Atari Jaguar: Do the Math

Introduction

Back in the mid-90s I was going through something of a loser phase and working at an Electronics Boutique (now EBGames) store. Somewhere along the way Electronics Boutique acquired the Waldensoftware chain and I got sent to help manage a location that was hostile to the takeover. The store had a few good things going for it. My favorite was the four monitors that ran across the upper wall. They could be independently controlled and stuff so we always had a variety of demos running. Besides demo systems, there was a VCR the size of a Chevy Malibu where we ran tapes sent from vendors. This location had a huge stack that accumulated over the years. Not knowing that something called "YouTube" would be invented 10 years later we pitched a ton of them. I saved a couple that seemed especially interesting though. One of them was something called "Atari Jaguar: Do the Math Demo Tape 11/14/94". We never played it in the store because the system was basically dead when we took over. This was summer 1995 so the Saturn was already out and the Playstation launch imminent; Windows 95 also spawned a renewed interest in PC gaming. The poor Jaguar was rendered totally irrelevant.

Here's the label from the tape:

Tape label

Then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, I thought "I better rip that old Jaguar tape before it completely degrades". So I ripped it and posted it on YouTube, it did degrade a little but held up alright overall. It's not enough for me to just post it though, I have to add my blowhard comments as well.

Disclaimer: I'm pretty brutal in some of my comments about the Jaguar. I do think the Jaguar is one of the worst systems ever made; yet I also own one, purchased on clearance for $50. It might be the least played system I own but I do genuinely enjoy it. My game library is small but I will pick-up any games for it that I stumble across. Here's the deal, I'm a huge fan of games and systems from ~1984-1996. The Jaguar has always been interesting to me even I don't really care for it. Maybe I just like a good train wreck story, maybe it's whatever causes me to love the TurboDuo, maybe seeing an advanced system with a two-year head start on the Playstation and Saturn makes me wonder how it went so badly. So ten years after it's demise I'm still looking back at the Jaguar, snide remarks and all.


The 10 Reasons Why the Jaguar Failed

Watching this tape made me ponder why the Jaguar failed. It had a chance, really it did. It was far more advanced than the 16-bit systems of the time, the Playstation and Saturn were far down the horizon in 1993. For almost two years the Jaguar had the "next generation" market all to itself. It's only legitimate competitors were the overpriced 3DO and underpowered 32X. Give those conditions to a competent company and they'd still be dominating the gaming market today. Yet the Jaguar failed, abysmally. So since I like writing arbitrary lists, here are my 10 reasons why the Jaguar failed:

#10 Difficult to develop for: The Atari Jaguar was notoriously "difficult to develop for". I put that in quotes because I don't have a reference handy and of course haven't actually tried to write a Jaguar game. The word on the street is that the Jaguar hardware architecture was odd to put it mildly. Writing a Jaguar game apparently required mastering a number of hardware tricks that even Atari had troubles with. This naturally kept third-party developers away. Many didn't want to invest the time and effort required to back the Jaguar.

#9 Yawn inducing PC conversions: Up until recent times console systems couldn't hold a candle to the PC. Porting a game from the PC to a console was a tricky task. Most games didn't convert well so publishers would go with "safe" games. Unfortunately "safe" often meant "dull". The few PC games that were remade for Jaguar fit into the "dull" category. With a numeric pad the controller it had a real opportunity to see some novel PC conversions, but it was not to be.

#8 Overestimating value of Atari brand: When the Jaguar was released in 1993 the Atari name was held in the same regard as New Coke. It was something that was out of everyone's mind when the clock struck midnight 1/1/1990. The last thing anyone remembered were the obnoxious "under fifty bucks" commercials eight or so years prior. Yeah, the Lynx had a niche following but wasn't a household name by any means. Don't try to tell Atari any of this though. They thought the Atari brand alone would propel the system. Even worse, they assumed resurrecting old titles would produce automatic hits.

