The Sega 32X is the black sheep of the 16-32 bit generation. It failed as a viable console due to Sega misguided decisiveness to split their consumer base in thirds with the Genesis, Sega CD & 32X. I’m not going to try and convince anyone that the 32X was a sleeper hardcore success or anything outlandish like that but I do believe that is falls into my “exception that’s it’s not total shit” category. What I mean is that for every gaming console ever released, there usually about 5-10 decent to good games that is actually worth your time and the 32X fits that definition to a tee.
For a system expansion, it does a very good job increasing the functionality of the core Genesis console. The 32X outperformed the Sega CD enabling the newly conjoined device to smoothly run polygon base games and increase the simultaneous color onscreen from 64 from a pallet of 512 (Genesis/Sega CD) to a whopping 32,768. The mushroom shaped add-on generates the beautiful lush backgrounds while the Genesis processor will generate the character sprites. The potential was there to get Super Nintendo quality games out of the old Genny with help of the 32X. The true crime is that many developers were unable to tap into the 32X potential due to a short vicious cycle of too many Sega systems out in a 5 year period that snuffed the life out of the old girl.
The 32X only existed as a place holder between the Genesis and the Saturn back in November of 1994. Instead of building support, the $160 32X units continued the ongoing trend of leaving a foul taste in the consumer base who was still trying to swallow the overly expensive Sega CD unit ($299.00) which was released two years prior. With the Sega Saturn secretly being launched only six months later, you can see why the 32X had no support and what little support it had was upscale Genesis shovel ware. Yet here lies the super secret that makes the 32X a system to get into now. The system may have been an overprice hunk of junk back in ’95 but it hobo cheap in today’s market.
I picked up my first 32X back around ’97 at K-Mart when they were on clearance for $20. I rummaged through the stacks in the clearance bins for the box set that came with the Doom pack-in. The game was alright but I could not find games for the stupid thing. They were no longer on store shelves and it hadn’t trickled into the swap meet/flea markets scene yet so no used games for me. There were no game stores by my home and I didn’t know about ebay so options were very limited. I eventually returned back for full credit because at the time the 32X wasn’t worth my $20 investment.
Nobody wants it and it still has that stigma about it being a failed system, mainly because it was a massive failure. How does a console overcome reality? With only the good games of course. Just because a system fail doesn’t mean there are no good games on the damn thing. Due to this misconception the prices on the add-on and games are ridiculously low with uncommon complete games going for about $10-15. There’s even some common sealed 32X games going for $9 on ebay right now. As long as you are not a completionist who needs to have 100% complete games with box and instructions, you can build up a nice library of cheap bare carts which are in the ballpark of the $5 range for common games. Even the rarest 32X game Spiderman: Web of Fire, you can hunt down for less than $100.
So here’s a list of game you might want to consider assuming you’re like me and get your jollies from playing imperfect arcade parts on an underpowered home console, which is still more powerful than the original underpowered console that the masses have played their inferior ports on. The whole 32X library is about 40 games and there is a lot of shit to wade through but there are a few gems you might want to try out.
This was probably the best port of this game back in the day. This port was an improvement in the audio and animation department. The characters looked better than the Genesis port and made it on par with the SNES game. The backgrounds are very similar to the Genesis but the over feel of the game makes this game play better than its 16-bit brethren. The most important aspect of the MK series is the fatalities which are all intact in their pixelated beauty. Of course now this game has been ported over to every system known to man, it’s only worth a look if you can find it cheaper than $5, because if you have a PS3, you would have already bought the arcade perfect port for $5.
Another very competent port of a game I never got around to repurchasing for the Genesis or the SNES, NBA Jam: TE is still fun to play through today. I loathe sports games with a passion but this is the glory days when the pictures on the screen only closely resembles the sports you were supposedly play. The character models are animated well and the audio has been greatly improved. I actually lost track of time replaying as the Calves and getting my ass handed to me by the Mavericks. Of course to get back at the computer, I picked the Bulls and became unstoppable. Ah memories. I know this is probably one of the most ports game in the nineties, but if you love this game and want the best version that not on Atari Jaguar or the actual arcade, then this is the version for you. This game was a blast on the Genesis and now it’s even better with the 32X.
