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The Weekly Five: Cancelled SEGA 32X games that could have been great

Posted by Barry the NomadFollow Barry the Nomad on Twitter! on Oct 18th, 2013

Written by My Life with SEGA’s A.J. Rosa

32x
 
Much has been said about SEGA’s last console add-on. Jaremy Parish of 1UP.com stated in his article ’20 Years Ago, SEGA Gave Us the SEGA CD’ that the 32X “tainted just about everything it touched.” GamesRadar was far more damning with their Top-10 List of Worst Consoles, where the “product of boneheaded short-sightedness” placed ninth. Oh, that wasn’t harsh enough. They went on to call it “an embarrassing footnote in console history, as well as an object lesson in why console makers shouldn’t split their user base with pricey add-ons.”

Obviously, the 32X has left quite an impression. That’s nothing new though. Prior to it’s release, the 32X was met with some enthusiasm; most notably, I feel, in EGM2′s July ’94 issue. In their special feature “32X Brings the Arcade Home!”, they were impressed with its technical specifications and ever widening list of third-party support, such as Activision, Atlus, Capcom, Core Design, Crystal Dynamics, GameTek, Interplay, Konami, Time Warner Interactive, Vic Tokai, Virgin Interactive, Acclaim and Sunsoft….just to name a few. Kenji Hiraoka, former president of Konami of America, is quoted “We have seen the specs on 32X, and are thoroughly impressed by how powerful it is. We can make amazing games on this platform.”

Shame they didn’t, which brings us to…. My personal Top 5 List of Cancelled 32X Titles!

Numerous titles were in the works before the units untimely demise in October of 1995; many of which were Genesis/SEGA CD ports (Comix Zone, Judge Dredd, Midnight Raiders, Wirehead and Zero Tolerance). However, there are a few that were truly unique and either found new life on later consoles, or were lost in the ether entirely.

Virtua Hamster (SEGA)

Hamster
 
Virtua Hamster is easily the most well-known of the bunch, and for good reason. The concept is absolutely ridiculous! It’s a 3D maze/racing title where you choose a crudely rendered polygonal hamster and race through a seemingly endless maze of pulsating dayglow tunnels. Some concept art has been leaked, as well as a mock-up of the 32X box. There’s more than enough gameplay footage available on YouTube. On top of that, there’s a playable prototype ROM. While the footage doesn’t look exciting in the sligthest, there’s a part of me that still wants it; for no other reason than it’s a 32X oddity.

http://www.q-design.com/examples/Games/Hamster.html

X-Men: Mind Games (Scavenger/SEGA)


X-Men: Mind Games is one of the more visually impressive 32X prototypes available. Developed by Scavenger, X-Men is a 3D adventure game where the camera is locked in a side-scrolling perspective, though it’s set against a fully rendered 3D environment, giving your character freedom to move in three dimensions. What few levels exist look rather stunning – for 32X, that is – showcasing colorfully detailed textures and sturdy design. The character’s animation is lacking though. They look like claymation models, and character interaction is clunky and somewhat awkward-looking.

This one got a bit more press than Virtua Hamster, thanks to the license. Gamplay footage was shown at E3 ’95 and a playable Beta has been leaked. If SEGA hadn’t pulled the plug, I think X-Men: Mind Games could have been a solid title. The potential was there, at least. Such a shame.

Shadow of Atlantis (SEGA)

shadow-of-atlantis-32x-12
 
Believe it or not, this point-and-click adventure was initially conceived as a SEGA CD game. Shadow of Atlantis was inspired by the writings of Jules Verne, namely 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Mysterious Island. Judging from a painfully brief demo that’s currently available on YouTube, the video looked pretty decent and was on par – visually – with Cyan’s Myst. The story certainly sounds intriguing, and I do enjoy point-and-click adventures. So what happened? Well, after suffering numerous delays, Shadow of Atlantis was eventually moved to the 32X. A screenshot and brief synopsis were shown in SEGA Visions (August/September 1994).

