The 32X seen installed in a second model Genesis console
|Type||Video game console add-on|
|Units sold||665,000 as of March 1995|
CD-ROM (with Sega CD)
|CPU||2 × SH-2 32-bit RISC (23 MHz)|
|Display||320 × 240 resolution, 32,768 on-screen colors|
|Dimensions||100 × 210 × 110 mm (3.9 × 8.3 × 4.3 in)|
|Weight||495 g (17.5 oz)|
The Sega 32X is an add-on for the Sega Genesis video game console. Codenamed "Project Mars", the 32X was designed to expand the power of the Genesis and serve as a holdover until the release of the Sega Saturn. Independent of the Genesis, the 32X utilizes its own ROM cartridges and had its own library of games. It was distributed under the name Super 32X (スーパー32X Sūpā Sātī Tsu Ekkusu ) in Japan, Sega Genesis 32X in North America, Sega Mega Drive 32X in the PAL region, and Sega Mega 32X in Brazil.
Unveiled at June 1994's Consumer Electronics Show, Sega presented the 32X as the "poor man's entry into 'next generation' games." The product was originally conceived as an entirely new console by Sega of Japan and positioned as an inexpensive alternative for gamers into the fifth generation of game consoles, but at the suggestion of Sega of America research and development head Joe Miller, the console was converted into an add-on to the existing Genesis and made more powerful, with two 32-bit central processing unit chips and a 3D graphics processor. Despite these changes, the console failed to attract either developers or consumers as the Sega Saturn had already been announced for release the next year. In part because of this, and also to rush the 32X to market before the holiday season in 1994, the 32X suffered from a weak library of titles. With sales only reaching as high as 665,000 units, the 32X is considered a commercial failure.
Technical aspects and specifications
The 32X can only be used in conjunction with a Genesis system. It is inserted into the system like a standard game cartridge, although it does require its own separate power supply, a connection cable linking it to the Genesis, and an additional conversion cable for the original model of the Genesis. In addition to playing its own library of cartridges, the 32X also acts as a pass-through for Genesis games, and can also be used in conjunction with the Sega CD to play games that utilize both add-ons. The 32X also came with a spacer so it would fit properly with the second model of the Genesis, and an optional spacer was offered for use with the Sega Multi-Mega system, but ultimately never shipped due to risks of electric shock when the 32X and Multi-Mega were connected. Installation of the 32X also required the insertion of two included electromagnetic shield plates into the Genesis' cartridge slot.
Seated on top of a Genesis, the 32X measured 115 mm wide, 210 mm long, and 100 mm high. The 32X contains two Hitachi SH2 32-bit RISC processors with a clock speed of 23 MHz, which Sega claimed would allow the system to work 40 times faster than a Genesis alone. It contains a Graphics processing unit (or "video display processor") chip that was capable of producing 32,768 colors and was able to render 50,000 polygons per second, which provided a noticeable improvement over the polygon rendering of the Genesis. The 32X also included 2 Mbit of random-access memory (RAM), along with 2 Mbit of Video RAM. Sound is supplied through a pulse-width modulation sound source. Input/output was supplied to a television set via a provided A/V cable that supplied composite video and mono audio, or through an RF modulator. In addition to this, Sega also offered an A/V cable that included stereo audio, which could be connected to a television or to a separate audio device such as a home stereo system. Stereo audio could also be played through headphones via a headphone jack on the attached Genesis.
In 1994, Sega Genesis was starting to lag in its capabilities when compared to its main rival, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and its newer games Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. With the release of the Sega Saturn due for 1995, Sega began to develop a stop-gap solution that would bridge the gap between the Genesis and the Saturn, and would serve as a less expensive entry into the 32-bit era.
