I got my Sega Genesis for my 12th birthday in 1994. I instantly fell in love with that thing. The first game I played was the amazing Sonic the Hedgehog 2 that came bundled with my soon-to-be favorite game console for several years. Prior to getting a Genesis I couldn’t really say I was a fanboy or even just a fan of any platform. I had an NES, and before that we had an Atari. Before that I did all my gaming at the arcade.
As someone who was a HUGE fan of video arcades and arcade games the Genesis was a blast. By the time the Sega CD and 32X came along I was seriously contemplating buying either or both of those upgrades to gladly keep my Genesis alive. But things started to really turn around the closer the Saturn came to launching. The hype began building up. I starting to really consider saving all of my after school money I was earning from throwing newspapers, mowing lawns, and working in the corn fields on the side.
At the time, what drew me to the prospect of wanting to get a Sega Saturn was a combination of my love for the Genesis, arcade games, and the transition to the new world of 3D gaming. As the 90’s dragged on a few things started to become apparent to me early on. First thing I noticed about the Saturn was the lack of games. Remember when you are a kid flipping threw the gaming magazines all you have to go on is the information they offer. I didn’t have any way of knowing what games were coming out unless Electronic Gaming Monthly, Game Pro, or Sega Visions told me about it. Considering Sega Visions ceased following the launch of the Saturn, I didn’t really have much faith in the new product early on. I can’t say I “knew” it was going to fail. Far from it, I wanted one but I wasn’t sold to the point of I have to have one.
Whenever I would read a review of a Saturn game and the reviewers would point out how the game felt rushed, incomplete, buggy, or some other similar phrasing, I started to get skeptical. I distinctly remember reading a review for Virtua Fighter where the reviewer flat out said skip the Saturn and stick to the much cheaper 32X version. I also remember reading a really lousy review for the Saturn version of Mortal Kombat II, a game that was running smooth on the Super NES! I felt like if the Saturn can’t even handle a game both 16 bit consoles did okay, not to mention the 32X version was a huge selling point on making me want a 32X, I started to get a bad feeling about Saturn. That’s not to say it didn’t have games I wanted to play, just not very many must have games were jumping out at me.
The few games I was interested in, Bug!, Clockwork Knight, Panzer Dragoon, Virtua Cop and Sonic 3D Blast, all looked like they weren’t really showing off the true potential for what the Saturn was promising to do. At the time as I kept reading reviews of mediocre games, articles on how poorly the Saturn was selling, and the more I would see game after game getting announced for the new Sony Playstation and with no Saturn version planned, the more I started to lose interest. By the time the N64 finally started to make waves I had all but moved on from the Saturn. I wouldn’t give it another thought until the day my friend showed me his brand new Dreamcast. My reaction was, oh, when did they kill of the Saturn? I honestly stopped paying attention. As a self-proclaimed Sega fan this bothered me. I was saddened that the Dreamcast was already out and pushing the Saturn into obscurity. I also felt bad that I had missed my chance to get in on Saturn when it was still current tech. Then the more I looked into it, the more I realized, I wasn’t missing out on much.
I realize that over the years the prevailing attitude of the majority of sheeple on the web has shifted from thinking the Saturn was a mess of a console, to the Saturn was an overrated piece of junk to now it being considered a hidden gem or an underrated masterpiece. Whatever your attitude is, keep in mind this is a reflection from the perspective of someone whose whole life revolved around the Genesis.
At the time, as in during it’s life span I went through many phases. The first phase was excitement for a new console from Sega. This phase didn’t last long. I was already torn between wanting to get a 32X to give my Genesis new life, to wanting to save up money for a Saturn when it arrived. I even remember reading about the E3 thing, a whole month later in a magazine, thinking, what just happened?
I had been following the PSX and Saturn launch hype for months so I was shocked to learn Sega blew their wad and was now seeing all their hype fizzle. I maintained some hype for while, thinking erroneously Sony wouldn’t last. My logic was Playstation was too similar to the doomed 3DO. I ended up being wrong but more on that down the way.
