Why You Should Never Buy a $20 Sega Saturn
Ever come across one of those thrift store finds that just screams out “BUY ME”? Maybe it’s a Hot Wheels car that seems a little pricey but you have a good feeling it’s worth a fortune or it’s the complete X-Files TV series on VHS but either way there’s a good chance you’ve seen something in a shop once before and immediately knew it was a good deal. I had one of those moments myself recently; I bought a Sega Saturn game console for $20.
Yeah, I totally just referred to a twenty as a “J-Note” in that picture caption. Speaking of J-Notes, I probably should have just kept it in my pants. Long story short, this $20 Saturn was a nightmare. Now that I’ve spoiled the bulk of the story you don’t have to read this article, but you can if you want to I guess.
Half Price Books is a secondhand store I visit pretty frequently and yes I found the Sega Saturn there… in a bookstore of all places. As big of a fan as I am of classic video games I have never owned a Saturn; I’ve owned copies of rare and/or popular games for the system (Panzer Dragoon, NiGHTS, etc.) but getting my hands on the console complete with its cords and the like was always just a little bit out of my reach. That’s why when I saw the console on sale in the store for $40 I decided to take a look just for the hell of it.
$40 is about what I’d pay for the console if it were complete with its cables and a controller but the console sitting behind the locked glass case came without a controller, a stark violation of the chain’s policy on accepting used game consoles. I inquired about the exception and was told it’s because they hardly ever get any Saturns in stock. This, of course, coming from a guy who works in a store whose predominant sales come from books. I’m fairly certain they don’t get very many anythings when it comes to stuff that isn’t bound and paperback.
Clearly the second question here was “why does this console smell like utter ass”, then. No, actually it wasn’t; that was my third question, and I only asked it mentally. My real second question was “did you test this” and their answer was a hilariously inappropriate “yes and no”. “And no?” How is there an “and no” with this? You either plugged this thing in or you didn’t, there’s hardly any in between, except of course this console didn’t have any controllers. I was told the console was “plugged in and turned on” but wasn’t fully tested because there were no games to test it with. I guess this guy didn’t get the memo that any given Half Price Books store also has an inventory of about 6,000 CDs from various indie bands and every CD-based console in the history of time has been able to read a music CD but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, he looked like his favorite time of day was 4:20.
I put on my poker face and offered them $20 for the console seeing as how it wasn’t fully tested and missing a controller. The employee wore the same look as he contemplated the offer, then agreed with it and brought the Saturn to the register.
This is all fine and dandy and I’m sure you’re just absolutely fascinated with my trip report from the time I visited Book Land and I’m sure you’re probably wondering where this is all going. Well, remember when I said I mentally asked the question of “why does this console smell like fetid ass”? Yeah, that’s where this comes into play.
See, when I bought this thing I knew full well from its outward appearance — and it’s smell — that this console would need restoration work before it would be fully functional. Yes it was tested but a console in this state could probably go with a good scrubbing to get it in full working order especially since the status of the CD reader was still a big unknown. I knew this when I bought it however what I didn’t know is what was actually inside of the console that I’d been touching and hanging onto and carrying around with me for about an hour and a half. When I took the console home to open it up, the discovery hit me like a swarm of cockroaches.
The Saturn smelled terrible; it smelled so much like smoke that if I didn’t know any better, and if he wasn’t dead, I’d have assumed this was something coughed up by Morton Downey Jr. At the same time the system also smelled like stale air and public bathrooms but I know from experience that mostly-sealed containers tend to hold scents and they can be cleaned with a little bit of work. The smell wasn’t a dealbreaker and I still paid for the system and took it with me (obviously) but the second I cracked open the case and discovered its special bonus I immediately put the lid back on and concluded that to fix and clean this thing I’d need a hell of a lot more than what I had laying around at the time.
