Sunday, October 15, 2006

Atari Jaguar and Atari Jaguar CD (1993 - 1996) - History

Of all the ill-fated consoles of the 90's, the Jaguar was certainly one of the biggest disasters. While Atari correctly sensed the emergence of 3D graphics, the system was woefully underpowered in this regard. The Jaguar received little third-party support, and most of Atari's games were second-rate versions of arcade hits like Virtua Racing and Mortal Kombat. Although the Jaguar controller included a numeric keypad, it inexplicably had only three regular buttons. This despite the fact that the Super Nintendo had made six buttons the new standard the year before. The Jaguar never gained much of a market share, and by the time Atari released a CD attachment and six-button controller, the system had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Jaguar is Atari's claim that it was the first 64-bit console, as loudly proclaimed by their "do the math" marketing campaign. In the early 90's, the "bit" metric was mainly based on the CPU of the machine. Although certain components within the Jaguar could process 64 bits at a time, the CPU (central processing unit) was in fact 32-bit. This led to a major controversy, with many in the industry labeling Atari's marketing tactics as deceptive. The Jaguar's modest library of games did little to back up the 64-bit claim. Most of its 3D games were slow and clunky, and its 2D games, although sharp and colorful, often lacked the playability of similar titles for the Genesis or SNES.
It's also interesting to note that the system was touted as "Made in the USA" at a time when retailers were pushing American-made products. But by the time the system's price was slashed to $99, few gamers were taking the system seriously. The Jaguar's demise also spelled the end of Atari as a corporation, as the company was subsequently dissolved.
Console design: C+. Although some have compared its shape to that of a toilet seat, the Jaguar console is actually a slick looking, uncluttered machine. Its only control is a bright red power button, and its two controller ports are tucked neatly under the front edge. Both the system and its CD attachment feel very lightweight and their thin plastic shells suggest cheap construction. The ports to attach video cables in the back look like exposed ends of a circuit board, suggesting that Atari was cutting corners in a big way.
Console durability: B/D. The Jaguar is solid state, although its lightweight construction does not inspire confidence in its durability. The CD attachment is fragile and prone to loading problems. I've personally encounters problems with my system not being able to determine if I was trying to run a CD game or cartridge.
Controllers: D. For a console released in 1993, a controller with only three buttons is unacceptable. By the time Atari got a clue and released an eight-button replacement (complete with shoulder buttons), it was too late. And while Atari's controllers sported a complete numeric keypad, it took up a hell of a lot of room, and few games took advantage of it.
Media: B/B. Jaguar cartridges are about the size of a Genesis cartridge, but feature a curved, rounded "handle" on the top edge. The utility of this is questionable; how many people have trouble pulling cartridges out of their consoles? None, at last count. Worse yet, it didn't allow for an end label. As for the CD games, they really don't offer anything over the cartridges, except they add load times and are more fragile.

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