[ Writer ] = CMoon
[ 12/09/01 ] = The Saturn: It's Big, It's Black, It's Better Than The Xbox

A couple years ago a friend game me his Saturn. He didn't know what to do with it, and I had heard rumors about the 'underground' interest in Sega's latest dead system, so why not take it, its free, right? And it was probably a year before I realized that it may be one of if the best consoles ever made. It stands on pretty equal ground with the Dreamcast, and in some ways even surpasses it. This might seem like a surprising statement when you consider that the Saturn is pretty much hated in the US. Sega actually took pains to ensure that the DC was perceived as being unrelated to the Saturn.

However, I'm saying all this as a one-time non-believer who's been converted, so I'm ready to give you a sales pitch that's going to leave you with only a few options when I'm done. I know some people will whine about unavailability (that's why there's ebay) and for others, playing perfect arcade ports of some amazing and legendary games simply isn't worth going to the trouble (trouble that is minimal incidentally). A few will complain about the expenses, but this too is small - especially when you recognize that many games can be 'acquired' through trade or even downloaded (more on this later.) But most level headed folks - especially fans of Capcom, SNK, Treasure; fans of fighters, shooters, side-scrollers; fans of the classic game genres that peaked in the early 90's; you will have no choice but to pick up a Saturn ASAP. Here's why:


[ 1 ] = Graphics
Have you ever picked up a box for a Saturn game and looked at how lousy those graphics look? Every Saturn game I own looks terrible--on the back of the box! Once its on my TV, most of the Saturn's games, especially anything that is 2D beats out any system you can dream of. Yes, that includes the Dreamcast. My first comparison was between Vampire Chronicle (on the DC) and Vampire Savior (Saturn). Where the DC port easily stomps the dumpy PSX version, the Saturn leaves them both looking old and ugly. When you hear people complaining that Capcom keeps using the same sprites, you might ask why the old sprites should be so hard on the eyes. It's a valid question and one that's answered by looking at the necessity to resize the sprites as they moved to the Naomi board. One look at any of the Capcom games on the Saturn will leave you drooling at the beauty of the art that these folks were pumping out in the mid and early 90's.

In Vampire Savior or Night Warriors, the backgrounds look richer and cleaner than in any other version - it's like having the arcade in your home. Characters are also bigger, brighter with more distinct edges and no pixilation. The same is true of the Street Fighter Alpha games. I tried to go back to playing Alpha 3 for the Dreamcast and couldn't after playing the Saturn version--it simply looked too ugly. Capcom fans! You need to purchase a Saturn, you will never regret it!

Likewise, the Saturn does wonders with many other 2D games (compare Radiant Silvergun or even Layer Section to Mars Matrix or Giga Wing!) Treasure's Silhouette Mirage, for instance, looks like a dream come true on the Saturn. On the PSX it is not only a lousy port, but looks pathetic.


[ 2 ] = Controls
Have you seen the new Xbox controller? Have you tried to figure out why the GameCube has one big button and lots of small, kidney shaped ones? Have you ever dreamed that the PSX or Dreamcast might have 6 face buttons for the fighters you love? Dream no more, because the Saturn has the best controls of any system made to date. The default controller is nearly identical to the import fighting pad you might have purchased for the DC, but with two additional shoulder pads. That's right, the Saturn was an 8 button controller with 6 face pads arranged in street fighter style, with two shoulder pads (all three punches, all three kicks?) This controller is sensitive and won't break down the way some of the cheaper PSX ones have or Microsoft's similar PC controller.

What's more, available for the system is one of the best domestic joysticks made, the virtua stick. This big black wonder has a true round base (no more messing up supers because the stick gets caught in the corner) with six large buttons. Even if you never get a Saturn, this stick is excellent for use on the DC--all you need is a converter. But who needs 6 button controllers and joysticks if you don't have the games that need them, right?...


[ 3 ] = Games Available
In the end, what sells a system is the availability of games that gamers really want. Despite its many inconveniences, people still purchased the NeoGeo because it had the games they wanted. If you're on this page I must assume you are a fan of 2-D fighters as well as shooters and side-scrollers. Now that I've hopefully caught your interest with a description of the graphic capabilities of the Saturn and its excellent controls, consider this line-up of incredible games (these lists are just samples and aren't meant to be inclusive!)

[ Developer ] = Capcom
Street Fighter (all the Alpha games, Super and Super Turbo), Dungeon's and Dragons 1 & 2, Warriors of Fate, Vampire series, Pocket and Puzzle Fighter, X-Men VS Street Fighter and other 'versus' games, Megaman, etc. All of these games are arcade perfect or better with the exception of Marvel Super Heroes which is a lousy port for some reason.

[ Developer ] = SNK
Samurai Shodown 3&4, Various KOF 95 & 97, Fatal Fury (Real Bout confirmed) games, Metal Slug (I can't recall whether it is 1 or 2 or both), etc. As before, ports are perfect and do not show the same problems that PSX versions do. Unlike the Capcom games that are on both the DC and the Saturn, I don't see a HUGE difference (I only have '97 and Dream match to compare), but '97 does look a little better. The big issue here is availability--and of course, they play great!

