I have a curse. And it’s pretty much the most inconvenient curse possible for a collector of classic games – I have no luck at thrift shops and garage sales. Seriously; I’ll hit the neighborhoods with a group of people some Saturday morning and I’ll be the only one to troop back home at the end of the day with nothing. (PEZ dispensers don’t count.) Although it’s fairly depressing, I’ve come to terms with it. If I want to look on the bright side, I can tell myself that all the strike-outs make the chance find even more precious. Today I’m going to talk about my greatest find of 2006. Which is to say my only find of 2006.
I entered the Salvation Army with low hopes and then I saw it sitting behind glass; sleek, fresh, and vaguely sexual: a 32X and Model 2 Genesis with all the hookups, including a spacer and sidecar dongle. Better yet, standing out in the middle of all that space-age black casing was a white sticker saying “$5.” After sorting out an error which had the cables priced separately from the system, I slapped down my money and ran out the door. I’d never paid a whole lot of attention to 32X prices before, but I figured I’d made a pretty good score.
Please allow me and comrade-in-gaming Vincent Thornburg to share a few thoughts with you about the much-maligned system and its games, as well as our experiences, our pleasures, and our disappointments. This is the story of Me and My 32X.
Is This Mushroom Poisonous?
The first decision was whether to sell it or keep it. You can’t be a classic gamer and *not* hear all the crap that gets slung at Sega’s mushroom add-on. I’ll admit that I was torn at the outset, wondering if I should just hock it all on eBay and use the profit towards something I knew I would enjoy. But there’s something in me that always roots for the underdog, and, although sometimes that urge gives me a bum steer, it often guides me towards magnificent gaming experiences that few other people have shared. So I indulged my instinct and set out to the local game shop to pick up some games to play.
Hold on, though – I’m getting ahead of myself. My first impression of the 32X actually came before I’d bought a single cartridge. You see, I went ahead and set it up and threw in some Genesis games that afternoon, not really expecting to see any difference. At the time my obsession was Wiz ‘n Liz , and one of the things that was killing my enjoyment was this horrible distortion of color. All of the dark blues – and there’s a lot of blue in Wiz ‘n Liz – were streaked vertically, and no amount of cleaning the cartridge would help. But the 32X had an ace up its sleeve. Imagine my surprise when I saw a perfectly clean video signal, without a blemish in sight. The 32X also fixed the streaking in Revenge of Shinobi and generally added more depth to the color of all my games. Needless to say, I was one happy camper.
+1 Point: The 32X refines and amplifies the output of your Genesis games.
Intrigued, I made my way to the local game shop and snatched up a MIB copy of Shadow Squadron for…a dollar? Lady Luck was truly smiling down on me when it came to the 32X. And to be honest, I can’t think of a better first 32X game. It’s looks great, plays smooth, has a classy feel, and features an admirable attention to detail. After playing it all afternoon I wondered to myself how people could hate the system so much. Shadow Squadron was cool, and I loved every minute of it. (It’s just too bad that it doesn’t stand up to many replays.)
+ 1 Point: Shadow Squadron is an excellent game.
Encouraged, I headed back to the store and picked up Knuckles Chaotix, Virtua Fighter 32X, Star Wars Arcade, and Zaxxon’s Motherbase 2000. This was a mixed bag, and as my initial enthusiasm became something more objective I began to understand all the gripes. Chaotix was just disappointing. I felt like I had no control over my destiny, instead being a slave to the Force Ring. Exploration was difficult and the levels were poorly designed. I tried hard to love Zaxxon , and the neat hacking system nearly converted me, but in the end the atrocious frame rate and cheap deaths just killed it for me. During the time I owned the system, I hardly ever booted these two games up. Star Wars Arcade made me smile, and I could live with the movement limitations, but the sheer difficulty made playing more of a chore than a good time. Still, I have some fond memories of two-player mode with my sister. But that’s about it.
Virtua Fighter, however – dear Lord, what an amazing game. There is no question that I played this game too much for my own good. Did it look bad? Yeah: Sarah’s a dog. But the gameplay shines through. I know that sounds like a truism, but I really mean it. The controls were perfect, the AI was masterfully balanced. Better yet, there was no meandering between fights. No pauses, cut scenes, dialog – just one fight after the other. Since it was so easy to just throw down some pain during every five minutes of free time, Virtua Fighter and I saw a lot of each other throughout the day. This game got me pumped up about playing the later installments, but to this day I’ve never enjoyed a VF game as much as the original. It’s magic in a cartridge.
+ 1 Point: Virtua Fighter 32X is stunningly fun.
