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Encountering The Jaguar

I remember a weekend over a decade ago where I spent time with my uncle. It was sometime in the summer of 2004, as I remember seeing a certain movie. He first took me to that movie, and then he took me to his apartment, where we spent the weekend hanging out, shopping and just having fun in general.

One of the fun things we did was play some old video games. My uncle kept a lot of old video game equipment from the 80's and 90's. He wasn't a collector by any means, he just held on to things he owned. He kept things like old toys he played with from his childhood like figures from the Star Wars and He-Man line of toys, and he also had a vast collection of VHS tapes of classic 80's movies.

Video games were no exception to this, so we both dived into his collection of classic games that weekend. While we played many things across more than a few consoles, I do remember one particular console and the handful of games I would play on it... 

Jaguar. The Atari Jaguar.

The Atari Jaguar is one of oddest consoles I have ever come to play a game on, which is something I can safely bet that many others who have played the Jaguar can agree on. The Jaguar was the last console to have ever been released by Atari, which is a pretty sad statement. Atari was a major innovator in the video game industry, so to see them go out in lackluster fashion is pretty sad. Sadly enough we have seen this pattern continue over the years, with companies like Sega going out with the Dreamcast, and while it hasn't happened yet, I will safely bet Nintendo will soon too be following this path.


When my uncle first showed me the the Jaguar and accessories, I was perplexed and somewhat interested. The first thing that got my attention was the controller. The controller for the Jaguar is considered one of the worst ever. Just looking at the thing you can tell it's far too bulky for it to be comfortable to hold. On top of that the controller actually had a keypad. Some older video game consoles have done this before, but for a console of the 90's it just seems weird and out of place.

One other thing that caught my interest was the game cartridges. The cartridges for the Jaguar had some kind of handle on top of them, I'm guessing to help with removing them from the console. I found that kind of laughable, as I had a Sega Genesis a few years before this, and I was able to remove a cartridge no problem despite being something like six or seven years old at the time. I thought that if you really needed a handle to pull the cartridge out, you must be one of the biggest wussies ever.

As my uncle was setting up the Jaguar for us to play a few games, I asked him a few questions regarding the console. He knew about my Sega Genesis from a few years earlier, and told me that the Jaguar was actually meant to compete with the Genesis, but failed in doing so.

The Jaguar was originally released in 1993, and it made history as being the first ever 64-bit console. The entire marketing campaign for the Jaguar was built around this one fact, with slogans like "Do the Math!" being used to advertise the Jaguar. As the Angry Video Game Nerd pointed out in his review of the Jaguar, this had a lot to do with the console wars of the time. Once Sega and Nintendo began waging war with each other, heavy focus began to be put on the graphics of games and what the graphic capabilities of consoles actually were. Atari heavily marketed the Jaguar's then advanced graphic capabilities, believing this would give them an edge over Nintendo and Sega in the market.

Unfortunately, gamers found that the Jaguars graphics were barely any different than the 16-bit Genesis and Super Nintendo. There's been rumors that the Jaguar wasn't actually a 64-bit console, just that it was advertised as such. The truth behind the matter is that the Jaguars CPU had actually been put together in a very complex manner, so as a result game developers generally found much difficulty in producing games for the console. Developers also had issues with just how advanced the Jaguar was at the time. Many developers ended up being driven away because of these issues, which led to mediocre games being shelled out onto the console. 

Most games on the Jaguar have been viewed as lackluster and uninspired, being unable to show off the full extent of the Jaguar's graphical capabilities and just being less exciting than other games on other consoles. Gamers also found the Jagua'rs controller to be confusing and hard to use, even with a updated and redesigned version that actually made some games far more playable. As a result, the Jaguar went on to become a huge failure, being discontinued in 1996, just a few years after launch. Since that time, the Jaguar has developed somewhat of a cult following, with collectors designing their own homebrew games for the console.

It's an odd story no doubt, but having had a Sega Genesis when I had already been exposed to things like the PlayStation made me interested in older consoles, which is why I was generally interested in something like the Jaguar. After setting up the console, my uncle put in a game called Zool 2, a side scrolling game that reminded me of Sonic the Hedgehog in some regards. Unlike that game, you actually shoot your opponents in Zool 2 to defeat them. 