This was bad but if you can believe it, and I know you will because if I led with “full of dead bugs” anything I say past this point will sound plausible, it got worse from there. As I proceeded to dismantle the system piece by piece (outside in the garage so I wouldn’t get roach fragments embedded in my carpet) each layer of electronics I removed uncovered more and more filth. It was like a trip through the layers of Hell except there was only four of them and one of those layers was hypothetically capable of reading disc media. I can’t even explain what this shit was that coated the system and I want to say it looked like dried Coca-Cola but I know better than to assume it was something as innocent as that; for all I know I was scraping and cleaning liquefied insects off of the motherboard of this thing. You know what would help my point here? Another picture:
Clearly by this point the solution for anybody mentally sound would have been to throw the pieces into a plastic bag and bring it back to Half Price Books and say “here’s the console you sold me, it’s full of dead bugs and AIDS, I want my money back and PS you cockbags should stick to selling books” but I don’t necessarily consider “mentally sound” to be a descriptor that suits my persona. My username is “Dracophile”, you do the math. I was determined to polish this turd mostly out of spite and also to entertain the thought of whether or not this thing would really work once it was all cobbled back together. There was enough filth inside of this console to make a barrio Goodwill store look like Tiffany’s; this console was literally Oscar the Grouch’s jizz rag and I’d imagine using a video game console for that purpose would be bizarrely obtrusive.
Normally when you spot clean or give a tune up to a video game console you can do so with some Q-tips and rubbing alcohol. Despite what Nintendo would lead you to believe, yes, you can safely clean a game with the solvent; Nintendo only told you the liquid melted all games within five miles of an open bottle of it because they didn’t want you to know that a 79 cent bottle of rubbing alcohol from Walgreens can outperform their proprietary $20 NES Cleaning Kit ten thousand times over. Rubbing alcohol is the magical flammable elixir that can solve every single ailment that can befall a piece of gaming equipment except whatever this damn thing was caked with. I’m just going to name it The Invincible Filth and state that it’s a substance deserving of being issued an SCP number.
Look at all that crap. Not only does that photograph feature at least eight pieces of a Sega Saturn covered in Event Horizon-scale filth it also has three containers with flammable contents: compressed air duster, rubbing alcohol, and a Sobe bottle filled with Red Bull. This is a containment breach of a Class-XK biohazard surrounded by things that would explode if you did so much as looked at them funny and I sat right in front of it for two hours meticulously cleaning and reassembling this console to put it in working condition. Among the things that needed to be repaired, aside from the millimeter-thick dried brown sludge, included: resetting the springs of the CD tray, replacing the backup battery for the built-in memory, and installing that fancy modchip I got off the Internet.
No, wait. Not that last one.
“Tested” my ass. Who can possibly press the “open” button on a game console, end up opening the lid by hand, NOT put a CD in there, and then say it works? Yeah, it turns on. That’s about all it does. When I opened this thing up it looked like a roach motel crossed with the Holocaust. Opening this console unleashed pestilence of such a scale that it caused the Texas Hill Country to burst into flames. There wasn’t a ghost responsible for making the baby in Paranormal Activity 2 “Michael Jackson” out of his crib, it was the fact that this very console was sitting in the living room of the house.
I don’t even know where I was going with that Paranormal Activity reference. The fact of the matter is this was more or less a task of reassembling and reanimating a corpse than it was about simply opening and cleaning a video game console. I cleaned each and every piece by hand and stuck it all back together and then I popped in a legitimate copy of Panzer Dragoon. After a journey through metaphorical hell the console sprang to life and the CD tray began buzzing as the laser slid back and forth to read the disc. The console worked.
Yep, you heard me right, the shit-caked Sega Saturn worked.
Since I had established the system was in working condition the next step was to open it back up and ready it for the modchip that I said I didn’t buy. I opened the console to get ready to install the chip and-
Wait, this is a model 1 console. In my haste to get a Saturn for such a cheap price I didn’t even pay attention to the fact that I had purchased the wrong fucking system. Sure, this modchip will work with this system but do you want to see the soldering and modification schematics required?
See, with a second model console the chip is pretty easy to install: bridge a connection, attach a wire to the power supply, plug the chip into an available expansion bay. Simple. With the first run of consoles the chip requires you to have the technical ingenuity of MacGuyver on crack; all of those green lines are new wires that must be run between connections that otherwise need to be bridged. The purple lines are existing connections that need to be severed and the inset shown in the bottom corner is a connection that requires you to connect something from the front of the chip onto the back. You think I can do that? I write unfunny jokes for a living. Screw that. This entire ordeal now only begs one question:
Does anybody want a newly refurbished Sega Saturn for $20?