Console of the Month (August 2017) – Atari Jaguar

Can the Jaguar bring a once dominant video gaming company back to it’s rightful place atop the home console throne? That was the general question raised among the gaming community and industry leaders in the early 90’s when Atari announced their return to the home gaming market. There were plenty of doubters at the time and rightfully so. Atari’s last console, the 7800, was a forgotten failure in terms of sales and was ultimately crushed by the NES. Honestly, while the 5200 before that had moderate success, Atari couldn’t really point to anything resembling dominance since the prime 2600 era of ’78-’83. Atari had dipped their toes into the handheld waters with the Lynx but that wasn’t taking the world by storm either. Would there be enough nostalgia driven gamers out there interested in a new Atari console and could Atari actually deliver hardware advancements and most importantly, the quality software necessary for sustained success?

History has told us that the answer to these questions was a resounding “no” but that doesn’t mean the Jaguar isn’t a worthwhile console or collectible in any way. Atari was originally supposed to be in direct competition with the SNES and Sega Genesis a couple years earlier with a console dubbed “Panther”, however, the wise men and women at Atari Corp likely decided that re-entering the market with a 16 bit system that was already entrenched by Nintendo and Sega (sorry NEC) may not be their best bet. The Panther was scrapped and a more powerful system, the Jaguar, was developed instead. Using dual 32-bit processing chips, Atari went all in with their “Do the Math” advertising slogan, proclaiming they had a 64-bit console which of course on paper was better than Genesis/SNES’s paltry 16-bit and 3DO’s 32-bit consoles. More bits meant better graphics, higher frame rate, and 3D games that could blow the competitors out of the water, right? Not if game developers, including your own in house teams, couldn’t figure out how to harness all 64-bits thanks to the Jaguar’s multi-chip set up. Atari also went with cartridges as their media of choice instead of CD’s, which might have given gamers pause when newly announced systems such as the Saturn and PlayStation were definitely going to be disc based. Would the sound quality suffer as a result? Could the carts really take advantage of the 64-bit power that the console could muster? While this might have been a small factor, the failure to deliver must-own software in addition to lack of marketing muscle are usually what is cited as the primary reasons why the Jaguar’s fate was sealed less than two years after it’s soft launch in Nov of 1993.

From a personal perspective, I had very little awareness of the console during the brief time it could be found in stores. You have to remember that the early 90’s was a time of console gluttony and it was almost impossible to keep up with all of the companies trying to get in on the video gaming resurgence. NEC, Sega, Nintendo, 3DO, Phillips, and Sony all either had or would soon have presence. Plus add-on’s galore such as Sega CD, 32X, and all-in-one systems like the Turbo Duo and the X-Eye made it difficult for anyone without an Electronics Gaming Monthly subscription to help sort it all out. The Atari Jaguar got lost in the weeds, at least for me. I saw the periodic “Do the Math” slogan in magazines and on TV commercials but I promptly ignored them. My first console was the NES so I wasn’t inherently psyched for anything by Atari like some were. I was also not in a position as a poor college student to own multiple consoles at that time and I had only gotten my SNES about a year prior to the full blown Jaguar launch in 1994. By 1996, the Jaguar was dead and consoles and games could no longer be consistently found in stores. The Jaguar’s short 2 year lifespan went by quickly and unnoticed by many, including me. When the retro-gaming bug bit me several years later, I thought it would be a good idea to pick up this obscure console on the cheap and give it a try for myself. In 2001-2002, Jaguars were not an expensive proposition like they are today so I had nothing to lose. I won a nice sized collection on Ebay that included the core console, the CD add-on with box, 1 controller, and a handful of games. About 75% of what I have in my collection today was purchased in that single lot 15-16 years ago. This month, my intention is to ignore the bad press, bad reviews and generally bad vibes that surround this console and give the Jaguar a chance to be played without thinking, “I’d rather be playing my PS2 and Gamecube”, which was my attitude at the time I bought it. My Atari Jaguar is finally going to be given a fair shot to impress me and redeem it’s status as a worthy 90’s console.

Currently in my collection:

  • Console with AC adapter & owner’s manual
  • 1 3-button controller
  • Jaguar Official Gamer’s Guide – similar to the original Nintendo Player’s Guide, the intention of this guide is to offer insight into the Jaguar library at the time of the book’s creation, provide tips and hints and give gamer’s something to read while they save up money for a new cartridge.

I do not own the original Jaguar RF switch that came with the console. I believe I had one at one point but I vaguely recall it no longer working so I threw it away and just began using a Nintendo brand RF switch, which worked just fine. I will attempt to procure a better composite cable for my Jaguar this month.

2 thoughts on “Console of the Month (August 2017) – Atari Jaguar

    1. I haven’t found any documentation showing the 7800 outselling the 5200 but did note that documented sales figures for the 7800 may have been underreported. From what I read, the 7800 made up of 12% of the home gaming market share in the late 80’s which would likely be considered a failure by any definition. I don’t know what the percentage of 5200 owners would be relative to other consoles released at the time (Colecovision, Vectrex and remaining 2600 and Intellivision sales) but it was likely small as well. Maybe it would have been more accurate to call both of them failures.

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