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This Is Why The Atari Jaguar CD Was A Complete Disaster

In 1995, Atari released its Jaguar CD System as an add-on to its console, the Atari Jaguar — but the project may have been doomed from the beginning. Problems shadowed the Jag CD from the start, beginning with delays that pushed its debut late into the year and including the fact that it simply didn't work very well.

Touted as a 64-bit component designed to plug into the cartridge-based Jaguar 64 console, the unit cost $149 at retail and came with the games Blue Lightning, Vid Grid, the first level of Myst, and the soundtrack to Tempest 2000. At the time of release, upcoming titles announced were Demolition Man, Wayne Gretzy Hockey, Dragon's Lair, Creature Shock, and Highlander. It arrived with double speeds and a custom capacity of 790 megabytes of data, and could play audio CDs as well.

The system, which turned out to Atari's last, was powerful on paper but ended up being faulty in reality, especially in comparison with its generational competitors (the Super Nintendo, 3D and Sega Mega Drive were its contemporaries, but not for long). Here's why the Atari Jaguar CD ended up as a flop.

The Jaguar CD couldn't save the Atari Jaguar

In 1991, Atari announced that it was creating a 64-bit gaming machine called the Jaguar. Released in 1993, the Jaguar started out with promising numbers and press, (7:25 mark) but became a commercial failure. In 1993, Atari said it expected to sell 500,000 units by the following year, but had only sold 100,000 by the end of 1994.

It was into that environment that the Jaguar CD was released, two years after its initial announcement. Atari went into the year with hopeful prospects, thanks to an upcoming VR headset, the Jag CD, the JagLink Interface, new games, and a price drop.

However, those who know their gaming history may realize what else was happening at this time: the releases of the first Sony PlayStation, in late 1994, and the Sega Saturn, in mid-1995. 

Both competing systems did better than the Jaguar right out of the gate, according to Wrestling With Gaming. Just a month after the Jaguar CD's release, Atari's execs voted to reduce the amount of resources it put into the Jaguar. Basically, the Jaguar was already dying by the time the Jaguar CD came out.

The games were not good

The Atari Jaguar was notoriously hard to program for, which reduced the amount of games that were released for it, and this problem affected the Jaguar CD as well. Hardware problems also dogged the Jaguar CD; it's well-known to be buggy and unreliable, even today. Fans of vintage systems often have to buy several to get one that works. It didn't help that the unit looked bulky, cost a lot, and didn't add much to the overall package.

In the end, less than 15 games were made available for the Jaguar CD during its lifetime, and most of them are considered fairly mediocre. These games include Myst, Battlemorph, Dragon's Lair, Space Ace, Primal Rage, Baldies, Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands, Highlander: Last of the MacLeods, Brain Dead 13, and Blue Lightning

Interestingly, after Hasbro bought the Atari name in the late 1990s, it decided to release all rights to the Jaguar, allowing anyone to create software for the system without penalty. This opened doors for previously unfinished games to be released, along with new titles for the Atari Jaguar. However, it doesn't appear that any of the second coming of Jaguar games utilized the CD system.