In 1993, while Nintendo’s Super Nintendo and Sega’s Genesis were duking it out for supremacy, Atari stepped back into the home console market after six years of going silent. With the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, we were told that more “bits” were better and although most of us were children and didn’t even know what a bit was, we knew the bigger the number, the better the system. Atari took an interesting concept and way over estimated their security in an all out war between the big two consoles of that year, creating one of the worst console failures in gaming history.
The SNES and Genesis were both 16-bit systems, the graphics and sound were vastly enhanced over the NES and Master System, but Atari was already hard at work on 32-bit (Panther) and a 64-bit (Jaguar) consoles. Somewhere along the line the Panther was scrapped and the Jaguar pounced into position to be Atari’s comeback that would not only put them back into the home console market, but also on the lips and minds of gamers everywhere. With everything in place, Atari tested the Jaguar in select markets in the United States, obviously things went well as they decided to widen the release and thus the Atari Jaguar was launched!
The Atari Jaguar boasted 64-bits, which was four times that of any console on the market. Atari must have hoped that the larger number would garner gamer’s attention, but sadly it never caught the attention of the game makers. The Atari Jaguar did have big titles such as: DOOM, Wolfenstein 3D, Bubsy and NBA Jam TE, as well as a slew of other great titles for the system, but most of them didn’t look much different than the SNES and Genesis versions. Many gamers felt that they already had a system that would play these games and more, so there was no need to purchase another system, simply based on it’s numerical optimism.
With the lack of game development and gamer support, another nail in the coffin was the Jaguar’s controller. The controller is massive and includes a numerical keypad. The keypad helped you quickly execute commands or other features, without having to cycle through with a D-pad and button combo in a rush. Certain games even came with overlays to tell you exactly which key did what, so you didn’t have to fumble around pressing them all. Overall the controller is comfortable, the keypad is useful, but it just seemed a bit too much.
Atari later decided to give the Jaguar an add-on, which turned out to be yet another shot to the dying Jaguar’s backside. The Jaguar CD was launched in 1995 and although I never owned one, from what I understand it pretty much died on the spot. With a very slim selection of titles for the add-on and the fact that some of them simply refused to work, the Jaguar CD was a massive failure in and of it’s own.
The Atari Jaguar’s roar was reduced to a retreating hiss as in 1996 the system was discontinued, after only selling approximately 200,000 units. To put that to a comparison, Nintendo’s Virtual Boy sold approximately 750,000 units, and the CD-I sold approximately 550,000 units. In the history of gaming consoles, the Jaguar only managed to outsell the Apple-Bandai Pippen.
Although Atari gave up on the Jaguar, it didn’t die. In fact Hasbro snatched up the rights to some Atari properties and in 1999 they released the rights to the Atari Jaguar, giving rights to the fans to develop software for the console. [Hasbro Release] The Jaguar’s casing molds were sold off to a dental imaging company and turned into the Imagin Hot Rod and the game casing was turn into it’s memory pack.
With all the Jaguar’s shortcomings of the controller being massive and the games never pushing the technology inside the Jaguar, or perhaps it simply wasn’t all it was marketed as being, the system was and is still a great system to own. The Atari Jaguar is a very easy system to overlook, but there are many titles that are well worth a play through. Today fans try to keep the Jaguar alive, making their own homebrews for the system. I’ve never had a chance to check these games out, but I think its a really cool thing for both the fans making the games as well as Hasbro to let the fans keep the system alive. An idea other companies might want to try. (ahem! Nintendo, I’m coughing at you!)
Being that the Atari Jaguar is somewhat of a rare beast, I’m extremely glad to have found mine. Not only for the price and nostalgia, but simply because I thoroughly enjoy this system and it’s games. Something noteworthy is that inside the box of my Bubsy game I found a receipt dated 1996 from Electronics Boutique (EB Games). I find it fascinating that this game came with a small history of sorts as I didn’t even get my first Jaguar until about a year or two later. Though the Jaguar was but a mere blip on the radar, it still remains and has a strong underground following.