The Sega Genesis 32X CD is unique in the sense that it requires three separate systems in order to play software designed for it: a Sega Genesis, Sega CD and Sega Genesis 32X. Once these pieces are assembled, 32X CD games can reap the benefits of the 32X upgrade, including being able to display more colors on the screen (32,768 colors at once, which was an important requirement for games featuring full-motion video), enhanced scaling and rotation, and additional polygon muscle provided by two Hitachi 32-bit RISC processors.
Sound was also given a boost with QSound technology, allowing for multidimensional sound that made music and sound effects seem like they were in 3D. The Sega Genesis 32X was the key component in this setup, but its November 1994 debut was not without controversy.
This controversy stemmed from Sega's announcement of the 32-bit Saturn, which was scheduled for release during 1995's holiday season (in reality it was shipped in May 1995 to get a jump on the PlayStation's September launch). Many wondered how long Sega could be expected to keep supporting the 16-bit Genesis and 32X upgrade once the focus turned to the new 32-bit system. Sega maintained that both would coexist as two distinct platforms, however, and that the 32X was aimed at players who could not afford a Saturn.
So for those who wanted to upgrade their Genesis and Sega CD, the 32X could be purchased for $159.99. A mono AV Cable, two connector cables and an AC Adapter were also included with the system. There was no game packaged with the initial shipments, something that was quickly rectified when sales failed to reach anticipated numbers. Sega would later offer either Doom or Star Wars: Arcade along with the specially marked units to encourage more sales.
Adding to the 32X's troubles was the complicated installation process that involved positioning metal shields inside the Genesis system's cartridge slot to reduce the likelihood of electric shock when the two units merged together. The electromagnetic shield plates (one for the front and one for the back of the Genesis cartridge slot) were extremely flimsy and could bend or break very easily if not positioned correctly. The process was somewhat easier with the later Genesis models (Model #1631), but many users with the original units (Model #1601) found the 32X didn't fit as smoothly. Additional instructions were later provided to help clarify some of the steps involved.
Of course, the games would have made such hassles worthwhile, and the initial batch of software was promising, if not overwhelming. The announcement of many more titles, including unique CD games, would keep consumers from feeling shortchanged after patiently waiting for new titles to appear. Unfortunately for 32X owners, these games never materialized. The system simply did not sell enough units to justify developing more software, and many of the later titles were quick ports of existing Genesis cartridges.
Since many of the games seemed only offer more color, many in the industry joked that the 32X was little more than a Super NES upgrade. On the CD front, only five games saw the light of day: Slam City with Scottie Pippen, Corpse Killer, Night Trap, Supreme Warrior and Fahrenheit (which was also bundled with a Sega CD version). Adding insult to injury was that all of these titles were previously released on the Sega CD and only featured an upgrade in full-motion video quality. The 32X CD was a bust.
Looking at the numbers, it is easy to see why the system never took off. Regardless of whose company figures you believe, Sega represented nearly 50% of console sales in the 16-bit market, with an installed base of at least 16 million systems by the end of 1995. Sega CD owners represented nearly 10% of this figure (an estimated 1.5 million units) and 32X owners made up less than 5% (between 400,000 and 600,000) of the Genesis system's installed user base. Every add-on whittled away at the number of potential buyers and discouraged third-party companies from making the games necessary to boost sales. Meanwhile, Sega was losing credibility in the eyes of many consumers.
Although Sega originally signed 30 developers to support the system, most abandoned the sinking ship before it was too late, essentially scrapping titles already in progress or dumping them off to Sega to finish. Despite the 32X system's box stating that owners were getting a "lifetime of high-quality Sega entertainment," it was dead and buried within one year. Apparently the old saying is true: life is short. ~ Scott Alan Marriott, All Game Guide