The best consoles of all time: Sega Saturn

It’s just as well for the Sega Saturn that our criteria for judging the best console of all-time is not based on their commercial success.

Many UK gamers will remember the Saturn - if they remember it at all - existing in the shadow of Sony’s cool, polygon-pumping wonder the PlayStation.

Ironically, Sega didn’t see the home 3D revolution coming, even though it was they themselves who innovated at the arcades in the early nineties with Virtua Racing and Virtua Fighter.

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As well as the lure of the PSone’s power and chic, existing Sega fans had been left feeling stung by the release of gap-bridging flops the Mega CD and 32X.

Each of these expensive Mega Drive add-ons was only ever host to a handful of worthwhile game purchases.

On top of this, Sega’s 32-bit machine was home to a number of poor PSone ports.

Daytona vs Ridge Racer

Lazy conversions such as Doom and Alien Trilogy served to make the machine look bad by comparison.

That the Saturn launched with a shaky arcade conversion of AM2’s legendary Daytona USA coin-op didn’t help either.

Especially when the PlayStation boasted a stunning version of Namco’s Ridge Racer.

In the right hands however, the Saturn was a capable machine.

Sega’s in-house studios delivered impressive, critically worshipped conversions of Sega Rally Championship, Virtua Cop and Virtua Fighter 2 to the console for the winter of 1995.

But stellar reviews for these ‘hardcore’ must-haves only went so far in terms of driving hardware sales.

No Sonic? No sale

In the USA and Europe, punters were already distracted, wowed by the likes of futuristic racing game Wipeout (a below-par Saturn version of this arrived belatedly) and one-on-one brawler Tekken.

A Sonic The Hedgehog sequel may have helped to shift units, but it never came.

At least one concerted attempt to bring the ‘blue blur’ up to speed in 3D was cancelled at an advanced stage of development.

Sonic 3D: Flickies’ Island by Traveller’s Tales (now huge, thanks to their Lego/movie tie-ins) just wasn’t the real deal. Neither was quirky on-foot racer, Sonic R.

In 1996 Sonic Team created what arguably remains their finest work, the magical Nights: Into Dreams... (now available to download for 360, PS3 and PC).

The Mario effect

Sadly for Sega this Saturn masterpiece was eclipsed by hype for the forthcoming release of the next Nintendo console and its (wonderful, spectacular, but completely different in every way) launch title Super Mario 64.

Yet for all these failings, the Saturn was an amazing machine to own.

Despite its reputation, it was in fact host to superior versions of a number of essential 2D and 3D titles of the era.

Exhumed, Duke Nukem 3D, Street Fighter Alpha 2, Marvel Super Heroes, Night Warriors, The King Of Fighters, Metal Slug and Bomberman were all appreciably better on Saturn, to name only a few.

Turning Japanese

On top of these there were the exclusives.

Unsurprisingly many of these came from Sega themselves: Panzer Dragoon Zwei, Guardian Heroes, Winter Heat, Dragon Force, Burning Rangers, Virtual On, Panzer Dragoon Saga and Virtua Cop 2 were all super cool (and unavailable on PSone).

The greatest times we had with the Saturn were during its swansong. Starved of new English releases, we were forced to import software from the East.

After the machine expired in the UK in mid 1998, dedicated Saturneers had their machines modified to run Japanese games, and were treated to another year of top class videogames.

Fine Japanese developers such as Capcom, SNK, Taito, Konami and others continued to support the machine up to and beyond the release of Sega's successor console, the Dreamcast.

Back from the dead... sort of

During this period of extended support, arcade-style games that had tricky Japanese names were the order of the day.

Lovers of shoot-‘em-ups (Radiant Silvergun, Batsugun, Battle Garegga, Soukyugurentai), one-on-one fighters (X-Men Vs. Street Fighter, Vampire Savior: The Lord Of Vampire, Pocket Fighter, Street Fighter Zero 3) and arcade action (Dungeons And Dragons Collection, Elevator Action Returns) were all incredibly well catered for.

These comprise just a small selection of what was available to the adventurous connoisseur.

Fans of sprite-based 2D titles were in hog-heaven, and unlike the majority of polygon-reliant PSone titles, these works of bitmap artistry still look outstanding to this day.

We’ve owned and loved almost every games machine, but we remember few times more fondly than that 1995 to 1999 period when the Sega Saturn was the under-appreciated king.

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