After the success of the Genesis/Megadrive, Sega tried a little too hard to come out on top in the 32-bit generation. Even though they had the CD-Based Saturn in development, Sega also tried to offer existing Genesis owners a way to “upgrade” their console to a 32-bit machine that could offer more arcade-quality games.
The 32X was an add-on that had quite a bit of potential, but was abandoned early on and left many Sega fans stuck with an expensive piece of hardware sticking out of their Genesis.
Now it is quite easy to pick up a 32X on eBay for a relatively small amount of money and games for the system don’t cost much either. If you are looking to pick up a 32X as a collectors item or novelty gaming piece, here are a handful of games that gave the 32X its limited identity.
Virtua Racing Deluxe
In 1994, there wasn’t a hotter arcade racer than Virtua Racing. Racing was one genre that seemed to benefit the most from 3D gameplay due to the need for realistic handling and tracks, so there was quite an excitement when Virtua Racing showed up on the scene (even if it was blocky).
Virtua Racing remained a dominate title until Sega Rally, Daytona USA (Saturn) and Gran Turismo (Playstation) showed up on the later 32-bit systems.
At a time when 3D games were only to be seen in cutting-edge arcade systems or PCs, Virtua Racing on the 32X was jaw-dropping. In fact, the 32X is still considered superior to the later Sega Saturn version. The 32X did a wonderful job pushing the polygons in order to provide a smooth and enjoyable ride along a number of fun-filled tracks.
Full Review of Virtua Racing Deluxe
While it doesn’t compare with Virtua Fighter Remix on the Saturn, Virtua Fighter on the 32X was another game that made the 32X attractive to die-hard Sega fans. (That is, before they knew the add-on was doomed)
Like Virtua Racing, it pushed the 32X’s 3D capabilities — enough to hold gamers over until the Saturn launched.
The 32X version actually performs quite similar to the original Saturn version of Virtua Fighter. Both have their issues such as flickering polygons, but running off of a cartridge on the 32X has its advantages (no load times). Here is a really great side-by-side comparison of the Saturn and 32X ports of Virtua Fighter.
Overall, the animation on the 32X version was quite good and the controls were excellent. It seemed like Sega actually took the time to do a quality job instead of a rush to get it out the door. The Virtua games proved that the 32X was not a bad platform on its own, but Sega just executed the whole 16-bit-to-32-bit transition incredibly wrong.
Full Review of Virtua Fighter
There wasn’t a true Sonic game in the entire 32-bit era (Sonic R and Sonic 3D Blast don’t count), but Knuckles Chaotix was pretty close.
There is some debate on the subject, but some say that the game originated as the prototype known as Sonic Crackers (the name of the ROM image that has been floating around for a decade).
The game has the same fundamental elements as the original Sonic The Hedgehog trilogy, but adds the gimmick of 2-player cooperative gameplay that revolves around a the special ring force bond between characters. Both players are at all times connected on one single screen while neither player acts as the dominant force to move the game forward.
Besides the staple of traditional Sonic moves and individual abilities this means some new tricks can be executed with the elastic force of the ring bond. It adds a great deal of depth and challenge to the otherwise basic Sonic formula and is either loved or hated by 32X owners.
In addition to the gameplay tweaks, Chaotix also bumped up the image quality with some beautiful colors and sprites, and added some additional physics to deal with the bungee element. Chaotix also utilized the zoom effect in additional to some sprite scaling. While you may not fall in love with it, Chaotix is worth a try.
Review of Knuckles Chaotix
This was one of the first games I purchased for my 32X and it was very impressive to see so many polygons with textures running on expanded Genesis hardware.
While it looks pretty “bleh” by today’s standards, this was a fascinating game at the time of its release. The 3D environments were some of the most technologically advanced for the console and the animation wasn’t too bad.
I have to mention, however, that once the novelty of Metal Head’s graphics wears off, you will realize the game is pretty slow and somewhat shallow and boring. Again, I consider it to be a good demonstration of what the 32X could do — especially considering developers didn’t have much time with the add-on.
Full Review of Metal Head
Star Wars Arcade
This on-rails shooter may seem pretty basic, but it is actually quite challenging (I can get very far) and, of course, its Star Wars.
This port is actually a well done translation of the little seen, Model 1 arcade title. The 32X shines here by not only accomplishing little polygon break-up, but by also keeping pop-up to a minimum. Even the poor old Genesis sound chip outdoes itself especially in the opening “Star Wars Theme.” The sounds are suitably authentic and are a tremendous achievement for a cartridge based system.
In the game, you pilot your X-Wing through each level, completing the assigned mission objectives as you go. Controls are simple, and you have a choice of external or internal view of your craft. Another few nice touches are the two player option (you and a friend take control of a Y-Wing, acting as pilot and gunner), and the new 32X specific mode, which adds new gameplay features to the original.
Full Review of Star Wars Arcade
All The Games That Could Have Been
What probably defined the 32X more than anything is its potential and its complete commercial failure. The 32X was killed off very early in its life and there were a number of promising games that were slated for the add-on.
Some examples what was in store are Alien Trilogy, Alien vs. Predator, Castlevania V, Darkstalkers, and Virtua Hamster. Unfortunately, Sega had too many things up their sleeve at once and the developers were getting restless and moves on to the Saturn as well.
- After Burner & Space Harrier – These two on-rails shooter are good old-school fun, but are not as good as the ports to the Saturn and Dreamcast. If you can find them cheap, they aren’t bad.
- Cosmic Carnage – Some people liked it for the music and the breakable armor, but this 2D fighter received mostly terrible reviews and was looked upon more as a technical demo.
- DOOM – the 32X version probably is one of the worst ports available, but I still found it to be good for some hours of fun if you haven’t spoiled yourself too much with the PC or Jaguar version.
- Kolibri & Tempo – A unique 2D shooter and platformer respectively, there games were actually had decent gameplay and beautiful colors, but they weren’t groundbreaking or anything that couldn’t be nearly-replicated on a stock Genesis.
- Darxide – This import game has a StarFox feel to it. It handles surprisingly well with its smooth flying and entertaining shoot-em-up action.
- Shadow Squadron – This shooter has simple polygon graphics that move at a nice smooth frame rate. It has a good balance of enjoyable gameplay and a high challenge factor
- Enhanced FMV Games: Night Trap, Fahrenheit, etc – The Sega CD was well-known for its “revolutionary” Full Motion Video games, but they didn’t have quite the video quality as the PC or 3DO. There were 32X versions of some of these games that harnessed the power of both add-ons in order to create a fairly impressive (but bulky and expensive) gaming machine.