Gaming History 101

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Buying Guide: Jaguar

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We all love our retro consoles, but in many cases the consoles we are buying are because they are cheap enough or we have enough money to purchase what we never were able to in our youth.  Unfortunately the business of making used retro items available to the masses can at times be a money grubbing market where consumers are deceived by people they will never meet in real life.  As an individual who has spent the last decade scouring the local area, conventions, eBay, and the internet as a whole I have learned many valuable lessons.  For that reason I present my buying guide series, which is a handy quick guide to knowing what to purchase and what will cost an arm and a leg to replace.

The Atari Jaguar just can’t get a break.  Touted as a technological breakthrough of its time, this holiday 1993 console may have been a commercial failure but it was clearly a hardware powerhouse.  Sure, it may not have been a true 64-bit console just because the twin Tom and Jerry chips were 32-bit co-processors (more on that in our podcast), but for $250 you were getting a lot for your money (estimates claim the Jaguar cost up to $400 to manufacture).  As far as exclusives go there’s not really much to tell.  You’ve basically got Aliens vs. PredatorTempest 2000Breakout 2000, and Kasumi Ninja – half of which are considered to be crap by most gamers – so finding the games on the Jaguar elsewhere will be easy to do.  Couple that with the god awful controllers and the need (at least for me) to purchase all of the console games complete in box with the inserts for the controller (and essentially increasing the price anywhere from three to ten fold) and most people are probably going to walk away.  In the event that you aren’t one of those people, just prepare for the fact that you will be spending on the upwards of $100-$200 just on a working console with a couple of controllers and then probably $30-$60 on each game if you want all the inserts and whatnot.  What you will receive in return is an impressive experience for not only the exclusives, but also the definitive version of a lot of games that were ported all over the place.  DoomNBA Jam: Tournament EditionWolfenstein 3DRaidenFlashbackPrimal Rage, and Rayman all look as good or better than their original arcade/PC versions and often have enhancements or extra content to justify the re-release on this console.  Not only that but titles like Cannon FodderSyndicate, and Theme Park are identical to the 3DO versions of those games – which in and of itself was a much more expensive ($700) and disc-based console – so if you want to re-live those halcyon Windows 95 days you either have endless headaches with DOSbox or grabbing these decent controller-ready console ports.  At this price point, you want to make sure you know what to get so here’s what you can expect when trying to grab a Jaguar:

  • AC Adaptor: Atari’s Jaguar used a pretty typical AC-to-DC power supply (those big boxy things that came with every console in the 80s and early 90s) that’s 9V at 1.2 Amps (1200 mA).  This is very standard and the plug type that goes into the Jag looks just like the one on the Genesis 2, Turbografx-16, etc. so feel free to pick up a replacement at RadioShack (they have like 12 plug tips to choose from, this one is very distinct) or many on the forums have suggested both the Genesis and Turbografx-16 adaptors work (if you own those consoles), but I can’t personally vouch for that so use at your own risk.
  • RF Adaptor: While the Jaguar was capable of much better output than RF coaxial, that’s what the console came with so it’s probably what you are going to get from most people selling the console.  This is not an ideal way to hook it up and when I tested this I had tons of RF interference because that’s what you can expect with an old coaxial RF interface.  Fortunately there was an official composite cable sold by Atari that is somewhat easy to find today on eBay for around $30, but modders have also created a much better composite/S-video hybrid cable that is definitely the best way to go and can be found for around $40.  If you want to go super high end for captures or for use with a 1080p TV and the beloved Framemeister box, you can also find some sellers online that offer the RGB output to direct 240p.  I just stuck with the S-Video and things look great on it.
  • Console: There’s not much to tell here, the console itself has an interesting square back and oval front design with a cart loader on top.  This means that most of the insides of the Jaguar are compact and contained (especially since the cart-based console has no moving parts) so scrapes, scuffs, scratches, dents, and even cracks in the plastic casing probably won’t affect it’s ability to work at all.  I would never recommend this but there’s a good chance the Jaguar could live a trip down the stairs or a drop from a reasonable height onto carpet.  The contacts on the back that allow for video ouput and the shiny red power button on the top are probably the places where you want to check for problems, since those are really the only two places (other than cart slot and power port) that can get damaged and cause the console not to function.
  • Controller: Like most others, it’s a 15-pin controller port that looks similar to the Genesis, Atari VCS/2600, 3DO, etc. but unlike those consoles you get a bulky 3-button controller that has a full 12-button numeric keypad on it as well.  This was the curse of the Jaguar because most of these buttons did various things (like switching weapons in Doom) that made it useful and sometimes necessary to have the game-specific insert that came with the game.  Given the paper boxes and relative ease to rip, break, or lose those inserts, you will want as many of them as you can find (there probably are guides online for them as well but paper is no match for the durable vinyl ones that came with the game).  Make sure the d-pad, big red buttons, and keypad buttons all click in and work properly as well as no tears or bent pins on the controller cord or ports on the console.  Atari’s Jaguar only came with one controller out of the box, so expect replacements to be somewhat hard to come by, cost a decent chunk of change ($40-$60), and jump the price of the console if you get more than one.
  • Cybermorph: I don’t believe this game was available commercially because it came included with every Jaguar console, but perhaps it did.  Since it came with the console, most owners will include this game along with a Jaguar or you can pick it up for like $5-$10 if you really want to play this hybrid between Starfox‘s graphics and a poor man’s Defender gameplay.  This is also why most copies you see will have no box, often no instructions, and of course this game requires no inserts.

Optionally there are couple of things you want to look for with both games and accessories:

  • If you are crazy enough to buy it, there was a 4-controller adaptor that was intended for use with NBA Jam: TE to allow you to play the full arcade experience.  Not only is the adaptor quite expensive but 4 controllers on the Jaguar will run you more than the cost of the console alone.  Still, what’s a couple hundred bucks to be able to play NBA Jam with 3 friends?
  • Any game you buy will most likely have one or more controller inserts.  This can be somewhat useful when picking your weapon with Doom or essential when the keypad contains a command that you need to play the game.  You will pay more for games with the inserts, lots more, but in my opinion you signed on for that when you decided to buy a Jaguar.  There are references out there for what games need what inserts, additionally I will include that data when I start to review Jaguar games in the upcoming months.

Additionally here’s a video version of this article to assist you in knowing what to look for when buying the Jaguar.


Written by Fred Rojas

December 24, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Buying Guides, Jaguar, Lessons, Videos

Tagged with ,

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