The Sega 32X is an add-on for the Sega Mega Drive video game console by Sega. In Japan, it was distributed under the name Super 32X (スーパー32X Sūpā Sātītsū-Ekkusu?), while in North America its name was the Genesis 32-X. In Europe, Australia, and other countries that use PAL region settings it was called the Mega Drive 32X.
With the release of the Super Famicom in Japan and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in North America, Sega felt the need to leapfrog Nintendo in the technological department. Sega had various developments underway and focused most of its energy on the then new Sega Saturn. On 8 January 1994, the CEO of Sega, Hayao Nakayama, ordered his company to make a 32-bit cartridge based console that would be in stores by Christmas 1994. They decided to modify the project to be based on CD-ROM as it was cheaper, and instead of dropping the cartridge based platform it was decided that two separate consoles would be produced. The first idea was a new Mega Drive featuring more colors and a 32-bit processor, this being titled Project Jupiter. Sega of America research and development head Joe Miller proposed that an add-on to the Mega Drive would be a better idea, as he felt that gamers would not buy an improved version of the Mega Drive. This project would be codenamed Project Mars, and Sega of America would take all developmental responsivity.
The 32X was primarily envisioned as a system which would extend the life of the Sega Mega Drive and provide revenue while the Sega Saturn slowly grew in popularity.
The video-gaming public first got a glimpse at the Summer 1994 Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago, USA. The console was revealed as the 32X in September 1994, with a price projection of $170 USD.
The 32X hit the market in North America in November 1994, during the same month the Sega Saturn was released in Japan. The 32X had a rough start as the Saturn hardware was regarded as more powerful and had the support of many Japanese third party software developers, which the 32X was sorely lacking.
Only 600,000 consoles had been produced for North American consumption, yet orders were in the millions. The console allegedly had numerous mechanical problems. Games had been rushed for the system in the run up to Christmas 1994, as a total of 50 had been promised by Sega prior to release. Some early games came with errors in programming, causing crashes and glitches. Other games required leaving out parts in order to make the Christmas deadline; for example, the 32X version of Doom is missing seven levels present on the PC and Super Nintendo versions. Also, Doom for the 32X was criticized for having far worse music and sound effects compared to the other versions. Some consumers complained that their 32X was not working with their Mega Drive or television and Sega was forced to give away adapters.
Since this was an expensive add-on system, Sega decided to offer a £50 discount on games with the console in Europe. However, the offer came in the form of rebate vouchers, which were difficult to take advantage of, especially if the owner of the console was beginning to lose interest.
By mid-1995, development for 32X was in decline. Developers had abandoned the console in favor of what they perceived to be a true 32-bit console, the Sega Saturn. Even though the 32X was a 32-bit system, the games did not appear to take full advantage of 32 bit processing, as many games were extremely rushed and only produced in 2D. Many titles were slightly-enhanced ports of Mega Drive or old arcade games. In reality, as stated by Steve Snake, creator of NBA Jam and Mortal Kombat II, these games were seriously pushing the limits of the Mega Drive even though they looked like minor enhancements. He cites that people were expecting far too much from it, and the over-hyping from magazines had helped to hurt it.
Customers perceived the Sega Saturn, Nintendo 64, and PlayStation as the true next-generation consoles, as they had rich launch titles and 3D graphics. Due to this favouritism, store shelves became littered with unwanted Sega 32X systems, and the price for a new console dropped as low as $19.95, along with some claiming that video game exchange stores became so full of the 32X that they began to refuse the console, even at no cost.
For many years prior to the 32X, consoles such as the ColecoVision, Intellivision II, and Atari promised devices like the similar to it that would extend and enhance the original system. Sega's 32X lacked the software titles and 3D capabilities of the competition, with the add-on technology representing a dead end. Ignorant of the idea that a console's primary strength is in standardization, Sega had created three different platforms, the Sega Mega Drive, Sega CD, and 32X, all under the same banner, therefore confusing both vendors and consumers in the process. The entire episode demonstrated that producing such add-ons is likely to have detrimental effects on a system's brand marketing strategy.
The peripheral's life came to an end in October 1995, when Sega's CEO, Hayao Nakayama, ordered that the 32X and other Sega consoles be cancelled in order to focus its limited resources on the Saturn system.
The Sega 32X is used in conjunction with a Mega Drive system, as it is inserted like a standard game cartridge, although it does require its own separate power supply and a cable to link the two. Without this link to the Mega Drive, the sprite layer is invisible. Besides playing its own cartridges, it also acts as a pass through for standard Mega Drive games, therefore being able to be used as a permanent attachment to enhance games, despite rumors that the cartridges for the Genesis could be damaged when played on the 32X. Unfortunately, Sega's Power Base Converter, which allows one to play Sega Master System games on a Mega Drive, could not be used with the 32X attached. This is because the Power Base Converter uses all of the connection pins in the Mega Drive itself, but the 32X only passes through those connections that are necessary to play games.
The Sega 32X was marketed as a add-on to bridge the gap between the Mega Drive and Saturn, being a cost effective solution to gamers who didn't want to upgrade. The 32X uses the same two 32-bit processors as the Sega Saturn, just clocked at a lower speed. This would lead to shortages in components as both consoles required them.
Upon the release of the Mega Drive II, the Sega 32X came with a spacer so it could fit properly on top of the new shaped console. Without the use of the spacer, some of the 32X hardware was left exposed and vulnerable. The add-on could also be used with the Sega CDX system (a combined Mega Drive and Sega CD), but the spacer would not accommodate the CDX. Although the 32X's included instructions depicted a new adapter piece being used in-between the two consoles, said adapter was ultimately never released due to a risk of electric shock. The combined unit was quite tall and consequently prone to falling over backwards, causing damage to both the unit and game cartridges. In addition to the physical problems, there was also an issue with FCC approval. The 32X is also compatible with JVC's WonderMega, but this combination will obstruct the console's CD door from opening.
In addition to regular cartridge-based 32X games, there were also a very small number of CD-ROM games made for the 32X. These games were labeled with Sega Mega-CD 32X, or Sega CD 32X in North America. As the name suggests, these required both the 32X and Sega CD addons. The lack of a significant userbase due to the high cost of purchasing all three necessary components saw only six games released, with only one of these being developed by Sega. The most notable of these games was a new version of the infamous Night Trap, which featured a grand 32768 onscreen colors instead of the 64 found on the regular Sega CD version.
The Sega Neptune was to be a two-in-one Mega Drive and 32X console which Sega planned to release around the holidays of 1995. Sega had admitted how expensive and problematic the 32X was, and thus decided to make a combined version of the Mega Drive and 32X. However, by the time a prototype came out Sega already felt that consumers would not be interested in the Sega Neptune, so the project was scrapped. There were several prototypes made, and at least one was declared to work.
Electronic Gaming Monthly used the Sega Neptune as an April Fool's joke in its April 2001 issue. The issue included a small article in which the writers announced that Sega had found a warehouse full of old Sega Neptunes, and were selling them on a website.
- There were only forty games released for the 32X, along with seven games being cancelled. Six of the total forty required both the 32X and Sega CD.
- The Sega 32X is region-locked, meaning it will not run games from regions that are different than the console's, though there are a few games are not locked and can be played on a console from any region.
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