The next batch of games was Doom, Afterburner, Space Harrier, and Virtua Racing Deluxe, again through the reliable game shop at bargain prices And can you believe it? These all provided me with hours of enjoyment as well. I swung back to the other side, disgusted with the people who maligned my funky little wonder. Doom is a shadow of the original PC version, sure but it’s still a heck of a lot of fun to play and wipes up the floor with the Saturn port. And playing Afterburner on the 32X after being underwhelmed by the Genesis edition was a treat as well. It’s like I remember it in the arcade as a lil’ guy, as opposed to the bare, chop-fest on the Genesis. Big, bold, loud, and fast as can be.
Space Harrier didn’t really do it for me when Afterburner was so close at hand, since I consider it to be the same game – just slower, and without rockets, rolling, or boosts. Still, I can safely say that only the pickiest of purists should have a problem with the 32X outing as it compares to the original arcade release. It’s dependable, if not quite as flashy as Afterburner.
Lastly, trading in my SVP Virtua Racing for the 32X port was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. More cars, more tracks, better sound and graphics… And again, superior to the Saturn version in some ways. All of these games were awesome for just getting down to business without waiting around. I guess it’s a testament to one of the more attractive assets of cartridges and arcade games.
+ 1 Point: Sega’s arcade classics did well on the 32X. (And Doom was a guilty pleasure.)
But with a library as small as the 32X’s, those days couldn’t last. And they didn’t. I was exposed to the atrocity of Metal Head and Cosmic Carnage , undoubtedly the worst games I bought. And again, I gave them a chance – probably more of a chance than anyone else in recent history. But Metal Head was *so* slow, and the draw-in was ridiculous. To make matters worse, the game shell itself felt rushed and poorly documented. Cosmic Carnage had similar problems – sluggish gameplay and a half-baked interface. Of the two, however, Cosmic Carnage was at least a bit less flagrantly crappy, and using the cheat code to get the human characters from the Japanese version adds a bit more enjoyment. That said, the time I spent playing these two games are just hours I’ll never get back.
For brevity I’ll just say NFL Quarterback Club and NBA Jam TE are solid sports titles. The latter especially was fun stuff, simply because I haven’t played the franchise to death like so many others.
+1 Point: NBA Jam TE is a superior port and is as fun as it’s always been – which can cut both ways.
I won’t deny I had fun with the 32X. I’ll even go so far as to admit that for a few months I played my 32X more than my Genesis. Sega’s solid arcade hits like Virtua Fighter and Afterburner turned out marvelously on the “poor-man’s Saturn,” and the exclusive Shadow Squadron is definitely a game to be proud of. The open-minded will even appreciate Doom.
The bottom line is that I actually suggest a 32X as a wise purchase to dedicated Megadrivers/Genheads. You’ll enjoy the higher quality video feed if you’re not into modding a component lead, and you can acquire all the best games for under $100. Say what you will about the 32X’s financial impact or the stinkers in its library; to me, the half-dozen gems made it worthwhile. If given the opportunity, I’d buy the system again.
What really drove a wedge between me and my 32X was the Dreamcast. To allay my guilt at laying down a boatload of cash on a DC collection, I decided to sell my 32X for a quick infusion to my PayPal account. I put my collection up at Sonic’s Bazaar, where fellow staff-writer and buddy VinnyT snatched everything up – albeit in multiple installments.
To be honest? Writing this article makes me wish I had it back. Maybe someday I’ll buy it again. This time I’ll pass on Metal Head, though.
But it’s Vinny’s turn.
Here Comes Another Challenger!
*Camera pans to Vinny, who is sitting in a chair next to Nick, wearing a simple blue suit with a red tie*
For years, my life of playing video games was something that I could not really control. Like most of us, I was once at the mercy of my parents. Weather if it was issues of money or of that little rating box on the bottom, plenty of gaming choices were created by them. Your first system played, owned, beaten, and sometimes even sold were from your parents. Would you be an inaugural member of the NES club, or would you be one of the ones who played with a 2600 in 1986 because that was all your parents already had before you were born? Born a little later, then you’d either become an early 16-bitter with the Sega Genesis, or play with a NES until you were graced with a SNES in Christmas of ’91, ignoring the Genesis as second-rate or as the more mature system.
Overall, the point here is that our gaming tastes today were shaped by those decisions before us years ago. I was one such child that only touched the one button joystick of an Atari 2600 until 1993 (!), when I was told to closely study Sega Genesis commercials or to play some Sega at Sears. The Christmas day that I opened a second-party Genesis controller, I was ecstatic! There was no reason that I would have gotten that unless the huge box still under the tree was also a Genesis! It was, and it changed EVERYTHING! Now I never really wanted anything else! I played Sonic 2 all day, barely even touching Bart Vs. The Space Mutants, which was soon sold off for Battletoads and R.B.I. Baseball ’93. Another present hidden that day was a subscription to S.W.A.T Pro magazine (which now is sadly gone) and Sega Visions magazine, which only had me wanting more each month! Video rental shops around the area held a few games I liked playing, but we pretty much went far and wide looking for games. We rented more than we played that first year. My collection not even touching ten games for a couple of years.
