Mega Drive 32X Upgrade

The Mega Drive 32X was Sega’s somewhat bold plan to bring the 16-BIT gamers into the new world of 32-BIT gaming by means of a ‘low cost’ upgrade to the tried and trusted Mega Drive design. Unfortunately, several factors, one of them being Sega itself, doomed the 32X shortly after it was released. The 32X is generally regarded as Sega’s worst mistakes.

The 32X is a mushroom shaped oversized cartridge that sits in the cartridge port of the Mega Drive and will add more speed, colours and sound to the system. If you have Mega CD then this would also be utilised to create a 32-BIT cartridge and CD ROM system.
Mega Drive 32X Mega CD32X Mega Drive 2 32X Mega CD 2 32X

History

The Mega Drive 32X design was conceived somewhere shortly after that of the Sega Virtua Processor Project which bought Virtua Racing from the arcades to the Mega Drive. With the apparent success of this project it became Sega’s intention to bring more of these polygon crunching arcade titles into the home. However, the cost of the cartridges which housed the CPU for polygon generation, the SVP, proved to be high and the power needed to bring future titles even in their watered down forms would have cost been more. Games like Virtua Fighter were proving very popular in the arcades and was becoming one of Sega’s biggest games and more such titles were on the horizon but the SVP design was simply not up to the job.

Sega of Japan suggested an upgrade to the Mega Drive to play 32-BIT titles with more colours. Newer games could be played without the need to package an expensive processor onboard of a cartridge. Sega of America liked the idea but not the specs. They thought that if the Mega Drive was going to be upgraded then make it a good one rather than just a simple colour palette boost.

The 32X became the responsibility of Sega of America as Sega of Japan did not have time (and probably interest) for a Mega Drive upgrade. They were keen to move ahead to a 32-BIT CDROM system and leave the era of the Mega Drive and Mega CD behind. The 32X was to become the second upgrade to the Mega Drive.

As the console market was in transition from 16-BIT to 32-BIT machines Sega of America believed that the 32X would be a marketable product to fill the gap between the now ageing Mega Drive and the Saturn - Sega’s up-and-coming 32-BIT machine. The Saturn was still about a year away and it would be expensive upon launch.

The first show of a 32X in action was the CES of 1994 in Las Vegas. In Sega’s booth was a complete 32X CD system showing early demos of some games in development. Amongst the titles were Bullet Fighters, A 3D space combat shoot’em up, Ultimate Fighting, a 2D zooming beat’em up and Ecco the Dolphin. as well as the eagerly awaited first console port of Doom but there was no Sonic game to be seen.

A few third party developers signed up to create games for the system. Some of the usuals like Acclaim, Activision and Core Design made a few titles.

US

The system was launched in November 1994 in the US with the title Genesis 32X for $150. This did not include a game. Games initially available were Virtua Racing Deluxe - a port of the arcade classic with more tracks and more vehicles, Star Wars Arcade and the eagerly awaited first console port of Doom.

Thereafter system began encountering problems with the release rate of games. Games like Metal Head kept encountering delays and games following the initial launch titles were not a good demonstration of the new hardware’s abilities.

Sega remained insistent that the product was not stop gap but with hardly any games being released people were not convinced.

Europe

The Mega Drive 32X launched in Europe with some buzz surrounding it already. The Official Sega magazine had been hyping the console for a good 8 months. The system launched at a price of £150 which did not include a game. Sega did a promotion of money off tokens to buy games when you purchased a machine. Games available on launch were Virtua Racing Deluxe, Star Wars Arcade and Doom. All good games.

Initially the system sold moderately well but it suffered the same fate as the other markets; lack of games and good ones especially. The ‘stop-gap’ image was again perceived by consumers in Europe.

Japan

It was originally thought that Sega of Japan were not going to release the system as the Saturn was to be released much sooner there than anywhere else. Eventually they did under the name of Super 32X.

The system received only a handful of titles and did not sell very well at all.