#7 CD attachment, too little too late: What was the point of the Jaguar CD? I assume it was to compete with the 3DO but I'm not sure how. The library consisted of games that were already on 3DO or weak remakes of cartridge games. It would have made sense to use it to get a head start on the Playstation and Saturn. Instead they aimed right at a system that was also faltering.

#6 Miserable fighting library: In the mid-90s fighting games were white-hot. Mortal Kombat I-II, Street Fighter II, Virtua Fighter, and the SNK library were consuming quarters at a mind-blowing pace. The Jaguar had none of these. It didn't even have the necessary six-button controller to facilitate them until too late.

#5 Even worse sports library: Sports game sell systems. I personally witnessed the Sega Genesis outpace the Super Nintendo on this quality alone. The Jaguar sports library was pitiful. EA Sports supported every other system on the market, including the TG-16 CD, but steered clear of the Jaguar. A Madden Football game would have turned this system around. Trust me, people will pay absurd amounts of money to have the absolute best edition of Madden that's available. Instead Atari turned to companies with no track record for producing quality sports games. This left a huge chunk of the gaming market disinterested in the system.

#4 Rancid first generation: New consoles need to come out swinging. They need to make a statement that everything before them is crap. The Jaguar didn't do this. Nothing about it persuaded gamers to drop their 16-bit consoles. The really hardcore gamers bought it but the mainstream shoppers were skeptical. Some took a wait-and-see attitude but for most their first impression was so negative they never gave the system a second look.

#3 Nothing to look forward to: At no point in the brief Jaguar lifecycle could gamers see blue skies in the distance. A weak first generation can be forgiven if the future holds better times. For the Jaguar there was never anything better in sight. Before people drop a couple hundred bucks on a console they want to know it's going to be around for a while. The Jaguar could never promise that.

#2 Unexplainable commitment to giant polygons: In a previous article entitled "Closing Time" I commented that Atari's mindset was "people loved Hard Drivin' in 1988, let's make everything look like that!" I can't comprehend why they constantly felt the need to abuse polygons. Too many games had that same blocky look that made them almost indistinguishable. These polygon graphics were supposed to be "better" than the Genesis, Super Nintendo, and 3DO but customers didn't fall for it. The more polished Saturn and Playstation would make the Jaguar look like a joke.

#1 Lack of franchise titles: Think of a system that's been successful, or even semi-successful. Now think of the first game that comes to mind for it. Chances are it's a major exclusive franchise title, a game that's inseparable from the system. Some systems were blessed with many of these games, others just one or two. Whatever the case, a system needs a defining game or mascot that gives people a reason to buy it. The Nintendo consoles all had the Mario, Zelda, and Metroid franchises. Sega had Sonic and the Sega Sports brand. Sony was wise enough to lock down the Final Fantasy franchise for the Playstation. Halo established the Xbox as a serious contender. All of these franchises are household names. Heck my wife, who's not into video games by any stretch, knows who Master Chief is and I don't even own an Xbox. That's how much a successful franchise game can enter the mainstream. What did the Jaguar have? Nothing. No "killer app", no mascot that everyone recognized, nothing at all.


The Video

OK, OK, enough rambling, on to the video. You can scroll through here to get the links to each segment or just go to http://www.youtube.com/user/huguesjohnson. Anyway, here are the segments with my smart-*** comments on each:

Segment 1/5: Teacher Spot->Zool 2



Teacher Spot

00:20 - Teacher Spot

Nothing makes you want to buy a system like commercials scolding you for not doing so. It reminds me of those idiots who used to pass out "The Worker" magazine at college. They were perpetually angry because they thought they knew what was best for everyone but we were just too stupid to understand. Nope. Turns out they were dopes and we were right to ignore them. Just like how we all ignored these ill-advised commercials.


Doom

00:49 - Doom

Reason: #10

I watched this a couple of times and couldn't figure out what was wrong. It looks just like Doom but something is wrong, something is missing. Then I remembered, Doom for the Jaguar didn't have music. Apparently the folks at Id couldn't get it working. The source code is free now so I guess someone could take a stab at it. Despite that, this was a pretty good Doom conversion. It blew away the Super Nintendo and 32X versions, even a match-up against the PlayStation version is close.


Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story

02:34 - Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story

Reason:: #6

Dragon was a decent fighter, easily the best one for the Jaguar.. although that doesn't say much. If someone ported Intellivision Boxing over it would probably take that crown.


Checkered Flag

04:00 - Checkered Flag

Reason:#4, #2

This was obviously going for the Virtua Racing look and feel. The problem was it wasn't quite as good as the Sega Genesis version of the game, let alone the 32X one.


Iron Soldier

05:45 - Iron Soldier

Reasons: #4, #2

Mech games put me to sleep. In the 90s, maybe even today, there was a small group of nerds dedicated to the Mechwarrior series. I guess Iron Soldier was meant to appeal to them. None of the other consoles had anything like it so they had a lock on that particular niche market. Good for them. As you'd imagine, a giant robot isn't the fastest moving thing around so the game is slow and irritating.


Zool 2

07:42 - Zool 2

Reason: #1

Atari wasn't able to develop a Mario or Sonic so they turned to third parties to produce cutesy platformers. That works so long as the game isn't available on a another system. Zool 2 for Jaguar wasn't noticeably better than Zool for any other system so it didn't persuade anyone to pick-up the console for it.


Segment 2/5: Kasumi Ninja->Val D'Isere Skiing and Snowboarding



Kasumi Ninja

08:57 - Kasumi Ninja

Reason: #6

Who needs Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter when you can have a fine fighter like Kasumi Ninja? If you can honestly watch this clip without laughing then you're a stronger person than me. One of the combatants is a Scotsman whose special move is lifting his kilt and launching fire. I don't want to think about where the fire is coming from. Were it not for "Shadow: War of Succession" this would be the absolute worst fighting game ever made.


Club Drive

10:25 - Club Drive

Reasons: #4, #2

See previous comments about laughing. I can't fathom who would think this is a good game. It looks exactly like Hard Drivin' only with less detailed scenery, yes, less detailed. It's a huge mess of absurdly large polygons. And somehow it also manages to produce the worst sound since Enduro on the 2600. If you want to understand why the Jaguar flopped with only one clip, watch this one.


Alien vs. Predator Spot

11:56 - Alien vs. Predator Spot

Here's the often mocked Alien vs. Predator commercial where a young man is interrupted by his Mom's severed hand.


Alien vs. Predator

12:27 - Alien vs. Predator

Here's one of the few Jaguar games that doesn't illustrate why the system failed. Not only is Alien vs. Predator the best Jaguar game, but it's probably in my overall top 10 games period. This is where things get frustrating. Alien vs. Predator showed that Jaguar could have done great things. This three minute clip shows play as the soldier, alien, and predator. That "three different ways to play" angle was such a great idea the time. Imagine being able to play through Doom as an imp, OK, maybe something tougher than that but you get the point. Anyway, this game probably accounted for 50% (or more) of the Jaguar's sales. Except for the few early adopters, I don't recall anyone buying a Jaguar without also getting Alien vs. Predator.


Ultra Vortex

15:34 - Ultra Vortex

Reason: #6

<groan> Well, here's another awful fighting game. Not as bad as Kasumi Ninja but still worse than Fighter's History.


Val D'Isere Skiing and Snowboarding

17:06 - Val D'Isere Skiing and Snowboarding

Reason: #5

This looked like it could be OK. The backgrounds are pretty at least (although they don't match the rest of the graphics making it look like you're playing against a blue screen). Even if it's great it's not like skiing games have ever been a smash.


Segment 3/5: Bubsy->Tempest 2000



Bubsy

18:49 - Bubsy

Reason: #1

See comments for Zool 2. I don't have a lot to say about Bubsy. Oh, the Genesis version came in hard cardboard packaging unlike the rest of the Genesis library. All those crappy Accolade games did. For the Jaguar it was packaged like every other Jaguar game. Sorry, that's all I have to say about Bubsy.


