The Sega 32X. A name that, especially in recent years, has caused nothing but snorts of hearty derision. But we here at Retro Game Geeks, we seek to present a brief history and contextualisation on the plucky little MegaDrive/Genesis add-on. A rushed system known most infamously for its small library, short shelf-life and low sales...But not a system with out its obvious pros to weigh in on the cons.
The 32X's history is fairly muddled. During its initital unveiling it was going to be marketed as a stand-alone console as developed by Sega of Japan: a low-cost, cartridge-based entry to the 32-bit market. The Sega of Japan version being the Sega Project Jupiter before evolving into the Project Mars. Yes, this was the period that Sega were obsessed with the planets. Anyway...
That all got scrapped when Sega of America thought it would serve better as a peripheral/add-on to boost the MegaDrive/Genesis into a 32-bit console with its own seperate library of games. While in theory, this idea worked due to the Sega MegaCD's success as an alternative way to game on the 16-Bit console. However, the reality was the MegaCD was for many gamers their first home Compact Disc device and the system wasn't ever meant as the definitive option. Go check out the systems page for more on that though, folks!
The Executives over at Sega of America Vs. those at Sega of Japan has become a thing of legend in the gaming community, with the Sega 32X being the biggest example pre-Saturn. Although the Jupiter was to be the hold over Genesis with an upgrade, R&D Head Joe Miller literally thought it was a (quote): "Horrible idea". Two seperate 32-bit consoles could cause confusion with consumers, so the train of thought goes; so why not do what was already tried and tested as mentioned above? Seems logical, right?
The Sega 32X suffered from a rush to get it to the market in time for the Christmas period. In fact, by the time it was released in Japan the Sega Saturn had already hit the shelves. The decision to make it an add-on had not particularly helped the cause of dampening the possibility of consumer confusion. The looming arrival of rival systems from Sony and Nintendo also was not helping Sega out here, either. The Sega 32X was quickly becoming a bastard child of the gaming industry. With a shelf-life of roughly a year, the games library was small as mentioned, with the lack of support from third-parties in favour of the Saturn. Due to this it has become an easy entry into fullset collecting for first-timers in the retro-collecting community!
Using cart-based media, the 32X was powered with 2 Hitachi SH2 32-Bit RISC processors clocked in at 23MHz, 2MBit of RAM (2MBit of Video RAM) and a VDP that kicked out a beautiful palette of 32,768 rendering 50,000 Polygons a second. To play the system you had to insert it into the cartridge slot with its own A/V connectors and power supply alongside the MegaDrive/Genesis. Console alone, it certainly wasn't as pretty as the CD add-on options, more akin to a mushroom shape. But what ever your personal opinions are on the external look, the graphical capabilities cannot be denied.
The Sega 32X was capable of producing some of the most lush looking 2D graphics anywhere. One look at Knuckles Chaotix and you're eyes are infested with candy-sprited dreams of wonder. Yeah. It looks amazing. For those with the older CD add-on, there was a select few titles that utilised both add-ons at once to enhance a games capabilities, rendering larger, smoother images on FMV games such as Corpse Killer and Night Trap. Very cool!
With roughly 40 games total released worldwide history was never going to look kindly on the system but a lack of quantiity of titles aside the Sega 32X is, obviously; not without its gems! The aforementioned Knuckles Chaotix is one of the more unique entries into the Sonic franchise, introducing/following characters that have remained popular through the years, the game really showcased what the 32X was capable of with it being a serious 2D powerhouse. Kolibri is one of the most unique and beautiful shooters you'll ever play, too. Imagine Ecco meets Apidya and you'll be on the right track, mind-blowingly original and extremely pretty.
The system also featured some very nice ports, alongside the obvious CD games; the 32X had a plagued but nontheless good Doom port, a close to definitive Space Harrier and a superb Mortal Kombat II conversion, a stellar port of Virtua Fighter and also a decent Virtua Racing Deluxe. Star Wars Arcade was another great demonstration of the systems capabilities and Sega even rolled out a new Zaxxon game on the system! Alas, there remain games with only marginal graphical upgrades due to better scrolling and resolution that didn't take full advantage of what was on offer, yet are still playable. Games like Primal Rage, WWF Raw and WrestleMania: The Arcade Game, NBA Jam TE and Fifa 96. You have to wonder what could have happened if the developers had really made an effort, cheap ports really are the bane of new hardware launches.
Overall, the Sega 32X is something that the majority of gamers appear highly indifferent over. Largerly derided and/or ignored, we here at Retro Game Geeks say: why not give it a shot? Its not 1994 any more so lets just judge the games on how they play and how they have stood the test of time. Have fun with it all, as if we all held a grudge...I wouldn't own a SNES. Or PlayStation. Whether its nostalgia or intrigue, the Sega 32X is still an important part of gaming history and has literally spawned nothing quite like it in its wake. Go deeper in researching the history of the consoles development hell and you'll unveil a web that makes The Social Network look like nothing. This is the Sega 32X. The what could have been, the what should have been.