(Hey, where’s the 32X in this story? You fail!)
I’m getting to it! Anyway, one morning I got a Sega Visions in the mail with the giant letters “BREAKING NEWS! 32-BIT SYSTEM” on the front. What the hell? I quickly read about how I’d soon be seeing a new system for my little Genesis! I was very happy at that time, and couldn’t wait to read more and more on it. And those commercials! Wow! I NEEDED this! Before I pretty much just took what I was given, never really requesting much or complaining. The 32X changed everything. I waited for a dinner with my parents to show them an article on it, and my mom started asking me why I needed more games. (Oh Fresh Prince, how true your words were!). My dad though looked pretty excited about the idea and said he’d think about it. My dad never said things like this very much, so I took it as something that might actually happen!
One Friday morning, the day we usually went out to a local rental shop to try out something new, my brother and I noticed that our dad had left without us! What the hell! How could he? He’s going to forget all about us! We disown him! That jer-
Holy naughty words! He’s home! With a suitcase! And a Video Castle bag! He may stay! Yea! We love him again! Open up the case!
32X! 32X! HOLY DOG TURDS! THERE’S A 32X IN MY HAND!
I was soon calmed down when I was told that we were renting the 32X and two games for $40. Slightly disappointed, I decided to enjoy it the best I could. My dad put in Star Wars Arcade first and had some trouble really figuring out what to do, but that title screen blew my little six year-old mind away! Soon, we turned that off and put in one of the main reasons I wanted the 32X. A new Sonic game! Well, not exactly Sonic, but Knuckles Chaotix filled that void just fine! I played and played! Never bothering with any other game for two and a half days! Eat, sleep, restroom – all taken care off. I barely stopped! I was finally able to beat Knuckles Chaotix around Sunday afternoon when my dad said “Good! Now lets take it back!” NOOOOOOO! But there were other games to play! Plenty! In the end, I was never able to convince my parents to just steal the thing, and move away (which we were planning anyway). I never touched one after that day. Again, parents decide how you game.
There would be times over the next thirteen years when I’d see a 32X in a display case somewhere, but I’d never be able to grab it. Whether it was the price, or even if the price was awesome, it become “Why do you need another game?” Well finally I got a job, a real paying job with dental and everything! One of my mini-declarations was to finally be able to upgrade my Genesis! I’m writing for a Sega Genesis fan site, and I don’t even have a 32X and have never played a Sega CD. This problem needed to be fixed, but it wasn’t until last year that I saw a 32X for sale from Nick! I knew I could trust him, and the price seemed fair! Soon, after going all flip-floppy on whether I should just buy the whole thing, I paid $100 for a bundle that should have just cost me $50. Oh well, I was now on my way! On my birthday, a package arrived with a 32X and Knuckles Chaotix. I was playing it within an hour of opening the box, and beating it within two. Damn it. I need another game!
There it began! I soon had Nick’s entire collection in my grasp, minus Space Harrier, which I seem to have just missed. (It’s mine, you hear? MINE! – Ed.)
A quick one-liner list of my collection thus far:
- Knuckles Chaotix: Once the novelty wears off, it’s still OK.
- Shadow Squadron: I wish there was more to this game, because it’s fun.
- Zaxxon’s Motherbase: Never bothered with this for very long.
- Afterburner Complete: Still try to play this when I can. It’s still pretty fun.
- Doom: Official guilty pleasure as well.
- NFL Quarterback Club ’96: I still can’t play this game. I prefer the NFL series.
- NBA Jam TE: Nice graphical upgrades and sound, but it’s still the same game.
- Virtua Fighter: Still pretty awesome to this day.
- Metal Head: It’s slow as hell, but I love it!
- Cosmic Carnage: One of the characters is named “Naruto.” ‘Nuff said.
- Virtua Racing: I could never really get into this, although it was great for its time.
- Star Wars Arcade: Nostalgia, in multiple ways. It’s a bit too difficult to really warrant to much play time though.
- Mortal Kombat II: I grabbed this when I just wanted to see how my favorite of the first three MK games played. It plays well, very well.
Well, now I have it, despite all its flaws, I still get those feelings of elusiveness when I see it sitting under my TV. Sure, by now the graphics make the PSX laugh, and it was seen as the beginning of Sega’s downfall, but I still wanted it, and will keep it for a long while! When I can, I’ll be searching for games and hopefully be one day talking about a complete collection! I want it, I don’t care how much!