“An incredible underwater adventure! Something evil has inhabited the ruins of Atlantis, and the fate of the world and humanity rests solely in your hands. You navigate the submarine Nautilus through the mysterious city to find and destroy the horrendous Kraken. The graphics are so real, you’d better hope that you don’t get seasick as you maneuver your sub along the ocean floor. The spooky CD-quality sound effects are so convincing that you’d better hope you don’t become claustrophobic.”

Sadly, that’s the last she wrote. The project was cancelled shortly before SEGA retired the SEGA CD and 32X.  As far as I know, the project has never resurfaced as a Beta or demo. That sucks, because I really wanted to play this one.

Castlevania: The Bloodletting (Konami)

castle
 
Damn! I was really looking forward to this one, after having my ass so thoroughly whipped by Castlevania: Bloodlines for the Genesis. Bloodlines, in my opinion, was one of the best looking/sounding 2D side-scrollers on Genesis, as well as one of the most fun, frustrating, addicting games I’ve ever played. The thought of a 32X entry – expanded color palette, built-in scaling and rotation effects, 3D graphics rendering – sounded like a sweet dream wrapped in blood. After reading that quote from Hiraoka, I thought it was a done deal. Oops!

Needless to say, Bloodletting never saw the light of day. What happened? According to Kenji Igarashi, current producer/director/scenarist of the Castlevania series, had this to say about the lost title in an interview with 1UP.com….

“We made an early playable version, but the game did not progress because our company’s policy toward the hardware changed. Management decided to make the PlayStation our focus, so we made some drastic changes to our initial ideas and ended up with Symphony of the Night”.

castle2
 
Three character sprites were released for Richter, Maria, and “a rival for Richter”. There’s been talk of a screenshot, though I’ve never seen it. The story remains a mystery to this day. It may be safe to assume that it may have been consumed by Symphony of the Night, but I’m not a huge fan of assumptions. It’s disappointing to think that, even if Konami hadn’t eighty-sixed this demon, SEGA buried the 32X in late ’95. That means Bloodletting wouldn’t have made its 1996/1997 release. Still, we may have had an awesome ROM or Beta to emulate and enjoy. Damn you, Konami.

Sonic Mars (SEGA)


Now here’s a game I’m sure many of us Sonic fans were itching for. Sonic Mars (a.k.a Sonic X-treme) was developed by SEGA Technical Institute (Sonic 2, Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic Spinball) for our beloved Genesis/Mega Drive. It was set to be side-scrolling 2.5D platformer with an isometric view, much like Sonic 3D Blast I’d imagine. With the release of 32X on the horizon, SEGA shifted development to our favorite black sheep under the codename “Sonic Mars”.

Obviously, the gameplay shifted to a 3D environment. Visually, it reminds me very much of the bonus stages in Knuckles’ Chaotix, except characters and obstacles are fully rendered 3D entities; not 2D sprites. Colors really pop and serve both Sonic and the 32X quite. The detail on Sonic himself as the camera zooms in is amazingly sharp. One disappointing aspect to this title is just how small the stages are. Perhaps they grew larger over time, but I haven’t come across any gameplay/articles that would indicate that. That aside, it does look impressive and would have been a welcome addition to the 32X catalogue, I’m sure.

Thankfully, the game wasn’t completely lost. With the decline of the 32X, development shifted to the Saturn. Sonic Mars then became Sonic X-treme.

Wow! If only it hadn’t been cancelled.

But that’s a different story entirely. The 32X is many things to many people. For some, it was the straw that broke SEGA’s back. To others, it was a missed opportunity. Personally, I feel it’s a fascinating mistake. I’ve always felt that SEGA should have went with either 32X or Saturn; not both. The Saturn is my all-time favorite SEGA console, so I’m sure you know where I stand here. SEGA had spread itself far too thin, and I’m sure friction between SEGA of America and SEGA of Japan didn’t help matters much.

