Estimated reading time: 8 minute(s)
Last year, I looked back on a 1999 April Fools joke by Nintendo Power, Nintendo’s former official video game magazine. In that issue, the writers endeavored to convince young Pokémon players that they could obtain Yoshi, Nintendo’s beloved green dinosaur, in Pokémon. April Fools jokes were something of a video game magazine tradition in that era. The Yoshi-Pokémon joke stayed with me. There is one other video game magazine April Fools joke from the era that I remember, and I will cover it today: Electronic Gaming Monthly’s (EGM’s) “report” on a warehouse full of prototype “Sega Neptune” consoles.
What is the Sega Neptune?
Before I discuss the Sega Neptune April Fools joke, some background is in order.
A Brief History of Sega
Kids these days will know Sega as a third-party game developer that produces games for the three major game consoles and PC. Back in my day, however, Sega was also in the console business. My very first game console was a Model 2 Sega Genesis that I received in 1994.
Sega achieved great success in the United States in the first half of the 1990s with its Sega Genesis, the console on which Sonic the Hedgehog became an iconic video game series. The Genesis rivaled Nintendo’s Super Nintendo Entertainment System for the title of the most popular game console of the generation.
Understanding the 32X in particular is important to understanding the ill-fated Neptune. The 32X was a peculiar, mushroom-shaped console that plugged into the cartridge slot of the Sega Genesis. It was a project very much driven by the American-half of Sega, being released in North America on November 21, 1994, two weeks before it was launched in Japan. While the 32X did allow for far more powerful games than its host console, it was not successful. Whatever chance at success it may have had was undercut by the release of Sega’s next generation home console, the Sega Saturn, on November 22, 1994, in Japan. Saturn, which was significantly more capable than 32X, led to the discontinuation of the 32X in 1996 after only 40 games had been produced for it.
Unfortunately for Sega, Saturn did not sell well outside of Japan, leading to its unceremonious discontinuation outside of Japan in 1998. Sega made one last run for console glory with the excellent Dreamcast in 1999, but that too fizzled in 2001 – and with it, Sega’s existence as a console maker.
I am one of the few people who had a Sega 32X. Fear not, it was not purchased for me at full price. Toys ’R Us had bins full of brand new 32X consoles for about $20 after Sega ended support (I remembered the situation and price without a Wikipedia refresher). For whatever it is worth, the 32X was not an inherently bad idea, and the small number of games that were produced for it showed off its capabilities reasonably well. In a recent article, I praised Nintendo for looking to support its flagship Switch console for a long period and suggested that console manufacturers should explore ways to extend the life of their major consoles. The 32X was, despite its lack of success, one of the inspirations for that argument.
But I digress.
Setting aside the fact that 32X came out at the wrong time and was undercut by Saturn, there were some impracticalities about its design. Notably, despite being plugged into the host-Genesis’s cartridge slot, the 32X still required two cables of its own. Firstly, it needed a cable that connected its back to the back of the host-Genesis. Secondly, despite growing from the host-Genesis’s cartridge slot and also being connected to it via cable, the 32X needed a separate power supply. Finally, an additional cable was needed for people using the original model of the Sega Genesis (I did not need the third cable since I had a Model-2 Genesis).
Not great. Not the best.
Sega planned to release a Genesis-32X hybrid in 1995 to remedy some of the issues. The proposed console would have been called the Sega Neptune and would have natively supported both Genesis and 32X games without any add-on (32X game cartridges do not fit in the Genesis cartridge slot – unlike the 32X itself, which did fit into the Genesis cartridge slot – but Genesis cartridges fit in the 32X cartridge slot). Thus, people would be able to enjoy Genesis and 32X games on a single console without mushroom-shaped add-ons and extra cords and power bricks.
However, the Neptune unsurprisingly never made it to the market in light of the quick demise of the 32X and its very small game library.
The Electronic Gaming Monthly April Fools Joke
Electronic Gaming Monthly (“EGM”) was a popular video game magazine in the 1990s and early 2000s. It exists today as an online game magazine, but I have not read it in many years. In 2001, I was a regular reader – picking up new issues when they came out. EGM was renowned (or notorious) for its April Fools jokes – although I was not too aware of the history since I had only started reading it in late 1999 or early 2000.
April 1, 2001, was an interesting date in Sega’s history. Its final console, the Dreamcast, was officially discontinued on March 31, 2001. Thus, Sega entered April 2001 as a third-party game developer, and its time as a console producer was already history.
But was it the case that there would never be a chance to purchase a “new” Sega console again?
In its April 2001 issue, EGM advised readers that Sega had discovered a warehouse with 10,000 unreleased Sega Neptune consoles. You can see the original article here.
