If Sega was famous for anything in the 1990s, it was their advertising campaigns, which portrayed them as teenage rebels against the stodgy, old-fashioned children of the Nintendo era. It was enormously successful for the Sega Genesis, thanks to blockbuster hits like Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage and EA Sports. The Saturn era, however, proved to be far more turbulent and difficult, as the company lost their “cool” mojo to new rival Sony, whose Playstation became a global success.
Sega managed to regain their footing late in the Saturn era, circa 1997, with confident advertising campaigns that hailed back to the Genesis glory days. Nobody ever understood the logic behind the mid-90s “alternative” bent of those early Saturn commercials, which were far too arty and abstract to make any sense (it certainly never helped that the first wave of Saturn games were notoriously glitchy, and combined with the system’s May 1995 launch, all but destroyed the console’s reputation).
This print ad for Sonic Jam is an example of one of the better attempts. The layouts are professional and clean, communicating its message clearly, but without the dopey teenage humor that plagued the latter 16-bit era. The Genesis teenagers are now Saturn college students, and Sega finally managed to understand that. I suspect Sega’s new CEO Bernie Stolar was responsible for this change, hiring new advertising agencies to refocus their aim. Stolar has been portrayed as a cartoon super-villain by the Sega diehards all these years, the scapegoat for Saturn’s failures. By 1997, the Saturn was all but finished in the United States, and there was damned near nothing Stolar and his people could do about it. Radiant Silvergun and X-Men vs Street Fighter wouldn’t have changed squat.
Anyway, this is a good ad, like all the latter Saturn print ads. Once again, Sega of America was being dealt a poor hand with the lack of any proper Sonic the Hedgehog title, but there wasn’t anything they could do about it. Sonic Jam was as good as things were going to get — a suicidal move in the post-Super Mario 64 landscape.
Sonic Jam is an excellent greatest-hits package, although the conspicuous lack of Sonic CD was, and remains, a glaring omission. I still cannot understand why Sega left out one of their finest classics. I also cannot understand why the 3D “Sonic World” — a fully 3D polygon stage featuring Sonic in his native environment, jumping on platforms, wading through rivers, and grabbing elusive gold rings — was never expanded into a full-size videogame. Sonic Team had limited resources, of course, which were already stretched thin with NiGHTS: Into Dreams and Burning Rangers (and the bonus stages in the otherwise forgettable Sonic 3D World, which they are credited for creating). Frankly, they should have moved Burning Rangers to the Dreamcast and given us Sonic on the Saturn. This 3D world is terrific, and if it were only expanded just a little, if only a few enemies were placed here and there, if only we were given a side dish instead of a full meal…if only, if only.
Sonic Jam is left as the great “what if” of its era. Sega clearly understood that they seriously dropped the ball by leaving their mascot off the system, leaving Sonic in the hands of the American STI crew, who famously bungled through the Sonic Xtreme project (it had some promising ideas, but don’t kid yourself, it would have been a terrible videogame if released). But that’s Sega for ya. It’s a miracle they were ever successful in the first place.