I have a weird thing for Sega's 32x and Atari's Jaguar. While they don't initially seem similar, both represent the awkward transition into three dimensional gaming. Both were met with high expectations and both ended up being miserable failures. Both system's utilized an aging medium, cartridges, and both made poor attempts to embrace CD technology. The Jaguar had an add-on, and and the 32x was an add-on. Both machines were discontinued in 1996 after the "real" 32-bit machines, the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation, captured gamer's hearts. So in the first of this multi-part comparison, we will take a look at, and compare, 5 games from each system's library to determine which system had the best games. Fight!
You can't do a comparison of the Jaguar and 32x without looking at Virtua Racing Deluxe and Checkered Flag. Checkered Flag is such an obvious rip-off of Virtua Racing in nearly every way. Both games feature open wheel racing and flat shaded polygonal graphics. Both games were released in November of 1994. Coincidence? I think not.
This comparison is particularly interesting because it summarizes the cards each company had to play. Sega had talented programmers like Yu Suzuki and his AM2 team at it's disposal. The kind of talent that could squeeze power out a system like the 32x. Atari didn't. Instead they were pinching pennies and shelling out projects to the lowest bidder. Which often meant inexperienced development teams ill-equipped to handle the challenging architecture of the Atari Jaguar.
Virtual Racing features a smooth frame rate, and relatively detailed levels, despite the lack of texture mapping. Checkered Flag looks similar, especially in screen shots. But it's once you see the game in motion that Virtua Racing trumps Checkered Flag in every way. Checkered Flag is a dog. Not just any dog. A three legged Labradoodle, neutered. The frame rate chugs along somewhere below 10 frames per second. The tracks are all flat, and don't have the complex geometry that the Virtua Racing tracks do. Virtua Racing shows of the 3D prowess of those twin SuperH-2s.
Oh yeah, Virtua Racing is fun. Checkered Flag is painful. Score on for the Sega.
Mario Kart Clone
I loved Super Mario Kart growing up. Who didn't? For years it was the benchmark of what a fun racing game should be. It was often imitated, but few games could hold a candle to the original. So it's no surprise both the Jaguar and the 32x each got a mascot racer.
BC Racers comes to us from Core, a company known for pumping out quality titles. Core was known for squeezing every last ounce of performance out of Sega's other add-on, the Sega CD. Atari Karts comes from Miracle Designs, and this would be their freshman effort. So who will win out? The upstart from Belgium or the Brits from Core?
Atari Karts is a gorgeous game, featuring full screen graphics, fast frame rate, and excellent sprite scaling effects. It really shows off the 2D capabilities of it's respective machine. It makes Mario Kart look dated and old. BC Racers runs in a bordered window, and can hardly keep up with itself. Graphically, BC Racers has more roadside objects, and may even look better in screenshots. But Atari Karts moves along at 60 frames per second while BC Racers looks like a PowerPoint.
Picking the winner of these 2 is a no brainer. BC Racers isn't fun. Atari Karts is. The problems with with BC Racers don't stop at the graphics. The controls feel more like a suggestion for your kart, rather than an input. Atari Karts is damn near perfect, and superior to the plumber's efforts.
Atari Karts looks and feels more like a next-gen game than BC Racers. Atari Karts looks effortless, while BC Racers looks like it's choking the 32x. Shame on Core. Point goes to the kitty.
Super Scaler Game
Back in the 1980's, Sega created a line of Super Scaler games; arcade games with special processors made for scaling sprites to simulate a 3D environment. Classic titles like Hang-On and Space Harrier ushered in exciting new graphics that did a respectable job creating a 3D world by smoothly scaling sprites as they got closer to the screen.
The Sega 32x and Atari Jaguar had enough processing power to finally toss around large amounts of scaled sprites. Sega chose to flex it's muscles with a port of After Burner. Atari has an original title, Super Burnout, which was inspired by the classic Hang-On. Your preference in title will likely depend on whether you prefer racing games or arcade shooters, and both titles are excellent. But alas, we must choose a winner.
