The Sega Saturn and What Games Made it fun in the 90s
In 1995, console gaming was on the cusp of a new era. 16-bit systems were going the way of the buffalo, and 32-bit was the new news. Home gaming was poised to become more than side-scrolling platformers,
as evidenced by the open-world hits “Grand Theft Auto” and “Tomb Raider,” which would be released a couple of years later. In many ways, the Sega Saturn —a follow-up to Sega’s successful Genesis machine—represented the last in an age of innocence of game consoles.
The machine itself was DOA from the moment it was announced at E3 in ’95—which can be attributed to a high price point and Sega overplaying its hand during competition with Sony’s PlayStation. But, game-wise, Sega wasn’t averse to taking risks, and they released some imaginative and successful titles for the Saturn. Here are six of the best.
Panzer Dragoon Saga
This title can be equated to that limited pressing by an obscure band that vinyl hounds search for far and wide. That’s because “Panzer Dragoon Saga” (the last in a trilogy) was released towards the end of the Saturn’s lifespan, and few copies were made. Generally considered to be the top game released on the console, it represented the best of Sega’s intentions. It was imaginative and boundary pushing, taking four CDs to cover a storyline that saw young hero Edge exploring worlds on the back of his dragon sidekick. It was an on-rail shooter with a role-playing heart, and the graphics and 3D modeling were nothing short of breathtaking.
Walk into any convenience store in the 90s, and likely you’d be greeted with an arcade machine emblazoned with “Metal Slug” across its top. (You can still find these enjoyable relics in many Laundromats.) This coin-op hit by SNK was released for the Saturn after first appearing on the Neo-Geo, and it delivered all the gory, cartoonish violence of its arcade-based older brother. “Metal Slug” proved that, if done right, side-scrolling shooters never really die. All that’s required for a good time is a well-coiffed hero, unlimited bullets, and a never-ending stream of bad guys and of course and action replay or something to play the import game on your Saturn. Sadly, this title wasn't released as an NTSC game, so importing this game was the way to go.
In the 90s, Sega was all about converting arcade titles to consoles, which explains the cross-pollination evidenced in its library of games. Virtua Cop is another example of a game that could be enjoyed either at home or in a 7-11 with a Slurpee and a microwave burrito. Even the Light Gun you plugged into the console looked remarkably like the arcade gear. (And it functioned just as well.) In the game, you play as a muscle-bound cop taking out members of a crime syndicate, and much of the frustration/fun derives from trying not to shoot the civilians who can’t seem to stay out of every line of fire in the game.
Die Hard Arcade
There’s something about shooting a villain in close quarters with a grenade launcher that never gets old. While there are many current games in which to enjoy this pastime, “Die Hard” was one of the early games to raise close-quarters combat to an art form. The fighting was fun in “Die Hard Arcade,” and it even incorporated slow-motion cut-scenes, which added delicious impact to those running haymakers.
Sega Rally Championship
As long as there are game consoles, rally-driving games will have a place on them. The one to beat on the Saturn was most certainly “Sega Racing Championship.” The gameplay was solid and it had a high re-playability factor. Most noteworthy is that it was one of the first racing titles to feature vehicles that reacted to specific types of terrain.
Nights into Dreams
If “Panzer Dragoon Saga” was imaginative, then “Nights into Dreams” was downright psychedelic. The premise for this 3D platformer wasn’t too complex—you help a couple kids navigate worlds while collecting colored spheres. But it’s the flying through two opposing dream lands amid lush settings and backgrounds that really makes this title stand out. In fact, it’s consistently ranked at the top of many “best of” lists of Saturn games. It left such a mark that Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto is reputed to have claimed it’s the one game he regrets never having created. When the brain behind Mario and Zelda says something like that, you have to sit up and take notice.