Sega Saturn ROMs

Console History: Sega Saturn

The so-called "32-bit era" blurs together with the 64-bit era, with the main rivalry of the time being Sony's 32-bit PlayStation versus the Nintendo 64. Sega was actually first in the door with the Genesis add-on 32X, however, and the stand-alone Sega Saturn console was released shortly after the PlayStation as a direct 32-bit competitor to it.

Released in Japan in late 1994 and the rest of the world in mid-1995, the Saturn used CD-ROM media and was built around an adaptation of Sega's Model 1 arcade board (used to power their first wave of polygon-based arcade hits like Virtua Fighter and Virtua Racing). The system boasted a powerful and innovative two-CPU system with discrete 3D graphics processing. Though it technically out-muscled the PlayStation in terms of hardware specs, developers found the architecture much harder to program for. The PlayStation's programming interface was much easier to learn and use, so attracting third-party development quickly became an issue for the console.

The Saturn is widely regarded as a failed console outside of Japan, never really able to keep pace with the PlayStation's sales and eventually the first of the big players knocked out of the market. Inability to build a strong third-party lineup played a significant role, but Sega also struggled mightily with marketing the console during this period. They failed to attract adult gamers in the way that the PlayStation was able to, and they also failed to effectively leverage their franchise titles (most notably Sonic the Hedgehog, which never did see a title released for the Saturn). The release of the Nintendo 64 in 1996 was widely seen as the death blow for the console, as its lone advantage of having the most potent hardware had been taken away.

Being a failure from a sales and marketing standpoint doesn't mean that the console was a technical failure or had a poor library, however. Far from it! The Saturn has become beloved among retro enthusiasts thanks to a strong library full of gems undiscovered by most, especially in terms of first-party games developed by Sega. Titles like Panzer Dragoon, NiGHTs Into Dreams, Clockwork Knight, Radiant Silvergun and Guardian Heroes almost inevitably overjoy modern players when they discover them. Sega also took full advantage of the arcade-based architecture to deliver high-quality ports of many of their arcade hits from the early-to-mid-'90s: the Virtua Fighter games, Sega Rally Championship, Last Bronx, Virtual-On, The House of the Dead and Virtua Cop just to name a few of the biggest hits. The Saturn was also the only platform on which players could continue Sega's popular Shining Force series.

The Saturn's stock control pad is also much-beloved by the retro gaming community. The conceptual core isn't really much different from the six-button pad that debuted in the later stages of the life of the Sega Genesis, but little tweaks for comfort and convenience make all the difference. The shape is changed slightly to be more ergonomic, the digital pad has been loosened for greater responsiveness, the face buttons rows are of different sizes as a non-visual positioning guide, and two shoulder buttons have been added to the mix.

While the Saturn is popularly viewed as the point at which Sega's empire began to crumble, this isn't due to poor hardware or poor game design. It was simply a case of major marketing mistakes mixed with some remarkably bad timing. Retro gamers willing to dive into the Saturn's library of nearly 500 games will find an awful lot to enjoy, much of it still not available on any other platforms.