The Sega 32X was a cartridge-based add-on for the 16-bit Genesis system. In 1994, Sega was in a transitional period, the company had just passed Nintendo as the top platform manufacturer with the 16-bit Genesis and Sega was looking ahead to the next generation of video gaming when they began to explore 32-bit technology.
Sega was developing two 32-bit consoles at the same time: the Jupiter, a cartridge based system and the Saturn, a CD-ROM based system. Sega chose to continue with the Saturn because it knew that CD-ROMs were cheaper to produce and could hold more information than a regular cartridge. Instead of deserting the Jupiter project, Sega used its technology to develop a 32-bit add-on for the Genesis. After modifications, what Sega came up with was the Mars system.
Sega of America made immediate plans to introduce the Mars in the US. In Japan, Sega was on the verge of releasing the Saturn and did not pursue the Mars project. Sega of America decided to rename the console the Genesis Super 32-X. The company knew that the Saturn would be released in the US in one year and didn't want to abandon the millions of Genesis owners whose 16-bit cartridges would soon be obsolete.
By June 1994, Sega had shortened the name of the add-on to the 32X. The company re-priced the system to $159.99 and instead of including a pack-in game cartridge, Sega would include six $10 discount coupons that could be used for the purchase of 32X cartridges.
When the 32X was released in November 1994, the demand was so high that Sega couldn't fulfill all of the one million orders retailers had made for the system. By January 1995, Sega had shipped 600,000 units.
The 32X plugged into the cartridge port of the Genesis console. Two 32-bit RISC processors powered the system. A VDP (video digital processor) chip noticeably improved the Genesis' polygonal graphics. It featured a palette of over 32,000 colors as well as texture-mapping. Owners of the Sega CD system could plug into the 32X to play enhanced CD-ROM games.
Problems soon surfaced for the 32X. Sega of America received complaints that the system was not functioning when plugged into early Genesis models. In an attempt to resolve the situation Sega released a set of clarified installation instructions. Consumers also complained that the 32X would not function on older model television sets. Sega informed them that they would need to purchase a separate adapter. These glitches, coupled with the minuscule number of cartridges initially available for the 32X slowed the momentum that the system had built in the marketplace.
Soon after the release of the 32X, Sega announced the release of the Neptune console. It was to arrive in time for Christmas 1995. It would be a fusion of both the 32X and Genesis into one system. The targeted price would be around $200. Later, the delivery date was pushed back to 1996 and soon afterwards Sega abandoned plans to release the Neptune.
After an early run on 32X hardware, sales sagged. The word was spreading with consumers that the full 32-bit Sega Saturn would soon be introduced to America. People knew that the Saturn would not support 32X software so they decided to wait. Third party support for the 32X thinned out with the declining sales. There was skepticism amongst consumers in the life span of the 32X despite Sega's assurances that a large slate of game titles was being developed.
In early 1996 Sega, acknowledged it had promised more than it could deliver for the 32X. Sega would be dropping it from production to focus their efforts on the Saturn system. Prices were slashed for the 32X and the remaining units eventually sold for $19.99.
Third party game developers for the 32X include: Activision (Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure), Acclaim (Mortal Kombat II), ID Software (Doom) and Electronic Arts (Toughman Contest Boxing)
Thirty-six 32X Games were released in the United States including five CD-ROM titles. ~ Dave Beuscher, All Game Guide