That being said, I do love my 32X. Thanks to this red-headed stepchild of gaming, I have – in my opinion – the best home ports of Virtua Fighter, Virtua Racing, Star Wars Arcade, After Burner and Space Harrier; along with some great exclusives like Shadow Squadron, Zaxxon’s Motherbase 2000, Knuckles’ Chaotix and Metal Head. The 32X may not have been the next level, but it was certainly an interesting ride getting there.

Comments:

  • IrishNinja says:

    Excellent write-up, AJ! didn’t know about many of these…one of those simultaneously enlightening/bumming out pieces i usually find at HG101, heh. Thanks for this!

    • mylifewithsega says:

      That’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. Thank you, good sir!

      I love Hardcore Gaming 101. A subscriber turned me onto them a bit ago. Great fucking site.

  • Centrale says:

    I’m curious as to why you consider the 32X versions of After Burner and Space Harrier to be better than the Saturn versions. No loading time?

    • mylifewithsega says:

      Partially, though – to be perfectly honest – I think a great deal of it may have to do with nostalgia. I bought both After Burner and Space Harrier at Toys “R” Us for $5 a piece. This was back when they were liquidating their stock. I can still remember playing the fuck out of them once I got home.

      I hadn’t played the Saturn versions yet, so it was the first time I had seen home ports of these games that looked just as good as the arcade. I think it’s mostly personal bias then.

    • Emmett The Crab says:

      The Saturn versions save your high scores.

    • mylifewithsega says:

      Eh. Not that important to me. When I play games centered around getting a high score, I just write ‘em down. I’ve been doing that shit since the 2600/ColecoVision….

      God, I’m getting old. :(

    • Ungibbed says:

      Reply test. I’m getting cockblocked…

  • teirusu says:

    the 32x it was an amazing add on its so underrated my favorite 32x games are knuckles chaotix
    tempo
    zaxxon
    stellar assault
    virtual fighter

  • DCGX says:

    The 32X definitely had some good games, and I got to enjoy almost all of them for the brief time I owned one (traded a used copy of Enter the Matrix for it back in the day). I can understand at the time it not being appreciated because of its cost and, let’s face it, ridiculousness in light of all new consoles coming out.

  • Hitrax says:

    One thing Sega’s often been criticised for in the past with it’s home console series is being “too ahead of it’s time”, yet here we have quite a few Sega hardware releases that seem to be at odds with that statement, two hardware entries at least, the 32X and the Saturn, the 32X certainly wouldn’t have been ahead of it’s time due to the fact it was originally geared towards being a 32 bit cartridge based console – in an era when CD Rom was starting to become the new universal standard, then we have the Saturn (bless it) which was originally going to be an exclusively full 2D based powerhouse system – just when the competition, was setting up for 3D powerhouses, even Atari saw this, not just Sony.
    Speaking of which, not many people know this, but, although everybody (gamers from most walks of life) seems to know the story of how Sony’s PSX was originally going to just be a Snes add on for Nintendo’s flagship console of the time to compete against Sega’s Mega/Sega CD set,
    what is less documented though, was just how close the original Playstation was originally going to become a Sega console, nope, not a Sega add on, but an actual full fledged Sega branded system, this was the plan Sony had in mind just after Nintendo blew them off and cancelled their original deal. Sony was not looking to be a competitor in the industry originally, but desperately wanted to partner up with a real major videogame company, and after Nintendo turned them down, Sega fit the bill perfectly in Sony’s eyes, so they fled to them to seek talks, it was looking good from the Western side of Sega, but Sega of Japan turned the idea down when presented with the idea because they didn’t believe Sony was experienced enough and weren’t sure how the pay slit would work out at the time, but it almost went through, right up to the very top of Sega’s biggest decision makers, and only had that very last step to pass before becoming a reality, just to think how it could have turned out now…
    Anybody interested in this should take a look at the article ‘Playstation almost became a Sega console’ or ‘Sony almost joined forces with Sega for the Playstation’ – where one of Sega’s American presidents gives an interview of Sega and Sony’s relationship at the time right up to just before the original Playstation’s launch.

  • SlothMachines says:

    Excellent write up A.J. How many have you done for SegaBits? This is the first I’ve seen. I’m looking forward to more. I am quite surprised I never heard of the cancelled Castlevania or Xmen title. And yes, as someone mentioned, this is HG101 worthy :)

    That demo of Sonic Mars is damn impressive. It reminds me a bit of the Bowser dungeon stages in Mario 64, only a few years prior. Had they had this fleshed out as a launch title, it would’ve made a world of difference for the consoles first impression, I think.

    AJ, you should write up an article on SoA’s ‘in-your-face’ advertising of the 90′s. It certainly gave the company an advantage for being cool and more ‘adult’ with our generation. Even Nintendo tried to later follow that path with it’s ‘play it loud’ commercials.

    • mylifewithsega says:

      Thanks, bro! I think this is may be my first article. I did write the Flashback (SEGA CD) and The Terminator (SEGA CD) ‘Tuesday Tunes’ sometime ago, but that’s it. I’m not sure if I could write these up all the time, though I might contribute more in the future.

      The Castlevania discovery was a bit of a bummer, as was X-Men. Sonic Mars looked pretty sweet. Having a Sonic title at launch could have sold more hardware, but releasing the Saturn so soon after would bring about the ‘shroom to its knees….

      The Saturn could have used Sonic X-treme though. I remember thinking, “Where the fuck is Sonic?” I got excited for 3D Blast for 5-minutes, up until I realized it was – essentially – a Genesis port with some upgrades.

      I’d actually like to make a video about their old marketing strategies. I still have a lot of projects on the back burner right now. Once they’re out of the way, I shall tackle that. :)

    • Ungibbed says:

      What’s up A.J.?

      I haven’t been around in a bit cause I’ve been kicking some ass on some of my favorite classic tunes from various games. Instead of just one, I decided on doing a batch from many system 16 boards and others.

      Currently working on the score for Turtle Village from the original Golden Axe. Some parts of it needed more memory on my rig to handle the quality I wanted as well as accuracy. Who would ever thought 16GB of RAM would have been needed to remix a soundtrack from an old 16 bit arcade board.

      Others in the works are a few tunes from After Burner and given the spare time, (hopefully without lawyers breathing fire at me) Castle of Illusion.

      I’ve always loved the old ‘shroom mainly for a decent home version of After Burner back in the day for a couple bucks that was brand new! Not to mention Virtua Racing Deluxe which I grabbed the same day despite my work on the Saturn port.

      The 32x version seemed more “energetic” than the Saturn version and changing the shitbox select screen on the Saturn, the producer wouldn’t have it.

      Well done article man! There is so much untapped potential in the 32x that will never be seen outside of tech demos. A shame really cause I was a huge fan of Super Castlevania IV on the SNES and seeing a new Castlevania title for the 32x would have blown my mind.

      If it was ever completed, I’m sure it would have a higher value than the Saturn SOTN or Dracula X for the PC Engine. Both of which in original cases are big $$$! At least the spirit lives on in SOTN despite the lower resolution of the PlayStation version which was the average resolution of your everyday SNES title.

      I liked the sharper detail of the Saturn but it’s a shame that a game system designed for 2D strength still had its fair share of technical issues with the VDP1 and dot pattern transparencies when we all know that the Saturn hardware when pushed right could handle true transparencies from various areas compared to the original PlayStation version.

      If only during those days, a Saturn version was released in the US along with the US PlayStation release. It’s a shame that many of the best games were left in Japan, but that’s another story for another day.

      Keep on playing!

    • Barry the Nomad says:

      Sorry bout that! I think the length of your comment caused it to be auto flagged as spam.

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