Double Dragon V

20:05 - Double Dragon V

Reason: #6

I must have missed something between Double Dragon III and Double Dragon V. Somewhere along the way it went from a beat 'em up to a 1:1 fighter. I didn't play Double Dragon IV so maybe it was there. Were it not for "Double Dragon" in the title I'd have no idea this was a sequel to the original series. This clip doesn't do much to sell the game, it just looks like a weak Mortal Kombat rip-off.


Flashback

21:30 - Flashback

I can't tie Flashback to one of the "10 reasons". It's a good game and the Jaguar edition was solid. The only downside is that it was readily available for the Super Nintendo and Genesis.


Brutal Sports Football

22:49 - Brutal Sports Football

Reason: #5

This is easily the biggest mockery of football since the 1980 Saints. The word "football" doesn't really belong in the title because it more closely resembles rugby. Well, except rugby looks well-organized compared to this disaster. Mercifully, this clip is only a minute long, a minute you'll never get back.


Sensible Soccer

23:50 - Sensible Soccer

Reason: #5

You ever play Joe Montana Sportstalk Football? You know how it has the option to change views and you can select "blimp"? If you like that view you'll love Sensible Soccer. If you like tiny sprites kicking around an even tinier ball then you'll really love Sensible Soccer. Seriously, who likes this game?


Tempest 2000 Spot

25:03 - Tempest 2000 Spot

Technically wouldn't any video game impress 1950's teenagers?


Tempest 2000

25:34 - Tempest 2000

Tempest was an arcade classic and Tempest 2000 was a good sequel, unlike too many games that bear the name of a classic but nothing else. It's arguably the best system on the Jaguar. However, this was hardly a "next generation" game. It could easily have been made on the Super Nintendo. I imagine Atari thought the name alone would be a selling a point, it wasn't. .


Segment 4/5: Wolfenstein 3d->Trevor McFur



Wolfenstein 3d

26:58 - Wolfenstein 3d

Reason: #9

Yeah, I consider Wolfenstein 3d to be a "yawn inducing PC conversion". Why? The Jaguar already had Alien vs. Predator and Doom, two far superior first-person shooters. Wolfenstein is good, but totally unnecessary.


Cybermorph

28:06 - Cybermorph

Reason: #4

OK, let's get the obvious "what's with Sinead O'Connor" comment out of the way. You know Sinead was actually on our short list for baby names but we just couldn't do it. Maybe in a couple of years when everyone's forgotten about the whole Pope-Saturday Night Live thing. The whole thing was a protest about the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic church. Everyone thought she was nuts but a decade later it turned out.. oh, back to Cybermorph. It's a shooter where your ship changes shape or something. Let's move on..


Raiden

29:20 - Raiden

Reason: #4

You know what's annoying about Raiden? The title of the game is permanently affixed to the top corner of the screen. Gee thanks for reminding me what I was playing. There are about a dozen shooters named Raiden and I have no idea if they're the same game or not.


Evolution: Dino Dudes

30:32 - Evolution: Dino Dudes

Reason: #9

This is a port of the PC game "The Humans". I don't know the rationale for the name change, the least they could have done was come up with something better but they didn't. This was your basic "Lemmings" rip-off except with a literal interpretation of the Bible aspect where humans and dinosaurs coexist.


Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy

31:35 - Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy

Reason: #4

Look out Starfox here comes Trevor McFur. Watch him fend off giant eyeballs against repetitive backgrounds.


Segment 5/5: Syndicate->Rayman



Syndicate

32:50 - Syndicate

Reason: #9

Syndicate was a PC game distributed by EA before they totally ruled the universe. This brief clip is enough to induce a coma. Yeah, there's a car, some dudes walking, around, and gjskmmn sgfdg, srsbv.. sorry, fell asleep on my keyboard. Did I mention how boring this looks?


