Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Supplemental: Remembering the Sega 32X

with 3 comments

In 1994, the 16-bit generation in America was dwindling and gamers were ready for the 32-bit generation to emerge.  With discussions of interactive CD-ROM consoles, the emergence of early 32-bit  CD consoles like CD-i and 3DO and everyone wanted to know what Sega and Sony had in store for the future.  Super Nintendo was only three years into its life and riding strong while the Genesis was having a tougher time competing.  Not only did its age (it’s two years older than the SNES) hinder it, but with the introduction of the failing Sega CD, the Genesis still didn’t have the kick it wanted.  In early January 1994, Sega CEO Hayao Nakayama wanted a 32-bit cartridge console to be released that Christmas, codenamed “Project Jupiter” (Sega used planets for its projects).  Sega shortly decided that CD-based technology would be better suited for this project and it was renamed to “Project Saturn” – it would later go on to be the Sega Saturn console that released in 1995.

Sega still wanted an updated console out in 1994 and thanks to Sega of America’s Joe Miller and a handful of Japanese engineers, a 32-bit enhancement to the Genesis with more colors, codenamed “Project Mars”, began development.  It would be a cartridge-based console that would utilize Genesis-like carts and require the Genesis to work.  It would plug into the Sega Genesis cartridge port and essentially turn the Genesis into a 32-bit console, adding additional sound channels and gain even further enhancements when a Sega CD was attached.  Everything about the console was rushed – it was premiered in CES Chicago in Summer 1994 as the “Sega 32X”, shown off at Sega Gamer’s Day in September 1994 and hit store shelves in November 1994.  With a retail price of $150 in the US and strong launch titles like Virtua Racing Deluxe, Star Wars Arcade and Doom stores projected 1 million unit sales for the end of 1994 alone.  As with everything involving the 32X, the rush of demand wasn’t fulfilled by Sega and Christmas 1994 only saw 350,000 consoles with Sega’s goal of 600,000 shipped by year’s end taking until end of January 1995 to fulfill.  It was also noted that the rushed 32X version of Doom was missing a whopping 10 levels that were in the PC version – it should be noted that 5 levels were missing from the SNES version and that a ROM hack allows you to play this version with all levels intact.

For anyone who’s ever owned a 32X, there are plenty of aesthetic and mechanical issues with the console.  At the time of launch, I owned a Sega Genesis 1 console and Sega CD 1, which meant I had the most complicated hook-up.  I needed a patch cable to go from the RF out on the Genesis into a special A/V cable for the 32X and then A/V cables out to the television.  I also had to install bulky metal clips into the cartridge slot that the instruction manual claimed would prevent static electricity from destroying my Genesis.  In truth these don’t appear to be necessary and they prevented my 32X from making the necessary connection it needed to work (the clips held it elevated in my case).  Not only that, when I disassembled it to return to the store – yes, I definitely returned it – it left scratch marks on my Genesis.  Later in time I would use it on the Sega Genesis 2 with a Sega CD 2 and would discover it was much easier to hook up, didn’t need hooks, held firm and didn’t require the A/V patch cable.  Once everything was hooked up your Genesis was a monstrosity and required three large boxy AC adaptors to function (Genesis, 32X and CD), which many have nicknamed “Frankenconsole”.

Behold “Frankenconsole”

According to Sega, the 32X would be a pass-through device, so once it was hooked up you could plug Genesis games in there and they would work.  This is somewhat true.  First of all, Virtua Racing for the Genesis wouldn’t work, which I’m sure Sega’s response was to re-purchase it for the 32X, but the Genesis version wasn’t all that different and I had already purchased it that year for a whopping retail price of $100.  In addition, the power base converter, allowing you to play Master System titles also wouldn’t work with the 32X attached.  If you happened to own a Genesis 3, Sega CDX (portable CD player with a Genesis/Sega CD built-in) or most 3rd party Genesis consoles the 32X wouldn’t work.  A hardware mod allowed it to work with the CDX, but there’s risk of damaging the console and the JVC X’EYE apparently works with mixed results.

