32X['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Sega's accessory: The 32X]

The 32-bit Promise

The 32X is the reason that I lost faith in Sega. As a kid, I was jealous of my friend's Master System and its superior graphics. A little older and able to make my own purchasing decisions, I was an early adopter of the Genesis and Game Gear, which I proudly tauted as the best possible systems in their respective fields (even though I had to carry around an adapter for the Game Gear). The Sega CD was a little too much for me, and after playing a few games of Sewer Shark at a friend's house, my desire to own one waned. The 32X, on the other hand, got me excited.

The 32X was the first console add-on that fundamentally changed a console into something else. Unlike the CD add-on, which only expanded the current possibilities of the system, the 32X actually altered what the Genesis was capable of. The original system was only capable of 64 colors on screen (although a few games had some programming trickery which gave the appearance of more), yet the 32X promised over 32,000. The processor was also truly 32-bit with onboard scaling, rotation, and 3-D capabilities that were previously impossible.

The ADS!What Went Wrong?

Sega CEO Hayao Nakayama started the cartridge-based 32X project (originally titled Project Jupiter) . But Sega found that a CD-based system was more viable, and the production of the 32X was moved to the United States along with some of Sega of Japan’s engineers. SOJ continued independently with Project Saturn, the CD-based 32-bit system that would become the Playstation’s main competition.

In order to meet the promised release date of Christmas 1994, the 32X was released with the hardware availability well below initial demand (much as the PS2 and X360 would be in later years). Games were cut down and scaled back to get them out on time. Levels were cut and game-crashing bugs were left unresolved. On top of that, many systems had compatibility problems or were just plain faulty. Though initially popular and surrounded with hype, the console proved to be a major failure.

32X on the Console
A Quick Death

Unlike NEC’s console, the 32X did not thrive in any environment. There was only one region-exclusive game for the console in Japan (Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV). And the Saturn—which had superior hardware and software—had already been released in Japan by the time the 32X was available. In the United States, it debuted only six months after the United States release of the 32X.

Sega promised to support the 32X despite the release of the Saturn. But it was a lie. In less than two years, the final game for the 32X was released; the system never even had a “killer app” to justify its price. The system quietly died after being lampooned time and time again by the major gaming news outlets. All the goodwill that Sega had built up with me on the Genesis was in ruin after the 32X. I like to think that the Saturn's steady decline was a direct result of the 32X’s antics. I know it’s why I never purchased a Saturn until just two years ago.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]