[RetroConsole] Amiga CD32

Hello again with another post of the column [RetroConsole]. Today I’ll talk about another unlucky system that probably relied too much on the prestige of the company who made it. This is the day of the Amiga CD32, the last attempt made by Commodore to enter the console market. The console has been released exactly 25 years ago, on September 19th, 1993.

The story in a nutshell

When you say “Commodore” most of people don’t think about the hierarchy in the Navy but their mind go straight to the most famous and best selling computer of all time, the Commodore 64. After the tremendous success of this platform, the company tried several times to enter the consumet electronic market with some projects of home consoles capable to play games, like the successful ones that came out between the end of the 80s and the early 90s: NES, SNES, Master System and Mega Drive.

Commodore’s first attempt to enter the console market has been the C64GS (where GS stands for Game System) in 1990; however the limited number of units produced (less than 10000) and the fact that was compatible with the C64  made the console a huge insuccess. Commodore tried again in 1991 with the CDTV, a multimedial system à la Pioneer LaserActive or the CD-i, but the high retail price (999$!!!) and its gargantuan proportions enshrined another failure for the company.

The third and last attempt made by Commodore was the CD32. Put on the market exploiting the Amiga brand it was one of the first wave of CD-based console. This time the idea proved to be a good one for Commodore and their console until the advent of the PlayStation has been the best selling CD-based machine but there was another sword hanging on the company’s head. They were in dire straits and despite the good sales of the CD32 they had to pull the plug to the project and they filed for bankrupcy in early 1994.

The heart

The heart of the CD 32 is a Motorola 68EC020 CPU clocked @14.32 MHz in the NTSC region or 14.18 MHz in PAL region and has 2MB of RAM and 1MB of ROM.

The hands

The CD32 controller is quite a childish-looking one. It’s a son of the SNES controller with a D-pad on the left, four action buttons on the right and two side buttons, one on the right and one on the left. Its crescent-like shape makes it look like a mezzaluna knife (a mandatory tool for an italian like I am) and it’s famous for having a rather bad D-pad control. Well, the good thing is that you can always chop the parsley with it.

The eyes

The CD32 was based on the Amiga architecture, perfect to display 2D images but unsuitable to render 3D polygons and this in the early 90s, when 3D games were staring to become popular. Commodore tried to patch up this problem adding a the custom chip Akiko dedicated to the conversion from planar to chuncky graphics but this cheap trick wasn’t enough to show fully rendered 3D graphics. Plus the CD32 was unable to decode MPEG-1 format and in order to do so it needed a special peripheral (like the FMV digital video cartridge for the CD-i).

The games

Initially the console was shipped with two (later three) dirrefent games: Diggers, Oscar and Dangerous Street. This last one received twerrible reviews when it came out (3% on Amiga Power…AMIGA Power…) so the console took off with the wrong foot.

Only 175 games were released for the CD32, a small number compared to other console but not that bad considering the short lifespan of the machine.

To be honest there are some good games, but most of them were games that didn’t exploit the horsepower of a CD-based console. For example Flink is an interesting game, a cute platformer with RPG and fighting elements, but it’s a game that could have been released also on the SNES if it weren’t for the massive usage of the storage space of the device.

Banshee is also a good game that winks to Metal Slug, even though is a vertical shooter and Beneath a Steel Sky is a quite good point-and-click adventure, released also on PC (that’s the version I’ve played million times…)

The legacy

The CD32 was the last effort of Commodore to enter the home console market. Despite an initial success the company collapsed overwhelmed by debts. The consoles already ready to be shipped from the Philippines based facility were blocked due to a pending 10-millions debt Commodore had to pay. The judge ruled that Commodore could not imprt anything so all the consoles never reached the american market, although some pieces were sold for somestic sale in US and Canada. Commodore had to rely on the sole European market but the 100k units sold weren’t enough to save her from the bankrupt so shortly after the release, the CD32 was discontinued.

In this very short time, Commodore tried everything to make the console more than a game console, developing add-ons such a mouse, keyboard and disk drive to transform the CD32 in an Amiga 1200 but without any luck.

On April 29th, 2994 Commodore filed for bankrupt and with it the 7-months history of the CD32 came to a bitter end.

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