Learning To Love The Sega Saturn: Catching Up Decades Later

Sega's overlooked 32-bit console featured many classic games

Learning To Love The Sega Saturn: Catching Up Decades Later
Photo by Adam Valstar / Unsplash.

For a kid in the 1990s, the Sega Saturn wasn't on a many of our radar screens when it came time to choose a next-generation console. The Sony PlayStation and the Nintendo 64 were already dominating the scene, which for a hardcore Sega fan like myself, was quite a sad occurrence.

Sega was all but the most dominant force in gaming starting in 1991, and everyone wanted a piece of the slick brand. But when the Saturn came around the company completely dropped the ball. I knew a few people who had a Saturn, but it just never seemed appealing enough for me to try and get one.

Nevertheless, after the pandemic, I decided to get back into retro gaming and I've been steadily enjoying the Saturn since then. Some games are worth checking out and the modding community has also been taking to the console quite well.

No doubt Saturn is living its best years right now.

Sega Saturn. Source: Wikimedia Commons / Evan Amos.

The Rare Darth Vader of Consoles

I think the main problem with Saturn was the fact that it was relatively unknown and intimidating. From the price tag of $399 to the sudden launch that surprised retailers and the gaming public, Saturn was a botch from day one.

Sega had fallen from grace at a rapid pace; gone were the glory days and excitement of the Genesis. Sega had been passed by Sony and Nintendo alike, and Saturn was just taking up shelf space in the stores that actually carried the console.

The Saturn not only intimidated customers, but it also intimidated developers with a complicated two-processor design. Yes, the Saturn was a very powerful console, but it was notoriously difficult to program. Sega also infuriated Electronic Arts so badly that the company put very little effort into their Saturn ports and eventually cut all support for Sega by the time the Dreamcast rolled around.

All-in-all, the Saturn was about as obscure as failed consoles like the Panasonic 3DO and the Atari Jaguar. Sega was in such bad shape at this point that even the hero of the Genesis era, Sega of America President Tom Kalinske, resigned from the company in 1996 after losing most of his support from Sega of Japan.

So, with all of that bad news and a relatively short shelf life, why is Saturn worth revisiting?

Guardian Heroes - Sega Saturn. Source: YouTube.

It All Came Down to the Games

As I dusted off the old Sega Saturn console tucked away in the corner of my attic, a wave of nostalgia washed over me. It had been decades since I last powered up this relic of gaming history, but the memories came flooding back as I hooked it up to my TV and inserted a worn-out disc.

As the iconic startup screen appeared, accompanied by the familiar sound of the Sega jingle, I couldn't help but smile. This was a portal to my childhood, a time when gaming was simpler yet somehow more magical. With a sense of anticipation, I scrolled through the collection of games I had amassed over the years, each one a cherished relic of a bygone era.

I decided to start with "Panzer Dragoon Saga," a game that had eluded me in my youth but was always held in high regard by Saturn enthusiasts. As the opening cinematic unfolded in all its pixelated glory, I was immediately transported to a world of dragons and ancient civilizations, the graphics and sound effects evoking a sense of wonder that I hadn't felt in years.

The gameplay was just as captivating as I remembered, with its blend of exploration, combat, and storytelling keeping me glued to the screen for hours on end. The controls felt surprisingly intuitive, a testament to the timeless design of the Saturn's controller. As I guided my character through lush landscapes and engaged in epic battles against fearsome foes, I couldn't help but marvel at the ingenuity of the game designers who had crafted such an immersive experience with the limited technology available at the time.

Next, I delved into the world of "NiGHTS into Dreams...," a game that captivated me with its vibrant visuals and innovative gameplay mechanics when I was a child. As I soared through the skies as the enigmatic Nightopian, collecting orbs and performing aerial acrobatics, I felt a sense of freedom and exhilaration that few modern games could match.

NiGHTS Into Dreams on Steam
NiGHTS into Dreams. Source: Steam.

There Were Other Great Titles as Well

The Sega of the 1990s was at its strongest in the arcade, and in the nineties, there was no competition for Sega arcade glory. The Saturn had some of the best arcade ports that you can imagine, but two stood out in my mind.

Virtua Fighter was already one of my favorite fighting games of all time. While it was never as polished as other titles like King of Fighters or Fatal Fury, it had a rough, addictive edge. The graphics were incredibly smooth and showed off the almost unmatched arcade-level performance of the console.

Daytona USA was another arcade port that I couldn't get enough of and the racing genre was a huge strength for Sega. I hoped for an updated port of classic racer OutRun, but it never materialized. If you remember anything about the 90s, rally racing was big in the video game world, and Saturn was also home to Sega Rally Championship. This excellent arcade rally racing port was one of the bright spots in my recent journey back into the Sega Saturn. While the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 were a lot more popular, there just wasn't any competition with Sega when it came to porting arcade hits.

The Modding Era

Retro game prices have gone through the roof, and Saturn games are some of the most expensive because of their rarity. However, thanks to the modding scene and modern emulation there is a perfect fix for this problem, and it will extend the life of your console!

Using an SD loader involves removing the entire optical drive from the console and replacing it with an SD card drive. Everything looks quite stock but the console can run the entire Saturn library from a single chip. This also improves the loading times of the console dramatically.

I've been slowly making my way through the Saturn collection and I have to say that this is one of the best ways to play. The SD loader also lets players use cheats through a pop-up menu. For those of us who have no real skills as a gamer, it's a nice touch, to say the least. The SD Loader method has enabled me to enjoy Saturn games that I might never have been able to enjoy otherwise.

Colorful Graphics Were a Strong Suit. Source: Sega Retro.

The Saturn is Enjoying a New Life

With the resurgence of the retro gaming scene and easy-to-add modifications, the Saturn is enjoying newfound popularity among gamers. The console was overlooked by many of us during its short existence, but I have to tell you that if you haven't played the Saturn you are missing out.

The console has excellent arcade-style gameplay and that unique flair only a Sega console can bring. With a huge library of fun games that were only released in Japan, it's definitely worth your time and attention, even if you don't try to amass an entire collection of games and just go with the SD method.


Sign in or become a SUPERJUMP member to join the conversation.