It seems strange that the SEGA Saturn under performed after the Genesis’ success, but it suffered numerous issues that crippled the console.
The issues began with sloppy marketing. Kalinske (the then SEGA of America CEO) announced that the Saturn would be released on “Saturnday” September 2, 1995 giving gamers and developers time to save up cash and create games, respectively. But at the first ever E3 (May, 1995) Kalinske and SEGA released the console months before the initial date, and exclusively to Toys ‘R’ Us, Software Etc., and EB Games. This unexpected direction shift led to some retailers boycotting the console, and actually promoting and pushing Sony’s PlayStation, the Saturn’s biggest competitor, instead. Gamers were pissed, too, as the Saturn’s early release resulted in a game shortage–only six games were available at launch. The risky move proved costly.
The Saturn had the potential to destroy its competitors (Sony PlayStation, Nintendo 64), but it came with a hefty price: $399.99, which was $100 more than the PlayStation. Yes, the hardware did justify the price, with its dual CPUs and six processors. Unfortunately, this made development extremely difficult. Both CPU’s had issues accessing the console’s RAM at the same time, thus leading to long and tedious game development times. Some ports even were redone altogether to run on the Saturn, but this resulted in subpar releases and a software drought. This changed over time, but it took SEGA manning the helm and showing other developers how to harness the console’s potential. As a result, the best Saturn games are first-party titles.
The development challenges that the Saturn created led to a number of studios bolting to the PlayStation. On paper, Sony’s PlayStation had inferior hardware, but it was easier to program. Many SEGA fans abandoned ship and purchased a PlayStation. Sony exclusives like Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy VII, Twisted Metal, and Warhawk helped solidify their decisions. By 1996, Nintendo also knocked on SEGA’s doors with its Nintendo 64 and one of the greatest games of all time, Super Mario 64.
By this point, SEGA was running out of options, but continued to fight the console war by porting over a number of its arcade hits. Virtual Fighter 2 ended up becoming the consoles best seller, and SEGA Rally Championship proved another popular title despite graphical issues. Virtual Cop also made its way over, gamers began to realize that like the Master System, only SEGA would truly support the system.
It’s not a surprise that arcade ports carried the console through the mid ’90s–SEGA’s arcade systems were flourishing. The Model’s I-III arcade boards were extremely successful. These boards gave birth to the Virtual Fighter series which improved with each board iteration. The Virtual Cop series was a fan favorite at the arcades also, and SEGA Rally Championship could be found in a many malls and theaters across America.
NiGHTS into Dreams
This is one of the most creative games SEGA has ever released. Players take control of Nights and visit children’s dreams in order to obtain a magical item. The dreams consist of a Nightopia section where the world is bright beautiful and peaceful, along with a Nightmare section where things usually take turns for the worse. The gameplay consists of flying through a series of rings in an aerial obstacle course, collecting different colored items. NiGHTS in Dreams has a whimsical soundtrack that really captures the game’s imaginative theme. The soundtrack is so good that songs from the game appeared in other SEGA titles.
Panzer Dragoon drew comparisons to Star Fox due to the on-rails gameplay. Players ride around a dragon and engage enemies using a handgun and the dragon’s homing attack. The game’s graphics outshined other titles on the platform, and the sound track is considered one of Yoshitaka Azuma’s greatest compositions. Panzer Dragoon saw follow-ups that ended with its sequel Panzer Dragoon Otra on the Xbox.
Virtual Fighter 2
The original Virtual Fighter deserves recognition, but the Saturn port is so inferior to the arcade version that it missed this list. However, with its sequel came a vast number of improvements. Firstly, VF2 is a technical marvel that runs at 60 frames per second. It also adds two characters that expands an already deep roster.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Quite frankly Editor-in-chief Jefferey Wilson might kill me for not including this game. But seriously this is one of the better games in the Saturns lack luster library. Symphony of the Night follows Alucard, Dracula’s estranged son who isn’t to fond of the family business. The Saturn version is praised for having smoother sprites and better audio quality, it’s actually one of the only multi-platform titles that was better on the Saturn. If you aren’t familiar with the series by now, you might wanna consider a different hobby other than gaming.
SEGA Rally Championship
Before Gran Turismo, SEGA Rally Championship was THE console racer to play. It’s a port of the wildly successful arcade games, but it isn’t the most accurate port. There are frame rate issues, and the graphics are extremely blocky and jagged. Still, it’s fondly remembered to this day.
Next: Death of the Dream
The success that SEGA gained with the Genesis was quickly lost with the Saturn. The console ended up in a distant last place behind the Nintendo 64 and Sony PlayStation, but behind the scenes SEGA worked on its next console, which would also be its last.