Table of Contents
- The Atari Jaguar was released in 1993 as a 64-bit game console meant to compete with the SNES and Genesis.
- It had some innovative hardware features like a DSP for 3D graphics and audio and a RISC processor for 2D gameplay.
- The Jaguar struggled with a limited game library, lack of 3rd party support, and technical issues.
- It sold poorly and was discontinued in 1996 after only 2-3 years on the market.
- The console and games are collectible today, but can be expensive and hard to find complete in box.
- For retro gaming, the Jaguar’s small game library is not as good overall as the SNES or Genesis libraries.
- For collectors, a complete Jaguar setup can be an interesting addition but it is not essential like some other retro consoles.
- If you want an inexpensive 64-bit system from the era, the Jaguar CD is a more affordable option.
The Atari Jaguar is an interesting footnote in video game history as one of the first 64-bit home game consoles ever released. Launched in 1993, the Jaguar was Atari’s last attempt to compete in the home console market after failures like the Atari 5200 and Atari 7800. With advanced hardware like a 32-bit RISC processor and 64-bit graphics chip, Atari touted the Jaguar as the first “64-bit” console. This marketing helped generate initial hype and sales. However, a lack of games, poor 3rd party support, technical issues, and competition from newcomers like the Sony PlayStation led to the Jaguar being discontinued in 1996 after a short lifespan.
Today, the Atari Jaguar has a cult following among retro video game collectors and enthusiasts. With its failed underdog status, unique controller, and small but interesting game library, the Jaguar stands out among 1990s consoles. For retro gamers and hardware aficionados, tracking down Jaguar hardware and obscure titles can be an engaging hobby. However, for the average gamer, the Jaguar is hard to recommend as a must-have retro system compared to platforms like the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis which have much larger game libraries. Depending on your budget and interests as a retro collector, the Jaguar may warrant a place in your gaming setup or it may not be worth the investment.
This article will take an in-depth look at the history of the Atari Jaguar, its specs and hardware, the games library, common problems, andcollectibility. We’ll review the pros and cons of purchasing a Jaguar system today to help you decide if it’s a good retro console purchase for gaming and collecting.
Overview of the Atari Jaguar
Before diving into the details, let’s briefly review the basics of the Atari Jaguar for those less familiar with this often forgotten console.
- November 23, 1993 (initial release date)
- Atari Corporation
- Early 5th generation console competing with 3rd gen 16-bit systems
- Approximately 250,000 total
- 64-bit graphics chip capable of 720×480 resolution
- 32-bit RISC processor
- 512K RAM
- Custom math co-processors
- Removable cartridge based games
Price at Launch:
- $249.99 for just the console
- $399.99 for a bundle with controller, Cybermorph game, and extra memory
Best Selling Games:
- Alien vs. Predator (20k units)
- Doom (20k units)
- Wolfenstein 3D (20k units)
- Theme Park (~18k units)
- Kasumi Ninja (~15k units)
Total Games Released:
- ~80 commercially released games
- Standard gamepad controller
- Pro controller with keypad overlay
- Jaguar CD add-on
History of the Atari Jaguar
The early 1990s marked a transition period for the video game industry as traditional consoles like the NES gave way to new disc-based systems with 3D graphics like the Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64. Seeking to leapfrog 16-bit systems of the era, Atari began developing an advanced 64-bit console in the late 1980s under the codename “Panther”. By 1993, this project had become the Atari Jaguar.
Conception and Development
The Jaguar was designed by Flare Technology, a company formed by Martin Brennan and John Mathieson who had previously worked on the Atari ST computer. Flare’s chipset provided the Jaguar with a unique dual-processor architecture. It had a main 32-bit RISC processor dubbed the “Tom” chip which handled core gameplay tasks. For 3D graphics and audio processing, Jaguar incorporated a 64-bit “Jerry” chip with a Digital Signal Processor (DSP) and Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). This setup allowed the console to produce advanced 3D visuals previously unseen in home gaming. Atari marketed the Jaguar as the first 64-bit system to compete with rivals like the Super NES and Sega Genesis.
However, the Jaguar hardware was also complex and difficult for developers to program games for. The multiple processors required expertise to properly optimize and balance gameplay across. The Jaguar’s underlying Motorola code was unfamiliar to many game studios accustomed to working with Intel and AMD chipsets found in PCs. These technical challenges would soon limit developer support.
