GameSpotting Shareware Edition

Welcome to another edition of GameSpotting, where, if you like what you see, we invite you to upgrade to the full version for a mere $15.

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Welcome to another edition of GameSpotting, where, if you like what you see, we invite you to upgrade to the full version for a mere $15. In a serendipitous turn of events, two of this week's columns just so happen to focus on shareware and demo versions of games--but can you guess which ones? If guerilla-level marketing doesn't spark your interest, we also touch on ridiculously overpriced games, the thankless job of FAQ writing, and more. If one of these columns gets your synapses all up in a flurry, don't just let that mental energy go to waste. Instead, head on over to our forums to discuss the topics with like-minded folk, or, if you prefer longer-form prose, feel free to try your hand at your very own GuestSpotting column.

Let Them Have It: The Best Way to Get People to Play Your Game
Greg Kasavin/Executive Editor
"There is no better way in the world to effectively market a good game than to release a free, playable demo for it."

Power to the People (Who Write About Games)
Curt Feldman/Senior Editor, News
"Overall, game criticism has a lot of ground to make up, especially when compared to what's being written about movies--or hamburgers smothered in grilled onions and mushrooms for that matter."

My New Shareware Addiction
Jeff Gerstmann/Senior Editor
"Get Soldat. Play Soldat. Love Soldat. And if you want to support this sort of development, buy Soldat."

A Salute to FAQ and Guide Authors
Bob Colayco/Associate Editor
"If you're doing crazy stuff like performing integrations to find out the number of hit points per second a hydralisk is capable of draining, you've gone off the deep end."

Price-Gouging Zombies
Bethany Massimilla/Community Manager
"The fact that these games are all unimproved rereleases of titles that are years old and are still currently listing for about $40 is outrageous."

Deported From the Rhythm Nation
Alex Navarro/Assistant Editor
"I have no business even having a regular heartbeat, let alone playing anything with any manner of rhythm to it, so I should just go lie down and die somewhere."

32X: Short Name, Short Life, Big Fun
George Horvath/GuestSpotter
"Was the 32X necessary? No. Should it have been given more praise than it got? That's up to you."

Gaming Is My Life!
John Q. Gamer/GuestSpotter
For many of us, video games are more than just a hobby. They're a fundamental part of our lifestyles. If you've got something to say about games, gamers, or anything related to electronic entertainment, read our GuestSpotting FAQ, and submit your own column.

Let Them Have It: The Best Way to Get People to Play Your Game

The contemporary concept of the free, playable game demo sprang forth from the shareware software model sometime in the mid-'90s. Shareware, of course, is still alive and well and continues to be created by independent software authors who base their creations on the assumption that a free, trial version of a good piece of software will naturally gain a large audience. Consequently, a percentage of this audience will convert to the full version--for a fee. Shareware programs tend to be pretty explicit about what they are: "If you like this program, click here to register for the full version." Game demos, on the other hand, tend to present themselves with fewer strings attached. Here you go. Enjoy. And, oh, hey, if you happen to like what you're playing, well, maybe pick up a copy from the store in a few months when it comes out, if you want...

If anyone had any misgivings about how UT 2004 would shape up, they're probably having too much fun playing the demo to remember them right now.
If anyone had any misgivings about how UT 2004 would shape up, they're probably having too much fun playing the demo to remember them right now.

But let's get something straight: There is no better way in the world to effectively market a good game than to release a free, playable demo for it. None. That's the absolute best use of a game publisher's marketing resources. That's the absolute best way for a game marketer to effectively do his job, assuming--and this is an important assumption--that he has a good game to work with. Here's another catch: Not all game demos are created equal. The art of the game demo is growing more and more advanced over time, as some developers are beginning to truly realize and harness the power of the form.

Demos are not just for PC games; this is a common misconception that will change in time. Right at this moment, for example, one of the most talked about demos happens to be one for Ninja Gaiden, the soon-to-be-released Xbox game. The problem, of course, is that you can't freely download video game demos as you can PC game demos (not yet), and in this particular case, the demo happens to be exclusively bundled with a specific publication. That's a huge win for the publication, but it's sheer lunacy for the game publisher, whose goal is--or should be--to use its demo to reach as many people as possible, as opposed to the relatively small audience that any one gaming magazine caters to. No, there are much better ways to distribute video game demos to their intended audiences. Bundle them with every purchase at a retail game store. Give them away to registered customers. Things like this.

