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