Launch and Marketing
After several years in development, Atari introduced the Jaguar on August 23, 1993 at a launch event in Chicago. Initial press coverage focused heavily on the “Do the Math” marketing campaign emphasizing the console’s 64-bit architecture over competing 16-bit systems. Promotional ads touted “the power of 64 bits” while downplaying rivals as “still 16 bits” to highlight the Jaguar’s technical capabilities.
In November 1993, the console launched at retailers for $249.99 just for the system or $399.99 bundled with a controller, Cybermorph game, and a 502 byte jaguar memory track cartridge for saving games. Only one color was available initially: jet black. This price point was similar to the incumbent 16-bit consoles it sought to replace like the $199 Super Nintendo and $189 Genesis.
Sales were initially strong for the holiday season, moving between 150,000 to 200,000 units by early 1994 according to Atari executives. However, supply chain issues due to part shortages soon limited inventory on store shelves. Momentum slowed as the Jaguar struggled to meet demand.
Game Library Woes
A new console lives and dies based on its games. Despite strong hardware, the Jaguar’s longterm viability suffered from a lack of quality titles, especially from third-parties.
At launch, only 5 games were available:
- Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy
- Evolution: Dino Dudes
- Flip Out!
Of these, Cybermorph was the flagship launch game bundled with Jaguar systems. It was an open-world space combat simulator that showcased the Jaguar’s 3D graphics. Additional titles slowly trickled out over 1994 including:
- Wolfenstein 3D
- Alien vs. Predator
- Tempest 2000
- Zool 2
Some of these games like Doom and Alien vs. Predator were seen as technical marvels on the console. Doom in particular was an impressive early first-person shooter port that lived up to the PC original. However, these titles were simply Jaguar versions of games already available on other platforms.
The real issue was the lack of exclusive hits to motivate gamers to buy a Jaguar. In total, only around 20-25 truly unique titles would release for the system. Atari struggled to woo 3rd parties to invest in exclusive Jaguar game development when the user base wasn’t growing. Without a critical mass of gamers, most studios focused resources on the Super NES, Genesis, and upcoming PlayStation which had built-in audiences. This lack of games further hampered sales and discouraged gamers from adopting the new console. It became a vicious cycle leading to the Jaguar’s demise.
Seeking to bolster the Jaguar’s limited library, Atari released two major add-ons: the Jaguar CD and Jaguar VR.
Jaguar CD – Released in September 1995, this CD-ROM drive add-on was intended to lower development costs and allow bigger games like Full Motion Video (FMV) titles popular at the time. Atari promised the Jag CD would bring 100+ new games. However, by 1996 only 15 titles had been released. Lack of internal memory also meant games had to ship with cumbersome memory track cartridges. The Jag CD failed to gain traction at $149.99.
Jaguar VR – Virtual reality was an early 1990s fad and Atari hoped to capitalize with a VR headset peripheral for immersive gaming. Jaguar VR was showcased at CES 1994 but only a prototype was ever produced. It was quietly cancelled amidst the Jaguar’s declining fortunes. The 1080° Snowboarding cartridge was the only game programmed with VR functionality.
These cancelled or failed peripherals drained Atari’s resources and showcased their struggle to provide a complete gaming ecosystem around the Jaguar.
By 1995, the writing was on the wall for the Jaguar. Weak sales coupled with the PlayStation’s growing hype spelled trouble for Atari’s 64-bit system. To cut costs, Atari merged with disk drive manufacturer JT Storage in a reverse takeover. This shifted focus away from the Jaguar to concentrate on their new primary business of data storage devices. The Jaguar was placed on indefinite hold.
In 1996, Atari licensed the Jaguar to small third-party developer Songbird Productions to produce new games. However, with limited funding, Songbird could only release a few niche titles like BattleSphere Gold and Do The Same before going out of business in 1997.
Atari officially discontinued the Jaguar in 1996 after only 2-3 years on the market. In total, it sold no more than 250,000 units and failed to meet sales expectations. The doomed console passed into gaming history. While Atari would live on as a company, they would never release another mainstream home gaming system.
Jaguar Hardware and Specs
One of the Jaguar’s main selling points was its powerful hardware for the era. Let’s examine the console’s tech specs and architectural design.
