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Ones That Got Away: 32X Games

Many people defend the 32X as a decent piece of hardware. Many others bash it mercilessly, unable to find a single redeeming feature. Join us as we take a look at some titles that might have resolved this debate for good and possibly have given the 32X a bit more credibility. Originally slated for issue #2 of GameGo! Magazine, which never saw print, here is the article in its entirety, along with some gems from the SegaBase article on lost 32X titles.

32X: The Lost Titles

Some came out in Japan, some came out in Europe, and a few didn’t come out at all. The following games (two of which were completed) were never available for American consumption and, in the case of ROTK, it were available in severely limited numbers in Japan — same goes for Darxide was a similar story in Europe.

Not surprisingly, you can find the prototypes for Virtua Hamster and X-Men floating around on eBay from time to time, but Darxide is almost as difficult to score (I had to, at one point, track down the company that produced it and ask for a copy…which I have yet to collect—d’oh).

Anyway, take a gander at what ‘could have been’ and wonder if it was really worth it. After all, even the Sega CD had more than five good games to its credit—can you say that of the 32X?

Romance of the 3 Kingdoms IV

This 32X take on Koei’s venerable, re-unificiation of China, sim (minus the bloodshed), is really nothing more than a port of the more colorful and better-sounding (than the Genesis rev) Super Famicom/SNES version.

You’re still out to re-unify ancient China, albeit in Japanese. Needless to say, unless you have a keen grasp of the Japanese language or like playing trial and error with a billion souls (OK, so there weren’t a billion Chinese back in the day—work with me) be our guest. Only for the completely psychotic completist 32X gamer…all two of you.

Virtua Hamster

Ones That Got Away- 32X 2The killer about Virtua Hamster is that it’s so far from complete that you’re left wondering exactly what it was going to turn out like. You play a hamster (ostensibly—if a gaudy collection of shaded triangles can really be called a hamster) racing through a Habitrail tube…and racing and racing, and racing and racing—think the Atari Games’ classic S.T.U.N. Runner (looks-wise) with almost no gameplay. Collision isn’t activated and there’s nothing more than your ‘hamster’ jetting along at a brisk pace. You can also shoot, but, uh, there’s nothing to really shoot at.

There’s a 2-player mode, but that amounts to a split screen with two bundles of triangles racing through a Habitrail tube…racing and racing, and racing and racing, and, uh, that’s about it. The game actually has a storyline in it that refers to your heroic exploits but unless those exploits center around turning off your Genesis/32X combo, I’m not interested. Another sad reminder of what could have been…

X-Men

It looks like they had planned to let you select from Bishop, Iceman, and Rogue, but Bishop is the only one you and actually use. The first 3 levels are all in a dojo or temple filled with ninjas—I’m assuming you had to fight your way to Silver Samurai to enlist the aid of Clan Yoshida or some such nonsense. Rogue’s level has characters and collision, but Iceman & Bishop’s levels are both unfinished and both seemingly part of Arcade’s Murderworld with a pinball motif (Arcade’s level is listed but not on the cart, <sigh>).

The gameplay takes place in what appears to be a psuedo-Guardian Heroes perspective, with multiple lines to attack from. Unfortunately the game was so unfinished that (oddly) there was only collision on the first few levels of the ‘game’ and you only had access to Bishop’s guns.

Had Sega finished and released this…. well… 32x would have died anyway. But it’s a pity this went down incomplete—excellent control and visuals for what was there, and one of Scavenger’s last high profile projects before they went down the drain.

Darxide

Darxide 3The question floating around Frontier Developments when Darxide went into development must have been “does the world need a 3D Asteroids?” The answer, for good or ill: “yes.” And that’s precisely what this 100% complete game is—a 3D Asteroids with a few tweaks here and there.

Darxide only saw a (very limited) release in Europe and is very hard to find…period. The game is set in large belts of Asteroids and you need to repel the alien invaders while dealing with massive, ship-smashing stones hurtling around the 3D world. The game looks very nice—superior, in fact, to many early (and even late) Saturn games. According to Frontier, they managed to get software texture mapping running on 32X in software that could slap around hardware textures on Saturn.

This game is the brainchild of one of the original developers of the immortal Elite (you get a gold star if you’re not European and you remember it), but Darxide falls a bit short of that legendary title. Still, it’s complete, it’s pretty and no one has ever heard of it…just expect to dig and pay not a little for it.

Shadow of Atlantis

Ones That Got Away- 32X 4At the turn of the century, when mankind is still fascinated with the sophistication of steam technology and its implications to the Industrial Age, one man leads a crusade against humanity’s callous treatment of the world’s oceans. His crew is dedicated, his followers loyal, and his technology far above and beyond anything that “modern society” of the late 1880s has to offer. He is a legendary figure who stands alone in the pages of seafaring lore, and only he can save the ocean’s best-kept secret. Join Captain Nemo and the crew of the nuclear submarine Nautilus as you embark on a hazardous voyage to find and protect the treasures of the legendary lost continent of Atlantis. Based on characters and situations created by French futurist Jules Verne, and on visual concepts developed by Walt Disney Pictures for their film version of Verne’s classic sci-fi novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

This would have been Sega’s most ambitious CD-based title for the technology of the day. That ultimately proved to be its undoing, because the game concept envisioned by creator Eric Quakenbush was so daunting that his project was continually shoved to the back burner – much to his constant irritation and growing resentment. When Sega finally canned the game, that was when Eric quit writing Sega games. It’s a shame, too, because this looked like it had the potential to be one helluva adventure, given enough time and attention.  Perhaps, now that the word is out, somebody might revive the idea … someday ….

