Oh boy. You know you have one craptacular shitfest of a console when you’re forced to resort to infomercials to sell it because no one wants to buy the damned thing. I bet a fucking ShamWow can display better graphics than the Atari Jaguar. This was purported to be the first “64-bit” console, but only the graphics chips were 64 bit. And with a slogan like “Do the math”, you’d think they’d double check their own before making such claims.
Anyway, the dual 32-bit processors inside this crappy console were supposed to make the system a 3D-rendering powerhouse too. That statement is as true as this next one: I am the fucking Ninja Master of The Universe.
If you’ve ever played the Jaguar’s pack-in game “Cybermorph”, then you know how terrible the 3D rendering usually looked on this system. And that was one of the reasons why hardly anyone bought one of these things. Also, who wants to control games with an oldschool telephone?
I’m still waiting for that list of advantages of 22-button controllers to arrive in the mail. Any day now I bet. Typing out all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet has got to be one of them.
And while I’m making fun of the Jaguar, let’s look at the system when it’s been crowned with the CD addon they made for it:
I’m not the first person to point out its resemblance to a toilet. This is where crap goes.
A lot of the scorn that gets heaped upon the Jaguar comes from the way it was presented. It was presented as, well, a housecat in Jaguar’s clothing. Atari had a fairly decent console on their hands, but they hyped it up to be the ultimate in entertainment, the second coming of Jesus, and a six-pack of blowjobs all in one.
When gamers got home and played a forced raw fisting of terribleness like “Cybermorph”, they felt cheated and lied-to. They looked at the high-priced games that looked no better than what was on the 16-bit consoles, and wondered where the fuck the other 48 bits went. Some of this was not Atari’s fault, and the blame can be laid at the game developers feet for certain titles.
But Every console maker has a responsibility to make sure their developers deliver good games, as hard lessons have taught the industry. And overall, it’s a brutally hard and resource-intensive thing for a company to conceive of and successfully bring a console to market. Atari didn’t do a good job with any of their consoles since the 2600, and this was their last gasp. From what I’ve read, the Jaguar was very hard to program games for, and it was difficult to make the most of the processing power it actually had. And Atari really fucked up bad with the controllers on this one. Seriously, numerical keypads on controllers went out in the early 80s, and they should have got the memo. Their marketing was also atrocious and over the top, and ended up backfiring badly on them.
But a lot of people miss Atari from the hardware scene like I miss Sega, so I can understand the feeling there. And there are actually some very good games for the Jaguar, so it’s not like the whole console is a total write off and a black hole of misery and wretchedness. That fact coupled with the hardware’s rarity have put prices for used Jaguars well above $300 on ebay. If you’re looking to play some Jaguar games, you’d better stick to emulation unless you already have the console.
Before I get to the reviews, I’m going to bitch a bit about one of the things that bugs me about staying on Windows XP as my final version of Windows. I’ve moved on to Linux, and I don’t ever intend to willingly use any version of Windows beyond XP. This means that the latest version of DirectX that I can use is DirectX 9. The emulator I use to play Jaguar games is no longer actively developed. As far as I know, the other ones require higher versions of DirectX. There’s a way I could install DirectX 10 on Windows XP, but I don’t really feel like I’m missing out on too many great games by not having a complete Atari Jaguar library under emulation.
Checkered Flag (1994)
At first glance, this looks like a rip-off of Sega’s well-known arcade and console hit “Virtua Racing“. The fact that it came out two years after the Sega original and looked dated didn’t help matters. But Atari had actually released an arcade game in 1988 called “Hard Drivin‘” that used 3D polygon rendering for the driver’s view:
It’s just too bad for them it took them six years to get this kind of game to a console of their own.
The game itself isn’t bad, and it’s actually one of my favourite titles for the Jaguar that I can get to run on my emulator. The graphics are among the best you will see on the Jag.
You get to choose the colour scheme for your car, and I think that’s it as far as options go. I haven’t played this game much, and as good as it is for this console, there are so many other racing games out there that are more worth my time to play.
Here we can see my starting position on the race track. There will not be many screenshots, because the Project Tempest emulator lacks a built-in screenshot functionality and I had to paste and save images using IrfanView.
Where did I learn to drive?
Like I said before, the graphics here are pretty decent, though the frame rate is really choppy. The sound is very good though. The tires squealing sound real, and so do the revving engines and the collisions against cars and walls. The sound has about the same fidelity as an Amiga computer.
I really don’t know what kind of variation is beyond this first track because I’ve never bothered to stick with this game beyond it.
The pause screen brings up something I’d like to mention though.
When you press the Option button on the controller while the game is paused, you can adjust the music and sound effect volume. This is a feature that I think every racer should have. I get all grumpy and stuff when racing games for more advanced consoles lack this feature, and it’s nice to see it here.
Now I was also going to include some screenshots of the way I kicked some serious low-res polygonal ass and went from sixth place to 2nd during the 8th (and I think final) lap, but the emulator crashed.
So there you have “Checkered Flag”. Like all of these Jaguar games, I’m only going to recommend them if you have the actual hardware already, or if you’re a die-hard Atari fan, or if you’re just a racing game fanatic who has to try every racing game under the sun. This one’s alright.