After Burner is that one game I could never be happy with on the home console. With its heavy sprite scaling graphics, every single port that I own of the game ends up choking in the end. (Looking at you Sega Master System) That is until I play After Burner Complete. What makes this version complete? I have no fuckin’ clue but it’s awesome. This was the first game that made me go wow. I was shocked how fast this game played. The scaling effect is the best I’ve seen on any cart based home console and the action is fast and furious. The music is very Top Gun-esque and it makes me smile to see the F-14 Tomcat kick major ass. The sound effects are spot on and for all intent and purpose, this is the closest you are going to get to the arcade with hardware this old. The squirrel-ly controls takes some time to get use to and the hyper fast action can get disorientating but as simple this game is, I love it. It’s arcadey fun and worth the time to pick this cheap game up.
Probably the best example of pushing the limits of the 32X, this action based space flight sim is completely polygon based with a smooth frame rate and tight controls. It blows Star Fox out of the sky because you are not force onto rails which tends to turn that kind of shooter into an elaborate shooting gallery. With a six button controls, you have a lot of control of a flight sim with the action of a console game. With Shadow Squadron you can fly freely in your environment to take out your objective any way you please. If you want to take out the small fighters first, then go ahead. If you want to go balls out and take down the mothership, fine but you probably won’t survive. with two different ships that play differently, the game is simply cool and is worth your time. It can be compared to the X-wing vs. Tie fighter series on the PC on basic game play and controls but what makes this game a true gem is that you can only play Shadow Squadron on the 32X because it was never ported onto any other systems.
Another console exclusive, Star Wars Arcade, like the title suggest, is a port of the polygon base arcade game. You can choose between single player where you play as an X-Wing or with 2 players where player one is the pilot and player two is the gunner of a Y-Wing. I had a chance to play the arcade version long time ago at Game works in Las Vegas and the 32X port seems competent enough. The frame rate is not as smooth as Shadow Squadron but it’s playable. it’s another Death Star run game where you and your squadron is force to take out the Death Star. What gets repetitive is that the only way to progress is to shot down a certain amount of Tie Fighters before the timer runs out. In a nutshell the game is shallow and is only for the hardcore Star Wars fan. The most I can say about this game is that it’s an elaborate remake of the classic Star Wars vector game. It’s okay at best and might be worth you time if you are really bored.
The most expensive 32X game is my collection, Blackthorne is game of the vein to the original 2D Prince of Persia and Out of the World. Like those games, the controls take some getting use to but once everything clicks, the game is a blast. You have to climb, shot and think you way through each level and the controls are tight which makes the game that much more awesome. By pressing up with the shotgun enabled, you can take cover in the shadow to dodge oncoming gunfire against enemies that resembles the ogres from World of Warcraft because they are the ogres from W.O.W. Blackthorne was made by Blizzard before W.O.W so the hard Blizzard fans would probably get a shitload of subtle nuances that are way over my head. Many consider Blackthorne 32X to be the superior port of the SNES version since all the blood and violence are still intact from the DOS version and it has the graphical upgrade over the previous twoversions with beautiful and detailed environments. Blackthorne is still fun and intriguing to play and if you can find a cheaper copy of this game, you should get it a go. It will at least justify your purchase of the 32X.
I’m still waiting for my copy of Space Harrier and I’m searching the web for a copy of Knuckles Chaotix, Kolibri & if I’m lucky a cheap copy of Spiderman: Web of Fire. For what it was the 32X did its job well. It enhances the Genesis to be something potentially better. You’re going to have to do your homework on finding a cheap 32X. You need to make sure it has the video adapter cable. I’ve seen them around town in the bargain bins at thrift stores and what not. I scored my 32X from Sean over at Game Repair, so you might want to give him a try first.
The 32X was a failure but don’t blame the child, you blame the parents.