For Christmas this last year we gave my eldest son Mario vs. Sonic: London 2012 Olympics
on the Wii. Even though the title has been out over a year it still came with a hefty price tag new, but he’s been asking for it a while, and he does deserves it.
But looking at this game got me thinking about the whole Sega/Nintendo thing. To a lot of veterans from the 16-bit era “Console Wars” the Mario and Sonic cooperative is absolutely ludicrous, and verges on sacrilege like a Packers flag over Soldier Field.
I think it was best summed up by James Rolfe who in a recent episode of the Angry Video Game Nerd called Wishlist talked about some Sonic titles toward the end of the episode. While reviewing a title he kind of liked called Shadow the Hedgehog, he felt his mind blown due to the fact that he was playing a Sega title on a Nintendo GameCube. Or as he said “It’s like Cats and Dogs living together!”.
It’s kind of sad in a way that Sega’s mascot and hero of the 16-bit Genesis/SNES battles is now relegated to being second banana in Nintendos world. It’s also sad that such revolutionary games like the Sonic series weren’t able to keep Sega alive as a top console maker in its future. But, those of us who know a thing or two about Sega’s decision processes after the Genesis, know that poor Sonic has no blame in what came after.
It’s no secret that what existed between Nintendo and Sega was in fact a war for market share. With Nintendo pretty well entrenched after the NES, Sega at least in North America, truly had to fight to gain any kind of ground. In 1991 as Nintendo released the SNES, Sega decided it was time to one up Nintendo and release an add on for the Genesis.
Enter Generation 4.5 and the mezzanine tech know as the Sega CD. The Sega CD was a pioneer at introducing CD-ROM based gaming in consoles. Although the CD’s loaded slowly (comparable to 1x speed), it gave Sega the ability to look far more advanced then it’s cartridge based competitor the SNES. The Sega CD was a mild success, and gained most of its notoriety from the 1993 Senate hearings on video game violence in which the Sega CD title Nightrap a campy horror game, came under fire for violence towards women.
Although the Sega CD represented the next generation of technology, it was more or less introduced to extend the life and image of its mother-ship, the Genesis. But to continue to push the boundary of gaming technology and extend the life of the Genesis even further Sega introduced the Sega 32X. The concept was simple, give consumers the next best thing with a 32-bit system. But rather then wait to release a 32-bit system for which Sega built a prototype for known as the Neptune, Sega decided it wanted to make its 32-bit system as an attachment for the Genesis.
Although the 32X had some phenomenal gameplay, I can’t help but feel that it was a huge and costly mistake on Sega’s part. Although the 32X extended the life of the Genesis a little further, the move to release it was an exercise in futility. The 32X arrived in North America in November of 1994, but by May of 1995 Sega would release the Saturn. The Saturn was Sega’s 64-bit replacement for the Genesis and all her mezzanine half generation add-on’s. Sega would later try to justify the 32X as an inexpensive upgrade for the Genesis, for gamers who couldn’t afford the Saturn, but neither system did particularly well.
Although the Saturn garnered many fans, consumers felt overwhelmed by Sega’s poor timing in system releases, and a lack of breathing room between the 32X and the Saturn. What was even worse is that Saga failed to hype the Saturn before it’s release, and many consumers only found out about it by suddenly finding it in a store one day. To say the least Sega’s marketing failed miserably on Saturn’s launch, and many think the less then six months between the 32X’s launch and the Saturn may have been a major part of that.
The 32X has often been pointed out to be the beginning of the end for Sega as it once use to be. The 32X didn’t sell well, and the Saturn was more or less an afterthought in the battle for Gen 5 market share, as Sony’s new Playstation would become the market leader, with the Nintendo 64 pulling in a close second.
The Sega CD and 32X are examples of systems that were ahead of their time and prime examples of the mezzanine systems. Their existence was meant to give consumers the next big thing, while giving Sega a leg up on Nintendo. But in a way Sega’s marketing strategy was ahead if it’s time as well. In an attempt to offer a range of products that could meet the price points of different consumers through economy and premium lines via the 32X and Saturn respectively, Sega instead created products that competed against each other. This created confusion among consumers, who where turned off by what they perceived as the bombardment of Sega products.
In today’s market, systems like the WiiU, XBox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4 all offer base, and premium systems at different price points to place consoles in consumer hands. In way this is what Sega was attempting to do with the 32X/Saturn combination in 1995.