Initially, the 32X began as "Project Jupiter", an entirely new independent console concept being developed by Sega of Japan. Project Jupiter was initially slated to be a new version of the Genesis, with an upgraded color palette and a lower cost than the upcoming Saturn. However, the concept did not go over well with executives at Sega of America. When presented with a demonstration of Project Jupiter, Sega of America research and development head Joe Miller said, "Oh, that's just a horrible idea. If all you're going to do is enhance the system, you should make it an add-on. If it's a new system with legitimate new software, great. But if the only thing it does is double the colors..." At his suggestion, Sega reformatted the 32X into a peripheral for the existing Genesis, which became Project Mars, and expanded its power with two 32-bit processors. Although the new unit was a stronger console than was originally proposed, it was not compatible with Saturn games. This was justified by Sega's statement that both platforms would run at the same time, and that the 32X would be aimed at players who could not afford the more expensive Saturn.
The 32X was released in November 1994, in time for the holiday season that year. Demand among retailers was high, and Sega could not keep up orders for the system. Over 1,000,000 orders had been placed for 32X units, but Sega had only managed to ship 600,000 units by January 1995. Launching at about the same price as a Genesis console, the price of the 32X was less than half of what the Saturn's price would be at launch. Despite the lower price console's positioning as an inexpensive entry into 32-bit gaming, Sega had a difficult time convincing third-party developers to create games for the new system. Top developers were already aware of the coming arrival of the Sega Saturn, Nintendo 64, and PlayStation, and did not believe the 32X would be capable of competing with any of those systems. Not wanting to create games for a system that was "a technological dead-end", many developers decided not to make games for the system. Journalists were similarly concerned about Sega's tactic of selling two similar consoles at different prices and attempting to support both, likening Sega's approach to that of General Motors and segmenting the market for its consoles. In order to convince journalists that the 32X was a worthwhile console, Sega hosted a party for journalists in a nightclub, with live music and 32X games on exhibition. However, the event turned out to be a bust, as journalists attempted to leave the party due to its loud music and unimpressive games on display.
Exactly as the journalists had been concerned, the 32X failed to catch on with the public, and is now considered a commercial failure. Final sales estimates vary, the largest of which is 665,000 units. After an early run on the console, news soon spread to the public of the upcoming release of the Sega Saturn, which would not support the 32X's games. This, in turn, caused developers to further shy away from the console and created doubt about the library for the 32X, despite assurances from Sega that there would be a large amount of games developed for the system. In early 1996, Sega finally conceded that they had promised too much out of the 32X and decided to stop producing the system in order to focus on the Saturn. Prices for the 32X dropped to $99, then were ultimately cleared out of stores at $19.95.
The Sega Neptune was a two-in-one Genesis and 32X console which Sega planned to release in 1995 for the holiday season, with a proposed retail price for the unit at US$200. Despite its initial scheduled release, the Neptune was later delayed into 1996, then canceled altogether with the announcement of the cancellation of 32X production.
Electronic Gaming Monthly used the Sega Neptune as an April Fools' Day prank 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 for only $50.
The 32X's game library consists of forty titles, including six that required both the Sega 32X and Sega CD add-ons. Among the titles for the 32X were ports of arcade games Space Harrier and Star Wars Arcade, a sidescroller with a hummingbird as a main character in Kolibri, and a 32X-exclusive game in the Sonic the Hedgehog series in Knuckles' Chaotix. Several of the games released for the 32X are ports of Genesis games, including After Burner and NFL Quarterback Club. In a retrospective review of the console, Star Wars Arcade was considered the best game for the 32X by IGN for its cooperative play, soundtrack, and faithful reproduction of the experiences of Star Wars.
Although the console utilized 32-bit processing and was capable of better graphics and sound than the Genesis alone, most games for the 32X did not take much advantage of its hardware. Doom for the 32X was noted for being an inferior version of the game compared to releases for the PC and the Atari Jaguar, with the 32X version criticized for missing levels, poor graphic quality, chuggy movement, and running within a window on the screen. One source of these issues was the rush to release games on time for the 32X's launch; former Sega of America executive producer Michael Latham explained, in reference to 32X launch title Cosmic Carnage, "We were rushed. We had to get games out for the 32X and it was going to be such a close cycle. When Cosmic Carnage showed up, we didn't even want to ship it. It took a lot of convincing, you know, to ship that title."