The Jaguar incorporated two main processors:
- Tom Chip – 32-bit RISC CPU clocked at 26.59 MHz. This was the main processor responsible for game logic and gameplay. The Tom chip was based on the Motorola 68000 architecture found in personal computers rather than other gaming CPU designs.
- Jerry Chip – 64-bit graphics chip comprised of a 16-bit DSP and 64-bit GPU capable of processing 4 million pixels per second. Jerry handled all video, audio, and signal processing tasks. The GPU could output resolutions up to 720×480.
This dual-chip setup was uncommon in consoles. It allowed certain tasks like physics and AI to be offloaded from the main CPU to Jerry to optimize performance. However, it also increased complexity for developers.
- 512 kilobytes of main RAM
- 256 kilobytes of VRAM for video. Could be upgraded to 512kb.
- 8-32 kilobytes of SRAM for audio
The limited memory hampered the Jaguar’s ability to render complex 3D environments compared to later consoles. Developers often had to utilize programming tricks to compensate for less RAM.
- ROM game cartridges with up to 6 megabits (768 kilobytes) of storage, upgradable to 10 megabits.
Later releases and Jaguar CD games could use CD-ROMs with 540MB capacity.
Video and Audio
- Custom “Tom and Jerry” chips allowed enhanced graphics and sound:
- Resolution up to 720×480
- 16.7 million colors
- Stereo 16-bit audio up to 44kHz
- Two controller ports
- One cartridge port
- Power switch
- Volume dial
- Expansion port on bottom for CD drive add-on
The Jaguar had two first-party controller options:
Jaguar Game Controller – This gamepad came standard with the console. It featured a unique layout with 3 main buttons, 12 number pad buttons, and an odd “pause” button on the face. Gamers found the design uncomfortable.
Jaguar Pro Controller – This second controller design added an overlay onto the number pad to make the layout closer to a traditional D-pad and face buttons. Most games ended up using the simpler Pro controller instead of the odd default gamepad.
In addition, Atari licensed several third-party controllers:
- The Cat – Released by Mad Catz, this gamepad had a six-button layout inspired by the Sega Genesis.
- Ninja – An ASCIIware controller with a circular directional pad.
- Rotobone – A rotating bone shaped controller from BG Products.
Overall, none of the Jaguar’s controllers measured up to the quality and comfort of those on rival consoles. The weird default gamepad in particular was often cited as unergonomic.
Jaguar Game Library
With only ~80 released games, the Jaguar’s library pales in comparison to the expansive 1000+ game libraries on the Super NES and Genesis. Let’s take a look at some of the notable titles and hidden gems on Atari’s ill-fated console:
Alien vs Predator – A thrilling first-person shooter that brought the film franchises together. One of the Jaguar’s best titles.
Doom – An impressive port of the seminal FPS that mostly matched the PC experience.
Wolfenstein 3D – Another excellent FPS port that showed the Jaguar could handle fast action.
Tempest 2000 – A flashy tube shooter update to the arcade classic.
Crescent Galaxy – The decent bundled space shooter that showed off the console’s graphics.
Theme Park – A fun business management sim ported from PC.
Iron Soldier – A mech combat game with intro FMV cutscenes.
Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy – A launch platformer featuring the wildlife mascot.
Raiden – A solid port of the top-down arcade shooter.
Kasumi Ninja – A gory Mortal Kombat clone.
Flip Out! – A funky puzzle game at launch.
Zero 5 – A scrolling space shooter with power-ups and huge bosses.
BattleSphere – A great competitive mech battling game.
Hover Strike – A fast-paced hovercraft racing and combat hybrid.
Fight For Life – An underrated Street Fighter-esque fighting game.
Towers II – A clever action puzzle hybrid with falling blocks.
Zool 2 – A beautiful and expansive platformer.
Val d’Isère Skiing and Snowboarding – Still one of the best snow sports games. Great music too.
Double Dragon V – Surprisingly solid port of the arcade brawler.
Iron Soldier 2 – Mech sim sequel with impressive texture-mapped graphics.
Jag CD Exclusives
Myst – Full-motion video version of the classic PC adventure.
Battlemorph – A graphically impressive 1v1 mech fighting game.
Vid Grid – Odd puzzle game with FMV host. His hair is memorable.
Blue Lightning – Isometric top-down shooter with FMV cutscenes.
