From Sega Retro
The Sega 32X (スーパー32X) codenamed Project Mars, is a hardware add-on to the Sega Mega Drive created by Sega. It is the second of two major add-ons for the system, the other being the Sega Mega CD, and was released worldwide in late 1994. The 32X was designed to extend the Mega Drive's lifespan by giving it the ability to play "32-bit" games, seen by many as the logical upgrade to the "16-bit" library offered by the console and its main rival, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
In the interests of simplicity Sega Retro uses a simplified "Sega 32X" name for the unit, though the official name differs depending on regions of the world. In Japan, it was distributed under the name Sega Super 32X, in North America, the Sega Genesis 32X, in Europe, Australia and Asia, the Sega Mega Drive 32X, in Brazil, the Mega 32X and in South Korea, the Super 32X.
Upon its original release in 1988, the Sega Mega Drive was seen as a competitive video game console and noticeably more powerful in many aspects than its major rivals, the Nintendo Entertainment System and PC Engine. By 1993 the roles had reversed, with consoles such as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Neo Geo, Atari Jaguar and 3DO having the edge over Sega's console. Though the Sega Mega CD had kept some of these problems at bay, the device had not performed as well as intended, and Sega needed a new leapfrog to catch up with its rivals.
Having experienced enormous success during the early 1990s, Sega had numerous hardware development projects underway, some using System 16 arcade technology, others being completely fresh ideas (such as the Sega VR which ultimately failed to be released). On January 8, 1994, Hayao Nakayama, then CEO of Sega, ordered his company to produce a new 32-bit video game console to take the company forward, the result being Project Mars, one of four 32-bit projects taking place during 1994 (the others being the Sega Saturn, Sega Jupiter and later Sega Neptune consoles).
Project Mars had came into existence when Hideki Sato and some other Sega of Japan engineers travelled to North America to collaborate with Sega of America's Joe Miller. Initial plans were drawn up to produce a new Sega Mega Drive with more colors and a 32-bit processor, however Miller thought that an add-on to the Mega Drive would be a better idea, because he felt that consumers would not buy an entirely new console. The Mars project would instead involve a unit which could be attached to the Mega Drive similar to the Power Base Converter, allowing the system to play new 32-bit games, while maintaining backwards compatibility with Mega Drive software and peripherals.
The compact-disc based Sega Saturn was officially announced at Winter CES 1993 (which actually took place in early January), having had a few months of development time behind it and even some playable games. To the press, the Sega Saturn was seen as the true successor to the Mega Drive, and though its design had not yet been finalised, was the system expected to dominate from Christmas 1994-onwards (at least, in Japan). At the time, the Sega Jupiter was seen to be an cheaper alternative to the Saturn - it would be a cartridge based console with similar specifications, but would not be able to run CD-based games (without extra add-ons). The Saturn was set to run both cartridge and disc-based software, though the more expensive cartridge support was later dropped when it became clear that CD technology was the best way forward.
Shortly afterwards (in March/April), the Mars project was announced, also for release by Christmas 1994. The Mars project, later named "Sega 32X" was designed by Sega of America for a western audience, and despite being a product of the same company, was developed independantly from the Saturn/Jupiter systems, later emerging as a stopgap between the Mega Drive and Saturn consoles. When the Saturn axed its cartridge support, the Jupiter project was scrapped, and only the Saturn and 32X were in play.
The video-gamer public first got a glimpse at the Summer 1994 CES in Chicago, Illinois. The console was unmasked with a price projection of $170, at a gamers' day, held by Sega of America on September 1994. At this point, the 32X was primarily envisioned as a system which would extend the life of the Sega Mega Drive and provide revenue while the installed userbase of the Sega Saturn slowly grew.
During development, the European model was known as the Mega Drive 32.
The 32X was first released in mid-November of 1994 in North America, with a European and a Japanese release in early December. Problems emerged instantly - in Japan, the Sega Saturn was also released in November, so any plans for the 32X to keep the fledgling Mega Drive console relevant in this region were dropped instantly.
Only a few hundred thousand consoles had been produced for North American distribution, yet orders were in the millions. Games had been rushed for the system in order to be shipped for the Christmas season and frequently came with errors in programming. Some games were found to be incomplete, which is evident in Doom as many levels are missing and musical scores are scarce. Complaints trickled in from consumers claiming that their 32X was not working with their Mega Drive/Genesis or television, forcing Sega to give away adapters.
350,000 consoles were shipped in North America in the first three weeks (200,000 of which were sold, half of which during the Thanksgiving weekend alone), with the number rising to 600,000 by early 1995. 500,000 units had been sold by Christmas, and it is estimated that about 665,000 had been sold by March of 1995. However, worries soon spread that Sega would be abandoning the system within the year when the Sega Saturn was given a late 1995 release (something which turned out to be true) and sales plummeted.
