Sega Saturn celebrates its 22nd anniversary

Sega Saturn
May 11th marks the 22-year anniversary of the Sega Saturn launch. Time to celebrate? While the Saturn failed horribly after its release, all dead consoles become a little more appreciated over time. So it might be worth giving a short look again.

Sega meant to have the Saturn as their major console entry into the “32-bit era.” While Sega also released the 32X add-on for the Sega Genesis earlier, the Saturn was CD-based and more heavily anticipated.

What did 32-bit processing power mean? Most gamers had no idea. Back then, more bits simply meant a better, more powerful console. For developers though, the Saturn’s power came across as hard to tap into.

Sega Retro offers a nice technical summary of the console’s limitations.

One interesting line reads “Only a handful of developers were able to squeeze most of the power out of the second SH-2 CPU, and even fewer utilized the SCU DSP, as its assembly code was more complex than the SH-2.”

No one needs to be a jargon wizard to understand it had some poor internal design flaws.

Graphics are not everything when it comes to a console though. If quality games are made, gamers will come, right?

Unfortunately, third-party developers were caught flat-footed when the Saturn released in May. Most everyone expected the Saturn to launch in September. So the launch was not as strong as expected.

Keith Stuart of The Guardian wrote, “Sega had an autumn US release for the Saturn all planned out; its production line was in motion, retailers were ready. But Japan panicked. (Sega of Japan President) Nakayama believed that Sega had to get into the US market early and establish a presence before Sony.”

“But it was a shambles. The machines were expensive and in short supply; only a handful of major retailers got them, alienating the rest of the market.”

Still, the Sega Saturn came out with games such as Daytona USA, Panzer Dragoon and Virtua Fighter. Later on, critics applauded the unique Nights Into Dreams. The console just lacked a major-selling hit. Sonic X-treme, a planned 3D sequel to the classic Sonic games on the Sega Genesis, ended up canceled. Therefore, Sega’s major 32-bit console did not offer a proper Sonic title.

Eventually, the Sonic Team began work on a different Sonic game for the Saturn. It eventually got pushed back to the Dreamcast, and gamers know it today as Sonic Adventure.

According to Don Reisinger of CNET, sadly only two Saturn games sold over a million copies: Virtua Fighter 2 and Grandia.

He went on to write, “Aside from those, the Saturn quickly became the cesspool of gaming. After all, can anyone actually name 30 great games they played on the console?”

Oddly, the Saturn did see at least 600 games released worldwide. It is a number that surpasses the Nintendo 64. But as told on US Gamer, less than half of them ever made it to the United States.

The Sega Saturn died a dishonorable death in late 1998 (while fighting a little longer overseas). Sega’s Dreamcast turned in a better effort starting the following year but died prematurely too after a promising launch. Subsequently, Sega became a third-party developer and publisher, and these days, their games are literally on every platform.

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    Yet another article to only remember the bad about the Sega Saturn, and not the good. You want 30 good games on the Sega Saturn? Here’s a list of 100:

    As you alluded to, the Sega Saturn died early (in North America) because Bernie Stolar was purposely killing it to make way for the Dreamcast.

  • Josh Reynolds

    Also, the Saturn was ridiculously popular in Japan and sold more in it’s short lifespan than the N64 did, giving it the 2nd place spot in Japan behind the PlayStation.

    It’s also worth noting that several Japanese Saturn exclusives were blocked from release in the US by Bernie Stolar because he didn’t believe anyone wanted to play RPGs. The same thing that got him fired from head of Sony when he tried to block the release of games on that platform as well, one of the most important being Final Fantasy VII.

    Bernie Stolar was a xenophobic idiot that didn’t know what gamers wanted. So when he took over the Saturn, which he hated from the start he wanted to quickly replace it.

    That being said, if the west got half the support that Japan did, the Saturn likely would have had a solid life here, but nope and in the end those games Bernie Stolar blocked ended up getting ported to PlayStation and got released in the west as PlayStation exclusives (for instance Grandia was one of those games). So not only did he hurt his platform’s library, he bolstered the library of his competition.

    He was fired immediately after the Dreamcast launch for basically running the company into the ground.

  • Dominic

    Absolutely one of my top favorite consoles.
    After all of these years, and after the end of SEGA’s console life, I’ve come to appreciate it even more than the Dreamcast and the Genny.
    So many great games that flew under the radar which gamers and collectors have only begun to start discovering. So many people (Psombies) didn’t even know that the Saturn existed, much less the DC, but now so many are realizing the Saturn’s influence on the gaming world with it’s incredible library of games and innovative technology.
    I am so glad I amassed my huge Saturn collection while the games were in the stores, because now that the games are finally recognized and are being collected (hoarded), they are demanding ridiculously high prices.
    I’ll likely have some friends over tomorrow for Saturn’s B-day and we’ll knock out a few short hours of 7-player Death Tank Zwei, as we often find ourselves playing that one until early in the A.M.

  • Light23K

    Brings back great memories. Although I am a die hard Nintendo fan but I still bought the master system, Saturn and Dreamcast. It started when I was attending E’3 and something really weird happened. I saw all these poster that read ” Saturn out now” or something like that. I was in shock as everyone else so after the show I went to my Pasadena EB to see if they have any left and to my surprise they said yes lots of them. I bought mines and was so excited to play it but the games at launch was so buggy. Clockwork Knights, Daytona USA, Virtual Fighter 2 all have problems and its really not a finished product. I did have fun with Bugs, panzer dragoon and nights. Funny thing is I loved Bugs so much that I wanted the next Mario game (mario64) to be just like it lol.

  • badboykilla187

    I don’t understand why it is that when people talk about the failure of the Saturn they only talk about how it failed in North America like the failure of the Saturn in Europe wasn’t relevant to the Saturn’s failure in the west and overall. People also seem to forget that most of the RPGs and other games that Bernie stolar refused to localise for the North American market were also no localised in Europe and that was a decision not made by stolar but made by whoever was the CEO of sega Europe so why people only complain about the dumb decisions that he made but say nothing about the idiots at sega Europe is beyond me. Also the surprise E3 launch of the Saturn in north America also didn’t happen in Europe but nobody ever seems to mention that as a reason for the Saturn’s failure In Europe it launched in july 1995.

    • Josh Reynolds

      Because I’m from the US and what they did in Europe I don’t know anything about…or frankly care about.