Earlier this month I pulled out my Atari Jaguar console and CD unit and plugged it into one of my retro gaming CRT televisions to experience that 64 bit magic. I had bought a few new Jaguar games in the past 6-12 months that I haven’t had much chance to extensively play, so I was eager to finally dive into them. The retro gaming scene is full of vitriol aimed at the Jaguar and much of it is warranted, however, I disagree wholeheartedly with detractors that claim there is only one good game available for the system. The “one good game” they are most likely referring to is Tempest 2000. While that game is universally praised by both fans and haters of the Jaguar, I firmly believe there are enough other good to great games on the system to make owning one of these consoles worthwhile and thus give me a reason to create my next top 10 list.
The caveat of this top 10 list is that I have not played every available Jaguar cartridge or CD game so this list can only consider the 24 games I own out of a total of 62 combined cart/CD available for the system. If you’re favorite Jaguar game isn’t on the list, tell me about it! I (not so) secretly love collecting for Atari’s last gasp console.
10. Ultra Vortek – This occult themed fighter does the Mortal Kombat thing on the Jaguar way, way better than Kasumi Ninja….which isn’t exactly glowing praise in and of itself. However, Ultra Vortek looks sharper, has a more interesting concept and most importantly, controls significantly better than other fighters on the Jaguar. Truly an underrated game.
9. Raiden – Sure, Raiden is just a multiplatform arcade port that can be found (and some might say also play better) on the Turbografx-16, SNES, Genesis & Playstation, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a fun shooter on the Jaguar and one of the best for the system. Considering how many different shooters found their way onto contemporary consoles, the Jag is lacking in this genre. Maybe Raiden simply gets higher marks for being better than Trevor McFur or maybe Raiden is legitimately fun? All I know is I like this game and its in my top 10.
8. Battlemorph – The only CD title on my list, Battlemorph takes the established 3D polygonal formula used for its predecessor, Cybermorph, (flying around planets looking for items and blasting enemies), and does everything better. Battlemorph has in game music, better graphics, smoother controls (although still far from perfect), more varied and interesting missions, and less Skylar! Is it the best game for the Jaguar CD? Probably not. But is it the best Jaguar CD game I own? Absolutely.
7. Zool 2 – One of the better platformers available for the Jaguar, Zool 2 is a bright and colorful romp where you bounce around candy coated environments using your martian/ninja looking character to collect virtually everything on the screen. The actual point of the game is to grab 99% of the tokens on each stage within a time limit and move on to the next stage. You can shoot at enemies but many of them are small and shaped like tokens so it can be difficult to tell what you’re supposed to collect and what you’re supposed to avoid or kill. Jumping mechanics take some getting used to as they can be a bit slippery. Still a great, fun game.
6. Ruiner Pinball – The better of the two pinball games available for the Jag, Ruiner Pinball utilizes a WW2/Korean War era theme complete with pin-up babes and missiles (real subtle, Atari), while a completely separate second table goes for a wizards and occult theme that was popular for video pinball at the time. Either table your ball ends up on is good looking, deep and addicting. Two fun tables for the price of one video pinball game make Ruiner Pinball a clear winner.
5. Wolfenstein 3D – The first of three, count ’em, three first person shooters in my top 5. The Jag port of this popular and ground breaking computer game thankfully holds up against the original classic. A well crafted and well executed title, Wolfenstein 3D gets the Nazi imagery and the insanity of the alternate WW2 universe plot correct for this fine specimen of a game. Does it look amazing? Not really, its an early 90s 3D game after all. In context for its time and as part of the Jaguar library, it’s an easy top 10 title.
4. Doom – Yes, I know that Doom on the Jaguar has no music but honestly, I don’t miss it when I’m playing. I’ve been playing the computer version of Doom since the 90s but I definitely don’t consider myself a Doom aficionado. I’m sure there are plenty of people that could tell me exactly why Doom on the Playstation or 3DO is better than the Jaguar but it doesn’t change anything for me in terms of my enjoyment of this port. It’s just one of those games that is easy for me to pick up and play whenever I want to relive the 90s. Whether it’s the one player campaign or multi-player death match, Doom on the Jaguar is absolutely a competent version of this computer hit. Grab a friend, an extra Jaguar and get to blastin’!
3. Iron Soldier – Iron Solider might just in fact be the most underrated game on this console. Hardly anyone ever talks about it as being a top 3 game for the system but damn if I don’t think its worthy of that status! I’m not into mech games whatsoever but I do enjoy plodding around environments with my IS and busting up buildings, shooting down helicopters and causing general mayhem. I like the different missions and how you must use strategy, instead of simply brute force, in order to be effective. Iron Soldier is one of those games that has a fairly difficult learning curve but for me, it’s worth it.
2. Alien vs. Predator – Lately it feels like there’s two distinct camps when it comes to how Alien vs. Predator is thought of among the retro gaming community. One camp considers AvP brilliantly innovative and flat out fun while the other camp feels that it has aged terribly, was never amazing to begin with and gets praise only because it’s on the Jaguar. Big fish in a little pond scenario. Considering that I have AvP listed as my second favorite Atari Jaguar game, it’s clear which side I’ve chosen. Is it perfect? Of course not. Does it no longer look quite as sharp and cool as it did in 1994 with its digitized aliens, predators and marines? Not necessarily, but the graphics still hold up in my opinion. Just don’t get too close or you’ll see the imperfections. As for gameplay, I much prefer playing the alien or predator campaigns over the marine campaign, but even using the marine provides a nice survival horror aspect. AvP’s versatility is really what makes this game great.
1. Tempest 2000 – Not a terribly original pick as my favorite Jaguar game, but c’mon…it’s Tempest 2K! Anyone who has played T2K can likely understand why it tops many Jaguar fan’s top 10 lists. Its one of the most stimulating sensory experiences one can (legally) have on a video game console and while its not exactly exclusive to the Jaguar, it wasn’t exactly widely ported either. It’s THE game Jaguar fans point out when defending the console and thankfully those fans, including me, aren’t wrong. The music is so good, if you can get down with 90s techno, that is was deemed worthy of its own CD release. The graphics and in game visuals are in your face in that radical 90s way thanks to developer Jeff Minter’s Melt-o-vision technology (whatever that means). The gameplay action is non-stop and ever changing. I can’t think of too many negative things to say about this high energy space blaster update of the original vector graphic arcade shooter except that it really, really deserved a Jaguar rotary controller when it was released. Even if you’re not totally into the updated techno-rave version, you always have the option to go back to original Tempest on the game select screen. Not sure why you’d want to though because Tempest 2000 kicks all sorts of ass.
Honorable Mentions: Myst, Theme Park, Pinball Fantasies
Games High On My Wish List: Rayman, Iron Solider 2, Super Burnout, Primal Rage, Cannon Fodder