Theme Park

33:47 - Theme Park

Reason: #9

I like Theme Park, still have the old DOS version lying around. Here's a case where the extra Jaguar buttons could come in handy, they'd replace a menu or two. Still, to steal from Tony Schiavone "Now that's gonna put some asses in the seats". People weren't exactly clamoring for Theme Park and time was now running out for the Jaguar by the time it was released.


Air Cars

34:35 - Air Cars

Reasons: #3, #2

I was positive this was vaporware until I checked the AtariAge Jaguar rarity guide. Nope, it's just incredibly rare. It also looks incredibly bad. Here's the part the shocked me the most.. from the reviews I read this looks like it's close to the final product. You look at this clip and think "it has demo across the screen, must be an early beta, they'll add backgrounds and stuff later". No, this is it folks.


Troy Aikman NFL Football

35:39 - Troy Aikman NFL Football

Reasons: #5, #3

This is what a football game would look like if Troy Aikman programmed it himself. No offense meant to the hall of famer, I'm just saying he could write a game as well as the average programmer could throw a football. I can't overstate how important football games were to consoles in the 90s. Back then there was something called "competition". See the NFL allowed a variety of companies to license pro football games. The result was fierce "competition" between Sega and EA to produce the best version. It also meant duds like Troy Aikman Football were produced. It was a small price to pay to have an actual choice of games instead of the same one rehashed every year. Anyway, systems with few or bad football games all tanked. The 3DO and TG-16 CD each scored a a single version of Madden Football but didn't see any updates, neither were mainstream successes. All the Jaguar could manage was this joke and the aforementioned Brutal Sports Football. Yeah, this game is a joke. The old Joe Montana games absolutely blew this away.


Cannon Fodder

38:34 - Cannon Fodder

Reasons: #9, #3

This was not done by the same guys that did Sensible Soccer but it's hard to tell. If you squint you can maybe see the guys you're controlling.


Dragon's Lair

37:34 - Dragon's Lair

Reason:: #7

I don't know if these are from the actual Jaguar CD game or the arcade. If they're from the CD then they look pretty darn good. The 3DO version was nearly identical to the arcade so it's possible. Since it's only the teaser trailer I'm skeptical. I personally like Dragon's Lair but the whole CD attachment, like the Jaguar itself, needed to come out stronger if it was ever to stand a chance.


Hover Strike

38:31 - Hover Strike

Reasons: #7, #3, #2

Great, another unconvincing space shooter with mediocre graphics. It sure looks like you're fighting AT-ATs at one point.


Fight For Life

39:20 - Fight For Life

Reasons: #6, #3, #2

Fight for Life would be the last licensed Jaguar game released. It was to be a crowning achievement, a "Virtua Figher killer". In just 40 seconds you can see how far it was from reaching that goal.


Burn Out

40:00 - Burn Out

Reason: #3

This has no relationship to the now popular Burnout series. It's more like Hang On with slightly upgraded graphics. Oh, this was actually called Super Burnout when it hit the shelves.


Rayman

40:43 - Rayman

Reason: #1

Rayman's a fine game, one of the top 5 or so for the system. The graphics are vibrant and the game play is smooth. This could have been a decent competitor to Mario and Sonic if it came out before 1995. When it was released it was far too late for the Jaguar.


No video for this last segment, if you really want to see what it looks like just poke yourself in the eye while listening to the Tempest 2000 soundtrack. Really, it's just ~2 minutes of swirling lights.


VLM (Virtual Light Machine)

41:52 - VLM (Virtual Light Machine)

Reason: #7, #3

When I started writing this article I was all excited, now I just want it to end. I guess that pretty much sums up my feelings on the Jaguar itself. "A new Atari system, interesting.. hey this Alien vs. Predator game is awesome.. wow, great Doom port.. OK, you guys going to make anything else?.. what's this crap? Kasumi Ninja, Club Drive.. Oh some new games, is that really the best you can do.. now there's a CD attachment but no games for it.. just kill the stupid system already". So let's bid farewell to the Jaguar with this CD pack-in. You could buy roughly the same thing at Spencer's Gifts for $19.99.


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