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Sega 32X Redux

Sega 32X ad I never grow tired of reading about all of the ways that Sega tried to graft new technology on to their aging Genesis / Mega Drive platform in the mid-1990s.  We all know the story by now — Sega CD, the SVP chip, Sega 32X, the Neptune project, and so on — but I can read accounts of the same period of history and come away amused every time.  It's not a schadenfreude issue (well, OK, maybe in a small way it is; I was a major Nintendo booster during that hardware generation), but more of an issue of historical interest.  Sega was poised to deal what, at one time, many perceived as a killing blow at Nintendo in the mindshare department and instead blundered consumer goodwill into... well, read about it for yourself over at the 1UP Retro Gaming Blog with Ray Barnholt's brief overview of the 32X fiasco.

[Sega] had something that might keep the Genesis hanging on for a little while longer, because after all, the Sega CD was going nowhere, and the Genesis was out in front, about to lose mindshare to the SNES.  That something was the "Mars" project, which officially became the Genesis 32X, a hardware "booster" that would turn the Genesis into a full-fledged 32-bit console. It was a new concept for the industry; usually, add-ons incrementally increased the power of the system, or offered backwards compatibility (like the Super Game Boy or Sega's own Power Base Converter). However, like the Sega CD before it, the 32X was able to borrow the core technology of the Genesis and used it in conjunction with its own added power. In simple terms, two 32-bit RISC processors did the hard work in the 32X (mostly the 3D polygon rendering), while the less important 2D stuff (HUDs, backgrounds) was done by the Genesis hardware.

The entire M.O. was to give Genesis owners a decent alternative to the Saturn, perhaps until that system dropped in price after a year or two -- in the meantime, they could "preview" the 32-bit generation for not too much more money ($159.99 at launch). This was especially so in America, where there were millions more players than in Japan, and therefore much more varied types of people and income levels. And surely it would energize development! Genesis games with enhanced 2D graphics and 3D power that could outdo the Super FX? Sounds great!

I've played a few 32X games over the years and they aren't all as bad as the online collective memory would have you believe (insert your own variant of the "some of them are worse!" punchline here).  However, I didn't pay anywhere near 1994-era prices to play them, and if I had done so, I'd imagine I (and my 1994-era counterpart) would have been seriously 32x'ed off, if you know what I mean.