This game was originally planned for the Sega CD, with a release date in sometime in 1995.  After development was delayed numerous times, it was decided to aim for a 1996 CD 32X release. That hope died with the system, and it was then bumped to the Saturn production schedule. By this time, however, the possibility that Shadow of Atlantis would not be released was pretty obvious to its backers, and they quietly made plans to move on to other things. Sega eventually scrapped the concept altoghter sometime in 1997.

Ones That Got Away- 32X 5The only thing that exists from this game is a two-minute Cinepak demo that was shown at several industry trade shows from 1994 to 1995. The first showing that I have been able to document was at the 1994 Summer CES. I would like to thank Shadow of Atlantis author Eric Quakenbush for sending me a copy of the Cinepak demo, and for granting SegaBase™ permission to reproduce both portions of the video and additional graphics from his web site. As for the title, Shadow of Atlantis is the name of a book written in 1940 by Alexander Braghine about the possibility that the legendary continent actually existed. The book was quite popular in its day and can still be purchased through various aftermarket, specialty, and esoteric book sellers. As for the game’s inspiration, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne first introduced readers to the solitary figure of Captain Nemo, a character who is best described as a strange mix of scientist, statesman, conservationist, and warrior. He reappears in Verne’s own Mysterious Island, and many other works by other authors have added to the Nemo saga. The Disney film based on the novel had a lot to do with Eric’s initial concepts for this game, as his 3D recreation of one of the Nautilus divers shows. On the side, one of the most recent and well received takes on the Nemo saga was the anime TV series Nadia no Fushugi no Umi (Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water), which gave a unique Japanese twist to the classic Nemo legend.  There was also a Japanese-language RPG made for the MegaDrive based on that TV show.

Darkstalkers

History’s most feared monsters and mutants are bolting from the arcade in search of a dark arena for their next midnight fight for supremacy. Victor’s coming over with his shocking Thunderstrike.  Felicia’s tracking in plenty of dirt for her Litterbox Kick. Bishamon is swing by his razor-slashing Divider. All the evil powers and devastating moves of the ten Dark Stalkers you’ve come to fear are headed your way, along with hidden special moves, mid-air blocks, and super fatal blows to make your [system] smoke. So leave a light on for the Dark Stalkers …and take down your father’s bowling trophies. Raptor’s Flying Saw Blade has been slicing a little wierd lately. Dark Stalkers, welcome home! (Capcom ad copy)

Ones That Got Away- 32X 6Another one of the early announced titles at the 1994 Summer CES, Capcom stated that they planned to release a 32X port once the Saturn port was completed. Of course, the 32X died long before the Saturn did, which means that the planned 32X port never happened. It appears to have been cancelled in May of 1995 during the large-scale bailout of 32X third-party developers that took place around that time. How far the game got before it was cancelled is currently unknown.

This would have been a port of the original arcade game, the first in a series that is known in Japan under the Vampire Savior franchise title. It was eventually released for Saturn, PlayStation, and Dreamcast.

Vampire Savior is yet another of Capcom’s popular franchise titles. Characters from the series have made and continue to make cameos in other Capcom fighting and action titles for other platforms.

Alien vs. Predator

Ones That Got Away- 32X 7In the year 2049, the Vega 4 colony is beset by an invasion of xenomorphs. The colony’s frantic distress calls are picked up by a travelling Predator, who offers to hunt down and destroy the Aliens for the sheer sport of the chase. Despite the excellence of the franchise upon which this is based, this arcade conversion does a severe injustice to its endless potential. In other words, it’s just another sidescrolling punch-and-walk with pretty pictures, like oh-so-many others we’ve seen before.

This was to have been based on the Cacpom arcade game of the same name. It is sometimes confused with Rebellion’s excellent DOOM-style shooter for Jaguar that was later updated and re-released for PC systems

Aliens vs. Predator is a side storyline in the popular Aliens and Predator franchise by Fox Entertainment. It is a “what if” concept inspired by the appearance of an Alien skull inside a Predator’s trophy case from the 1990 feature film Predator 2.

Sonic The Hedgehog 4

Ones That Got Away- 32X 8Not a lot is known about this cart, except that Sonic, Tails, and the rest of the crew are gonna be rendered using 3D workstations. Sonic is expected to streak onto the 32X sometime in 1995!  Sega of Japan’s development team has been working on the game for almost a year. (Game Players, 12/1994, p. 10)

Two months after their “sneak peak,” Game Players noted that they had received a query from Sega wanting to know from where they had obtained the Sonic 4 screenshots, thus confirming the game’s existence.

Game Players referred to this unreleased title as Sonic Chaotix. Their mistake in referring to this game as Sonic Chaotix is understandable, although I have no idea from where they got the title (perhaps it was from Sega?). Sonic Chaotix was actually the second official working title of the game we know as Sonic Crackers, and which eventually became Kunckles Chaotix.  nlike the game that Game Players pictured, Chaotix was definitely a 2D sidescroller in the same vein as earlier Sonic efforts.

The four solitary screenshots to the left are provided courtesy of Game Players magazine (12/1994, p. 20).  These stills are actually taken from an in-house Sega video titled “Sonic Ride” utilizing pre-rendered graphics that are far more sophisticated than would have been possible on the 32X. The video was reportedly produced for a simulated amusement park ride in Japan. “Sonic Ride” can be found as part of the bonus video archives in the Sonic Jam collection for Sega Saturn. I also note in passing that according to its creators, Sonic Xtreme – the legendary lost Sonic game for the Saturn – originated as a 32X showpiece title.  It was moved over to the Saturn once it became obvious that the 32X didn’t have enough horsepower for what the programmers were planning.

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