The Ninja Gaiden demo, by all accounts, is incredibly entertaining. Too bad hardly anyone is going to get their hands on it. Demo exclusives are a self-defeating practice.
The Ninja Gaiden demo, by all accounts, is incredibly entertaining. Too bad hardly anyone is going to get their hands on it. Demo exclusives are a self-defeating practice.

PC game demos ought never to be exclusive to any one source either, unless, of course, the publisher is purposely trying to limit its audience for some insanely illogical reason. Fortunately, there seems to be enough competition among file-hosting services by now that exclusive demos seem to be all but dead. You'll see demos premiere first at certain locations, such as how the demo of Painkiller recently made its debut on our DLX service, but after the first five minutes or so the file becomes widespread--as well it should.

So, what makes demos so special anyway? There's the notion that they're comparable to cinematic trailers. You go to see a movie at the theater, and before the movie, you're subjected to a few trailers designed to get you interested in various other movies. Some trailers are very effective at this. Yet even when you see a really exciting trailer...there's no real guarantee that the two-minute snippet you just saw is going to be representative of the quality of the two-hour movie it's promoting. I'm sure you can think of at least a few examples where a movie's trailer was, in fact, much better than the movie itself.

Demos can be a double-edged sword. Painkiller presents itself well, but it's caused some new concerns to surface about the gameplay.
Demos can be a double-edged sword. Painkiller presents itself well, but it's caused some new concerns to surface about the gameplay.

The great thing about demos is that they can't lie like that. Gameplay cannot deceive like pretty pictures. The fundamentals of a game are what are important. Sure, if the game ends up being very short or has a disappointing ending, that's too bad. But the nuts and bolts of what you do in a game are what really matters, and a demo is designed to demonstrate and allow you to sample that which really matters. When you play a demo and you like it, there is a very high probability that you're also really going to like the full version of the game. This is why marketers should always, always produce demos for games that are good.

There are three tough issues that a marketer needs to tackle when weighing the option of whether or not to produce a demo.

One, demos are a double-edged sword. If your demo does not go over well with the public, it may end up being detrimental to the retail product. Consider the recent case of the Deus Ex: Invisible War demo, which many people got up in arms about due to differences in the content of the demo versus what they were led to believe the game itself was going to be like. The chilly reception the retail version of the game went on to receive was at least partly a consequence of the bad taste the demo left in people's mouths. Also, the Painkiller demo has garnered some mixed reactions. Some believe that the relative simplicity of the action will be epidemic throughout the game. And who knows? They may be right. In the end, the demo succeeds at giving a great impression of Painkiller's technology, but it doesn't speak quite as well for its gameplay.

A demo can and should include some of the absolute best moments that the game has to offer.
A demo can and should include some of the absolute best moments that the game has to offer.

Two, good demos are resource-intensive. As suggested previously, there's a fine art to making a good demo, and there's more to it than slapping together a few levels and setting them loose. I'm sure the inclination tends to be to include some of the less spectacular parts of a game in the demo, since you wouldn't want to spoil the best part, right? Wrong.

Id Software knows what I'm talking about. Think back to the shareware versions of Doom and Quake. Those free, trial versions featured easily the best parts that those games had to offer. Some of us just didn't realize it till years afterward, since the demos made us so excited to play even more. The logic isn't hard to follow: A demo is more likely to have a much wider audience than the retail version, since it's free. Therefore, the demo should put the game's best foot forward. Much like how movie trailers often include the very best sequences from the movie right there in those two minutes, game demos can and should portray a game in the best possible light. This can, and sometimes does, result in a demo being surprisingly misleading. For instance, the beach invasion multiplayer demo map for Return to Castle Wolfenstein was probably the best thing about that entire game. But hey--the purpose of a demo is to get you to buy the game when it comes out. It's your responsibility to be skeptical, and it's the demo's responsibility to be fun.

Three: Given that resources are limited, should a game be delayed just so a demo can be released? Developers can only do one thing or another. I'm going to say the answer is yes. My observations have consistently indicated that a demo's impact can be far more significant if it is released before, rather than after, a game. Look at Doom and Quake. Look at Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Battlefield 1942. The demos made these games.

Of course, oftentimes release dates are not flexible, especially when publicly held game publishers have committed to launching their products by a certain time. But if I were in the position to ship a great game now and could release a great demo a month later, versus releasing a great demo now and shipping a great game a month later, I'd go for the latter.

