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Home » Retrogaming, Technology

Atari called it a Jaguar but it was still a dog

By: 27 December 2010 7 Comments

Well, here it is — the Atari Jaguar. The console that actually made me so angry I boxed it up a few years ago and traded it in at the Game X Change in Springdale for some stuff for my Sega Genesis.

Angry? Yes, the Jaguar provoked that reaction from more than a few people. While the system does have its share of fans and Songbird Productions has done a fine job putting together some great games for this dead system, it’s hard to recommend it to anyone.

Why? The software library is tiny and most of it is garbage. How bad was the Jaguar? The system was Atari’s last chance at redemption and when it tanked, Atari failed right along with it.

The Jaguar was released in 1993 as a system that would compete with both the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo and, apparently, kick off the three-dimensional gaming craze that took off in earnest sometime after the Sony Playstation 1 was released in 1995. The Jaguar failed completely — it didn’t have the game library to threaten the Genesis and Super Nintendo in the least and it’s technical inferiority to the Playstation 1 became obvious whenever players sat down with what passed for a 3D game on the Jaguar.

A harsh assessment of the Jaguar? Probably, but this system was such a complete and total flop that only 250,000 or so of the units were sold and the Jaguar — along with Atari — faded into history in 1996. Apparently, relying on tricky math and infomercials to sell consoles is no substitute for providing great games for the system.

And that was the problem with the Jaguar — the games for it were largely horrible. While it had superior processing power and graphics compared to both the Super NES and Sega Genesis, it had no flagship titles to challenge the likes of Sega’s Sonic franchise of Nintendo’s Mario line. That’s not to say the Jaguar was completely lacking in good games — Tempest 2000, Alien vs. Predator and Wolfenstein 3D were excellent, but they were the exception rather than the rule. Even some of the more innovative titles, such as Iron Soldier, were available elsewhere (the Playstation 1 had Iron Soldier, too) and there were virtually no titles featuring concepts that weren’t done better for another system.

Atari’s problems with the Jaguar seemed to be twofold. For one thing, the company was going broke and simply didn’t have a lot of resources to throw behind the Jaguar. When there were resources to allocate, Atari seemed confused as to what, exactly, it wanted the Jaguar to be. When it came to two-dimensional gaming, the Jaguar was hard to beat (run through the surprisingly fun Zool 2 or the great Tempest 2000 to see what I mean). The same was true when it came to pseudo-three dimensional games that utilized a lot of big, colorful sprites (Super Burnout, for example). Ah, but the world was moving toward “true” three dimensional gaming, and that meant pushing polygons all over the place.

SuperCross 3D.

Atari wanted to created those complex, polygon-infested 3D games and compete with the Playstation 1 and Sega Saturn, but the system simply didn’t have the ability. Regardless, Atari kept trying and released one horrible 3D game after another. While Checkered Flag and Club Drive are often held up as a examples of truly awful 3D Jaguar games, my money on “console stinker” goes to SuperCross 3D. That one motocross game that features such a horrible frame rate and such dreadful controller lag that it is virtually unplayable. I well remember that particular game. After cussing at it for about an hour, I turned it off, looked at my stack of Jaguar games, realized just how many of them were horrible, boxed up the console, tossed it in my car and traded in the system. It was an odd feeling — trying to have some fun with that dog of a system for so long and then just giving up on the whole thing. Oh well.

I-War.

Ah, but there are just so, so many terrible games out there for the Jaguar. There’s Cybermorph, the lackluster pack-in title and a shooter that gave new system owners fair warning of just how drab the console was. There’s I-War, a 3D game that featured polygons the Jaguar could actually handle — they were featureless and lacked detail. The game designers apparently tried to make up for that detail by putting weird, psychedelic colors all over the place. And let’s not forget about White Men Can’t Jump, a “street basketball” game that is simply an embarrassing mess. The same is true of Troy Aikman Football, which was inferior to the Tecmo Super Bowl titles for the old Nintendo Entertainment System and didn’t hold a candle to the Madden franchise that started on the Genesis and hit its stride on the Playstation 1.

It would be an easy matter to rant about how terrible Jaguar games were, but the point has been made. Without good games, systems don’t sell no matter what hype is driving them.

And Atari did try to pump up the hype machine when it came to Jaguar. The designers claimed the thing was a 64-bit machine, while it appears it may have actually been a 32-bit system by definition. In retrospect, whether it was or wasn’t 64-bit didn’t matter a whole lot — it simply couldn’t handle 3D gaming as well as the Playstation 1 or Saturn and didn’t have the game library to go toe-to-toe with the aging Genesis and Super Nintendo.

Oh, and here’s another strange thing about the system — the controller. The original Jaguar came with three action buttons (an odd decision in 1993) and a big, 80s-era numeric keypad that was rarely used. The controller is huge but, fortunately, is comfortable. The Jaguar finally did get a six-button controller, but it was too little, too late.

Another “too little, too late” accessory for the system was an external CD unit for which few games were made. I never owned that add-on because they are expensive. However, I’ve heard they are pretty darned fragile, which is odd when one considers how the Jaguar unit itself is pretty stout.

Let’s see. What else. Be careful of the power cord — a standard Nintendo Entertainment System cord will fit in that power jack, cut don’t dare try it or you’ll ruin the system. Also, the sound on the Jaguar was very solid and at least the system handles S-Video (but not component or VGA).

All in all, it’s really hard to find a lot to love about the Jaguar. The systems tend to be more expensive on eBay than far more interesting ones from the same era — there were around 50 cartridges and 12 CD games released and most of them are terrible. The system does have its fans, but they are few and far between. If you want some reviews for Jaguar games, head on over and visit The Video Game Critic.

Stay tuned — more reviews to come in the “retrogaming” category here at First Arkansas News.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

7 Comments »

  • JC said:

    Sounds like more of a complaint than a good article. Go to AtariAge.com and you’ll find more positive things about the Jag than you actually know. Your “article” fails.

    Also, the PSX was released in 1995 here in the USA, not 1994. That was the Japanese release.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    It’s called a review and is, therefore, driven by observation and opinion. There is very little positive about the Jaguar — the system was a flop and deservedly so. The games are, by and large, terrible and the system hasn’t aged at all well.

    Regardless, feel free to post the merits of the system here. People would love to read them, I’m sure.

    You are correct about the PS1 release date. That much I’ll gladly change. However, everything else stands as written — the Jag was awful and that’s all there is to it.

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