Ah, nostalgia! Be it that old cartoon, a favorite toy or a comic book from days gone by, isn’t it great, when out of the blue, the memories come flooding back, and you’ve no choice but to exclaim “Holy Crap! Remember…?”
The year was 1994. Sega had been enjoying the top spot in the console wars of the 16-bit era, but things had taken a turn thanks to some destined-to-be-classic games on the Super Nintendo. Sega needed something to woo customers back. The Genesis had been pushed to its limits and the 32-bit Saturn console wouldn’t be ready for a retail release until the following year. The solution was the Sega 32X, an upgrade to the Genesis that would ease customers into the 32-bit era at a lower price and extend the life of the Genesis. This little box plugged into the top of the Genesis, effectively becoming the new cartridge slot for your existing Genesis games and the presumably huge library of upcoming 32X games. It’s hard to imagine how anyone thought this was a good idea.
When trying to determine where exactly the 32X went wrong, it’s hard to pick a starting point. The entire project was a bomb. For starters, the Saturn was already on the collective radar of the industry. Everyone knew it was coming. The 32X was a transparent money grab, made even more so thanks to the insane $159 price tag just in time for Christmas. It promised a jump on 32-bit gaming, but in reality, most of the games looked just a little better than Genesis games. The Saturn was going to be disc based (as was the Sony PlayStation) and the 32X used cartridges, so there was no chance at any kind of backwards compatibility with the 32X. Why would any developer come anywhere near it? After the launch, there was no one making games for this thing. It was effectively dead on arrival.
Throughout the 32X’s pitifully short lifespan, only 40 games were ever made. Many of them were ports of existing games with better colors. Sure, there were a couple of exclusives that standout (I really enjoyed Knuckles’ Chaotix), but there wasn’t a lot to love. This was the mid-90’s, so FMV was all the rage. Case in point, the 32X had a game called Corpse Killer. Think about that name for just a second. Again, it’s called Corpse Killer. Amazing. You can’t exactly load up a cartridge with video, so Corpse Killer, along with a handful of other 32X games, required the Sega CD as well in order to play the video on the tiny little frame on your screen. For the record, the Saturn didn’t frame its video in the tiny boxes.
This brings us to one of the more practical flaws of the 32X. The 32X, the Genesis and the Sega CD (can’t forget that one) all needed their own separate power sources. This was back in the day, kids, when power adapters weighed five pounds and were absolutely massive. You needed a dedicated power strip (if not more) just to power your Sega Meazord because of how damned big those adapters were. When everything was connected, including all the cords running from the upgrades back to the console, it looked like the Genesis was hooked up to some sort of crazy life support rig, which really is a fitting way to describe what these things really were. Sega was trying anything they could think of to squeeze a little more life out of their darling console.
In the end, the 32X proved to be a monumental failure. There were no games for it, so no one bought it. Everyone knew something better was coming up soon, so no one bought it. It was outrageously expensive, so no one bought it. After they pulled the plug, the massive overstock for this ridiculous thing was sold off for next to nothing. I had one as a kid only because Walmart sold off two pallets of them for $20, marked down from the original price of $159 a mere six months earlier. Ouch. In some ways, you have to give Sega credit for trying. They conceived, developed and killed the console upgrade market all on their own. No one has even dreamed of doing something like this since then. That’s how epic this failure was. Compare this to Nintendo’s Super GameBoy. That’s an idea that was actually good and was hugely successful, but Nintendo also had its own stinker in the works thanks to the Virtual Boy. The 32X never had a chance and it really didn’t deserve it. It was doomed before it ever hit stores thanks to its ridiculous concept, high price tag and nonexistent game library. It will go down in history as little more than a cautionary tale.
And now, for your viewing pleasure, actual gameplay from Corpse Killer. And remember… This was cutting edge.