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Sega Saturn Rings Out

Sega SaturnTwenty years ago this week in Japan, Sega pushed on from its Genesis heyday (with the 32X debacle included as a pack-in) into its next generation of hardware.  Management felt it was making all the right moves with its Saturn console, but ultimately that arrogance would lead to the company's undoing as a hardware manufacturer.  Over at USgamer, Jeremy Parish looks back on Sega's mistakes and finds the goodness buried underneath all of the bad decisions and strange choices that make up the Saturn story.

Sega's internal struggle had made itself manifest long before Saturn launched in the company's bizarrely uncoordinated attempts to define a successor to the Genesis. "The decision to launch the 32X (favored by the American branch) and the Saturn (favored by the Japanese branch) so close together only served to siphon sales from both pieces of hardware," says Zeller. "It really started to foster the idea in the minds of consumers that Sega didn't stand behind its consoles and would make whatever decision would net it a quick buck, regardless of how that screwed over early adopters."  

This same conflict began to hurt Saturn right out of the gate. Sega announced at E3 1995 — a late spring event — that its Saturn would be available at select retailers immediately, not in September '95 as previously announced. This precipitous maneuver, likely a panicked response to Sony's strong start with the PlayStation overseas, gave Sega's new machine a several-month lead over PlayStation in the U.S. Unfortunately, Sega let the competition have the last word at E3; in its own press conference the following day, Sony's entire message consisted of the system's price at launch: $299, $100 less than Saturn. Sega, having already released its machine into retail channels at a higher price, found itself unable to make a graceful countermove.

Sega really was in over its head with the Saturn.  While I appreciate a can't-lose attitude, the company didn't have the products to back up that arrogance during the Saturn years.  The continued schism between the Japanese and American offices just made the problem worse.  Moreover, few of the Genesis's major franchises made the leap to the next generation.  Where were Streets of Rage, Ecco the Dolphin, ToeJam & Earl, and Eternal Champions?  Even poor Sonic the Hedgehog only appeared in re-released versions of his 16-bit adventures (we all remember what happened to Sonic X-Treme).  I remember reading the gaming magazines of the day when the Saturn was on the way and being impressed by the screenshots, but couldn't find any excitement for the games themselves.  There was nothing in the Saturn library that interested me.  With Nintendo about to practically invent the 3D platformer two years later and Sony's new PlayStation project preparing to make a big entrance, buying a Saturn really felt like backing a losing horse.