A Cry for Help: Sega Visions Magazine Announces the 32X

Jake Spencer
06 March 2012

We should have seen the signals. Sega was in trouble, and we should have known it.

No company in the history of video games has ever experienced more extreme highs and lows in the space of five years than Sega did in the early '90s, from 8-bit also-ran with the Master System, to true contender with the Genesis/Mega Drive, to distant third-place loser with the Saturn. Anyone with an interest in the subject could tell you what caused the fall: addiction. Sega's compulsive hardware-making was costly both financially and in terms of splintering the fan base.

Below is a look at the precise moment when Sega teetered over the edge from success to hubris. These excerpts from the April/May 1994 issue of Sega Visions magazine allow us to look back at the downfall as presented by the company itself.

 Ripped From the Headlines


There you go. There is everything you need to know. A Game Gear on the left, a Genesis controller on the right, and it's all covered by the torn-up, 32-bit mess. Every bit of this cover is desperately screaming for your attention, but the only thing that gets any real focus is the huge void in the middle. What a perfect metaphor.

 Asciiware Are They Now?

The cover flips open to reveal an ungainly four-page fold-out spread advertising Genesis-compatible Asciiware controllers. A few highlights:
  • The asciiPad SG-6's "Virtually Nonflammable injection-molded plastic, literally survives any amount of heat your competition may generate."

    Because playing Eternal Champions against a worthy challenger always makes my first-party controller burst out in flames. Emphasis theirs.

  • "The asciiPad SG-6 Advanced hand-held 4+2 button design. No tabletop required." Finally!

  • "Hands-Free Auto-Turbo: Just switch to Hands-Free Auto-Turbo, and firing is automatic. Application: leave your hands free for frantic maneuvering; avoid dangerous exposure."

    Exposure to what? Asbestos? Is that how they keep it virtually nonflammable?

  • All Asciiware controllers feature Slo-Mo. Everyone I know had a Slo-Mo controller in 1994. For those of you too young to remember this era, "Slo-Mo" was code for, "This controller will rapidly press the pause button." It was a great way to screw with your friends when they were trying to aim a shell at you in Super Mario Kart, or to punish yourself for begging your parents drop thirty bones on a Slo-Mo controller.

These aren't Sega products, and no one's making the argument that the availability of arcade-style joysticks brought down Sega. Pay attention to the sheer amount of hardware being hawked in this issue, though, and you'll start to see a problem.

 The Hole Story

Here's the big announcement. The Genesis Super 32X.

Keep in mind that this is Sega's own magazine. No one else in the media had greater access to the 32X, nor greater incentive to make it sound appealing. This was the cover story in a magazine aimed specifically at Sega fans. All they had say was, "Hey, new hardware coming soon; it's gonna be rad," and they'd be done, but, no, this was the article they printed. Most hardware announcements are boastful promises of a magical future, but not this one. This isn't hype-building; this is a cry for help.

This is the April/May 1994 issue, but the article lists a Fall '94 release date. This is mere months before release, and they didn't have a picture of the hardware, or even a single game to announce? They're still calling it the "Genesis Super 32X" - they hadn't even settled on a name!

Meanwhile, the article mentions Sega Saturn twice. It's insane. Not only are they asking you to spend $150 for a soon-to-be-obsolete system; they're telling you the name of the exact hardware that's going to replace it. How would that inspire any kind of consumer loyalty or confidence? Insane.

It's a difficult article to even read. There's no focus, no clear message, nothing to take away except that you probably shouldn't buy a 32X. In the most baffling misuse of numbers since Atari's Jaguar ads asked us to "Do the Math," Sega Visions informs us that, "Sega is creating the Genesis Super 32X hardware upgrade, allowing video game fans to get '2 X 32-bit' arcade-quality game experiences from their existing 16-bit Genesis hardware - at a third of the price of most systems." Huh?

$149 was a reasonable price for a video game console in 1994, but that's not what the 32X was. It was an add-on, and if you were the sort of person who was willing to blindly purchase hardware attachments, it's likely you already had a Sega CD dangling off the side of your Genesis. 32X was "a third the price of most systems" because it was a third of a system.