Sega’s 32X is certainly an odd beast. It was introduced only about a year or so before the Sega Saturn and while it was quite a bit cheaper, it still couldn’t exactly be called inexpensive at the time at $159 (plus the cost of a Genesis if you didn’t already have one). It plugged in to the cartridge port of the Genesis. You could then plug in either standard Genesis carts and it simply acted as a pass through or you could plug in special 32X cartridges that took advantage of the 32X hardware. It could also be used in conjunction with the Sega CD for 32X enhanced CD games.
As an add-on, the 32X was a pretty powerful device. In included two Hitachi 32bit RISC processors running at 32 MHz (compared to the 7.6 MHz Motorola 68000 CPU of the Genesis) as well as a new Video Display Processor with 3D capabilities. It enabled 32,768 simultaneous colors (compared to the 61 colors at once out of a palette of 512 available on the Genesis) and added 4 Mbit of RAM. The CPUs were essentially the same ones used in the Sega Saturn.
So why did Sega release this system only a year before the Saturn would be released in North America? There were a couple of reasons but it retrospect it was a bad idea.
The 32X was originally conceived as a stand alone console that would compete with Atari’s Jaguar. As it would turn out, this was completely unnecessary but apparently Sega was worried about competition from Atari at the time. They instead made it an add-on so as not to alienate Genesis owners though an all-in-one Genesis/Sega CD/32X was planned but never released.
The other theory that Sega apparently had was that the Saturn would not be a mass market item because of its price and it would be the Sega Genesis/CD/32X systems that would compete for the dollars from the masses. I guess they envisioned a video game class system of sorts. In the end, this was a huge mistake for Sega and the start of their downfall in my opinion. They rushed the 32X to market to compete with the Jaguar and get out ahead of the Saturn and the games suffered for it. Then they rushed the Saturn to market to beat the PlayStation and there really weren’t any games available for it for a while. In addition, the Saturn was initially priced much higher than the PlayStation. Part of this was probably due to system cost but I think part of it was due to their concept of a video game class system. They did a pretty good job of resolving these types of issues once the Dreamcast came out but it was already too late for Sega.
Only 40 games would ever be released for the 32X (36 in North America) including 6 that were CD based.
I’ll leave you with one of the more cringe-worthy ads for the 32X (or any other video game or system for that matter). The ad below as well as all of the images above are from the premiere issue of Next Generation magazine from January 1995.