A Little Too Real
By Greg Gillis
Head for Saturn.
ORIGINALLY SET FOR A September launch, Sega's 32-bit Saturn system instead had a surprise debut on May 11, 1995 at select retailers. Though this meant that the Saturn would beat the Sony Playstation to market by four months, the bold move was not without undesirable consequences.
Initial software support for the Saturn was thin on the ground, as third party developers hadn't been expecting the early launch and their games weren't yet ready to be released. Retailers who were excluded from the early, limited launch were understandably perturbed, and in some cases refused to carry the system or its games in the future. And the early release of Saturn killed whatever remaining momentum the 32X peripheral might have had, as Sega's marketing focus shifted towards their latest machine.
Sega's collection of legacy hardware had been growing to unwieldy proportions, with support diminishing over time for the Genesis, Sega CD, Game Gear, 32X, 32X CD and Pico platforms. Something had to give eventually, but the company's shift in developmental and marketing focus to the Saturn led to Sega underestimating demand for the Genesis system in the fourth quarter of 1995. The resulting inventory shortages allowed Nintendo's SNES to pull even further ahead of the Genesis in the North American market than it might otherwise have done.
1995 wasn't without its bright spots, though. In January, Sega finally released Phantasy Star IV in North America, with well regarded RPGs Crusader of Centy and Beyond Oasis not far behind. Cult favourite platformer Ristar and the highly anticipated sequel Earthworm Jim 2 also saw release, while the 32X received a surprisingly well-executed port of Virtua Fighter.
But the writing was on the wall. Japanese software support for the Genesis platform had all but disappeared, and American and European third-parties weren't far behind. Although a handful of high-profile Genesis games would be released in 1996 (notably Vectorman 2 and Sonic 3D Blast), the Saturn was clearly Sega's future.
In 1989, Genesis helped Sega rise from their grave, power up, and bring the arcade experience home. And our world has never been the same!
"No matter how great Saturn is, or PlayStation is, or Ultra 64 is, we will outsell them by an enormous amount with 32X — simply because of the price. The technology of 32X happens to be good, but the price point is so important in the US market that how good it is really doesn't matter."
- Tom Kalinske, Next Generation February 1995