Re-Living My Childhood: Sega 32X (UPDATED)

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...
 
Doom
 

A screenshot from the 32X version of Doom.
The 32X version of Doom was sort of odd by most accounts.  It was a very gimped version of the original game offering only 15 levels (the original had 30).  The start screen offers a level select and, out of curiosity, I played level 15.  If my memory is correct, that level wasn't the last level of any of the episodes of the original Doom.  It was odd as it was just a normal, run of the mill level that was supposed to be the big conclusion of this version of the game.  The sound design is kind of ugly.  All of the songs for the levels in the game are recreated but are ugly sounding.  They are choppy, grinding and just not that pleasant to listen to.  The sound effects are lower quality then the original but are fine all the same.  This game is as pixelated and fuzzy as any game on the 32X.  The animations are still all the same and the levels were, to my memory of the original, faithfully recreated.  But man are they ugly.  The draw distance is as good as the PC version but the pixaltion increases exponentially as the enemies and items are further away.  This leads to a lot of spraying and praying as you shoot frantically trying to hit those blobs of pixels.  Finally, the d-pad is rough to use when playing this game.  I don't always appreciate the analog controls of modern games but I really started to as I played this game.  The controls are stiff, slow and just not that fun to use.  This is a version of Doom for people who have absolutely no other way to play Doom.

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.
 
Virtua Fighter
 
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.
 
Knuckles Chaotix
 
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.
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Posted by JasonR86

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...
 
Doom
 

A screenshot from the 32X version of Doom.
The 32X version of Doom was sort of odd by most accounts.  It was a very gimped version of the original game offering only 15 levels (the original had 30).  The start screen offers a level select and, out of curiosity, I played level 15.  If my memory is correct, that level wasn't the last level of any of the episodes of the original Doom.  It was odd as it was just a normal, run of the mill level that was supposed to be the big conclusion of this version of the game.  The sound design is kind of ugly.  All of the songs for the levels in the game are recreated but are ugly sounding.  They are choppy, grinding and just not that pleasant to listen to.  The sound effects are lower quality then the original but are fine all the same.  This game is as pixelated and fuzzy as any game on the 32X.  The animations are still all the same and the levels were, to my memory of the original, faithfully recreated.  But man are they ugly.  The draw distance is as good as the PC version but the pixaltion increases exponentially as the enemies and items are further away.  This leads to a lot of spraying and praying as you shoot frantically trying to hit those blobs of pixels.  Finally, the d-pad is rough to use when playing this game.  I don't always appreciate the analog controls of modern games but I really started to as I played this game.  The controls are stiff, slow and just not that fun to use.  This is a version of Doom for people who have absolutely no other way to play Doom.

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.
 
Virtua Fighter
 
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.
 
Knuckles Chaotix
 
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.
Edited by JasonR86

PART 2
 
 
Spiderman: Web of Fire
 

This is a 2D sidescrolling brawler/platformer.  It is kind of odd really.  Spiderman is incredibly fast but not particularly responsive.  The combat is incredibly simple.  Spiderman has a three hit combo, jump kicks, running jump kicks and can shoot spiderwebs.  The game can be semi-broken by webswinging through many of the levels taking out all platforming.  Every web-based action comes as a cost to a 'web' meter but the hit to that meter for the web-based actions are really slight.  Graphically and sound design wise the game is really Genesis-like.  Besides the animations, nothing really screams 32-bit.  The worst part about this game is that it is just boring.  Nothing about it screams good or bad.  It is just so damn standard.
 
 
 
Blackthorne
 
Blackthorne is one of Blizzard's forgotten video game gems.  The game is a bit like Prince of Persia or Flashback in design.  The player controls a lone gunman trying to free humans from monstrous slavers.  The player moves on a 2D plane on a fairly straightforward tract.  Unlike Flashback, there is no backtracking.  It is a lot of fun to play though.  The game utilizes a 2D version of a cover system.  The player can hide the character in the shadows during a gunfight in order to dodge gunfire.  This mechanic works really well and gives the simple combat a bit of a turn-based feel.  The game looks really good, the colors are vivid and the animations are really good.  Besides an archaic password system, the game is a lost gem in the 32X catalogue.
 