The 32X is widely criticized as having been under-supported and a poor idea in the wake of the release of the Sega Saturn. 1UP.com's Jeremy Parish stated that the 32X "tainted just about everything it touched." GamePro listed it as the second-worst-selling video game console of all time, criticizing the concept of the add-on and noting the expenses involved in purchasing the system. According to reviewer Blake Snow, "Just how many 16-bit attachments did one need? All in all, if you were one of the unlucky souls who completely bought into Sega's add-on frenzy, you would have spent a whopping $650 dollars for something that weighed about as much as a small dog." GamesRadar also panned the system, placing it as their ninth-worst console with reviewer Mikel Reparaz criticizing that "(i)n theory, the 32X was a hardware upgrade that would propel the underpowered Genesis past its competition and give its owners a relatively cheap way to enter the 32-bit era. In practice, however, it was a stopgap system that would be thrown under the bus when the Sega Saturn came out six months later, and everyone seemed to know it except for die-hard Sega fans and the company itself." Reparaz went on to give an explanation for the cause of the 32X's commercial failure, noting that "(u)ltimately, the 32X was the product of boneheaded short-sightedness: its existence put Sega into competition with itself once the Saturn rolled out." IGN, however, saw some sense in the move for Sega to create the 32X, but criticized its implementation. According to Levi Buchanan, "I actually thought the 32X was a better idea than the SEGA CD... The 32X, while underpowered, at least advanced the ball. Maybe it only gained a few inches in no small part due to a weak library, but at least the idea was the right one."
In particular, the console's status as an add-on has taken some note to reviewers as being responsible for fracturing the audience for the Genesis in terms of both developers and consumers. Allgame notes that "(e)very add-on whittled away at the number of potential buyers and discouraged third-party companies from making the games necessary to boost sales." According to GamesRadar, "(D)evelopers - not wanting to waste time on a technological dead-end - abandoned the 32X in droves. Gamers quickly followed suit, turning what was once a promising idea into 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." IGN also notes that "Notice that we haven't seen many add-ons like the 32X since 1994? I think the 32X killed the idea of an add-on like this -- a power booster -- permanently. And that's a good thing. Because add-ons, if not implemented properly, just splinter an audience."
- "Videospiel-Algebra". Man!ac Magazine. May 1995.
- Sega Genesis 32X instruction manual. Sega. 1994.
- Kent, Steven L. (2001). "The "Next" Generation (Part 1)". The Ultimate History of Video Games: The Story Behind the Craze that Touched our Lives and Changed the World. Roseville, California: Prima Publishing. ISBN 0-7615-3643-4.
- Buchanan, Levi (2008-10-24). "32X Follies". IGN. Retrieved 2013-05-25.
- "Sega Genesis CDX - Overview". Allgame. Retrieved 2013-06-19.
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- Morris, Kathleen (1995-02-21). Nightmare in the Fun House 32. Financial World.
- Sega's Neptune Finally Surfaces. Electronic Gaming Monthly. April 2001.
- Buchanan, Levi. "Star Wars Arcade Review". IGN. Retrieved 2013-05-24.
- Buchanan, Levi. "Doom 32X Review". IGN. Retrieved 2013-05-24.
- Parish, Jeremy (2012-10-16). "20 Years Ago, Sega Gave Us the Sega CD". 1UP.com. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
- Snow, Blake (2007-05-04). "The 10 Worst-Selling Consoles of All Time". GamePro.com. Archived from the original on 2007-05-08. Retrieved 2007-11-25.
- "Sega Genesis CD 32X - Overview". Allgame. Retrieved 2013-06-07.