This comparison really shows off the raw power of the Atari Jaguar when programmed properly. Instead of utilizing the Motorola 68000, (the 16-bit processor also used in the Sega Genesis) Shen Technologies programmed all of the code on the "Tom" and "Jerry" 32/64-bit silicon. The title screen music, for example, features music with a higher sample rate than a compact disc. No lie. The developers also managed to throw more than 1,000 sprites on screen at once, three times than whats possible on a Neo Geo! Do the math.
Super Burnout's frame rate is silky smooth, never wavering from a solid 60 frames per second. After Burner is also excellent, and a near perfect arcade port, but it runs at 30 frames per second due to presumably ram and bandwidth limitations. The Atari Jaguar gets another point.
Atari never had a mascot, and Sega never graced the 32x with a Sonic title. Therefore both ended up receiving second tier mascot platformers. The Sega 32x got Knuckles Chaotix while the the Atari Jaguar got Rayman. Interestingly enough, both characters still live on today, 15 years later.
Up first is Knuckles Chaotix. What started as a sequel to Sonic and Knuckles, ended up as a Sonicless platformer, for reasons no one may ever truly know. While graphically pleasing, Knuckles Chaotix from a technical standpoint rarely looks like more than a souped up Genesis game. Where it does show some pizazz is in the hexagonal bonus stages. With a nod to Sonic 2's half pipe bonus stage, Knuckles Chaotix features a smooth 360° hexagonal pipe then bends and twists through space. The flat shaded polygons are big and chunky, but the frame rate is smooth and it is fun.
Rayman on the other hand truly looks like a next gen title. The graphics, particularly in the earlier stages, are gorgeous, dripping with animation and color. Rayman himself himself is well animated. There are no gimmicks here, just well drawn jaw dropping 2D graphics.
While Rayman is a gorgeous game, my nod goes to Knuckles Chaotix. The reason why is because Rayman has an insane difficulty level. Knuckles Chaotix on the other hand is incredibly playable (as most Sonic game of the time were). There is a cooperative 2-player mode, fun scaling affects, polygons, and the a truly amazing soundtrack. Score a point for the mushroom.
The score is tied at 2 a piece, and we're down to out final face off. It's seems appropriate that we take another look at racing games. So which of these two often ridiculed two-wheeled racers will take the checkered flag?
Supercross 3D for the Atari Jaguar and Motocross Championship for the Sega 32x are two very different games accomplishing the same task in very different ways. Both games are often panned, but I enjoy them both none the less.
Motocross Championship uses a strange 2D graphics engine that feels a lot like a hilly Mode 7 game. The game gives a convincing sense of height as you climb up and down the track. The opponent sprites also scale as well, giving a sense of depth. Overall, it moves beyond what the 16-bit system were capable, but isn't mind blowing by any stretch.
Supercross 3D goes with a full 3D engine powering the tracks. There is a nice blend of textures defining the road surface, and flat shaded polygons for the non-course areas. There is even a large real-time jumbo-tron in the background, quite the technical feat. The riders themselves are scaled sprites of the high res variety.
Also interesting is the sound in both games, which is terrible. Both racers features one looping track of generic synthesized rock and average at best sound effects. Strange.
So which game wins? Which game loses would be more appropriate. Supercross 3D has a terrible frame rate making the game unplayable to most. It also has some wonky physics which send you off course, and then immediately crash. Supercross 3D was released at the end of the Jaguar's life span, and in many ways sums up the Atari Jaguar. It was clearly rushed, not finished, and disappointing.
While Motocross Championship isn't a stellar title by any stretch of the word, it's a lot less broken. The frame rate is solid as are the controls, and overall it's an enjoyable experience. The final point goes to the Sega 32x.
So there we have it, in a direct match up of 5 popular genre's from the 90's, the Sega 32x comes out ahead. In future installments I'd like to compare more games, compare some games that were ported to both systems, and also take an in depth look at Doom. Stay tuned!