 
Mortal Kombat II
 
This was a bit of a surprise.  I had just recently purchase the PS3 MKII port and was fairly happy with that port despite oddities like the lack of shadows.  The 32X version not only has shadows but accurately recreates the arcade experience for MKII.  The game looks fine graphically, offers all of the stages, characters, moves and secrets and controls really well.  It only really offers two modes (the arcade mode and a versus mode) but it is a lot of fun and was a surprise for me.
 
 
 
 
 
Zaxxon: Motherbase 2000
 

What a boring, ugly game this is.  The sound design, music and SFX, are just terrible to listen to.  It sounds like an AM radio in a wood chipper.  The game, graphically, is very ugly.  Not only does it look bad but the frame rate just crawls along.  It is slow, the controls are stiff and it is just not fun at all.  I love the original Zaxxon and am so disappointed in this game.  This game represents the opposite of fun.
 
 
 
36 Great Holes
 
There really isn't a lot to say about this game.  It is fairly nice looking, is easy to play and does a good job representing golf.  Like golf simulations?  This is the game for you.
 
 
 
 
 
 
BC Racers
 
This game was ported to everything and God only knows why.  It is a cart racing game like Mario Kart but lacks speed, good tracks and fun.  What a boring game.  It represents a minimalist effort in all ways.  The music is boring and quiet, the sound design is generic and the graphics are bland.  The controls are odd.  Every turn the cart seems to hop around the corners rather then grip the road making the cart skid out of control.  It is supposed to make the experience exhilarating and fun.  It didn't.  This was a hard game to get through.  
 
 
 
Afterburner
 
This game is a lot of fun.  It is a pitch perfect recreation of the original arcade game.  It has all the speed, the tight controls and the fun that arcade game had.  It looks great and has really great, vivid colors.  The speed is incredible.  There's not a lot to this game as it only offers an arcade mode but that is enough for me. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 PART 3
 
Alright, this is taking forever.  I've played the rest of my 32X games and found similar problems across the board.  Below, I'll sum up the games by category highlighting a select few.  The categories will be arcade ports, 16-bit ports and 32X originals.
 
ARCADE PORTS
 
The majority of the arcade ports were good at getting relatively close to the arcade originals.  Obviously, the 32X couldn't copy the current (then) arcade games graphically and sound-wise but they could come close.  For the older arcade games like Space Harrier the 32X was able to copy the experience perfectly.  Regardless of how close the games copied the originals, most of the 32X arcade ports were ports of boring, bland games.  A few games stood out like NBA Jam and Space Harrier.  But so many were ports of boring, ugly games like Primal Rage.
16-BIT PORTS
 
The 32X version of 16-bit ports were graphically superior to their 16-bit counterparts.  The 32X couldn't match the SNES in terms of sound design but that was, usually, not such a huge deal.  And, really, the 32X had the potential to sound relatively close to the quality of the SNES.  Gameplay-wise the games played exactly the same.  That wasn't always a good thing as many of these ports were not good games originally.  Even the best 16-bit port (in this part so I'm not mentioning Blackthorne as that game would be the best 16-bit port in the 32X catalog overall), Star Trek: Starfleet Academy, was only really great in concept.  
32X ORIGINALS
 
These games should have been the bread and butter of the 32X catalog.  They should have been head and shoulders better then the ports, arcade or not.  Some of these originals were really good.  Kolibri, Metal Head, Tempo (besides the dumbass 90's hip hop atmosphere) and Shadow Squadron were really good, fun games.  But, even at their best, few 32X originals did much of anything to surpass the apparent 'last generation' of 16-bit games.  Besides Metal Head and Shadow Squadron, the 32X originals were not superior enough to their contemporary 16-bit games in terms of presentation and gameplay.  These games didn't make the 32X look like the next generation of gaming.