[ Developer ] = Treasure
The existence of Treasure games for any system is always a plus! Unlike other BIG names, Treasure doesn't pump out tons of titles, and the three that are on the Saturn are each exceptional - Radiant Silvergun, Guardian Heroes and Silhouette Mirage. Each is exceptional and worth the purchase of a Saturn alone, however you add on top of that the awesome existing library of other games and you have a mighty system on your hands.

[ Developer ] = Sega
Some of Sega's best titles appeared on the Saturn (but sadly did not make it to the DC) including Panzer Dragoon (1, 2 and Saga), Nights (I'm not a fan, but some love this), the Sonic games (there exists an excellent Sonic collection which brings together ALL of the 2D sonic games!) There's plenty of other greats here (Shining Force series for instance), but I don't own them all. These are just a few I was impressed with.

Also, there are plenty of other shooters for the system including the Donpachi games, new and improved ports of the Parodious games along with 'Sexy Parodius'. Also, you'll find a Thunderforce collection and Thunderforce V that is reported to be an awesome game and vastly superior to the PSX version. In fact, there are TONS of shooters for the Saturn, but as most were released in Japan only, I am still discovering them as I write this article. Did I forget to mention Layer Section and Darius Gaiden? Well, they're not my favorite shooters, but they're here too.

Working Designs also used the Saturn as a testing ground for many import RPGs, including Shining Wisdom, Magic Knight Rayearth, the Lunar games, etc. If this be your thing, there is plenty of it. Not being an RPG fan seriously limits me in this area, but the system certainly isn't lacking. Legend of Oasis, a Zelda-type game features some of the best 2-D overhead animation your likely to see in a game of this kind.

In case you're eyes are starting to bug-out in disbelief, its fair to say that many of these games never made it out of Japan. Half the Capcom games, everything by SNK, 2/3ds of the Treasure games and most of the shooters were never released here. Are you surprised the Saturn tanked in the US? Rummaging through a used game store (if they even stock Saturn games) will reveal only the sub-standard US releases. The situation seems hopeless - who wants to spend the big bucks on a system that needs to be modded only to play expensive import games. Not to mention the cost of purchasing an additional Ram card which you'll need to play games like Vampire Savior and Street Fighter Zero 3. Fortunately, things are not as grim as they seem...


[ 4 ] = Cost Breakdown
[ The Console ]
First off, I've heard a lot of whining - 'I can't find a Saturn where I live!' Even if you are so unfortunate to live in a town that hasn't got a Saturn, you can probably find one going for as cheap as $30 on ebay, though I've seen other sites selling pre-moded Japanese systems closer to $100. You'll also see Saturns selling on ebay with games and accessories, but getting your hands on a sega console with controllers for ~$30 is not far fetched.

[ Getting The Console Modded ]
All US Saturns can be modded with nothing more than a piece of tape (and a screwdriver to open the Saturn obviously) - meaning that this will cost you virtually nothing. Modding your system will allow you to play cd-r backups of games* (typically a euphemism for pirated games, but under these circumstances, you'll want the ability to do so - see below!) and will become absolutely essential for building your saturn library - many games can be downloaded off the internet, for starters, check out:

I personally do not condone bootlegging - being a game fan means I am a fan of the companies and individuals who put their labor and creativity into these games. However, Saturn games can no longer be purchased except through used vendors, hence, no money can be lost by video game companies through the duplication of Saturn discs. I still favor purchasing the actual game where possible, but so many titles are unavailable or have reached collector prices (over $100!) that duplicating seems a reasonable answer for this console.

You may also want a program that changes the 'region' of the game ISO that can be downloaded for free off of several sites. I'd like to note though that purchase of a Action Replay 4M Plus card (EMS-ARP) ( resolves this problem.

[ Playing Import Games ] - [ Increasing system RAM ]
An absolutely essential aspect of the Saturn as so many games simply never got out of Japan. For this and many other reasons, purchase of the Action Replay 4M is essential (cost: $30). This is completely compatible with playing modded games (that is, the disc swap trick (see for more info) isn't disrupted by the use of the action replay card. This wonderful card also serves a game shark, a place where you can store extra savefiles and it increases your ram! I sure wish they made goodies like this for other systems!

[ Extra Controls, Etc. ]
Most other accessories can be purchased for amazingly cheap prices and in perfect or new condition off of ebay. The virtua stick for instance can be found on e-bay new for $15, while game taps (a box that lets you increase the number of possible inputs up to 6) can be found for even cheaper. You should have no difficulty customizing your Saturn the way you want, and at a very low price.

[ Breakdown ] = For Those Who Haven't Been Keeping Track
Console ] = $30
[ Action Replay ] = $30
[ Joystick ] = $15

[ Total ] = $75
For one of the best fighting systems ever made, and one that you may be able to collect games from for virtually free. If you already have a friend with a collection, you may be able to copy most or all of it from him/her! So there are no more excuses left. The Saturn is the only system for playing many classic fighters and shooters in their truest form, which is why the Saturn still has a strong base of fans.