Super Burnout (1995)
I’m going to give you a link to a YouTube video so you can watch some gameplay of this one. I’m also going to show you a screenshot from AtariAge so you can see what the game properly looks like:
Take that all in and enjoy it, because when I play this game on my emulator, I can not see the road at all. I’m going to do some very wild guessing here and suppose that one of the Jaguar’s dual processors is solely responsible for rendering the road, and that my emulator just ain’t havin’ none of that. The sound is also broken, and all I can hear if I leave it on is some very loud digital static. So I’m definitely not getting the full gameplay experience with this one, and that is quite a shame.
You should also watch this video if you have seven minutes to spare. It tells the story of the games development and explains a little more about it. Funny how one of the best games for the Jaguar sort of came out of nowhere and then didn’t really go anywhere either.
“Super Burnout” is a rarity for the mid 90s. Most racers that came out around this time were using 3D polygon rendering, and that’s what most people wanted if game developers and sales figures are to be believed. That’s the direction the game industry has moved in for better or worse since then, so this is one of the last sprite-based racers to come out on any console. And it’s a good one.
There are some options available if you can wrap your hand around Atari’s dumbass monstrous telephone controller. I’m using my Logitech USB gamepad with keymapping software because not only does the emulator crash a lot, not take screenshots, and not handle all games and all features, but it also doesn’t have native joystick support, only keyboard control.
This might be a good time to mention that the MESS emulator supports Atari Jaguar, and I might actually give that a try in the near future, because as bad as my experience with MESS has been, it can’t possibly be worse with these Jaguar games.
You can set the level of difficulty in a few ways. The drones are the other racers, and you can select how aggressive they behave toward you. You can also set the racing mode that I have selected above…
…and you can also select a bike to suit your racing style and ability. This is a feature that I love to see in racing games. Typically, I like to select a high-grip vehicle first so I can get a feel for a game as I play it. Later on, I will change-up to higher speed vehicles with lower grip as I am more confident in my ability to control them. These games have come a long way since the late ’70s, haven’t they?
You can also choose from a handful of different tracks. The option and selection screens in this game are outstanding too. If any game makes me want to actually play it on real hardware (or get a fucking functioning emulator) it’s this one.
And here is what I get to see when I start the race. I can barely see the road from the heat coming off of it. Gonna reach down between my legs and… ease the seat back.
Yeah, this is… disappointing. But because of everything that lines the road, like barrels and trees and fences, I can still race just fine. It just looks weird and wrong.
But the speed and scaling effects of the sprite graphics are seriously impressive. Whoever programmed this game knew how to get the most out of the Jaguar.
I can see trouble ahead. There is some graphical glitching starting to appear in my on-screen scoreboard.
And here’s my “GAME OVER” screen:
Yeah, that’s 2 for 2 crashing just as I was about to finish. Except there’s no way in hell I was going to finish that one with a decent showing.
Even with the flaws bashed into it with my emulator – no sound and no road – this is still an intensely fun racing game. And it only makes me wish I could get it to work properly because I know I’d really enjoy it then. Maybe you will have better luck if you can run a different Jaguar emulator, or if you have a Jaguar hooked up to your TV. The cartridge isn’t too expensive to find used.
Val d’Isère Skiing and Snowboarding (1994)
Who the fuck is Val d’Isère?
Oh… it’s a little town in France. Where the boarding is both rad and snooty.
This game runs almost goodly on my emulator. It’s not exactly centered on the screen, but at least the sound works and I can see everything that I’m supposed to see.
The main menu is too damn rad for me to handle though. It’s also kind of confusing at first until you realize that the Xs are marking menu selections and that you can select different ones before selecting “Play”.
Let’s check out some training gameplay on the snowboard first.
Before we start, we can see the side of the mountain.
This is where Hannibal crossed the Alps and led his elephants and troops into Italy, catching the Romans with their guard down and earning a place in history’s annals. This shows you the course you will take as you race down hill, and in this part of the game you get to choose between four different courses.
Time trials feature a time-to-beat.
And here’s the view of the boarding.
The speed is nice and fast and the scaling is good too. The controls are decent. Left and right steer your boarder (or skier) and up will perform a jump. B accelerates and A brakes.
This is the start of “Freeride” gameplay.
I’m not sure why this is called “Freeride”, as this is also a timed race with checkpoints. If you don’t make it to the checkpoints in time, you lose and the game is over.
Again, this has a great racing feel, even though it’s not a motorized vehicle game. It makes me wish my emulator would display the screen properly.
Hitting obstacles like trees makes you fall, and you also flash red and brown for a while after you do. I know this is an Atari game, but was this really necessary?
And I didn’t make it to the checkpoint because of the laborious screenshot taking I had to do, but I swear I did before this round. There are bikini babes on the slopes after the first checkpoint, and I wouldn’t just make that up now, would I?
Here’s the same part of the game with Skis.
I’m relieved to see that the animations and sounds are completely different for the skier than they are for the snowboarder. I would have been disappointed had this just been a series of sprite swaps.
I think the skier handles better in some ways, but the boarder in others. This is quite an interesting game, and its depth ads to its replay value. Also adding to that value is the wonderful scenery and the high quality of the art in general, and of course the speed. This is a very fast game, especially for a pooch like the Jaguar.
Out of all these three games, I think I’ll play “Val d’Isère Skiing and Snowboarding” the most. That has a lot to do with how well it performs on the emulator I’m currently stuck with, but it’s also a great racing game. I had fun playing it, and I think that other people would have enjoyed it too had it come out on a more popular console.
Take a look at this one if you like fast racers.