By JasonR86 1 Comments
I grew up as a Sega kid with a very Sega Dad who bought any and all things Sega. This included the now infamous Sega 32X when it was new for $250. Not only did he buy one 32X add-on but two as well as nearly every game that was ever released for it. This meant that I, as his poor son, played all of those games. Not all of them were bad at the time but none of them felt like the next big step when I played them.
That was then. Now, with modern eyes, the 32X can be seen for what it was; a dismal experiment that failed on nearly all fronts. But, it also offers a unique view on a weird time in gaming. A time when hardware developers were trying to figure out how to get out of the 16-bit era and start a new generation of hardware. They had to embrace things like 3D, CDs rather then cartridges (well, most hardware developers had to anyway) and analog sticks. Sega was really stumbling at the end of the 16-bit era and never fully recovered. But to see how Sega's hardware business failed you have to look at the start. What I think was really the beginning of the end wasn't with the semi-failure of the Sega-CD. To me, the beginning of the end was the 32X.
So, to see why this add-on was such a failure I decided to re-live my childhood by replaying the 32X games that I own. I don't own every single, solitary game but, as I said, I own the majority of them. There weren't a lot but there were enough to warrant breaking this blog up in to multiple parts. This is part one...
Virtua Racing Deluxe
The 'Virtua' series of games were really popular in the arcades when I was younger. I played the hell out of Virtua Racing and Virtua Fighter when I went to the arcades so you can only imagine how excited I was when my Dad brought home this game. This is a fairly good recreation of the Arcade version. The graphics are similar enough, the sound design and music is close enough and the driving is faithful enough to somewhat create that experience. It's a little weird to look at this game graphically with modern eyes but it also has a bit of charm to it. Modern games have millions of polygons where Virtua Racing has hundreds. The tires on the cars are essentially a bunch of rectangles formed in the shape of a tire. Trees are big, single polygon triangles. Everything has a sharp edge and is blocky as hell. But it also stills looks kind of cool. If a game were to be made today that looks like this it would be said to have a 'unique art style'. The game has a pretty good frame rate and was still fast. The handling is stiff and unresponsive. The cars turn like yachts. Further, the 'damage' model and collision detection is odd to say the least. The cars bump off walls like they were made of rubber and nearly every collision with a car causes one of the cars to somersault in the air. Finally, there isn't much game here. There are 3 cars, 5 tracks, and racing, time trial and versus modes. This would be a hard sell as a $5 downloadable game on modern consoles. I enjoy this game a lot but I can't imagine many other people, besides the arcade enthusiasts, enjoying this game.
Like Virtua Racing, Virtua Fighter was huge in the arcades. This was probably my favorite 32X game because, besides the presentation, this was a pitch perfect recreation of the arcade game. The controls are great, the game is fast and responsive and the fighting system is still great. The fighting revolves around high, medium and low punches and kicks, grabs and blocking. It works really well and is fun. It is a hard game to master but also offers an easy enough system for new players to jump in and play. This is my favorite fighting system and I still love it to this day. The game is ok graphically. Like every 32X game it is fuzzy and pixelated but it is also really colorful and does a good job representing, to a small degree, what the arcade version looked like. This is a game I could still play for hours on end to this day.
Star Wars Arcade
Apparently, this was an arcade game around the time this version was released. I don't remember ever seeing it but it must have been popular enough to warrant this port. I remember my Dad bought it because he and I both really like the older Star Wars arcade game that he played in the arcades and I played on the Colecovision. This game is a lot like that older game just expanded and made out of polygons rather then vectors. The game stars with a kind of neat cutscene depicting the capture of Leia's rebel freighter by the Empire at the start of the first Star Wars movie. Following that cutscene is the obligatory 'Star Wars text roll'. This version of that roll is probably the worst I've ever seen. Once the second line in the roll appears the previous roll is too pixelated to read and the text is more of a synopsis of what was in the first movie then a faithful recreation. The game offers two modes; arcade and '32X'. The difference is that the 32X mode has more and longer levels. That isn't necessarily a good things. The game is wave-based. Kill a certain number of enemies and then you move on to a new scene. It is slow paced and involves a lot of waiting as you'll have to fiddle with you're ship's throttle to get the enemies to appear before you so that you can shoot them. Though it is slow-paced there is also a time limit with makes the whole experience a bit frustrating. The ships control find but turn like yachts. The game operates on a 2D horizontal plane though you can move the ship up and down slightly. It is an ok game but a bit boring.
NFL QB Club
This game surprised me. The game is supposed to be a simulation football game simulating the 1994 NFL season. It has a lot of customization for the era. There are weather effects, different field types plenty of plays and sets and a full season, playoff and simulation based mode (where you replay key moments in NFL history). The game looks really good too. The game has multiple camera angles but the best is a dynamic camera that changes based off of what is happening during any given moment during the game. It's a really cool camera system for the era. Playing defense can be tricky. The plane the characters move on is a bit different then the plane modern football games use. It's hard to explain but, basically, it's hard to tell when the character you're controlling is about to come close to another player. Offensively the game is a breeze. The passing is simple due to the dynamic camera and the running is a joke. The runner has the ability to spin out of tackles. This can be used to break the game as a player can quite literally spin their way to a touchdown. This is a fun game that isn't nearly as simulation based as it thinks it is but I don't think I care.
This is probably the most well-known 32X game. This is a game based around Knuckes, a minor character in the 16-bit Sonic games, and his group of friends. The game utilizes a weird partner mechanic. Essentially the playable character is forever tied to a non-playable character. The NPC acts a bit like Tails did in Sonic 2, 3 and Sonic & Knuckles by copying, after a short delay, every action the playable character does (so, if the playable character jumps the NPC will jump shortly thereafter). This was fine when the NPC moved independently of the playable character. But, in Knuckles Chaotix that NPC is forever linked to the playable character. This causes weird problems like the playable character's jumps being gimped because the NPC hasn't jumped yet or the playable character slowing down because the NPC hasn't start running yet. It causes the entire experience to be methodical and slow-paced. There are two ways to look at this. One way is to say that this game is a nice off-shoot from the old Sonic formula and should emphasize good platforming and puzzle solving over mindless speed. The other way is to say that this is a slow paced, boring game that is to different from the older Sonic games. I tend to think along the lines of the second option. The problem with saying that the partner system emphasizes good platforming and puzzle solving is that the NPC doesn't react fast enough to allow for good platforming. Further, when the NPC does react fast enough the fact that these two independent objects are tied together leads to some weird physics problems that lead to weird platforming situations. The game is ok from a gameplay perspective but it is more weird then fun. From a presentation perspective, graphically the game is a bit more detailed the later 16-bit Sonic games but not by a lot. The colors are usually more muted which tends to make the game look better then it really is. The quality of sound effects and the music is higher then the 16-bit Sonic games but, in terms of the music, the actual songs are not as good as previous offerings. Knuckles Chaotix is a weird game. It isn't bad but it is more of a weird experiment then a fun game.