Gaming Oddities: The Sega 32X

The Gaming Booster That Lost Its Luster

Alwyn Phua

Gaming Oddities: The Sega 32X

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The Sega 32X. It began as a great concept, a great potential that would elevate Sega as a dominant force in the console market. A modular device that would allow any existing Sega Genesis/Mega Drive owner to boost the graphic fidelity of their console & elevate the gaming experience into the 32-bit era.

Sega 32X Somewhat An Oddball Against Competing Popular Standalone Consoles

Originally it was intended to extend the longevity of the ageing Sega Genesis/Mega Drive against the ageing yet immensely popular Super NES & the recently announced “64-bit” Atari Jaguar console. Strangely enough, it is also positioned as a low-cost 32-bit alternative to its soon to be released successor, the Sega Saturn, risking cannibalize either of the hardware sales.

Even with all the buzz created for this device, the powerful hardware wasn’t enough to entice both gamers & game developers to support this device. In less than 2 years, Sega pulled the plug on the 32X & shifted their focus to the Sega Saturn instead.

Introduced in 1994, the Sega 32X is an add-on hardware to the existing Sega Genesis/Mega Drive console that promised to bring 32-bit gaming capability at a lower cost. The unit support its own proprietary 32X cartridge & it’s backwards compatible with Sega Genesis/Mega Drive cartridges.

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Powered by 2 Hitachi SH-2 32-bit RISC processor & Sega custom VDP processor, capable of producing wide 32,768 colour palettes and rendering 50,000 polygons per seconds. It should able to provide graphical improvements & 3D acceleration to the console over competing rivals.

Audio system also upgraded with the addition of Pulse-Width Modulation (PWM) audio chip to provide extra sound channels, further improve the sound quality of the games.

The idea of having a modular system where you can simply boost the performance of the console is great. Sega Saturn high price at USD$399.99 makes the 32X an excellent proposition. Even if it bundled both console priced at USD$99.99 & add-on hardware priced at USD$159.99 together, it was significantly cheaper than Sega Saturn. The execution however was something left to be desired. Sega cobbled up the plan to release the Sega 32X in time for 1994 holiday release date.

It Was A Cumbersome Device For Gamers & Developers

Installing the unit proved to be a challenge for a lot of people with some assembly & puzzle solving skill is required to put the unit & console together. Unfortunately, most of them couldn’t get it to work. Complaints kept of increasing to a point that Sega had no other choice but to provide free adapters & much needed detailed instruction on how to set up the system.

Getting the 32X on the shelves in time for holiday took a heavy toll on games developers. Only a handful of games manage to hit the shelves at launch. Some of the games were either in a broken state or unfinished due to tight deadline & complex programming for the new architecture. It didn’t help the fact that most game developer rather develop the games for the highly anticipated Sega Saturn launching within the same period. Only 40 games in total were made for 32X with only a few games that utilized the additional processing power.

The Sega 32X had a great run in the beginning with 665,000 units in their 1st year. It received positive reaction among game publications, of course not without criticism, mainly at Sega’s terrible decision making especially with Sega Saturn’s launch just around the corner. 32X shows great potential of its capabilities but never saw the light of day. Weak library, little 3rd party game developer support & lack of commitment by Sega led to its early demise in 1996 & Sega decided to shift their resources to focus on the Sega Saturn instead.

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