Curt Feldman
Senior Editor, News

Where I read about games and the game industry when I'm not reading GameSpot: Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Wired, Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times.

Power to the People (Who Write About Games)

Not exactly the best source for game news. Seems like the fact-checking department could use some beefing up.
Not exactly the best source for game news. Seems like the fact-checking department could use some beefing up.

I was pinged earlier in the week from a friend who covers the game beat. She works for a highly respected daily publication with a circulation that easily tops a million. The question was simple. "From your perspective," she asked, "what is the current state and quality of game criticism?" This is a perennial question that can soak up many idle hours and many beers, unless you begin to think seriously about it. So between chasing down marketing execs for quotes on the latest soft drink-game cross-promotion and the aggravatingly tardy NPD numbers, I put the question to the test. Instead of beer, I opted for a strong coffee, ear plugs, and an empty cubicle here at the GameSpot offices. I stopped chasing news and gave the topic some thought.

I told my friend that games have yet to fully break out of their confined corner, hence most criticism comes from gamers themselves. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this scenario--gamers writing for gamers--the criticism currently available can run the gamut from poorly written bloglike rants to articulate, compelling prose. So the quick answer to her question was, "The current state of game criticism is spotty."

Overall, criticism of games, compared to criticism of films (or restaurants for that matter), has received short shrift from the more mainstream communities, including critics. And that, I figure, is due to the still-maturing experience games deliver.

Now, combine this with the following: Most writers who are widely read lack the tools to fully appreciate the game experience (regardless of the industry's maturity, their personal history with the medium is absent). The paradox is this: Writers (gamers who write game reviews) who do it well are often limited by the reach of their publications, while, on the other hand, writers who have influence and are widely read are ill-trained to fully report on the experience.

When I can't surf the Web for game news, radio ain't bad. However, it might be a while before I hear Studs Terkel interview Gabe Newell over the airwaves.
When I can't surf the Web for game news, radio ain't bad. However, it might be a while before I hear Studs Terkel interview Gabe Newell over the airwaves.

She asked me if this was due to a lack of training on the part of game writers. I thought, it may be less a case of the absence of scholarship and more a reflection of today's limited lexicon used in the "game space." The terms used to describe games, game characters, and game stories remain a reflection of the current experience you get from playing games. And that lexicon can evolve only to the extent that the games evolve. As the technology and user experience mature, impact on game criticism will surely follow.

Overall, game criticism has a lot of ground to make up, especially when compared to what's being written about movies--or hamburgers smothered in grilled onions and mushrooms for that matter. I told my friend to wait a bit longer to poll the jury--not to disparage what some might see as a not-ready-for-prime-time subset of the critical beat. We game and industry enthusiasts are raring to break out of the tired lexicon we find ourselves saddled with, and I, for one, hold out no resistance to scholarship. Certainly here at GameSpot, the goal is to entertain on many levels, including an intellectual one.

I say to my friend from that high-circ daily--which is read on planes, discussed in elevators, and quoted on Charlie Rose--that "Time is on our side." As the experience evolves, as the creative minds perfect the craft, and as the resultant impact of games moves away from a confined space to an open one, the ensuing effect on game criticism will be a leap in quality, stature, and worth. Just you wait.

My New Shareware Addiction

It seems like it was just yesterday that I was using this space to talk about Crimsonland, a supercool top-down shareware shooter that you might describe as, say, Smash TV with the benefit of mouse control. Now, today, I've somehow become addicted to yet another shareware game, named Soldat. In short, I recommend that you go download Soldat right now, play it, and register it if you find it to your liking. But read on to hear a bit more about it.

My love for Soldat is rooted in my love for a pretty obscure 1996 PC release called Abuse. On the surface, Abuse wasn't really anything special. It looked a lot like your basic side-scrolling shooter. But what Abuse did differently was that it used the mouse to control your aiming. So, like the classic dual joystick shooters of yore, you could run in one direction and shoot in another in a very smooth, seamless action. This made Abuse unlike anything else on the market in its day, and this, combined with its cool graphics and nice, dark atmosphere, made it one of my favorite games at the time.

Stop reading this, and go play Soldat already!
Stop reading this, and go play Soldat already!

