Sega Saturn celebrates its 22nd anniversary

Posted: May 10, 2017 in Game Articles

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by Reinier Macatangay via Nerd Reactor

May 11th marks the 22-year anniversary of the Sega Saturn launch. Time to celebrate? While the Saturn failed horribly after its release, all dead consoles become a little more appreciated over time. So it might be worth giving a short look again.

Sega meant to have the Saturn as their major console entry into the “32-bit era.” While Sega also released the 32X add-on for the Sega Genesis earlier, the Saturn was CD-based and more heavily anticipated.

What did 32-bit processing power mean? Most gamers had no idea. Back then, more bits simply meant a better, more powerful console. For developers though, the Saturn’s power came across as hard to tap into.

Sega Retro offers a nice technical summary of the console’s limitations.

One interesting line reads “Only a handful of developers were able to squeeze most of the power out of the second SH-2 CPU, and even fewer utilized the SCU DSP, as its assembly code was more complex than the SH-2.”

No one needs to be a jargon wizard to understand it had some poor internal design flaws.

Graphics are not everything when it comes to a console though. If quality games are made, gamers will come, right?

Unfortunately, third-party developers were caught flat-footed when the Saturn released in May. Most everyone expected the Saturn to launch in September. So the launch was not as strong as expected.

Keith Stuart of The Guardian wrote, “Sega had an autumn US release for the Saturn all planned out; its production line was in motion, retailers were ready. But Japan panicked. (Sega of Japan President) Nakayama believed that Sega had to get into the US market early and establish a presence before Sony.”

“But it was a shambles. The machines were expensive and in short supply; only a handful of major retailers got them, alienating the rest of the market.”

Still, the Sega Saturn came out with games such as Daytona USA, Panzer Dragoon and Virtua Fighter. Later on, critics applauded the unique Nights Into Dreams. The console just lacked a major-selling hit. Sonic X-treme, a planned 3D sequel to the classic Sonic games on the Sega Genesis, ended up canceled. Therefore, Sega’s major 32-bit console did not offer a proper Sonic title.

Eventually, the Sonic Team began work on a different Sonic game for the Saturn. It eventually got pushed back to the Dreamcast, and gamers know it today as Sonic Adventure.

According to Don Reisinger of CNET, sadly only two Saturn games sold over a million copies: Virtua Fighter 2 and Grandia.

He went on to write, “Aside from those, the Saturn quickly became the cesspool of gaming. After all, can anyone actually name 30 great games they played on the console?”

Oddly, the Saturn did see at least 600 games released worldwide. It is a number that surpasses the Nintendo 64. But as told on US Gamer, less than half of them ever made it to the United States.

The Sega Saturn died a dishonorable death in late 1998 (while fighting a little longer overseas). Sega’s Dreamcast turned in a better effort starting the following year but died prematurely too after a promising launch. Subsequently, Sega became a third-party developer and publisher, and these days, their games are literally on every platform.

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