History of the Video Game Console: Atari Jaguar

In what I hope to be a recurring blog feature, I’ll be taking a look at video game consoles of the past. The very first edition is about a system near and dear to my heart…
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Atari Jaguar… Do The Math
Atari has seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows throughout their 35+ years in the video game industry. They were once a giant in the field with their greatest success being their very first video game console, the 2600. That particular system has gone on to sell more than 30 million units (sounds so dirty) and had an astonishing 14 year run before being officially canceled, a run that would be unfathomable in today’s rapidly evolving console market.

But that’s the “highest of highs” I previously talked about. The Jaguar? Well, that’s one of Atari’s (many) “lowest of lows” that I also mentioned earlier. You see, Atari was looking to go to war against the 16-bit Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Sure, the company’s 7800 was soundly thrashed in the 8-bit era by the NES (a beating Sega’s Master System took as well), but why not give it the old college try… again, and recapture some of that lost 2600 glory?

First, the idea was to go 16-bit for 16-bit with Atari’s Panther console being planned for a 1991 release. I should point out some sources say the Panther was going to leap frog the Genesis & SNES and be 32-bit. Whether 16- or 32-bit, at the same time, Atari also as working on a 64-bit console called Jaguar and eventually all Panther plans were scrapped when it was obvious the Jaguar project was moving on at much brisker pace.

So those 16-bits? Feh! Who needs 16 when you can have 64? How could Atari lose? Surely, we can “do the math”, as the Jaguar’s tag line told us to, and see the Jag was the obvious choice for video game satisfaction. After all, it’s the world’s first 64-bit console, right? Well… Not quite. Without going into terms that I don’t understand, the basic gist of the Jaguar’s much hyped 64-bits was that the system had the capability to run at 64-bits… “when needed”. There were a number of processor chips in the system, only two of which were 64-bit. Jaguar designers claim the system weighs in at a legit 64, others call it a cop-out and shady marketing on Atari’s part, and a 32-bit system at best. The world wouldn’t see a full-fledged no-question-about-it 64-bit machine until the 1996 release of the Nintendo 64.

The Jaguar finally launched in the fall of 1993, with a $250 price tag, and a freakin’ huge controller. Hm… Would you rather have a Jaguar or a Wii? The launch was a nightmare. Very few quality games were available within the console’s entire existence and very few games were available at all within the Jaguar’s first year. Despite an ad campaign full of 90’s attitude making fun of their 16-bit competitors, the Jaguar struggled to put out entertaining games on a consistent basis, thanks to such difficulties developers had like buggy hardware.

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OMG… It’s soooooooooo big!!!
Of course, some decent games are going to slip through the cracks: ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (the system’s best selling and best reviewed game), TEMPEST 2000, THEME PARK, DOOM, WOLFENSTEIN 3D, and RAYMAN all delivered. But for every ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, there was a DINO DUDES: EVOLUTION… or TREVOR MCFUR IN THE CRESCENT GALAXY… or KASUMI NINJA… or CHECKERED FLAG, etc, etc.

The good to bad ratio for games just wasn’t enough to save the system. As if Atari wasn’t already shooting themselves in the foot with a dumbfounding lack of (good) video games for their VIDEO GAME SYSTEM, the eventual arrival of the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn did even more damage to the console. 32 was the new 64, it seemed.

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The Sega CD Killer
So, what do you do when your super cool superior system is still being beaten by the current generation of consoles and is looking to take an even worse beatdown from the looming next generation? Do you go back to the drawing board taking into account all you did wrong this time swearing to yourself to deliver a quality console with plenty of games lined upon launch date? Nope. Atari, obviously taking their business strategies from Sega, decided that the best thing to do when your system is being mauled by the competition is to simply toss some peripherals and add-ons out onto the shelves and see if that magically increases sales across the line. It didn’t. The Jaguar CD was a $150 add-on that came with two games, BLUE LIGHTNING and VID GRID, neither the tacky add-on nor any JagCD games set the video game world on fire. In fact, the Jaguar CD probably produced the worst games for the system yet (they few that actually were produced).

Ultimately, the Jaguar would be the endgame for Atari as a console company. They really didn’t have a vision for the system and vastly underestimated their competitors’ then current and upcoming systems. It was officially killed off by Atari in 1996, during a merger, and the company (now a subsidiary of Infogrames)focuses only on publishing games these days, not making consoles to host them. The Jaguar has gone on to be one of the biggest fumbles in video games history and is one of the lowest selling systems EVER, reportedly coming in under 250,000 units sold. A far cry from the Atari 2600’s 30 million sold.

The Jaguar is an interesting piece of video game history though. I picked up a used one in 1995 for $100 with DOOM and WOLFENSTEIN 3D. At the time, my friend and I thought it was the greatest thing I could’ve done with my birthday money. I believe the hype. We thought we did the math. Within six month the console would be dead though and I’d be left holding the bag.

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DOOM and TREVOR MCFUR IN THE CRESCENT GALAXY: Good game, bad game.
I loved DOOM. I think I maybe have played that game every day for a whole year. To this day, I still think the Jaguar version is superior to the PC version (though the Jaguar version for some reason has no music, but it only adds to the atmosphere). THEME PARK was really cool too. I had my share of their bad games. DINO DUDES, TREVOR MCFUR, and CHECKERED FLAG come to mind. Jaguar games were pretty expensive though, so I had to settle for whatever I could find for cheap in the used bins. Unfortunately, I was never able to track down my Holy Grail… ALIEN VS PREDATOR.

Quite fitting, that my particular Jaguar would come to an end the same way the console: up in smoke. I burnt out my Jag trying to use a Nintendo AC adaptor. Oh well.

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5 thoughts on “History of the Video Game Console: Atari Jaguar

  1. I picked up a boxed Jaguar at a pawn shop of all places, full & complete for $50 used back in 2001. I knew it was mostly a crap system, but as a game console collector I knew I couldn’t pass up that deal. However, I’ve only purchased 1 good game for it (& 4 bad games), which is Zool 2. And good is a stretch, perhaps. It’s decent to good. I, too, haven’t found Alien vs. Predator yet, and have yet to find a working Jaguar CD.

  2. How does this console stack up to the sales of the Nokia Ngage? I mean, I know it probably had some phone sales, but I think I saw a total of two people ever playing it. Silly companies thinking that they can break into the industry because “video game nerds will just play anything.” I can only guess that that is their assumption, since it would be madness to produce this subpar crap otherwise.

  3. No no no, –don’t worry, I understand that Atari isn’t the new kid on the block ;-). I was speaking about Nokia specifically. I’m just curious how the Jaguar’s sales stack up to the Ngage; sorry I didn’t specify who I was referring to.

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