Of all the ill-fated consoles of the 90's, the Jaguar was one of the biggest disasters. While Atari correctly sensed the emergence of 3D graphics, the system was underpowered in this regard by the time it was finally released. The Jaguar received minimal third-party support, and most of Atari's games were second-rate versions of arcade hits like Virtua Racing and Mortal Kombat.
The Jaguar's marketing centered around the idea that the Jaguar was the first 64-bit console, at a time when 16-bit was the norm. Their brash television commercials loudly proclaimed to "do the math". In the early 90's, the "bit" metric was mainly based on the CPU of the machine. Although certain components within the Jaguar could process 64 bits at a time, the CPU (central processing unit) was in fact 32-bit. This led to a major controversy, with many in the industry labeling Atari's marketing tactics as deceptive. Ultimately it didn't really matter.
The Jaguar's modest library did little to back up the 64-bit claim. Most of its 3D games were slow and clunky, and its 2D games lacked the playability of similar titles for the Genesis or SNES. By the time the system's price was slashed to $99, few gamers were taking it seriously. And when Atari released a CD attachment and six-button controller, the system had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. The Jaguar's demise also signalled the end of Atari as a corporation, as the company was subsequently dissolved.
Console design: C+. Although some have compared its shape to that of a toilet, the Jaguar console is kind of a cool, uncluttered machine. Its only control is a bright red power button, with two controller ports tucked neatly under the front edge. Both the system and its CD attachment feel very lightweight and their thin plastic shells suggest cheap construction. The ports to attach video cables in the back look like exposed ends of a circuit board, suggesting that Atari was cutting corners in a major way.
Console durability: B/D. The Jaguar is solid-state, although its lightweight construction does not inspire confidence in its durability. The CD attachment is fragile and prone to loading problems. I've personally encountered problems with my system not being able to determine if I was trying to run a CD game or cartridge.
Graphics: C. For a system touting itself as 64-bit the Jaguar's graphics are not impressive. The Cybermorph 3D pack-in game was largely eclipsed by Star Fox, released for the SNES in the same year. Most of the Jaguar's polygon-based games have not aged well, but the 2D titles have fared better thanks to their sharp, high-resolution graphics. The most famous game for the system is undoubtedly Alien Vs. Predator, but its animation is somewhat choppy by today's standards.
Audio: B. The Jaguar is capable of producing crisp digitized sound effects, and the music generated by games like Tempest 2000 is quite impressive.
Controllers: D. For a console released in 1993, a controller with only three buttons is unacceptable, as six buttons was already the norm. And why are they labeled C-B-A? By the time Atari got a clue and released an eight-button replacement (complete with shoulder buttons), it was too late. And while Atari's controllers sported a complete numeric keypad, it took up a hell of a lot of room and few games took advantage of it.
Media: B/B. Jaguar cartridges are about the size of a Genesis cartridge, but feature a curved, rounded "handle" on the top edge. The utility of this is questionable; how many people have trouble pulling cartridges out of their consoles? Worse yet, it didn't allow for an end label. As for the CD games, they really don't offer anything over the cartridges except unwanted load times.
Packaging: C-/F. Jaguar cartridge games are packaged in cardboard boxes much like those used for the old Atari 2600 games. Although the cardboard itself is thin and cheap, the Jaguar's red and black color scheme is attractive enough. The instruction manuals are printed in dull gray and white, and often include translations in several languages, making them inordinately thick.
CD titles came packaged in taller boxes containing mostly air. The CD itself is housed in a three-panel cardboard foldout. Why Atari didn't use standard CD jewel cases is a mystery, but at least it's consistent with the rest of their decision making.
Pack-In Game: D. Cybermorph attempted to show off the 3D capabilities of the system, but was less than impressive due to confusing gameplay and excessive draw-in.
Launch Titles: D. Raiden was a solid shooter but didn't offer much over its 16-bit cousins. Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy was a mediocre side-scrolling shooter that many came to regard as a joke.
Library: D. A disproportionate number of Jaguar games are awful, but there are a few standouts. Alien Vs. Predator is an ambitious first-person shooter that lets you play as an alien, predator, or marine. Talk about replay value! Tempest 2000 is a visually-arresting update of the classic 1981 coin-op. Iron Soldier 1 and 2 provide intense, albeit slow, polygon shooting action.
On the other end of the spectrum you have the polygon-challenged Club Drive and the downright embarrassing White Men Can't Jump. Atari dipped into their old catalogue to update Defender and Missile Command, but these new versions lack the fun of the originals. Atari's one-on-one fighters (a red-hot genre at the time) look okay but lack the tight gameplay of Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat.
Collectability: C. It's not easy to collect all the games for the Jaguar, but it's less difficult to collect the best titles. The base system is easy to acquire and relatively inexpensive. The CD attachment is super-rare to find in working condition, and its scant library of games makes it a questionable investment.
Innovations: First 64-bit system?
Pros and Cons:
+ Not hard to collect best games
- Marginal controllers
- Modest game library