Space Pirate – Rail shooter like Rebel Assault with campy live actors.
Hoverstrike: Unconquered Lands – Sequel with new enemy types and levels.
Despite some diamonds in the rough, the Jaguar library lacked depth. The majority of titles were unremarkable or low-budget. It was missing flagship mascot games or killer apps comparable to Mario, Sonic, Final Fantasy, or Madden. Without that anchor, the Jaguar failed to build much gamer loyalty.
Problems and Issues
For a next-gen console in 1993, the Jaguar suffered from several technical problems and hardware defects that undermined the experience.
Difficult Development Environment
As mentioned previously, the Jaguar’s complex dual-chip architecture was difficult for game developers to work with. Creating games that properly balanced the Tom and Jerry processors proved challenging. The unusual Motorola-based code was also unfamiliar to many studios. These issues led to poor ports, control problems, and games that failed to maximize the hardware.
Despite marketing claims as a pioneer 64-bit system, the Jaguar’s specs were underwhelming even for 1993 standards. The limited RAM and lack of certain graphical effects held back the experiences developers could create. It felt like a console stuck between generations. The low 480i output resolution looked fuzzy on modern TVs.
Faulty Hardware and Defects
Poor quality components led to high failure rates in early Jaguar models. Issues reported by gamers included:
- Failing cartridge slots and CD drive connections
- Bad audio and video output requiring constant jiggling of cords
- Power supply problems
- Faulty controller ports
- Glitchy graphics from defective processing chips
Shoddy manufacturing and lax quality control hampered perceptions of the Jaguar as a “next-gen” system.
Barebones Development Kit
The Net Yaroze for PlayStation and other modding tools enabled hobby developers to create their own games. However, the Jaguar’s barebones development kit was extremely hard for indie devs to acquire and use. This restricted the system’s potential library compared to open platforms.
Annoying Save Cartridges
Jaguar games didn’t save directly to the cartridge. You needed to buy separate memory track cartridges to save progressCopy
where is the FAQ?
Sorry, I missed adding the FAQ section after the conclusion. Here is an FAQ to finish off the article:
What are some other key games on the Jaguar worth playing?
Some other notable titles include Fight for Life, Checkered Flag, Ruiner Pinball, Ultra Vortek, I-War, Battlemorph, and White Men Can’t Jump. There are also many decent homebrew games to check out.
How does the Jaguar fare for 2D gameplay vs 3D?
While it was marketed as a 3D-focused console, the Jaguar’s 2D capabilities were actually quite good. Games like Raiden, Val d’Isere, and Flip Out show its proficiency with sprite-based graphics. However, the 3D games demonstrate more of its untapped potential.
What ultimately led to the failure of the Atari Jaguar?
It was likely doomed by the combination of a limited game library, lack of 3rd party developer support, technical difficulties programming for the hardware, manufacturing issues, and competition from Sony’s PlayStation. The Jaguar’s short lifespan means it never built up a large catalog of great games to draw in players.
Should I buy a Jaguar CD or Jaguar alone?
The Jag CD adds FMV games and more storage space but has reliability issues. Since most of the best Jaguar titles are cartridge-based, you can probably just start with the standard system and get the CD add-on later if desired.
What is the rarest Jaguar game to obtain today?
Some of the most rare and valuable Jag games are the later releases like Fight for Life, Towers 2, Troy Aikman NFL Football, and the pack-in game Ruiner Pinball. These can easily sell for over $100+ if found complete in box.
Is the Jaguar region locked?
No, one nice feature of the Jaguar is its lack of region locking. Any Jaguar console can play cartridge games from any region including PAL releases. The Jag CD add-on does require minor tweaks to play games from other regions though.
What were the best controllers to use for Jaguar games?
The standard gamepad that came with the Jaguar was flawed. The Pro Controller is preferable for most titles along with third-party pads like The Cat. Some games like Tempest 2000 also supported mouse and keyboard controls on the Jaguar for improved precision.
Was the Jaguar able to pull off any graphical effects the SNES/Genesis couldn’t?
Yes, the Jaguar’s 3D capabilities were ahead of 16-bit systems. Some examples include full 3D environments in Alien vs Predator, transparent water effects in Trevor McFur, the scaling sprites in Theme Park, and texture-mapping in games like Battlemorph.