Sega, which had just left the console business, understandably wanted to relieve itself of these 10,000 Sega Neptune consoles. For that reason, EGM informed readers that Sega was selling the Neptunes for $199.99 per console – limit one-per-customer, at www.seganeptune.com. It is worth noting that Dreamcast consoles were selling for less than $100 by April 2001.
But lest one think that $199.99 for a Sega Neptune was steep, EGM made readers aware that they would get two hitherto unreleased 32X games with their purchase: X-Men 2 and Virtua Hamster.
(Virtua Hamster? Do you see what they did there?)
Those who were not deterred by any aspect of this April news update may have been inclined to go to www.seganeptune.com. There, however, they would not be greeted by a form to purchase their console, but instead an “APRIL FOOLS!” message with a counter showing how many people had visited (i.e., victims).
My Memory of the Neptune-April Fools Joke
I purchased the April 2001 issue of EGM and read the joke. Because I was interested in old consoles, I wanted the news to be true and probably read right over “Virtua Hamster” – which admittedly was a bit of a tip off. However, I was unable to fall for the prank before coming to my senses because I did not have the internet at home at the time.
The joke is on you, EGM.
Moreover, even if it were true, I did not have a debt card or checking account. I have dated myself at The New Leaf Journal with an article about acquiring Pokémon Gold in October of 2000 and a piece on a long-unfinished round of Mario Party. While that may make me old to the young’uns, it also establishes that I was not of debit or credit card-holding age in 2001.
Some Thoughts On the Sega Neptune April Fools Joke
Searching on Google, Bing, or a derivative thereof for the Sega Neptune April Fools joke will reveal accounts from people who remember reading it in April 2001 just as I did. Some look back on it fondly. Others will never forgive EGM. All-in-all, it was a good prank.
Part of why the Sega Neptune-warehouse made for an effective April Fools joke was what was going on with Sega in April 2001. Sega had just officially discontinued its last console and begun its transition to focusing solely on cross-platform game development. While Sega was and still is identified with Sonic the Hedgehog and other classic game series, it was then known for its position as a major player in the console market.
At the very time EGM tried to mislead its unfortunate April readers into believing that Sega was trying to dump an inventory of unsold Sega Neptunes, retailers across the country were attempting to dump the inventory of Sega Dreamcasts in a fire sale.
The April Fools joke also played on the mixed sentiments of Sega fans. Some fans – especially those who did not purchase the Dreamcast – may have been looking forward to playing Sega games on other consoles. Other fans may have been disappointed about the untimely demise of the Dreamcast. Some were surely feeling a bit wistful as they looked back on their memories with the consoles of Sega’s past. The latter group especially was a ripe target for news that a piece of Sega history was available for the low price of $199.99 on a first come, first serve basis (it is worth noting that Dreamcasts were selling for much less than that in April 2001).
When I wrote about the 1999 Yoshi-Pokémon April Fools joke, I noted that part of the reason the joke worked to the limited extent that it did was that a significant number of young Pokémon players did not use the internet, and much of the information about Pokémon on the internet was unreliable. The landscape was a bit different in 2001, evinced by the fact that EGM created a website for users to visit as part of the joke (I would argue this was a bit less cruel than Nintendo Power trying to make 8-year olds spend hours on a quixotic quest for Yoshi). However, just like the landscape changed from 1999 to 2001, the landscape has changed from 2001 to today. A magazine story about a warehouse full of prototype Sega Neptunes would not land precisely because it would have made the waves online before it was covered in a magazine.
Thus, much like the 1999 April Fools joke from Nintendo Power, EGM’s Sega Neptune warehouse joke was a joke that worked in a specific time, place, and context. But while the joke itself may not be evergreen, it is certainly memorable for those of us who read it at the time.
Epilogue: Sonic and Tails in Super Smash Brothers?
EGM’s 2002 April Fools joke served as a bit of a follow-up to its 2001 joke. Sega had already moved on to producing games for other consoles. At the time, it was hard to wrap one’s head around the fact that Sega would produce games for Nintendo’s new flagship console, the GameCube, after having previously been Nintendo’s rival in the console wars for more than a decade. EGM played on this by telling readers that they could make Sonic and Tails playable characters in Super Smash Brothers Melee . I read this joke in the original magazine – but it did not leave as much of an impression on me as the Sega Neptune warehouse.
However, unlike the 2001 joke, the 2002 joke would come true (in a way) in Super Smash Brothers Brawl for Nintendo’s subsequent console, the Nintendo Wii – wherein Sonic was introduced as a playable character (Sonic has remained a part of the series in subsequent entries).
(Sadly – no one has found an original Sega Neptune prototype.)