Some time ago I got myself this piece of Commodore history. The Amiga CD32 is a CD-ROM based 32-bit game console from Commodore released in 1993. As it turned out, the CD32 ended up being the last machine from Commodore before the company went bankrupt.
Made in somewhat similar manner as the infamous Commodore 64 GS, the CD32 is basically an Amiga 1200 with CD-ROM drive dressed up as a game console. This made the CD32 quite powerful platform by the time of its release – at least compared to its 16-bit console rivals. According to various Internet sources, the CD32 sold well at first. After all, it was the first 32-bit console and the first CD-based games system in the Western countries. However, CD32 was doomed to failure even without Commodore going out of business only half a year after its release for various reasons.
First of all, bad timing. The machine came out around the same time as few other ill-fated mid-generation machines, namely 3DO and Atari Jaguar. The CD32 and its “next generation” rivals were competing against the popular 16-bit machines and each other. In early 90’s also home computers such as Amiga and Atari were still popular games platforms, and PC had become a very popular gaming platform already. On top of that, there were CD-add-ons for Megadrive and Jaguar. The markets were simply oversaturated with different platforms. None of the mid-generation post 16-bit consoles had gained enough popularity when Sega Saturn and Playstation came to markets in 1995 – meaning a quick death to the mid-generation systems.
Secondly the games. Most of the games released for CD32 are simply conversions of Amiga 1200 or 500 games with possibly added CD features. These features were commonly CD audio and bad quality video cut scenes. In some games the added videos are ok at best, but mostly they are hilariously bad – especially when involving actors – or just painful to watch.
The CD32 did not have any relevant exclusive titles, but it received some hyped multi platform games. Two good examples are Rise of the Robots and Microcosm. The games are very similar in many points. The graphics were the main marketing point, and both games feature pre-rendered graphics and a lot of video. Today they don’t only look, but also play awful. The then nice looking graphics of Rise of the Robots will not make up for the terrible beat’em’up it is. Microcosm is nothing but inferior shooting game over a FMV that looks like rectoscopy.
The machine itself also features some awkward design. For example, the conroller ports are not on the front face of the machine, but on the left-hand side. And of course the port one is the one further back. The power switch is in the back of the machine. The CD spindle does not hold the CD firmly until the lid is lowered down. The result of this is that if you don’t turn the machine off and wait for the CD to stop from spinning before opening the CD bay lid, the CD will tip over while still spinning and make a scrathing sound against the CD bay. It will not damage the CD surface or the drive lens, but certainly does not give you a sense of quality. Also, CD32 does not have any kind of a copy protection. In 1993 the CD as a medium itself served as a copy protection, but if the machine would have survived even few years, the lack of copy protection would have become a problem.
When you power-on the CD32 a screen showing a CD with rainbow colours shooting from the background appears together with an embarrassing fanfare. The system has an internal memory for game saves much like Sega Saturn. The save data is managed in an interesting but simple manner; You can enter into a menu showing all the save files, and you can lock or unlock the files. When free save memory runs out, the oldest unlocked save files are overwritten.
Now looking back, the CD32 had very little to offer in the early nineties. Just about any decent game available for it can be played on other systems as well. But that does not mean the CD32 wouldn’t offer anything worth playing today. Some of the games available for it are still very enjoyable. Just about every game published by Team 17 or Renegade for the CD32 are very good games. Many of those are considered classics such as Alien Breed, Super Stardust, Worms, Chaos Engine and Speedball 2. Also Pinball Illusions deserves to be mentioned. Despite its age it is an excellent pinball game I enjoy playing every time I have my CD32 hooked up to my TV.
It’s clear that Amiga CD32 had many things wrong with it. Thanks to the various wrongs and other factors it had an unusually short life span. But that is exactly what makes it an interesting piece of hardware. It’s not a rarity, but you probably don’t come across one if you’re not looking for it. It’s definetely a collector’s item only – or purely for nostalgia towards Commodore, Amiga or the CD32 itself. I sure don’t feel sorry for having one now.