Soldat is a 2D, side-view shooter that uses a control scheme that is extremely similar to the one found in Abuse. You use the keyboard to run around, but your aiming and firing controls are all handled by the mouse. Rather than put you in some dark, dank caverns (like Abuse did), Soldat puts you in the role of a little soldier dude in levels that, personally, remind me of some of the landscapes you'd see in games like Worms or Lemmings. However, unlike these two games, which were more strategic in nature, Soldat has all the action and gameplay of a first-person shooter--right down to the requisite Internet multiplayer support.

Yes, you can play against bots in Soldat, but competing against other players is where the real action is. The game has deathmatch and team deathmatch modes, a pointmatch mode, capture the flag, and infiltration, which is a CTF variant that puts one team on full-time offense and the other on full-time defense for the length of the match. Rounding out the modes is rambomatch, which adds a Rambo-like bow and arrow to the mix.

The side-view action is fast and fun. Each player is equipped with a jetpack, so you can rocket around the arena and hop from platform to platform as you see fit. The game also has a good selection of weapons, including all the FPS standards, like a shotgun, dual pistols, various assault rifles, a grenade launcher, and a sniper rifle. Since you can't really have a zoomed-in view in a side-view game, the sniper rifle's advantage is that you can scroll the screen further (in any direction) when you're crouched, thus giving you a wider view of the action than the other players get.

Soldat is extremely easy to pick up and play, but there's definitely a method to the madness, which means that you'll have to practice up to get competitive. The free version of the game only has a handful of restrictions, but with an amazingly low registration price of $9, it's hard to not want to register it immediately.

As the software publishing business becomes both larger (in terms of numbers of units sold) and smaller (in terms of the numbers of companies actually publishing), it's sometimes hard to see an independent developer making a real dent. The truth of the matter is that quality independent software is still being made. However, it's just a whole lot harder to find these days. So let me give you a few pointers: Get Soldat. Play Soldat. Love Soldat. And if you want to support this sort of development, buy Soldat. OK. Carry on.

A Salute to FAQ and Guide Authors

I've got to hand it to the game guide and FAQ authors out there. What they do is a dirty job, and it's one that I salute them for. I should know. I actually got my start in this business by writing an unofficial StarCraft multiplayer strategies book. On the surface, writing a FAQ or a guide seems like a pretty fun task. But when you think about it, playing a game enough to write a strategy guide for it isn't as enjoyable as it may seem, even if you love the game to death (and when you don't love the game it makes the task that much more onerous).

I salute you Vice City hidden packages mapmaker dude.
I salute you Vice City hidden packages mapmaker dude.

I think most people play games with a very casual mind-set, or at least, that's how I am with games that I'm not reviewing or previewing. You're just there to enjoy yourself and take in the experience. You usually don't care about the hows and the whys. The point is to get through the level, continue the story, and move on. But when you play a game for the purpose of writing a strategy guide, your focus becomes a lot more analytical. Was that the ideal weapon to use against that enemy? What would have happened if I had turned left at the last fork instead of turning right? Do the bad guys always spawn in that spot, or is it random? Did I miss an important piece of treasure in that last room? Dangit, the door locked behind me. Time to reload.

Breaking a game down in to such a clinical exercise can really take the joy out of it. I used to play StarCraft and other RTS games very heavily. I'd check out the top fan sites and see the ultrahardcore players going so far as to analyze the damage potential of various units in mathematical terms. I don't care how much you love a game, if you're doing crazy stuff like performing integrations to find out the number of hit points per second a hydralisk is capable of draining, you've gone off the deep end. However, if you have a taste for this sort of thing, you probably have what it takes to be a good FAQ and game guide author.

But even if you do get all of the little details down and have the ability to communicate it all very clearly, writing FAQs and guides is a thankless task. There are always people out there waiting to pounce on you, eager to prove that you don't know as much as they do. They found the bug in the game that will instantly kill that miniboss. They discovered another secret door in the level that you missed. They know a better line to take through that curve to shave three-tenths of a second off of your best lap time. And you're some kind of a moron because you didn't know it and they did.

"...you're takin' one for the team so your buddy can live the dream...wingmaaaaaaaaan!"

So, brave game guide and FAQ authors out there, I salute you--just like the Coors Light "wingman." Keep doin' your thing, and don't let the haters get you down. Your work is appreciated, even if the snotty 11-year-old kids don't show you the love.

Bethany Massimilla
Community Manager

Now Playing: Still From the Backlog Collection: Resident Evil Code: Veronica X, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Viewtiful Joe

Price-Gouging Zombies

Look, he's bleeding! Bleeding money!
Look, he's bleeding! Bleeding money!

