It had been quite awhile since the stakes were as high for Sega of America as they were in 1995. The console that had catapulted them into a virtual tie with Nintendo after placing a distant, distant second in the console wars of the late 80s (it wasn’t as much of a war as it was a carpet bombing by Nintendo), the Genesis, was starting to lose steam. The first add-on for the Genesis, the Sega CD, seemed like a logical step in creating better looking and sounding 16-bit games. Sure, it may have been expensive, didn’t sell like Sega had hoped and the surplus of full motion video used in numerous higher profile titles may have turned off some, but it was far from a total failure. Then came the 32X, a cartridge based add-on that attempted to position the Genesis into the realm of 32-bit era in order to compete with the likes of the recently released Atari Jaguar and 3DO consoles. Unfortunately, the 32X sold even worse than the Sega CD and its release left many Genesis owners a bit cold as it appeared to be a simple cash grab by Sega of America. By November of 1994, anyone paying attention knew that Sega of Japan had just released a dedicated 32-bit CD based console, called the Saturn, the same month North America was getting this abomination of an add-on. In the words of the great Angry Video Game Nerd, “What were they thinking?”
To compound matters, Sega botched what was supposed to be the official North American launch of the Saturn set for September 2, 1995 (dubbed “Saturnday”) by releasing limited quantities early, in May 1995. Sega of Japan demanded this early release to get a head start of Sony’s forthcoming PlayStation release but all it did was piss off retailers, confuse consumers and come across as desperate. To add insult to injury, the Saturn launched at $399 and Sony announced they would be launching their console at $299 (without a pack-in title or any way to save game data but those are details that consumers weren’t considering). But that’s enough about the history of the disastrous Saturn launch, since anyone can read the superlative Blake Harris novel, Console Wars, for more details on anything Sega related in the 1990s. Since all of this happened over 20 years ago, it’s relevance in 2018 is minimal but it does provide some context as to why:
- The Saturn failed miserably in competing with the PlayStation.
- Japan had so many more games available for it than North America.
- Sega was never able to truly recover from the Saturn failure.
- I have almost no distinct memories of the Saturn during it’s short lived lifespan.
Expanding on that last statement, as I’ve mentioned in other blog posts concerning consoles released in the mid to late 1990s, I was in college during this time period and video game playing was something of a luxury and almost exclusively a social event. Video game buying, on the other hand, was a non-starter. I can probably count the number of video games I bought during the years of 1994-1998 on one hand, and they were all for my aging Super Nintnedo. I didn’t buy a PlayStation until after I graduated college and got my first full time job in 1998. Now think of the Saturn’s short life cycle. Released in spring of 1995, discontinued sometime in 1998. I missed the entire life span of a Sega console while in college.This wouldn’t have surprised many if I was talking about the Jaguar, the CDi or the 3DO, but this was Sega! I knew no one that owned a Saturn while consequently I knew plenty of people with a Genesis, PlayStation, SNES and Nitendo 64 during this same time period. In 1999, I started researching video game consoles that I didn’t own in an effort to start buying as many as I could afford, I was shocked that I completely missed the Saturn all together. Once I started digging, I began to recall some of the advertisements (print and television) but they certainly made no impact on me at the time. It just wasn’t feasible for me to spend $400 on a new video game console and when no one I knew owned one, that just meant it would exit my consciousness that much faster.
Revisionist history has shown that the Saturn could have been a contender if Sega had made a few different decisions in both the development and the marketing of the console. The Saturn today has plenty of fans, new and old, making it one of the more expensive consoles to collect for thanks to low sales number for the most highly desirable games. I am aware that there are ways to play Japanese exports on a North American Saturn, making some of the more expensive games affordable, but my entire collection is North American so that’s what I’ll be covering this month.
Currently in my collection:
2 consoles, slightly different. One has the Sega logo directly in front above the 2 controller ports, the other is blank in the front with the Sega logo in lower left corner on the top. All Saturn models had top loading disc trays and cartridge ports in the back. Unfortunately, these cartridge ports were only used for save carts, similar to the Sega brand one I own (pictured below). Genesis and 32X carts did not fit/work in a Saturn.
I own two of the standard Saturn controllers. All are of the 8 button variety (6 on the front of the controller, 2 shoulder buttons on the top). One of them is smaller than the other and both have gray shoulder buttons.