Before I start, Iet me tell you a few things you won’t find on this list. Both the Sega Saturn and the Dreamcast were excellent systems with plenty of great games. Their failure in the marketplace don’t reflect their own value. Similarly, Shenmue’s ultimately disappointing sales aren’t indicative of its quality. With that said, here are a few of Sega’s most devastating failures.
5.) Sega CD
Just to be clear, the Sega CD just barely makes this list. Compared to the other hardware failures on this list, this add-on’s game library contained some true gems. Sonic CD is arguably the best game in the storied Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. The famed Lunar role-playing game series got its start on the Sega CD. And who can forget Snatcher, the legendary (and legendarily rare) cyberpunk thriller designed by Hideo Koijma himself?
Still, the Sega CD is symbolic of the aimless vision of the Sega Corporation following the Genesis. Knowing that they struck gold once, they were desperate to maintain the Genesis’s success for as long as possible while working on its successor. As a result, they kept pushing out add-ons and accessories for the Genesis in order to extend its lifespan. The Sega CD may have been the best of the add-ons, but it still only experienced a modicrum of success.
Ultimately, the add-on disappointed Sega loyalists with its library dominated by shovelware, awful full-motion video games, and mediocre technical capabilities. It’s also possible that its mild sales success convinced the Sega brass that they were on the right course, thereby leading to the greater failures that comprise the rest of the list.
4.) Sonic the Hedgehog (2006, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360)
The Sega faithful are perhaps the most diehard fans in the video game industry. The 2006 game Sonic the Hedgehog represents one final, lasting insult to those fans. Battered over the years by Sega’s humiliating downfall and eventual exit from the hardware industry, loyal fans clung on for dear life.
After more than a decade of trying to fit Sonic’s famed speed and game mechanics into a 3D world, Sega promised that this would be the game to restore the series’ reputation. Even after game trailers revealed that the game would introduce even more new characters to the bloated series supporting cast, including the human “Princess Elise,” fans still believed in Sega’s promise. They believed that Sonic Team could deliver one more magical entry into the storied franchise.
Needless to say, that didn’t happen. Working on a rushed development schedule and attempting to develop for two very different platforms simultaneously, Sonic Team developed an unfinished, poorly designed game loaded down with glitches and an inane, melodramatic story. Burdened with the same control issues and unnecessary new characters that have ruined the Sonic the Hedgehog series since its two-dimensional days, this game crushed long-time Sega loyalists like no other.
3.) Sega 32X
Whereas the Sega CD at least had respectable sales, the Sega 32X was a retail disaster. Not that long after its release, Sega was selling the add-on for just $19.99 in an effort just to get rid of the things. Barely selling more than half a million units, the 32X admittedly had a lot working against it. With the next generation of consoles right around the corner, including Sega’s very own Saturn, there was little reason for gamers to purchase this stop-gap system.
Overpriced, overhyped, and marred with low-end technical specifications, the add-on was billed as a significant upgrade on the Genesis, but it simply didn’t deliver. The 32X’s abysmal game library didn’t help, either. Only 40 games were released for it, and a half-dozen of those required both the 32X and the Sega CD, which severely limited their audience. Most of the remaining games were shovelware, slightly upgraded Genesis ports, or old arcade offerings such as Space Harrier and Star Wars Arcade.
Perhaps the best-remembered game for the 32X is Knuckles’ Chaotix, a Sonic spinoff featuring Knuckles the Echidna. Similar to the Genesis offerings in the series, the game introduced a few new controversial game mechanics such as “rubber band” physics. Despite being merely above-average, it’s still one of the add-on’s best games. The failure of the 32X would ultimately damage the Sega Saturn, as the flurry of failed add-ons for the Genesis cluttered the marketplace, confused consumers, and damaged the trust of Sega’s fanbase.
2.) Sega Nomad
The little-remembered Sega Nomad may be a controversial choice, especially placing it above the infamous 32X, but bear with me. Launched in 1991, the Sega Game Gear sold more than ten million units. It didn’t fare as well as Nintendo’s Game Boy, but it did represent a moderate success and a foothold for Sega in the lucrative handheld gaming industry.
If Sega had managed to follow-up the Game Gear with another well-received handheld offering, they would have likely established themselves as a long-term player in handheld gaming. When Nintendo’s Gamecube was trounced by Sony’s PlayStation 2 in the early-to-mid-2000s, it was Nintendo’s highly-profitable handheld division that kept it afloat and thriving.
When the PS2 crushed Sega’s Dreamcast in the marketplace, Sega didn’t have a fallback revenue source like Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance. As a result, Sega ignominiously left the hardware industry simply in order to stay alive, becoming solely a software developer. The Sega Nomad, a portable Genesis, was Sega’s follow-up to the Game Gear.
Despite an excellent software library and impressive technical capabilities, the handheld still sold a mere one million units. Slight overpricing, poor marketing, and worse timing (everyone was eager for 32-bit gaming to begin) played big parts in the Nomad’s failure. Still, I would argue that Sega’s greatest mistake with the Nomad was committing the cardinal sin of handheld gaming: extremely limited battery life. Like other ‘90s-era Game Boy rivals, the Nomad just couldn’t compete, and its failure pushed Sega out of the handheld gaming industry for good.
1.) Sonic 3D Blast
The failure of glorified add-ons such as the Sega CD and 32X can be forgiven. Even the failure of your handheld division can be forgiven, since nearly all of Nintendo’s rivals in the handheld industry ultimately failed until Sony’s PlayStation Portable. However, the failure to deliver a solid entry in your flagship gaming franchise to your new console is unforgivable.
Yet, that’s exactly what happened with Sonic 3D Blast and the Sega Saturn. Originally, Sega developed a game called Sonic X-treme as a follow-up to other Sonic titles on the Genesis. With dwindling gamer interest in the 16-bit generation, Sega changed the game’s platform to the 32X, but that add-on’s quick death doomed those plans. Finally, Sega decided that Sonic X-treme would be the killer app for their new system, the Saturn. However, a bizarre and convoluted development plan, corporate interference, and technical problems eventually killed the project.
Desperate to provide clamoring fans with a Sonic gaming experience for the Saturn, Sega took the easy way out and ported Sonic 3D Blast from the Genesis to the Saturn. Even this laziness could have ultimately been forgiven if it were an incredible game, worthy of the franchise, and one that took full advantage of the Saturn’s capabilities.
It didn’t. Ugly graphics, a strange isometric camera angle, awkward controls, and painfully slow, Sonic 3D Blast barely resembled a Sonic game at all. Sega fans lost faith in Sega and the Saturn. Without a Super Mario 64-equivalent to drive hardware sales, the console soon failed, and set Sega firmly on the path toward its eventual demise as a hardware developer.