While flaying the beast that is my gaming backlog into shape, I finished up Resident Evil 0. I could have (and probably should have) just moved on to the next game in the queue, but I had a wicked urge to kill more zombies. So instead, I consulted the keeper of GameSpot's gaming library (that's Adam) and grabbed the GameCube ports of Resident Evil 2 and 3 to slake my thirst for horror. After I polished them off, I found myself wondering out of sheer curiosity what those two games now retail for--as you may remember, Capcom originally intended to price the ports at $19.99 each when they were released at the beginning of last year and then snuck them out at $39.99 each instead. Surely all that nonsense was over by now. In a world where a great, new game like Beyond Good & Evil can drop to $20 in a month, there's no reason that well-heeled PlayStation ports wouldn't do the same over the course of a year.

STAAAARS...give me your waaaallet.
STAAAARS...give me your waaaallet.

As it turns out, I was horribly wrong. The fact that these games, along with the recently released GameCube port of Code: Veronica X, are all unimproved rereleases of titles that are years old and are still currently listing for about $40 is outrageous. Even if you only own a GameCube, and have no possible way of buying or borrowing another system to play these games on and have no interest in renting them, it's totally insane to even think of paying a new release price for them. In a gaming climate that's brimming with new releases, there are better ways beyond counting for someone to be spending $40, instead of on ports that were seemingly priced for collectors at release, and continue to be. It's yet another example of the great power that brand recognition and brand faithfulness have in this industry that the market will tolerate what, in this case, amounts to some pretty shameless mining of the RE fan base. It's too bad Capcom didn't capitalize on the opportunity to bring these three titles to a new audience at a more reasonable price rather than exploit collectors (who are admittedly pretty easily exploited) and an unsuspecting public to rake in extra cash using the same versions of games it put out many moons ago. I will readily admit that it also puts a bitter taste in my mouth knowing that the ancient Resident Evil 2 can apparently hold its own at $30-40 on a current system, while the aforementioned Beyond Good & Evil can't even do that for a period of two months. That's pretty sad, pretty regrettable, and all kinds of crazy. While there are a number of factors that come into play (consumer tastes, marketing, the timing of release, and so on), the concept still burns me up and fogs my glasses. Running from Nemesis is fun and all, but there are other games out there! That $40 burning a hole in your pocket can be a powerful vote for what you want to see on store shelves, so be sure to spend it wisely.

In the end, while it would be kind of neat to line my GameCube shelf with Umbrella's biomutagenic experiments, I think I'll save that $120 for other gaming pursuits. I've seen enough of the T-virus in the past two weeks to easily carry me right up to the release of Resident Evil 4, anyway. Hopefully, by that time, I'll even have gotten through the entirety of my backlog of games. That's about as likely as zombies not crashing through a seemingly ordinary window, but hey, a girl can dream!

Alex Navarro
Assistant Editor

Now Playing: Too much of the Unreal Tournament 2004 demo

Deported From the Rhythm Nation

I've noticed a thematic trend developing in my recent GameSpotting articles. Specifically, it seems like recently, GameSpotting has become my platform for sad, pseudoself confessions about various problems related to my gaming or game-related activities. While this might not seem like a good thing, I've never been one to put a halt to developing habits, and in fact, I prefer to simply run these types of things into the ground. With that out of the way, I'm on to my latest round of complaining.

You, Parappa. You're the one who started all of this nonsense to begin with.
You, Parappa. You're the one who started all of this nonsense to begin with.

If you've paid any attention to any previous episodes of GameSpotting Live, you might have discovered that, as a hobby, I play the drums. I've been doing so for almost 12 years now, and though I'm not exactly the next Neal Peart or anything (yes, I'm dating myself, so let's just move on), I consider myself pretty decent. Concordantly, being a gamer, it would seem only logical that I might translate this rather rhythmic hobby into an affinity for rhythm games. In a sense, this is half right. I love rhythm games and try to play as many of them as I can on as regular a basis as possible. However, I also hate them because I am completely and utterly terrible at them in every way.

