Friday, December 19, 2008

Sega Saturn Guide

Welcome to the Next Level

Lately, the Saturn has seen resurgence amongst the retro-gaming crowd. The retro scene itself has been growing lately, with emulation and cheaper prices of older games providing a great way to jump in.

I'm not a Saturn expert, and I don't consider myself a "retro" gamer, as I just never really completely left my Saturn alone, but for anyone who is just entering the world inside of Neptune, there's a few things to know about the system, and hopefully, I can help out.

A little background info

The Saturn was designed as the next full-console follow-up to Sega's successful Genesis. Part of the planet naming code which included Mars (32X) and Neptune (A 32X/Genesis hybrid), the Saturn would be the only system to carry its code name. Originally developed in the hey-day of 2D gaming, the system was to be a 2D powerhouse, powered by a single processor. After having seen the 3D power of upcoming rival Sony's Playstation, Sega quickly shifted gears, adding in a second SH-2 processor at the last minute.

This led to the system's infamous "hard to program" reputation. Not only that, but developers were given few tools to get games up and running by the Saturn's launch date. To make matters even worse, as a "sneak attack," the launch date was moved forward unannounced at select retailers, leaving developers with little time to finish their games, and leaving other retailers out in the cold. It would do well to damage to Sega's reputation in the store front, with some chains, notably Kay-Bee Toys who chose to boycott Sega altogether, and with 3rd party developers, already reluctant with the relative failures of the 32X and Sega CD.

The Saturn initially seemed to be doing alright despite the setbacks, at least until the Playstation came around. Despite going toe-to-toe for a few months, the Saturn couldn't hold out against the better marketing, slightly higher visuals, and of course, Final Fantasy VII. Despite slowing sales and monetary loss, Sega continued to pump out ports of its popular arcade games, new exclusives, and other titles that, if not popular, were quality games waiting to be discovered.

Why bother?

The Saturn was home to several exclusive games at the time, many of which are still only available on the Saturn. Though not as ubiquitous as Playstation games, more popular Saturn games can still be had for just a few dollars, so despite certain exceptions, building a decent collection is still relatively cheap. Many haven't had the chance to play through the Saturn library, instead having a PS at the time. Unique games that are off the beaten path can be found on the system.

  • Arcade games: Fans of Sega's arcade line-up of the era (anything Model 2) will find many home conversions on the Saturn with added modes and extras.

  • 2D Powerhouse: Though facing stiff competition as 3D system, the Saturn was the superior 2D machine in the 32/64-bit era, with many of Capcom and SNK's fighters having arcade perfect ports on the system. That is not to say its 2D library is limited to fighters, though.

  • RPGs: I'll admit, I'm not much of an RPG player, but the Saturn has had several exclusive RPGs, and from what I've heard, they're pretty good, too.

  • Imports: If you're willing to import, there's even more games available for the Saturn, ranging from exclusive RPGs to one of the greatest shooters of all time.

System essentials

Sega Saturn - A bunch of games and no system won't do much good, so make sure to have one of these. The Saturn is commonly found in two flavors: the Model 1, which is noted for its oval-shaped buttons; and the Model 2, identified by its round buttons, a smaller version that was redesigned to reduce manufacturing costs later in the Saturn's life.

Controllers - The Saturn had several different controller styles made for it (I plan to do an article on the myriad of official choices later on), but the most common are:

  • Original - With a large plastic shell and bulky looks, these are probably the worst of the official control pads. Unfortunately, the shoulder buttons are pretty poor and tend to break easily.

  • Model 2 - These are included in the redesigned Model 2 Saturn and are generally sturdier and more comfortable than the original.

  • 3D Controller - At the time, Nights into Dreams was touted to be so revolutionary that it needed a new controller to play. Really, Sega had to jump on the analog boat with competitors Nintendo and Sony. This is a must-have, as most later games have analog support, and to use it will require this pad.

  • Stunner Gun - If you like to shoot things on the screen, this is the way to go. Even though the official gun lacks the features of 3rd party devices, on-screen, it is one of the most precise home light guns I have encountered.

Memory Card - Included with the Saturn is an internal memory feature, but with the right combination of games (Nights & VF2), it won't last long at all, making a memory card a necessity. In my opinion, there are two options to go for: either the official memory card, as this one seems to have the highest reliability rates on the console, or the Pro Action Replay 4 in 1. The Pro Action acts as several things, including an import device, memory card, and RAM expansion card for some 2D imports.

Read the Interact Memory Card Plus Review

Battery - Tired of having to put in the date every time you start the Saturn? Then, throw a battery in there. The Saturn takes a standard watch-size CR2032A battery that's available at drug and department stores everywhere. If your first Saturn is used, be sure to replace this first thing.

Learn more about the Saturn's battery.

Unique games

This is why you have the Saturn. You had your eye on that one game, and the only way to play it was on this console. So, here's some of the Saturn's most prominent series and exclusives. Note that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Burning Rangers - While Nights was to be the savior of the Saturn, Sonic Team's other project didn't catch on and drifted out of the limelight.

Read the Burning Rangers Review

Fighter's Megamix - Fighting Vipers and Virtua Fighter combine to create a smorgasbord of Sega. The real fun, however, is unlocking bonus characters from other Sega games, including Virtua Cop, Sonic the Fighters, and even Daytona USA.

Nights into Dreams - Though it spawned a Wii sequel years later, the original is still the better game and, outside of Japan, a Saturn exclusive.

Panzer Dragoon Saga - The entire series is reason to get a Saturn, but to this date, the Saga has only been released on this system. Granted, it's a costly addition to the collection, but it remains a Saturn exclusive nonetheless.

Read the Panzer Dragoon Saga Review

Sega Rally - While Daytona USA suffered from a rushed release, Sega Rally didn't have that problem. The game ported just fine and included improvements not found in the arcade, with extra modes and even an extra car.

Sonic Jam - Though it's just a compilation of the original Sega Genesis games (Sonic 1, 2, 3 and Knuckles), Jam finally brought Sonic to the world of 3D, if only as a tease. The Sonic World feature saw the dude running through the 3D Green Hills in what would later turn out to be the basis for Sonic Adventure.

Steep Slope Sliders - This snowboarding game was a hit on the Saturn, yet never saw release on another system.

Virtua Fighter 2 - At the time, this was _the fighting game. Beautiful 3D graphics and flawless game play transferred to the Saturn under the expertise of AM2's Yu Suzuki and remains one of the few Saturn games to run in its high-res mode. The Saturn release is the definitive home version of this game.

Virtual On - Huge robots battle it out in this one-on-one fighting game. A PC version is available, but short of importing the Japanese PS2 release, the Saturn is the way to go.

And that's only the beginning:

View a very unscientific look at the Saturn's highest-priced games.

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