Following the launch, the ill-fated future of the 32X quickly began to come into view.  Developers abandoned the console, waiting for what they felt were true 32-bit consoles with 3D graphics like the Saturn and Playstation.  Those that worked with it managed to release games that were not only already on Genesis, but didn’t look much more improved on 32X.  Mortal Kombat II, NBA Jam Tournament Edition and Virtua Racing Deluxe all utilized most of the power that the 32X offered and is touted by fans to be some of the best titles on the console.  From personal experience, these games only look slightly better, hardly worth the $150 cost of the console and the $50 cost of the game (especially since you probably already owned it on Genesis).  Sega was trying to do too much at this time and even planned a Genesis/32X combo console, “Project Neptune”, which never saw a release.  The Neptune would later be mocked in Electronic Gaming Monthly’s April 2001 issue where the mag claimed to have found a warehouse of old Neptunes and would be selling them for $50.  It was also discovered by the community that if you removed the 32X casing you could install it into a Genesis 2 case without modification for a permanent combo console – but keep in mind incompatibility issues I mentioned above.

Neptune prototype

From a collector’s standpoint, there’s still not much to love about the 32X even today.  For starters, many consoles don’t work and sellers don’t have the right cables to even hook it up and verify this.  You need an AC adaptor (same as Genesis 2) and the A/V cable (it’s a double-sided version of the A/V cable for the Genesis 2) as well as the A/V patch cable if hooking it up to a Genesis 1.  If you hook it up and see wavy colors or a washout of graphical elements, check your AC, it’s probably too low but the store used anything that would plug into the port on the 32X.  Those that find good, working consoles at stores or online can expect to pay $50-$100 for the console due to the rarity of a working console with the appropriate cables.  It also had a pathetic library of 40 games in America, and six of those are Sega 32X CD games, which require a complete “Frankenconsole” to run.  Out of these games, many are slightly enhanced versions of Genesis games and all 32X CD games are also available on Sega CD with little downgrade.  Of the unique titles Knuckles Chaotix and Virtua Fighter are about all you’d be interested in.  Sure, Spider-Man Web of Fire is a solid game but its rarity as the final US release title skyrocket the value to over $100 for the cart alone.  I paid like $50 for it about a decade ago and I can assure you it isn’t worth that much.  If you want to be even more masochistic, the super rare PAL-only title Darxide, a shooter originally intended to be the launch game for the Neptune, runs about $1000 or more anytime it’s on eBay.  Although rare and valuable to collectors, it isn’t worth more than probably $20 to any serious gamer.

Was it a mistake?  Sure.  How Sega could begin hype on the Saturn and expect consumers to even blink at a Genesis add-on is beyond me, but I hear they expected many consumers to stick with the Genesis upon the Saturn’s release.  It’s a short and relatively useless library, but for some of us Sega fanboys out there it’s great to show off and generate a laugh or two.  For me personally, I only bought it back in 2002 because I got my hands on a 32X CD version of Night Trap and my love for that game has me owning every terrible version on every terrible console that ever released.

List of 32X Games

And this picture just for fun…

I love Sega

Written by Fred Rojas

January 9, 2012 at 12:03 pm

3 Responses

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  1. I followed the Genesis from June 1992 until it bit the dust. I rode the wave of every lie they told from October ’92 until the death of Dreamcast. I eventually climbed onboard the PC train and never looked back. I have never owned any game console made after 1999 and never intend to.
    I plan on playing Christmas Nights on my 1994 Japanese Sega Saturn around Midnight tonight 12/24/12.
    Merry Christmas to all!!

    Chris Chandler

    December 24, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    • I am quite the Sega fan myself and you will definitely want to check back in tomorrow. Let’s just say I had the same idea as you and will have an article tomorrow to reflect that.


      December 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      • I quickly related to your story about owning the Saturn, though my problems came when Sega CD was released/I bought into it hard. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I bought Cobra Command and played it. I had literally spent my last $50 on that. What a turkey. I thought the console was amazing. I remember seeing early pictures of The Saturn in a few circulations long before Playstation was a solo project, in those days it was still the secret Famicom CD thing. Soon the bubble would burst. The early pictures of Saturn showed a fan at the left front corner. It was later removed. It was taken apart by the publisher and I’m thinking it was EGM because they were a bit less corporate in those days and delved into the systems that were coming out.

        Chris Chandler

        December 24, 2012 at 8:50 pm

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