"But how?" you ask. Shouldn't someone who proclaims to have at least a marginal sense of rhythm naturally be able to master any rhythm game that comes his way? Yeah, right. That's what I thought the first time I caught on to Parappa the Rapper, too. A few days after picking it up for the first time, it wasn't hard for me to admit that I was flat-out wrong. Sure, I mastered the game eventually, but since Parappa's release, the rhythm genre has stepped things up pretty heavily with games like DDR, Gitaroo Man, and Amplitude. I'm terrible at all of them and have continued to be terrible at all of them long after their releases. It's downright embarrassing, considering that a lot of my friends enjoy rhythm games; and due to my status among them as "the drummer," I'm somehow expected to master these games instantly when playing in front of them.

Part of me would like to take responsibility for my own complete lack of ability in playing rhythm games, but another far more petty part of me would rather blame the entire rhythm game genre, as a whole, for my misadventures at trying to play them. You see, when I play a rhythm game, much of the action comes from hand-eye reflexes. I see what's on the screen, and I hit the corresponding button/arrow/dance-mat pad. While patterns do emerge out of the game, more often than not you're running on pure reflexes when playing these games, as the patterns that do emerge aren't actually part of the rhythm base of the music. Usually, they're just overlapping patterns that semifit into the scheme of the music but aren't actually a part of the underlying rhythm. Basically, it's one big drum fill that you have to match up to. You see? Not my fault. It's all these damn games' fault. I can't help it if I have weak reflexes...you don't need reflexes to...drum...and...

I'm pretty sure that watching me play this game is equivalent in hilarity to some of those horrible American Idol blooper reels.
I'm pretty sure that watching me play this game is equivalent in hilarity to some of those horrible American Idol blooper reels.

OK, you know what? To hell with it. Fine. I suck. I am terrible at rhythm games, and it's not anyone's fault but my own. To hell with all of it. There. Are you happy? Does it please you to see me upset? I have no sense of rhythm. I have no business even having a regular heartbeat, let alone playing anything with any manner of rhythm to it, so I should just go lie down and die somewhere. At least that way I won't have to worry about people mocking me every time I try to get my DDR on. Sheesh.

Look, the moral of this whole story is that we rhythmically challenged folk have feelings too. Many of us, despite our condition, still enjoy rhythm games, and that enjoyment is precluded entirely by your mockery and laughter. So kids, the next time you see some guy (or girl) down at the local mall stumbling all over the place--like he has one left foot where his right foot should be and he's got a bowling ball where the left foot should normally be--don't point and laugh like you normally would. And don't pretend to cheer him on either (he can see right through that). Just walk away, and pretend you never saw anything. It's a lot easier for everyone involved.

32X: Short Name, Short Life, Big Fun

If someone said the words "Sega Genesis 32X," what would you say? Would it be, "32 what?"; "That mushroom for the Genesis?"; or "It never got a fair shot." For those who don't know what I'm talking about, you will soon. I consider myself to be one of the "lucky ones" who have this system/add-on. (Thank you birthdays!) While systems can come and go, such as the Virtual Boy and Game.com, some just don't seem to be remembered by anyone. (Who remembers Tiger's R-Zone? I do. I have one.) I feel that the 32X could have gone somewhere, especially in America. It was hyped and supported at the start and began fairly well. It seemed to be another Sega success. Unfortunately, this system failed and helped start Sega's downfall in the hardware business. In all honesty, the 32X had lots of potential, but it also probably had more planned titles canceled than any other system.

I don't get why people hate it. It looks harmless.
I don't get why people hate it. It looks harmless.

For those who want a history lesson on the 32X, here's a quick recap. It was a mushroom-shaped system that hooked onto the Genesis' cartridge slot. You could play Genesis games on it, so there was no need to remove it after attaching it. It was released in November 1994 to pretty much be a buffer for gamers who were going from the Genesis to the Saturn. It actually sold well at first--and sold out at many locations--even though the price was $159.99. Sega originally planned to have 1 million units ready for sale by Christmas, but it was only able to get 600,000 out. Sega foresaw success and had a pretty good launch game lineup, consisting of Doom, Star Wars Arcade, Virtua Racing Deluxe, Cosmic Carnage, and Metal Head. Even Europe and Japan received the system--called the Mega Drive 32X in Europe and the Super 32X in Japan--but by far, it sold the best in America. Sega even planned a Genesis/32X combo system called the Neptune. Only one prototype was apparently made.

Yes, a hummingbird shooter. It's also one of the good 32X games, both in graphics and gameplay.
Yes, a hummingbird shooter. It's also one of the good 32X games, both in graphics and gameplay.

