Exploring the financial pitfalls of retro gaming enthusiasts
Is the Atari Jaguar CD THE most unnecessary console add-on? Such add-ons are meant to provide a console with additional capabilities that allow gamers to play new software that could not be played without it. The Turbografx-CD is one such add-on. The same can be said of the Sega CD and the 32X. Most fans of retro games would not consider the Turbo CD or the Sega CD unnecessary add-ons. They both added significant RAM as well as graphics and audio capabilities to their respective consoles. The 32X might be considered unnecessary in the minds of some, but overall, several games that were released for the 32X were worthy of the upgrade. Then there’s the Jaguar CD.
The Jaguar CD wasn’t super powerful or successful, or, dare I say, necessary when it was released back in 1995. Nevertheless, it is now one of the more expensive peripherals, along with the Vectrex 3D Imager, that a video game collector with deep pockets can happen upon. Therein lies the problem for those who are looking to buy a Jaguar CD. You don’t happen upon them. They sold extremely poorly when the Jaguar was already on its deathbed by the time of its release. I couldn’t find any final sales numbers but it is possible that the original sales order of 20,000 units were all that was manufactured. They also have a reputation for being fragile. It’s possible that with any old CD-drive technology with their moving laser parts, that time, storage and shipping could all lead a Jaguar CD to a sad, broken and unloved demise. You can probably deduce from those two facts (poor sales + fragile) that they are now hard to come by as a result. Jag CDs don’t show up on online auctions all that often and when they do, they tend to sell for exorbitant prices.
So that brings me to the point of this post. Does the law of diminishing returns, or the point where any benefits gained by seeking out and procuring an Atari Jaguar CD end up being less than the money or energy invested, apply? I guess it depends on when you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to have come across a Jaguar CD. If you were one of the few that bought a Jag CD when it was released in 1995 or when the units were discount-binned in the late ’90s, then no, the law of diminishing returns does not apply to you. You had your chance to enjoy the Jag CD during its heyday. You had a chance to play Vid Grid and Blue Lightning (the two pack-in titles), as well as listen to the Tempest 2000 Soundtrack while tripping out to the Jeff Minter laser-light show, and play the Myst Demo. You’re good and congratulations if your Jag CD still works!
If you were someone who picked up the Jag CD after discontinuation but before the relatively recent retro gaming boom, say around 1999-2009, you probably got it for a decent price. I know I did when I picked up mine complete in box around 2001-2002. You still probably had to scour the internet for titles since they weren’t exactly filling up used video game store shelves. You may have been too late to find boxed Jag CD systems and games for a fraction of MSRP at retail stores, but your Jag CD works, you have a few games, though maybe you’re missing some of the heavy hitters. When you bought the system, you had no idea that it and a number of the games available would wind up increasing in price to ridiculous levels over the next ten or so years. Nevertheless, the law of diminishing returns still does not apply to you either. You got in before shit got crazy.
Say you very recently picked up a Jag CD or are currently in the market to buy one. Sure, it’s an interesting footnote in ’90s gaming history and simply collecting consoles and add-ons, especially from iconic manufacturers like Atari, is fun and rewarding. I get it. If I didn’t already have one, I’d be searching for one too. The problem is that they are one of the most expensive add-ons out there. A complete boxed Jaguar CD that comes with the original bundled software will run you anywhere from $600-$800. Even a working, loose Jaguar CD until can set you back anywhere between $300-$500. That’s a lot of money for a system that has only 13 licensed games available for it. Yes, I know there is an active Jaguar homebrew community that includes CD titles, but if you’re into collecting AND playing, and have just bought a Jag CD during the last several years, the law of diminishing returns may indeed apply to you. Let’s take a look at the thirteen individual games to help us determine.
Right off the bat, two of the games on the list are the pack-in titles, Blue Lightning and Vid Grid. Neither of these games are very expensive, selling for less than $20 each complete in case. Neither of these games are essential either. Blue Lightning can be found on the Atari Lynx (as well as computers) and Vid Grid is simply a music video novelty puzzle game meant to show off the Jaguar CD’s FMV and audio capabilities. Baldies, Brain Dead 13, Dragon’s Lair, Myst, Primal Rage and Space Ace were all multi-platform titles that could be found on any combination of CD-based systems, such as the Sega CD, Sega Saturn, 3DO, CD-i and Playstation. Meaning that if you really want to play any of these titles, you can do so without owning a Jaguar CD unit. In many cases, such as the case with Primal Rage and Dragon’s Lair, the Jaguar CD versions are the most expensive versions available. Another strike against the Jag CD.
That leaves the following five exclusives; Battlemorph, Highlander: The Last of the MacLeods, Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands, Iron Soldier 2 and World Tour Racing. Three of these titles; Battlemorph, Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands and Iron Soldier 2 are either sequels to already existing Jaguar cartridge games, or in the case of Hover Strike: Unconquered Lands, essentially only a beefed up remake of the existing Hover Strike cartridge title. On the bright side, of the three, only Iron Soldier 2 would be considered somewhat expensive, selling for around $100 complete. Both Battlemorph and Hover Strike: UL are cheap (<$20) as long as you don't need the boxes and are fine with complete in case only. Both games are significant upgrades from the cartridge versions so they are easy to own and are worth it. But are they worth owning a Jaguar CD for when you can get the basic experiences that these 3 games offer, but in slightly less pretty (visually and audibly) and blockier cartridge versions? I'm not so sure.
So now we're down to just two games that are complete 100% originals, not multi-console ports or sequels or upgrades. Highlander: The Last of the MacLeods and World Tour Racing. Highlander is a 3-D action/adventure title with FMV aspects. It’s also known for being skewered for its poor camera angles, hit detection and boring audio (as in none….no in game music….on a CD game!) by the Angry Video Game Nerd during his Jaguar CD episode. Initial reviews were generally favorable, but time has not been kind to Highlander. World Tour Racing, while having not been ridiculed by a popular Youtube personality, still didn’t set the video game world on fire when it was released by Telegames in 1997 as one of the last Jaguar CD titles. The consensus among reviewers at the time was very middling. Not awful, but World Tour Racing is certainly not a must own.
Every retro game collector has to decide for themselves whether or not certain consoles or games are worth owning. For example, I’ve decided that NES collecting has gotten out of hand, therefore I’m not actively trying to add games to my existing collection at this time. It’s possible that the Jaguar CD is the “holy grail” for some collectors and fans of retro games in general, but at this point, if you’re primarily a gamer, the law of diminishing returns ought to be considered before hitting that “place bid” button.