The Hardware

The 32X is composed of x2 32-BIT CPUs, a 32-BIT VDP and a new sound chip along with some additional memory. The Video output of the Mega Drive is taken into the 32X and then back out again presumably for the video overlay functions. This does improve the picture slightly especially on older model Mega Drives. Audio output is presumably done internally through the Mega Drive as it is outputted along with the video on the 32X’s AV port. The unit itself is powered by an AC adapter.

| Specifications |

CPU

x 2 SH2 @ 23MHz
40 MIPS

RAM

2 Mbit

Video RAM

2 Mbit

Graphics VDP

Custom LSI
50,000 Polygons per second
Texture Mapping
32,786 colours
256 colours onscreen
Video overlay with Mega Drive

Video Output

Video / RF / RGB

Sound

Pulse Width Modulation sound source

The unit is backwards compatible with all previous Mega Drive cartridges and thus does not affect the territorial lockouts in the cartridges. 32X games themselves are also territory protected. The 32X manages to neutralise some of the country converter cartridges that work on the Mega Drive and Mega CD normally. When combined with a Mega CD, 32X games can be stored on CDROMs and take advantage of the Mega CD and thus creating a 32-BIT CDROM system. Sega officially say that the 32X can not be used with the Multi Mega (CDX) because FCC approval was never granted, however it does function if you are willing to take the risk.

At the centre of the 32X is the Dual 32-BIT RISC SH-2’s running at 23Mhz capable of 20MIPS (million instructions per second) each. These chips are generally what do all of the maths required for 3D games. The VDP inside the 32X does not perform polygon functions as such. These are the days before 3D accelerators.

The VDP is a 32-BIT custom Sega design. Combined with the SH-2’s can manage around 50,000 texture mapped polygons per second. More functions include some additional sprite scaling and rotation functions though it is best suited to 3D tasks in conjunction with the CPUs.

The new sound chip brings Stereo PCM as well as an additional 2 channels to the existing Mega Drive and Mega CD if attached.

The 32X has 4MBIT of RAM (512K) which is pretty much a cartridge based system. This can be used in addition to the memory already present in the Mega Drive and the Mega CD which has 6MBIT.

The physical design of the 32X does not alter between the different territories except for the name change for the different territories. There has only ever been one official version of the 32X hardware.

Project Neptune
Project Neptune

| Neptune |

Shortly after the release of the 32X Sega began drawing up design concepts that would merge the new system and the system that it operated on. Codenamed Neptune the system would be a complete 16/32 BIT system capable of playing all of the existing games and being fully compatible with the Mega CD.

The project was canned shortly after it was evident that the system was dying. There is known only to be a single prototype but it is not known whether it is functional.

The Games

Virtua Racing Deluxe

| Virtua Racing Deluxe |

Doom

| Doom |

Star Wars Arcade

| Star Wars Arcade |

The 32X suffered badly from a lack of quality games. There were a few excellent titles which in hindsight were Sega’s launch titles. Other titles were arcade ports of old games, make overs of Mega Drive and Mega CD titles. A few titles were original concepts and some were quite good.

The arcade ports of Virtua Racing and Virtua Fighter were quite impressive. Of course, not reaching the technical level of the coin ops graphically, although coming quite close, the gameplay was tweaked with a few additional options. Virtua Racing received some more tracks to race round and more vehicles, hence the name Virtua Racing Deluxe and Virtua Fighter received some more modes of play like tournament and ranking mode and was slightly more playable with a Mega Drive 6-Button controller.

Another excellent arcade conversion was Star Wars Arcade. Great graphics and gameplay made it into the home version.

Doom on the 32X was the first console version of the game was quite impressive in it’s day. It was only running on Mega Drive and the majority of the levels were ported over. The controls seemed a little tricky with the Mega Drive control pad though.

There were some of Sega’s older arcade games ported to 32X. After Burner and Space Harrier both being Sega old school classics from the era of Super Sprite Scaling Technology. Although being great games and excellent quality conversions from the coin-ops it was hardly the great use of 32-BIT technology.

The 32X also suffered the same problem the Mega CD had - slightly made over versions of Mega Drive games. In-fact on the 32X reworked versions of Mega Drive and Mega CD games existed. Mortal Kombat 2 was released and was virtually identical to the Mega Drive version apart from a few extra sound effects which were crap. The graphics did look a little clearer and sharper but for an extra £40 was it worth it? Mega CD makeovers tended to be mostly FMV titles.