Then the bad came... The 32X had its own separate AC adapter and wasn't exactly the easiest thing to set up. Also, it had two flimsy metal plates that weren't even needed, but they prevented electromagnetic interference. (So that's what they did!) Then people had trouble with their TVs, since some didn't work properly with the 32X. Finally, many games and systems were returned. But that's not all! Many of the future releases were either upgraded Genesis ports (like NBA Jam T.E., Brutal, Mortal Kombat II), or they were just plain average or bad (like Motocross Championship, BC Racers, Zaxxon Motherbase 2000). Then Sega surprised everyone when they released the Saturn four months earlier than originally planned. This confused everyone. What was Sega supporting? By then it was late 1995 and only a few more titles were released. The last big title for the 32X was Virtua Fighter, which many consider to be one of the best home versions of VF1--maybe even better than the rushed Saturn version. (Not Remix but the first version.) The last titles to be released were Spider-Man: Web of Fire, in America, followed by DarXide, in Europe. Both titles were sold in limited quantities and are now collector's items.

Funny thing is that this is the rarest 32X-related item to get. A video, a TV, coupons...but no demo?
Funny thing is that this is the rarest 32X-related item to get. A video, a TV, coupons...but no demo?

OK, maybe that wasn't so quick, but oh well. You get the idea that the 32X went from potential best-seller to X-treme flop. (Ha! I made a pun!) Anyway, not all the 32X games were flops. By far, Virtua Fighter is considered to be one of the best games for the system. Those Europeans who were lucky enough to buy DarXide when it was released consider it to be one of the best-looking games for the 32X, easily pushing its abilities to the limit. Doom is very good, even though it's missing the entire third episode and some other levels. Star Wars Arcade is easily a fun but hard game. NBA Jam T.E. for the 32X is easily the best cartridge version of NBA Jam. Ecco the Dolphin creators Appaloosa Interactive created Kolibri, the well-known "hummingbird shooter." Blizzard got into the act by releasing Blackthorne for the system. It came with an exclusive Winter cave stage where you could meet the Lost Vikings. And what would a Sega console be without Sonic? Well, the 32X would know, since it never got a Sonic starring Sonic. Instead, it got Knuckles' Chaotix, which starred Knuckles and the Chaotix: Mighty, Espio, Vector, and Charmy. Now you know where Sonic Heroes' Team Chaotix came from. In all honesty, it's a good game. The bungee cord-system that linked the characters adds an interesting twist to the gameplay of the Sonic title. Including these and the PAL and Japan-only titles, there were 39 games released for the 32X--34 on cartridge and 5 on CD. America got every title except for three: FIFA Soccer '96 and DarXide, which are PAL-exclusives, and Sangokushi IV/Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV, which is the only Japan-exclusive title. Since all Japanese 32X games were limited in quantities, Sangokushi IV is the rarest 32X game, period. (Interestingly, you can play FIFA '96 on an American 32X.)

All of the Chaotix return in Sonic Heroes, except for Mighty. Where did he go?
All of the Chaotix return in Sonic Heroes, except for Mighty. Where did he go?

Then there were the planned titles. Close to 50 titles were either announced or in development. Apparently, only two playable prototypes have been found. The first was Virtua Hamster, where you played as a hamster that had to escape from lab tubes on a jet-powered skateboard. I kid you not. Then there was X-Men: Mind Games, which used an engine extremely similar to the PSOne/Saturn flop The Incredible Hulk: The Pantheon Saga. As for proposed titles, there were plenty of big names, such as Alone in the Dark, Darkstalkers, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, and Daytona USA. There was also Dracula X (not the same as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night ), Descent, Rayman, and Virtua Cop. By far, these titles could have saved the 32X. And remember, this was just a small list of the many proposed titles.

All I need are Kolibri, Virtua Fighter, and FIFA '96 to make me happy. I have seen some very impressive collections; one had every American-released game! However, the 32X is even shunned by many game collectors, so those who do collect it can either be given praise or a weird look. But the main question is this: Was the 32X necessary? No. Should it have been given more praise than it got? That's up to you. For me, I have plenty of fun with my 32X. Unfortunately, it joins the Virtual Boy, Game.com, and R-Zone in the dark, dank closet of video game failures. Well, maybe not as far back in the closet as them. Maybe it would be closer to the light, next to the 3DO, Jaguar, and Sega CD.

Screenshots courtesy of VGMuseum.com and The 32X Memorial

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