Games That Defined the Sega 32X

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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.

| Sega Genesis / MegaDrive | Sega CD | Sega 32X |

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

Virtua Fighter

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

Knuckles Chaotix

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

Metal Head

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.

Honorable Mentions:

  • 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.

| Sega Genesis / MegaDrive | Sega CD | Sega 32X |

14 Comments

  1. Ooh, that Chaotix review you linked to was rather harsh. It’s not fantastic, but it’s not terrible either.

    Oh, and your links on the Virtua Fighter bit don’t work. You may wanna look into those.

  2. gnome says:

    Never actually knew the 32x had something worth its price released. Mind you, I only played Kolibri once and wasn’t impressed.

    Another fine post!

  3. Sturat says:

    The bit about Virtua Fighter makes it sound like the 32X version came out before the Saturn version, but it didn’t. The ads for the 32X version reminded us all that “patience is a virtua.”

  4. ZombieGirl says:

    Nice post, but, as a die-hard Sonic fan and a recent buyer of a 32X, I’m surprised that you didn’t mention Knuckles’ Chaotix special stages. They really manage to strike the balance between fun and challenging (but not quite hard enough to make you pull your hair out, although they get close). I love that game, but the final boss is pathetically easy.

    Tempo deserves more credit than it got, in my opinion. It’s an appealing game that had unique levels, spiffy graphics, and better-than-average gameplay (and a cheesy intro song)…but maybe I’m just saying that because it is essentially the only other platformer for the 32X, right under KC’s shadow. Oddly enough, I wondered if it could’ve been a Genesis game.

    Oh, and Shadow Squadron kicks serious ass.

  5. jerry coeurl says:

    What the heck? No mention of Blackthorne? That game is awesome, probably one of the best on the system. I know it’s on the SNES too, but I’d doubt that it looks as good. And it’s even got a fair amount of gore (which the SNES version mostly omits). Definitely worth playing, seriously this game single-handedly showed me the error of my ways when I’d say, “There’s nothing worth playing on the 32X.”

  6. Chris Chandler says:

    I had about anything they made for this system at the time it was popular. I even found them around Christmas 1996 for $30 at Toys R’ Us, and even though it was dead it gave me such great gameplay. It’s true Virtua Racing is better on 32x as the Saturn version wasn’t nearly as tightly wound, doesn’t seem like they played it as much in testing becasue the 32x version was tweaked to gameplay perfection.
    I did like Doom on 32x as it was quite explosive and not toned down but it was very frame hindered. (The Jaguar version was really mean as you could blow a monster all the way across the room by blasting a can.)
    I fell for everything Sega made. I also said goodbye to console gaming at the end of Dreamcast as I never purchased the post Sega console era systems. X Box was the closest match to a Sega, especially the controller…which leads me to believe that IBM bought the Sega console structure as Sega could no longer handle it. Just my 2 cents.

  7. Star Wars arcade was definitely more of a selling point for the 32X but Shadow Squadron was a much better game.

    And although the Doom port was rather shoddy I think it’s one of the games the defined the add-on as it was practically billed as the killer app.

  8. Z-Gradt says:

    My favorites were Shadow Squadron and Space Harrier.

    It’s a shame that it didn’t get much support, but I think the CD format had a lot to do with it’s downfall. I really consider this era of my gaming life as the dark ages. There was a gap between the SNES and the Saturn where there were a lot of failed experiments (Sega CD, 32X, Virtual Boy, Jaguar). Luckily, after being an early SegaCD adopter, I was able to pick up the others on clearance after they flopped rather than buying them at full price.

  9. null1024 says:

    Why you mentioned Star Wars Arcade over Shadow Squadron is beyond me completely.

    Star Wars Arcade is fine, yes… but Shadow Squadron offers more — better graphics, better sound [the wonderful score of Star Wars sounds pathetic here], more interesting levels, better control, etc.

  10. Patrick BBE says:

    I now have Shadow Squadron from garage sale. I’ll trade it in at my local game store which is short on Sega games.

  11. Jsweety says:

    Very insightful list. My only complaint is that Shadow Squadron is in every way better than Star Wars Arcade.

    It may carry a franchise name but that should be reason enough not be fooled by its lackluster game play – it is a joke compared to Shadow Squadron.

  12. SeekerRSA says:

    Mortal Kombat II is the best game for me on the 32X, as well as the best home port of it.

    DOS versions are much better graphically, but limited to either the very poor sound blaster soundtrack (gravis ultrasound is great though, takes a lot of configuring) or 4 button controller on a 5 button game, unless you prefer playing fighting games with a keyboard.
    The PSX and Saturn versions are terrible versions which consist of loading times during combat (Shang Tsung) which I can live with, but cannot accept before finishing moves.

    The 32X version is based on the mega drive/genesis port of the game which I prefer to the SNES port, something feels wrong with the game play on the SNES, not to mention the green blood in the Japanese version and broken gravity in the European version.

    The audio in the game keeps the funky remixed music from the genesis (which you either love or hate) and adds most of the sound effects and voices omitted in the 16bit version, it even includes the intro’s and bio’s from the arcade.
    Game play wise, it stays much the same as the 16bit version, with crouch punch finally added.
    Graphically is where this version shines with the blob shadows replaced, and texture enhancements all over the place.

    Even today with other version like the midway arcade treasures and mk komplete arcade collections available, I still pop this one into my gen/cd/32 as the best edition available other than the arcade original.

    I believe the 32X would have been great if it was released 2 years earlier. Sega obviously realized that their 2 year older than SNES, genesis hardware was starting to lag behind end 1993, and would have benefited from releasing cheaper genesis games and superior 32X games at premium cost. Thus giving their consumers a real choice that left the SNES somewhere in the middle rather than a stop gap system which the 32X ultimately became. Developers may have also liked the opportunity to show off their capabilities on a stronger system during this era not being hampered by hardware restraints or unaffordable Neo Geo type hardware to develop for.

  13. paulie says:

    look the 32x was a great asset to all of us sega lovers it was heads and tails better then the Saturn in every way that debacle of trash that killed my beloved sega of America as we knew it can rot in hell with all its second hand hash man the psone blew it away in every way sound graffics and controller and games and price is it any wonder dreamcast was doomed from the get and that was a godly machine I mean wtf sega both japan an usa can be held responsible for that .anyway I have every single title for the 32x all thirty six carts and six segs32x cds yes pitfall fifa 96 and blackthorne and of course my beloved 32x mega drive copy of darxide I will never part with the unit I love that much I have to converted 32x systems complete svideo and tru stereo output input makes it look supreme. in every way pitfall and blackthorne are great games virtua racin is best driver cart wise ever . made no version of nascar comes close on n64.and motal 2 wow love it.i truly am surprised at how many people put it down and never owned the 32x or even tried it there was more then Mario back then people and I love Nintendo also. just sayin.and in short I also love herin about these titles that were cancled and never came out like my copy of xmen clone wars and virtua hamster 32x now mind u there not finished but I have workin in sega case copys of both and there about sixty percent done and have five palyable levels for xmen and three playable for hamster. wish they were all finished but it is what it is I belive I am one of maybe ten or twenty world wide with the collection like it or not.and am thankful to have growin up during the sega Nintendo days as I was a older teen when they both had eight bit toys man they saved us from atari7800 and the other mess .I do love me some jaguar 64bit though aahhhh another story alltoghter. THANX. IGIVE 32X A EIGHT OUTTA TEN STARS I am biased though.