I never played the SEGA Saturn4 minute read

Why the fifth generation console is lost in space

I am a SEGA fanboy – there, I said it. Throughout each video game generation in the 80’s and 90’s I was strictly blue-brand when it came to my gaming. I had a Master System, Mega Drive and a Dreamcast, and I would relentlessly play through iconic games such as Alex Kidd, Shinobi, Sonic, Streets of Rage, and Crazy Taxi. These titles were some of the greatest games on some of the greatest consoles ever made. Eagle-eyed readers may have already noticed something missing on my list. The subject matter to which I am going to talk about now was the missing link of the fifth generation. The troubled gamble in this era was the Saturn.

Even finding images from The SEGA Saturn load screen proves difficult

SEGA and their civil war

The history of the Saturn is very well documented. The fact that SEGA was promoting the Mega Drive add-on (the 32X) during the time of development of the Saturn, meant that SEGA’s marketing was in direct competition with itself. This was more of a civil war between SEGA of Japan and SEGA of America. Both branches of the company were pushing their hardware in their respective markets. Interestingly the order to go ahead with the 32X came from SEGA of Japan president Hayao Nakayama. He was more concerned about Atari’s Jaguar than Sony’s Playstation. He wanted a quick ‘transitional console’ to rival the Atari machine and the US team agreed with the decision. 

Unfortunately the 32X was an expensive flop with little software support, and it ultimately hindered any traction the Saturn would have coming into the US market. The 32X was released in the US just one day before the Saturn was released in Japan. A botched early release of the Saturn in the west as an attempt to gain ground ahead of the Sony PlayStation. This was marred by the expense of the console and a launch library that wasn’t as strong as it should have been.

Aside from marketing issues, there were technical problems too. The Playsation was comparatively easy to develop for, with it’s user friendly programming APIs. Saturn’s complexity meant that it was a much more difficult machine to develop games for. Quality suffered because of this.

The Saturn could be described as more time-consuming to develop for due to the dual CPU’s and no 3D rendering software (it used a 4-point sprite renderer). Being difficult might be a push and with EA paying their journalists to lead the market towards the competition there may have been other elements at work in the war of the fifth generation consoles.

Jim Cullinane, editor for Fing’rs & Thu’ums

That’s not to say the Saturn had bad games in it’s lifetime – far from it. Policenauts, Panzer Dragoon, Nights into Dreams, and Snatcher were all legendary games that are still heralded to this day.

These titles alone could not save the console, especially with the major issues already at hand and the catalogue of games from both Playstation and Nintendo 64.

The fifth generation war

Sony was churning out games such as Metal Gear Solid, Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy VII and Tomb Raider. We were also seeing massively popular titles like Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, StarFox and Goldeneye on the N64. The Saturn was sitting in third-place in the 5th generation console charts.

The lack of interest also trickled over to the European market, which is why I never saw much media interest. Everyone in school playgrounds were talking Playstation and N64 and, if anything, of fourth generation consoles. No one (in my school at least) spoke of the Saturn. Unfortunately it could be claimed that the failure of the Saturn put a hindrance towards the following generation console – The Dreamcast. The subsequent failure in the sixth generation forced SEGA to withdraw from hardware production. They instead focused on software now released on their competitor’s machines. Seeing the SEGA logo on a Nintendo game still seems odd to this day.

In conclusion

So yeah –  I’ve not only never played a Saturn but I’ve never even seen one in my presence. To me, it is a lost relic in time that has a mythical aura about it. Hopefully one day I shall get the chance to play one but until then it remains lost amongst the stars.