Billed as the "world's first 32-bit CD games console" on the front of its black and red box, Commodore International Ltd.'s second attempt at CD console gaming (with the first being 1991's CDTV) was originally slated to go against a formidable lineup of new systems during 1993's competitive fourth quarter. On the cartridge front, Atari's Jaguar was about to claw its way into gaming history by becoming the world's first 64-bit console, while both the 32-bit 3DO and 16-bit LaserActive aimed for the pocketbooks of consumers who wanted the latest in multimedia technology.
After a successful launch in the European market in July 1993, Commodore enlisted the services of Franco Public Relations Group in November to prepare for a U.S. launch during the first quarter of 1994. The intent was to build public awareness for a system that did not have the brand or company recognition of Sega, Nintendo or Atari. The public relations firm distributed press kits to the media and was present at the 1994 Winter Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas, Nevada in order to promote the machine. Even though the system was set for a March 1994 launch, most of the attention at the show was focused on the announcement of Sega's 32-bit Saturn, a system that was only shown on video but still managed to find a receptive audience.
While the system didn't strike the fancy of those in the gaming media, it was still hoped that it would enjoy some success. The Commodore Amiga CD32 was designed around the Amiga computer's Advanced Graphics Architecture (AGA) chipset, offering animated graphics that could display up to 256,000 colors from a palette of 16.8 million. Motorola's 68EC020 CPU powered the system (running at 14 mHz), which was the same processor behind the successful Amiga series of home computers. In fact, the Amiga CD32 was essentially the same machine as an Amiga 1200, but with a built-in CD drive instead of a keyboard or disk drive. The price was to be $399 with one controller and a pinball game entitled Pinball Fantasies.
The console's black casing featured a top-loading double-speed CD-ROM drive (manufactured by Chinon and Sony) with the words "32-bit" written across the front in white. The system also featured a male pin parallel connector, a female serial connector and an AT/IDE controller inside the housing. An output jack allowed users to use headphones with the machine, but the system also featured separate audio outputs for connection to a stereo. Two controller ports were available on front of the unit, and the bundled U-shaped controller offered four colored buttons to the right and a cross-shaped directional pad to the left.
The Amiga CD32 also featured two megabytes of memory and could support an optional MPEG module so that developers could implement features such as full-motion video backgrounds into games. Those owning this peripheral could also use their Amiga CD32 to play standard Video CDs and CD-i Digital Video CDs (much to the chagrin of Philips CD-i owners) in addition to the software-based CDXL video clips. Both Video CD formats allowed users to watch full-length movies compressed to fit onto the compact disc medium, and the MPEG module was scheduled to be available soon after the system's release for a price of $249.99. Those who owned the CDTV were not left out in the cold, as the Amiga CD³² was backward compatible with many of the older CDs designed to run on the 1991 system.
Third-party support, which was crucial to any new system's success rate, was encouraging. The predominately European developers included the likes of Psygnosis, Ocean, Millennium, Virgin Games, Core Design, Probe Software, Gremlin, Bullfrog and Maxis. One of the first CD titles released was James Pond II -- Codename: Robocod, which was also available on cartridge for the Genesis. The game featured platform action as players controlled a world-renown fish patterned after a certain British secret agent. The CD version of the game offered more colors, CD-quality music and a letterboxed screen. Early reports of the game slowing down were not encouraging, especially when the cartridge version ran smoother on older hardware. Part of the problem was that most of the early titles were simple ports of existing Amiga games with added color and reworked music, similar to many of the games released on the Sega CD.
If the Amiga CD32 was Commodore's last breath of air in the gaming industry, it was a wheezing gasp. Even as the system was making its debut in the United States, Commodore was already in the process of ceasing its operations after years of financial losses and unresolved bills. The company formally announced it was closing business on April 29, 1994. Needless to say, the Amiga CD32 was a failed attempt at delivering yet another multimedia system to a U.S. audience that already had several systems to choose from. Considering the 3DO's price reduction to $499.99 and considerable advantage in software in 1994, the competition was simply too formidable.
The lack of effective marketing, a criticism that had dogged Commodore for years, certainly didn't help matters, as it gave the impression the system wasn't a serious contender in the industry. After a lengthy and drawn-out liquidation process, Commodore was finally sold to ESCOM (a German company) on April 20, 1995 for approximately eleven million dollars. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide