In late 1994 SEGA launched the SEGA Saturn to the Japanese market, then 1995 to North America, Europe and Australia. The Saturn was SEGA's follow on console from the Mega Drive/Genesis but sadly never saw the same market success.
Historically the Mega Drive didn't sell very well in Japan as the Japanese consumers were far to enamored with the NES And Master System to give it a chance. In complete contrast the Megadrive/Genesis sold extremely well in the United States and other parts of the world and was still doing so when the Saturn was forced onto the Western market.
Its main competitors were the Sony Playstation, the Nintendo 64 and to a much lesser degree SEGA's own 32X hardware add-on for the Mega Drive. While it was an impressive piece of tech for the time, it was a pain in the butt to code for. The console had been designed around a single CPU architecture but hearing that the Playstation was going to use a dual CPU set up it was redesigned to also run with two CPUs. In addittion the Saturn also had six other processors which dealt with graphics, sound, etc. which sounds great but unfortunately they were non-proprietary, off the shelf chips that were never specifically intended to work together. This made coding for the Saturn even more convoluted and a limited number of developmental tools and software libraries in the early days left game designers coding in assembly language.
Even the Saturn's dual CPU set up caused developers issues as both chips used the same bus causing issues with them trying at access RAM simultaneously. The practical solution for some designers was to just code for one CPU and leave the other one idle. Games such as 'Virtual Fighter' made use of both CPUs, one per on screen character. By comparison coding for the Playstation was much easier and as a result more attractive to software developers.
Arguably SEGA made another fatal mistake by not capitalising on the popularity of their franchised 'Sonic the Hedgehog' character on the Saturn.
While the Saturn predominantly loaded software from its CD ROM drive there were two titles that made use of the cartridge port for part of their game software; 'King of Fighters '97' and 'Ultraman: Hikari no Kyojin Densetsu'. These ROM cartridges carried some of the game data due to the Saturn not having enough onboard RAM for the game to be fully loaded from CD ROM. Other RAM expansion carts were released, 1MB and 4MB for use with a slim number of other popular titles; mainly sprite based fighting games, eg. 'Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter'.
The Saturn's cartridge port was also used for connecting the SEGA NetLink (SEGANEt in Japan) MODEM to the console. This allowed gamers to connect to other players and play online for the limited number of titles that supported the feature. While this was nothing new, it was the first time that players could use such a feature and elect to dial their own ISP rather than be locked into the one that specifically supported the hardware.
While the Saturn had been released just before the Playstation, consumers were already skeptical about SEGA's ability to deliver quality and game titles after being burnt with the Mega-CD and 32X and initial sales were poor. Due to bringing forward the release date to beat the Playstation's launch only six titles were available when it went on sale in the US as software developers had been told that the console would not be released for a few extra months.
While it wasn't a failed console, its popularity was akin to a poor man's Playstation, even though it retailed at a higher price. The main market area it excelled was for arcade ports of heavily sprite orientated games which the Saturn handled very well and with that it developed a small yet strong following which saw console and games sales peak and fall as new titles were released.
Sadly, due to the design of the mainboard it was extremely difficult to downscale the design to cut costs for future revisions as was common for console hardware which saw the Saturn stay at a higher RRP long after other consoles had dropped their prices to a more competitive level.
|Unit pictured has been sold and its location is unknown.|