Action Max from Worlds of Wonder (WoW), released in the US in 1987, was a unique, if simple and ultimately unimpressive game system that used special pre-recorded VHS video tapes for software. The original package came bundled with the base unit, light gun, television sensor, headphones, connection cables, documentation and one game, "Sonic Fury". Batteries or a power supply were not included. After connecting the components to the base unit and the base unit to any standard VCR, the player inserted the videotape game into the VCR and pressed 'play'. After minimal video instruction, the target sensor was placed on the appropriate spot on the television's screen via the included suction cup. A short target practice scenario was displayed, then the game began, with the target sensor glowing red every time a hit was registered, keeping count on the base unit.
Interaction was strictly one way. There was no reaction from the video when a target, be it a plane, ghost or some other enemy, was hit, so gameplay was a purely linear experience, with the footage rolling unimpeded as long as 'stop' was not pressed on the VCR's controls or the end of the tape was reached. As for the quality of the videos themselves, the special effects were laughable and what little there was in regards to acting was amateurish at best. Since the base unit could receive signals but not output them, a small speaker was built-in to generate simple sound effects. This sound could be disabled or bypassed with the headphones.
Three game modes could be selected: 'Standard', 'Reflex' and 'Limited Ammunition'. On the console itself there were dials to adjust interal sound volume and player distance from the display. There were also switches to choose game type ('Normal', 'Special'), players ('First', 'Second') and to turn the system on or Off.
So what were the system's failings? Due to the linear nature of the games, targets appeared in the same places every single time, making memorization of "enemy" locations a real issue. While the system had three game variations and play for alternating gamers, it was nothing more than a fancy target game, no matter which videotape was utilized. Interestingly, at the end of each videotape "game", there were video previews of other releases, which also had targets and could be shot at and scored, acting like a (unintentional?) demo!
WoW was most famous for its "Teddy Ruxpin" line of animated dolls and "Laser Tag" action game. WoW was also the original distributor of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the US. Eventually, Nintendo's market presence became so great that the company decided to handle distribution and store relations without WoW's assistance. The Action Max then was WoW's ill-fated attempt to re-enter the videogame market with a device that was more toy than videogame. Interestingly, after the company's collapse due to a glut of unbought toys, some of its former employees went to work for Nintendo.
NOTE: If you want to buy one of these units from auction sites, the format for the VHS tapes is NTSC, which does not work in many International territories.
Thanks to Bill Loguidice for text correction and most of the info.