This was a game that I could of stuck with playing for the entire weekend and not care, it was that simple and fun. However, my uncle eventually took Zool 2 out and put in one of his favorite games on the Jaguar into the console, a game called Iron Soldier, a first person shooter where you play as a giant robot. You customize your robot with various types of weapons, and then go on missions where you basically destroy enemies and buildings, while sometimes being given assignments like collecting new weapons to be used. 

This was a game that showed off the graphics of the Jaguar a little. It looked a little bit like something you would see on the PlayStation, but not quite there yet. Iron Soldier was one of the more popular games on the Jaguar, as it actually ended up spawning a sequel that ended up on the Jaguar as well. Later on, a third sequel was released on the PlayStation, so this was obviously a game series that had enough popularity to survive outside the Jaguar's own demise.

I was a big fan of the Alien vs Predator franchise growing up, which is why the next game my uncle decided to play was the AVP game that was released on the Jaguar. While this was the second AVP game released after the arcade version, this was the first in which you could play as all three characters: human, Predator and Xenomorph. The game play for all three is pretty simple: as the Xenomorph you have to rescue your queen who is being held aboard a Predator ship. As the Predator you have to kill the rampaging queen to fulfill your hunt. As the human your forced to escape and launch the self-destruct sequence on board a base that's been invaded by both the Xenomorph's and the Predators.

This was probably the most disappointing of the games I played on the Jaguar that weekend. I had already played games like Alien Trilogy on the PlayStation and the two AVP games released around the year 2000, so playing this one felt more lackluster and basic compared to those games. I've heard people say that this was actually one of the best early FPS games on a console, and that's probably true, but the game felt dated. And there's a difference between dated and retro.

The next game we played was this game called Hover Strike. Placed in a hovercraft, you go around shooting enemies throughout a multitude of different environments. Not really all that much too it, somewhat bland but still playable. According to Wikipedia, this game was actually an update on an old arcade game from the 80's called Battlezone. Since I never played that game, I can't confirm if it's true.

The last game my uncle and I played on the Jaguar that weekend was the Jaguar's version of Doom. The console versions of Doom have always been hit or miss, as they often changed different things from the original PC version or had left things out entirely. The Jaguar version edited out some types of enemies, and had no music what so ever, the only sound was the effects like shooting your weapon or an enemy roar. I never played Doom before this, but I did hear of it before, and more importantly how great and outstanding of a game it was. For my first exposure to the game, the Jaguar version does give you a good experience of Doom, though it really did need some of that classic Doom music.

After Doom, my uncle and I didn't play another game on the Jaguar. He had more games, but we could only play so much of one console over one weekend. This one weekend was the only time I have ever played anything on the Jaguar. While I did play other things that weekend, I remember the Jaguar the most because of just how odd it was and the mysterious lore behind it. It was the last line for Atari and no one knew it's true capabilities.

I don't even know if my uncle still has his Jaguar (he has boxes stored everywhere so it's possible). Maybe one day I can ask him and see if he wants to play for old time's sake. 
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Rick Ace Rhodes Posted on Mar 01, 2016 at 06:33 PM

@massreality True, but I feel like their consoles haven't been up to par for years now. They might have the money, but I honestly get the feeling if they don't get their act together on the consoles their more then likely to drop them and port all their licensed characters else well.

massreality Posted on Mar 01, 2016 at 06:50 AM

I remember drooling all over the video game case at Toys R Us when I first saw the Jaguar. It was just so different I couldn't help but want it. Of course, it was crazy expensive and I was just a kid so I didn't get it. That hasn't stopped me from wanting one all these years later.

I've read the reviews and I know its a waste of plastic. Still, its just that one Holy Grail from my childhood that I never got. One day, I'll own a Jaguar.

I gotta say @Rick Ace Rhodes, you are wrong about Nintendo following suit soon. They have enough money in the bank to run a deficit for over thirty years before running into issues. They are also a company that better managed than either Sega or Atari.

Rick Ace Rhodes Posted on Mar 01, 2016 at 12:53 AM

@Vaporman87 It's a real shame that someone like Atari had to go out so bad. Given their history, I don't think they ever understood how to deal with competition.

Vaporman87 Posted on Feb 29, 2016 at 07:43 PM

My brother and I owned an Atari Jaguar. I can tell you it was easily the worst of the consoles saturating the market at that time. There was the occasional decent game for it, but it just didn't stand a chance. You can't make developing for a console a difficult task. As you mentioned, that alone killed the Jaguar before it could even get off the ground.

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