albeit in a single 25GB layer form. However, the smooth rounded edges are so damn tactile it wins here.

And that’s it! Next time, the complete list!


  1. I think there’s a case to be made that the card slot placement on the n-Gage is what killed Nokia. I mean there was nothing inherently wrong with a hybrid phone/console. The meteoric rise of mobile gaming since then has proved that. So if they’d done the n-Gage properly, Nokia could have been at the head of the pack, the Nintendo of mobile (in every sense; Nintendo doesn’t play by everyone else’s rules, but survives because it’s Nintendo, and similarly, if Nokia had already positioned itself as the leader in mobile gaming, with AAA exclusives and all that, its failure to see Andoid coming might not have mattered so much). But with that one idiotic, braindead, who-the-hell-thought-this-was-a-good-idea, design flaw, they totally blew it.

    Okay, so it’s a bit much to say it, alone, killed the company. But getting it right might have saved them.

    “HuCards must have been a wonder of miniaturisation at the time.”

    I never saw a PC Engine at the time (they were mythical beasts of great power that you only heard about in hushed whispers in those pre-Internet days), but as you say, Master System cards were basically identical. And yes, they were. Again, as you pointed out, they were lower-capacity than cartridges, so tended to carry the less-impressive games, but back in the late ’80s there was something ineffably cool about having a whole actual videogame on something the size and shape of a credit card.

    I still sit in awed wonder sometimes that I can carry my entire CD collection – 29 days of music, at the last count – on a micro-SD card that if I’m holding it in my hand and sneeze I can’t find it again for hours. What a time to be alive, eh?

    “PS1 discs have a bizarre black colour on the data side (apparently to prevent piracy – it didn’t work)”

    Looks cool, though.

    Duncan Snowden
    1. The N-Gage was a console built entirely from mis-steps. It had a controller, but it was poor. It had a screen, but it was the wrong way up. It was home to PS1/Saturn ports like Tony Hawk and Tomb Raider but didn’t have shoulder buttons to do them justice. The card slot position was the worst, but they fixed that (and only that) for the QD model. The idea was sound, the execution was all wrong.

      The first time I was a PS1 disc I was convinced someone had taken a felt-tip to it.


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