My attitude started shifting as I started reading reviews. I kept holding out hope with each review that maybe the next game would prove to be worth owning. I would demo some of these games at local stores from time to time, so I wasn’t relying entirely on other people’s impressions. Still, the reviews were not doing the system many favors. There were a few hidden gems along the way but at the time I kept thinking this is not a good score. At first I thought everyone was judging the console unfairly. But looking back I think the opposite, I think they were being too soft because they didn’t want to accept Sega was messing up so bad.
When I realized the Saturn was in trouble was about the time I read a review, or even a preview, for the game Virtua Fighter Kids. My 13-year-old brain thought, wow, that’s a stupid idea for a game. Even then I felt like the system must be in trouble if they are resorting to such an obvious cash grab knowing full well it was just a cheap way to get another game on stores shelves in a big hurry for minimal effort. I knew that if this was the case the system was in trouble. All it really took was flipping through the magazine past thew 2-3 pages of Saturn games before stumbling upon the 8 or more pages of Playstation games to start to realize, Sony was getting all the love. Remember N64 wouldn’t be on the scene for a whole year later and even as I started reading articles on the upcoming Ultra 64 I started to get worried the Saturn was in trouble. By the time the N64 came out I had already forgotten about the 32 bit consoles and was already buying into the 64 bit hype train. I ended up dropping the money to get an N64 on launch day.
Looking back the most obviously issue with Saturn was the games. A few years later after I had grown up, gotten a job and began collecting video games as a hobby I went back and dug into the Saturn library. Unfortunately the passage of time was not a friend of the console. The games that would have blown me away in 1995/1996 had I gotten a chance to experience them then, were severely outdated in 2004 when I was buying them up. I didn’t go after any of the super rare or ultra expensive games, but I had a decent enough assortment when it was all said and done. In the end my Saturn collection consisted of X-Men Children of the Atom, Sonic 3D Blast, Virtua Fighter 2, Fighting Vipers, Sonic 2, Virtua Cop 1 and 2, NiGHTS into Dreams, Bug!, Clockwork Knight, Panzer Dragoon, Revolution X, Daytona USA, World Series Baseball, Mortal Kombat 3, Gex, even Tomb Raider. I might have had a couple other games but honestly nothing stood out in my mind as particularly noteworthy. I felt NiGHTS was so overrated I became very hostile to the Sega bots online that insisted I was playing it wrong. No, the game just didn’t appeal to me, at all. The fighting games were mediocre at best, the X-Men game was fun but not worth the asking price. Panzer Dragoon felt too bloated for what was basically a Star Fox type game which I wasn’t a big fan of Star Fox either. While I did enjoy Virtua Cop 1 and 2, and even as bad as it was to some people, I really had a lot of fun playing Bug! and Sonic 3D Blast. The rest of the games were just, eh nothing special.
I since went back and checked out much more of the consoles library via emulation. However that’s shoddy at best. The real trouble with Saturn collecting is all the expensive games aren’t worth the price you pay. Even if a game was on both PS1 and Saturn it could go for 3-4 times as much money on Saturn than PS1, and for all intents and purposes they’d be basically the same game. I grew so disgusted with Saturn collecting it was the first system I sold off. I traded it into a used retro game store for a big box of GameCube games and never regretted it.
I think the Saturn did have potential, but the truth is, I think most of that potential was too little, too late. Sega squandered all of their good will with Genesis fans before they even launched the Saturn. As the months turned to years I started to lose interest in the system. Today, even if I had the money I probably wouldn’t buy very many Saturn games. The console is, in my opinion, vastly overrated. It’s good for a few quick arcade ports and it has a handful of great hidden gems if you got the money to seek them out. The majority if the library, however, is available elsewhere for far less money. The handful of true exclusives aren’t even all worth the price of admission making Saturn truly a collector’s console.