Sega 32X
Image: Sega / Time Extension

Released in 1994, the Sega 32X is, for some Sega fans, the straw that broke the camel's back.

After the success of the Mega Drive / Genesis, the company released the Sega CD, an add-on device that, despite having some decent games, never took off in the way that was expected. The missed potential of the CD system gave many fans buyer's remorse, but the 32X would make that a lot worse.

Designed to be a 'bridge system' that would allow existing Mega Drive / Genesis owners to power up their console for a new generation of games, the 32X shared architectural similarities with Sega's true next-gen successor, the 32-bit Saturn.

However, as many had predicted prior to launch, there was little chance of the company realistically supporting both platforms at the same time, and the public's lack of interest in 32X meant that, in a matter of months, Sega had slashed prices in order to clear unsold stock. By 1996, the 32X was discontinued.

Despite its infamy as a commercial dud, the 32X is home to some good games – and we've listed 10 of the best ones below. These aren't presented in any particular order; instead, they are a selection we'd recommend to anyone interested in discovering the best this much-maligned system has to offer.

After Burner Complete (32X)

One of Sega's most visually dazzling '80s coin-ops, After Burner was no stranger to a home port by the time this version barrel-rolled into view. It had already been ported to various home formats, including the Master System, Mega Drive and a multitude of home computers, but none of those systems could accurately replicate the smooth sprite scaling and rotation present in the original 1987 coin-op.

The 32X version is notable for being one of the first home conversions of the game to truly deliver the arcade experience, and while it's not the deepest video game, it's a powerful statement of what the 32X is capable of when it comes to hosting coin-op ports.

Sure, the scaling isn't quite as smooth as the arcade version, but it's still impressive.

Knuckles' Chaotix (32X)

It was always going to be a bold move to take Sonic out of a Sonic the Hedgehog game, but having Knuckles as the lead protagonist was perhaps the least revolutionary thing about 1995's Knuckles' Chaotix – arguably the closest thing the 32X has as a system seller.

The game's divisive 'tether' system – which sees two characters connected by a rubber band at all times – really does take some getting used to, but once you've done that, it offers a refreshing change from the typical 2D Sonic template.

Coded not by Sonic Team but by a separate group within Sega's Japanese office, Knuckles' Chaotix has predictably become one of the most collectable 32X games on the pre-owned market.

Metal Head (32X)

Metal Head's big selling point at the time of release was the fact that it contained texture-mapped 3D visuals – which was a genuine leap forward, given the time period.

The slow-paced gameplay perfectly matches the feel of piloting a huge, lumbering mech, and while the audio is somewhat lacking (a common complaint for 32X games, it has to be said), Metal Head remains an entertaining first-person shooter from a time when developers were still trying to get a feel for the genre.

Kolibri (32X)

Created by Ed Annunziata, famous for his Ecco The Dolphin titles, Kolibri is a horizontally scrolling shmup that places you in the role of a hummingbird rather than a death-dealing spaceship.

Boasting some gorgeous backdrops and a totally unique atmosphere – something that can't be said for many games in this genre – it's one of the more unique 32X offerings.

While there are better shooters available on the stock Mega Drive / Genesis, Kolibri remains one of the more interesting games in the 32X's slim library.

Virtua Fighter (32X)

Back in 1995, Virtua Fighter was one of the world's hottest arcade games – and having it on the 32X was a big deal.

All of the characters and moves are present and correct, delivering the authentic arcade experience on hardware that was, back in 1995, significantly cheaper than the original arcade machine.

The issue is that it launched after the superior Saturn port, which offered more polygons, less slowdown and better audio. It was evident by the time Virtua Fighter arrived that the writing was on the wall for the 32X, but if it was the only machine you owned, this one-on-one brawler was an utterly essential purchase.

Virtua Racing Deluxe (32X)

Virtua Racing Deluxe was Sega's second attempt to bring its famous 1992 arcade machine to the home; earlier in 1994, it has ported it to the Mega Drive / Genesis with the help of the SVP chip.

While that conversion was admirable, it was still a long way from matching the coin-op – so, when Sega announced Virtua Racing Deluxe for the 32X, hopes were high that it would finally give fans the arcade-at-home feel they craved.

The good news is that it's a big step up from the Mega Drive port, offering two additional cars and two new circuits. However, it's still not in the same league as the coin-op version – we'd have to wait until the Nintendo Switch to get that.

Star Wars Arcade (32X)

You stick the name 'Star Wars' on anything, and it's likely to generate interest, so Sega must have been very glad to have Star Wars Arcade for the 32X's launch.

A scaled-down port of the 1993 Model 1 arcade game, it sees you taking down TIE Fighters from the cockpit of your trusty X-Wing. The gameplay is fun and easy to grasp, although there's not quite as much depth as there should be; Lucasfilm's Star Wars: X-Wing – released in 1993 – is a much superior proposition.

Tempo (32X)

A cute and colourful 2D platformer from Red Company, the same studio that produced the Bonk / PC Kid games, Tempo has a musical theme, as the title suggests.

It's a solid demonstration of the 32X's 2D prowess and would spawn sequels on the Game Gear (Tempo Jr.) and Saturn (Super Tempo).

It's a shame that Tempo is one of the many platforming mascots who failed to make it out of the '90s – we'd loved to have seen more of the character, if we're honest.

Space Harrier (32X)

A truly iconic arcade release, Space Harrier was predictably ported to a whole range of domestic gaming systems, with this 32X port being one of the most accurate up to that point.

Like 32X stablemate After Burner Complete, it suffers from the fact that it was originally designed to gobble coins in an arcade and not present a long-term challenge in your living room, but even so, there's enough magic here to make it one of the best games for Sega's Mega Drive add-on.

Shadow Squadron (32X)

Hailed by many Sega fans at the time as the 32X's answer to Star Fox, Shadow Squadron (also known as Stellar Assault) offered fairly detailed 3D visuals but was criticised for the lack of texture mapping.

Even so, the full-3D gameplay (you weren't merely following a pre-determined path, as is Star Fox) and smooth 3D update make this one something of a hidden gem in the 32X library.

A sequel was released on the Saturn in 1998 as Stellar Assault SS, but it was exclusive to Japan.

How many games were released on 32X?

There are 40 games in the 32X library. Of these, six also required the Sega CD to function.

Why did 32X fail?

A wide range of reasons are responsible for the commercial failure of the Sega 32X. It was released alongside the Sega Saturn, which, while more expensive, offered better games and CD-quality audio. It was also too expensive, considering it was an add-on and required a Genesis / Mega Drive to function. Many third-party developers ignored the 32X, preferring to focus their attention on the PlayStation and Saturn.

Does 32X improve Genesis games?

No, it has no impact on existing Genesis / Mega Drive games – although there were enhanced versions of certain Sega CD games which were re-released in order to take advantage of the 32X's extra power.

When was 32X discontinued?

32X production was ended in 1996. However, in October 1995, Sega boss Hayao Nakayama told internal teams that all 32X projects be cancelled in order to focus entirely on the Sega Saturn.

What was the last game released on 32X?

The final 32X game was The Amazing Spider-Man: Web of Fire, which was released in North America in March 1996.