32X – Mushroom Clouded Memories

I was never much of a gamer. I had a Mega Drive and a few games, and I loved reading Digitiser on Teletext, and picking up Mean Machines every month, but I was never CRAZILY into gaming. I never progressed into getting a Saturn, or a PlayStation, or an N64. I was given an N64 as a birthday gift around 2010, so my finger has never been on the pulse.

It was this lack of pulse-awareness that led me into owning a Sega Mega Drive 32X.

Image from Games Asylum

The 32X was a black mushroom-shaped add-on that plugged into a standard Mega Drive (or a Mega Drive 2, with the supplied adaptor, which was utterly useless to me), and upped the Mega Drive’s power from 16 bits to 32 bits. I doubt this was really the case, but it did give the aging war-horse much better polygon graphics handling and a much bigger colour palate.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I should’ve bought a SNES. I digress.

Anywho, upon receiving my 32X on Christmas of 1994, I got to experience the blistering power of NEXT GENERATION games on my NOW GENERATION console! I also got to experience the FINGER-SLICING power of placing FIDDLY METAL PLATES inside of my Mega Drive’s cartridge slot to let the 32X sit in there! I got to see first-hand the potch of USING TWO POWER SUPPLIES at once! I got to marvel at the  SHODDY CARDBOARD BOXES the game came in! Yes, it was flawed. But to my teenage, naïve mind, it was brilliant.

As I’d had the machine at launch, I had two of the launch titles – Virtua Racing Deluxe and Star Wars Arcade. I played Virtua Racing Deluxe to death, it was a cracking version of the arcade game, with more tracks and vehicles, but admittedly inferior 3D. Star Wars Arcade held my interest for a far shorter period, being a fairly substandard on-rails space shooter.

Over the months I picked up Doom (the only version I’ve ever played, so I was happy with it), and then a much more open-world space shoot-em-up called Stellar Assault. Stellar Assault was an unexpected gem on the 32X, and to my mind, what I wanted from Star Wars Arcade.

The final game I picked up for the magic mushroom was Virtua Fighter. Again, as playable as it’s arcade big brother, but graphically lacking, it was a solid yet sanguine swansong for the console.

SEGA had realized that it had run out of decent expansion ports on the Mega Drive to further upgrade it, but crucially failed to spot that the 32X and the Mega CD before it were fragmenting their market. The lack of any sort of backward compatibility with the forthcoming Sega Saturn was the final nail in a very sad looking coffin.

Image from Last Level Tech on YouTube. An example of the pinnacle of SEGA’s plug-in lunacy.

I was just starting college by the time SEGA had pulled the plug on the minimal life support they were giving the add-on, and my console was abandoned in my folk’s spare room for years soon after.

After a stint living abroad and one failed marriage later, I found myself moving stuff from my parent’s into my new home about a decade later. I dusted off the console, and fired it up. The 2D bitmapped backgrounds and sounds worked fine, but the system stubbornly refused to display any 3D polygon graphics anymore.  Eventually eBay’d for parts, I eventually settled for using emulators to play the occasional game of 32X Virtua Racing, or Stellar Assault.

But for that brief year of 1995, I raced angular cars, shot at angular spaceships, punched angular bad guys in the face, and shot Martian demons in their pink heads, all from my humble 32X. I have a huge amount of fond memories of my time spent gaming on the Mega Drive, and the 32X served as my epilogue to the machine, giving me one final balls-to-the-wall action-fest before I ‘grew up’.

In the mocking words of Virtua Racing…. “GAME… OVER!”





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