Since this was an expensive add-on system, Sega decided to offer a £50 discount on games with the console in Europe. However, the offer came in the form of rebate vouchers which were difficult to take advantage of. Just like its North American counterpart, this console was initially popular. Orders exceeded one million, but not enough were produced, and shortage supply problems arose. Two games, Darxide and FIFA Soccer '96, were only released for the PAL 32X.
Due to the awkward release schedule, in Japan the 32X was largely ignored, much like the Mega Drive and Mega CD before it. Consumers saw no reason to back the 32X as the Saturn been released, and Sega of Japan abandoned the system within a year. Despite this, the 32X saw a release in other markets such as Brazil, South Korea and the complex "Asian" region, and with a small handful of special bundles, may have been distributed more widely than the Mega CD, even if far fewer units were sold.
By mid-1995 Sega executives realized their blunder but it was too late. Developers and licensees had abandoned this console in favor of what they perceived to be a true 32-bit console, the Sega Saturn, and even though the 32X add-on was a 32-bit system, the games weren't taking the full advantages of system's capabilities and were not compatible with the Saturn hardware. Many games were 2D, rushed or slightly upgraded Mega Drive/Genesis titles, and many chose to skip the 32X completely, citing its expensive price.
Store shelves became littered with unwanted Sega 32X systems, and prices for a new system dropped as low as $19.95 in the US. Sega planned to redeem themselves with their last console project from 1994, the Sega Neptune (which would have been a Mega Drive and 32X in one), but by the time a prototype was developed, the Saturn was due for release in the west, and it was presumed unprofitable.
To make matters worse six games were released as Sega Mega CD 32X games, making use of both the Sega Mega CD and 32X add-ons so that they could benefit from CD quality audio and increased graphical capabilities. With all these Sega consoles on the market (Mega Drive, Mega CD, 32X, Mega CD 32X, Sega Saturn, Game Gear and even the Master System) customers were often left confused as to which software would work with which machine/add-on.
By the end of its lifespan there were 34 games released for the 32X, six of which are Mega CD 32X games. Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV: Wall of Fire was the only Japanese exclusive game. In October 1995 Hayao Nakayama demanded that all 32X projects be discontinued to focus resources entirely on the Saturn, however the technology would be later be recycled in the form of the Sega Picture Magic.
The 32X ceased production by 1996 worldwide, the last game to be released being Spider-Man: Web of Fire. The 32X badly damaged Sega's reputation, which was further tarnished when the Sega Saturn failed to compete with the Sony PlayStation/Nintendo 64 outside of Japan. It is often said Sega never truly recovered, and hence ultimately left the console business altogether. The Sega 32X fiasco is now considered one of the most badly planned console releases of all time.
The Sega 32X is a large and heavy "mushroom-shaped" unit which plugs into the Mega Drive's cartridge slot. The 32X also plays its own cartridges which are designed to take advantage of the enhancements of the system - cartridges which will not physically fit in a standard Mega Drive. The 32X cannot function as an independent machine, but unlike the Power Base Converter it was designed to be a permanent addition to the Mega Drive setup, doubling up as a passthrough device allowing normal Mega Drive games to still be played. The 32X came with ten coupons and several plastic spacers, ensuring it can work with most versions of the Mega Drive console.
Numerous factors led to the criticism over the 32X, but one of the major issues is encountered before the system is even switched on. The device requires its own AC adaptor, and a second physical connection to the Mega Drive console from the back of the unit. If the user also has a Mega CD, this means no less than three power adapters are required (plus a fourth for a television). Both the AC adaptor and 32X Connector Cable are bespoke units - the AC adaptor is more common as it is identical to that seen with the Mega Drive 2 (though is not often covered by universal AC adaptors), but the 32X connector cable is unique to the 32X and was not sold separately (though third parties variants exist).
Furthermore, Sega's AC adaptors of the day were designed so that the transformer was located around the plug area, resulting in several bulky units obstructing surrouding sockets. Due to the extra space required just to plug the console into the wall, Sega eventually released their own Sega Power Strip in North America.
The 32X brings several visual upgrades to the Mega Drive, including being able to display more colors on-screen (32768 at once, which was an important requirement for games featuring full-motion video and had hence been a common complaint with the Mega CD), enhanced scaling and rotation, and additional 3D graphics capabilities provided by its two Hitachi 32-bit RISC processors.
Audio capabilities were also upgraded, including the addition of QSound technology, which enables multidimensional sound that allows a regular stereo audio signal to approximate the 3D sounds heard in everyday life (similar to binaural recording).
The 32X is compatible with the Sega Mega CD, allowing the user to play one of six enhanced Sega Mega CD 32X games. All 32X consoles have regional lockout chips, meaning that 32X games from one region cannot be played on 32X consoles from a different one without modifications. There are some exceptions however, such as FIFA Soccer 96.
List of Games
Games marked with asterisks(*) are enhanced versions of previous Sega Mega CD-only games, taking advantage of the 32X's improved graphics, which require both the 32X and Mega CD in order to be played (see Sega Mega CD 32X).