With the advances in processing power and more colours available on screen simultaneously the quality of FMV when using a Mega CD along with the 32X was also improved. This heralded a slight return of the dreaded interactive movie. The majority of the Interactive Movies on the 32X were in-fact rehogged versions of Mega CD versions. The FMV window was larger with clearer colours and cleaner sound but the game was exactly the same. Games like Farenheight and Corpse Killer were among the guilty and even Night Trap got the 32X make over treatment and another kick in the teeth for the Mega CD.

The missing Sonic game which everybody wanted was substituted (poorly) with Knuckles: Chaotix. A game created by taking a character from the previous Sonic games and placing it into a Sonic style game - a pretty bad one actually. Although the game uses the Sonic game engine the gameplay is very different. There are two characters on the screen. You control the main character who is attached to another computer controlled character by a bungee chord. This is not that good to play with anyway but it then makes some of the tricky parts of the game mega tricky and mega irritating. The game did not reach Sonic standards and of course did not help the system much. Later on it turns out that the design for this game is from a Mega Drive Sonic game Sonic Crackers which was floating around one of Sega’s R and D departments for a few years.
Knuckles Chaotix

| Knuckles Chaotix Feature |

Virtua Fighter

| Virtua Fighter Feature |

Space Harrier

| Space Harrier Feature |

More in the 32X Games Gallery

Round Up

The system itself, when a good game arouse was a good performer. When a unit is running a game considering that the direct competitor at the time was the SNES. There were a few niggles involved when trying to get your unit to actually run sometimes. Some early versions of the unit had problems with the original style Mega Drive by refusing to even boot up.

Perhaps if the system was 6 months earlier and the good games kept coming then perhaps the system would have survived a little longer. It's image as a stop gap system was further reinforced by the slow amount of games that were released and it seemed that Sega released all of their best games at the start and did not continue to follow them up with more.

If you are looking for another excellent Sega gaming experience then unfortunately the 32X will not provide with one. The games are mostly not original and the majority of them are crap. There is no Sonic game and the closest to that is Knuckles Chaotix and the games that utilised the Mega CD were remakes mostly. Emulation of the console is more of a blessing in this instance because you don't necessarily have to pay anything to play the few good games the machine has.

Probably only collectors and Sega fans alike would think of buying a 32X. The original launch titles, Virtua Racing, Doom and Star Wars are excellent games along with Virtua Fighter ( and a very few others ) works extremely well with the 6-Button Mega Drive pad and are recommended. There are very few other games that are worth it.

32X Today

The Mega Drive 32X is extinct. Sega themselves were keen to purge the console from their inventory when it was evident that it would not succeed and as such disappeared rapidly. There are of course a few fan sites on the net but many historical websites looking at Sega hardware.

Very few people on the Internet, especially in the UK, still sell 32X hardware and software. CEX Retro have a small selection of games but no machines. If you should encounter a system then you look to pay between £15 and £25 for the console and between £5 and £10 per game.

Emulation

UPDATE: Click here for downloads

Emulation of the 32X is still relatively in it’s early stages. There are few working emulators all of which are Windows based and require DirectX. To emulate a 32X the basic Mega Drive must also be emulated so a high performance pc is required to achieve a decent frame rate. At least a Pentium 3 class CPU is recommended. You must also have the BIOS for the 32X for these emulators to work.

AGES

Ages was one of the early Windows based emulators. Ages really made a name for itself when it was the first ever emulator to do Mega CD emulation. 32X emulation is a little tricky on this program. There is no sound for 32X yet and you will need a pretty powerful system to get it to run at full speed. There are a few configurable options for you to play with.

RetroDrive

This emulator does not do the Mega CD. It is very simple to use with a few options. Speed is O.K but not brilliant but the quality of the sound emulation is top notch. Has a few problems with some games.

Gens

The best Windows emulator so far. Also emulates Mega CD. Has good speed with good sound support and graphics.

Xega

Good Windows based emulator. Also does Mega Drive and Mega CD. Loads of options including some for programming purposes like dumping the SH-2 registers etc which makes it slightly more difficult to use if you're not used to these programs. Provides you with ROM info every time you start a game.

Sega Main Index

Back to Sega Main Index

Top of Page Sitemap Homepage

Return to Homepage

Return to Sitemap

Return to Top of Page