Sega released their 32-bit console, the Sega Saturn, on the heels of the popular Genesis (Mega Drive) and its host of add-ons, so its not surprising that a prototype combining the Genesis with its expensive add-on, the 32x, and originally set to release around the same time was codenamed the Sega Neptune. The Neptune was never released and though it may have been a cool concept, it was probably a good business decision in the end – Sega had already wasted enough resources on Genesis add-ons and didn’t need to cannibalize sales of the newly released Saturn. Of course, you can stuff a 32x into a Genesis model 2 yourself to create your own Neptune, but somehow its not quite the same.This brings us to the only real hardware add-on for the Saturn in North America, the NetLink, which allowed for direct peer-to-peer linking over telephone lines for long-distance multiplayer. Because it didn’t require connection to a central server (like the now-defunct Xband) the NetLink can still be used for long-distance multiplayer to this day, provided that analog phone lines are used rather than digital phone lines. If you really want, you can even invest in a telephone line simulator to connect two NetLinks together for local multiplayer. That’s right, the DirectLink isn’t the only local System Link for the Saturn! For more information on the NetLink in general, I’d recommend checking out the NetLink League Forums.
Knowing Sega’s penchant for add-ons and console redesigns in the past, one may speculate that Sega may at one time have considered something similar to the Neptune that integrated a NetLink unit directly into a Saturn console, perhaps even codenamed the Sega Pluto…? (Side Note: It’s no wonder they switched tactics with the Dreamcast name, they ran out of planets, even for 1996 standards!) Well in April, it was confirmed by a post on the Assemblr forums from former Sega employee “Super Magnetic” that this was indeed the case. Though he didn’t start working for Sega until after the project had been discontinued and so didn’t work on the Pluto project himself, he did manage to get his hands on an actual, working prototype unit which he claims to be the second of only two units ever produced. Super Magnetic was kind enough to post-up several pictures of what he dubbed “console” porn which I will share as well. I highly recommend checking out his topic on Assemblr – he shares a bit of what it was like working for Sega and goes into much more detail about the unit itself.