If you grew up playing video games in the '90s or are just interested in the history of online gaming, you may have heard of XBand.
It was a third-party modem/online service from Catapult Entertainment that allowed North American players to compete against each other online over phone lines, as well as check their mail (referred to here as "Xmail") and download newsletters. It was available for multiple consoles back in the day, including the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, with its edgy advertisements gracing the pages of many a video game magazine, accompanied by its infamous tagline that told readers to "Stop playing with yourself".
Like many online modems of the past, it's been considered for years, by many, to be nothing more than a fancy paperweight in the collections of retro enthusiasts, with the XBand servers having been shut down decades ago. But, as Sega Saturn Dave highlighted on Twitter recently, and the YouTubers Mr. Mxy and Nintendo Duo have demonstrated, XBand remarkably still works on the SNES and Mega Drive/Genesis in 2023.
If you are wondering how this is possible, both are using @agirisan's Retrocomputing.Network XBAND Server, which was originally released back in 2020, with "a new experimental PC tunnel by SEGA RPG FAN (using a Dreampi USB modem)." As the videos show, this allows them to quickly find a match online and compete against other players from the Bandwidth Discord (with some excellent to not-so-excellent results):
According to the Retrocomputing.Network XBand Server website, this is one of three possible connection methods that currently exist for the Super Nintendo/Super Famicom and the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, with landline and VoIP being the two other options available. Only a few games also currently supported for both consoles, including the following titles:
- Genesis: Madden 95 (US)
- Genesis: Mortal Kombat (US)
- Genesis: Mortal Kombat II (US)
- Genesis: NBA JAM (US, experimental)
- Genesis: NHL 95 (US, experimental)
- Genesis: Road Rash 3 (US, very experimental)
- SNES/SFC: Doom (US)
- SNES/SFC: Super Mario Kart (US, expect graphical issues)
- SNES/SFC: Super Street Fighter 2 (Japan)
In 2023, it's remarkable to see people resurrecting these types of online services decades after they disappeared. We can't wait to see how these projects advance in the future and continue to improve, as more testing is carried out.