I seem to keep writing these posts where I stick up for things that other people seem to be down on, like Riding Hero or Castlevania II. I briefly thought about renaming these articles “Shut Up It’s Awesome” and making it a series, but nah.
Anyway, today I’m here to lavish praise upon another oft-maligned facet of this diamond that is the videogaming hobby, and that is the Sega CD! (Mega CD in Japan and Europe, where the Genesis was called the Mega Drive.) Although this expensive add-on for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive became mostly infamous for grainy FMV (full-motion video) games like that stinker Sewer Shark and the notorious Night Trap, and derided for crapping forth Marky Mark: Make My Video upon the world, one needn’t look too far past those turkeys to find some unique, important, and pretty damn hardcore titles that the serious gamer really shouldn’t miss.
A friend of mine imported a Japanese Mega CD when it came out, along with several of the early games, such as Lunar, Aisle Lord, Fhey Area, and Wonderdog. I was impressed as heck with the anime cutscenes and CD music. Some time later, I think I either rented, or borrowed — or maybe another friend brought over, I really don’t remember — the US version of the console, and that was when I first played Time Gal. Well, that put me over the edge and sold me on the Sega CD, but I didn’t actually get one of my own until the mid-’90s, when the second model (the top-loader) was not just out, but on clearance already. I bought it from Media Play, where I was working at the time, so I may have even gotten an additional discount on top of that. So I had the awkward Genesis model 1/Sega CD model 2 combo, making it a very…wide unit. But it worked!
Anyway, the console was being phased out (hence the clearance price) with the Sega Saturn already on the market, so I was on the hunt for clearance games as well. It was perfect timing, as the video rental shops were dumping their Sega CD games, so I managed to build an awesome library for pretty cheap — certainly cheaper than you’ll find a lot of these games these days (I think I got Lunar 2 for something like 11 bucks, for example).
So through my buying-up of Sega CD titles, I discovered some really amazing games that I ended up loving so much that I actually kinda feel bad for anyone who hasn’t experienced them. I obviously haven’t played every Sega CD game, and I know there are some more great ones that I don’t have in my library, but I’ll talk about my favorites.
So, I’ll get this out of the way first: I personally love laserdisc arcade games, as I’ve written about before, and the Sega CD was the first console to offer halfway decent home versions of games like Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace, and Cobra Command, not to mention some LD games that we hadn’t seen in the US before, such as Ninja Hayate (retitled Revenge of the Ninja), Road Avenger (aka Road Blaster or Road Prosecutor, depending on exactly where and what version you are playing), and Time Gal (GOT-DANGIT I love Time Gal!!). So those games, while not everyone’s cup of gaming tea, won huge points with me toward my desire for adding the Sega CD to my game console arsenal.
I also feel that this discussion can’t get too much further without talking about Sonic CD, considered by some to be the best 2D Sonic title. A very strong action title for a console which, as I said, became largely associated with FMV games, this is a major gem that not everyone has even played. With a crazy time-traveling system that changes the level you’re in on the fly, a rad anime intro, and a great soundtrack, Sonic CD is a must-play adventure for those who love the original Genesis games but never took the plunge into the Sega CD waters.
Looking for more action? Then there’s Final Fight CD. Although the smash-hit arcade brawler Final Fight was a big selling point for Nintendo’s Super Famicom/SNES, players were disappointed that only Cody and Haggar were playable characters, and their favorite street ninja, Guy, was not included. Final Fight CD not only fixed that by including all three characters, but was also a more accurate port of the arcade game with new cutscenes, a fully-arranged soundtrack, and they even threw in an extra stage! Not too many cross-platform games came out ahead on the Genesis, but Final Fight CD really threw down the gauntlet.
Sega CD was also home to two digital comic/visual novel style games that have become almost legendary among gamers and collectors. These types of games, despite their popularity in Japan, were uncommon in the US, so I feel their presence on the SCD is a significant point to mention.
First we have The Space Adventure. Based on the classic anime Cobra, this game is sort of a surprise as nobody in the US knew what Cobra was, except hardcore anime fans. With a mature and violent storyline (it’s actually M-rated), players assume the role of Cobra himself on this intergalactic graphical-menu-clicker. It’s actually Cobra 2: The Legend of Men on the PC Engine in Japan, the first game having been Cobra: Kokuryo’s Legend. The Space Adventure is a pretty rare title these days — I have no idea how many copies they even would have made in the first place — so it might be a tough one to track down.
The other of these two adventures is, of course, the phenomenal Snatcher, by Konami. (Insert the deafening roar of cheers from the crowd here!) Hideo Kojima’s now-classic cyberpunk quest was released on a multitude of platforms in Japan, but got its only US release ever on the Sega CD (and was NOT released on the Mega CD in Japan, oddly enough), pretty much planting the flag for the Sega CD as a massively significant piece of hardware to own. Perhaps I’m totally overstating that as a Kojima/Snatcher/Metal Gear fanboy, but take a look at the going market price for this game right now and you’ll see I’m not the only one of this mindset. Basically a mashup of Blade Runner and Terminator, Snatcher is cool, fun, mysterious, spooky, exciting, and beautiful. An unforgettable soundtrack (which is available on vinyl in the US) and some of the best English-language voice-acting of its day (and to this day, if you ask me) round out the presentation and make it an essential videogaming experience that transcends its collectability. In other words, it’s kinda worth it.
Menu-clicking not your thing? Looking for something twitchier? Well the Genesis/Mega Drive is known for having a vast array of shootemups in its library, and that tradition certainly continued onto the Sega CD:
Sol-Feace by Renovation was a CD version of the cartridge game Sol-Deace, pretty much the same game but with CD music and cutscenes. Most would call it a decent shooter at best (and I think the enemies are kinda cheap), but I have a soft spot for anything Renovation/Telenet/Wolfteam/CD Lasersoft makes, and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment.
Robo Aleste is an entry in the legendary Aleste series, and an awesome one at that! Actually set in feudal Japan, it’s tough and unforgiving.
Android Assault, aka Bari-Arm (although the US package reads “Android Assault: Revenge of Bari-Arm,” the title screen just reads “Bari-Arm”), is a horizontal shooter that I played an awful lot of during my ’90s Sega CD binge. Its system of speed control and power-ups, coupled with a vertically-navigable playfield, actually make it very similar to the Thunderforce series.
Lords of Thunder, a port of the PC-Engine Super CD-ROM game, is a fantasy shooter with a metal-as-f*ck soundtrack that sounds like someone was a huge fan of Yngwie Malmsteen. Apart from its famous BGM, it’s also a fun and intense shooter.
But saving the best for last, we make it to the beloved Keio Flying Squadron. It’s a wacky side-scrolling shmup which pits a funny anime bunny girl and her flying dragon against the super-intelligent tanuki, Dr. Pon, and his hordes of goofball enemies. It’s got awesome music and art, and hilarious cutscenes — but the action is anything but lightweight!
With the US version currently probably the most expensive Sega CD game on the collectors’ market, going for prices around a grand (!!), Keio is one of my actual favorite games on the Sega CD, regardless of price. It could be worth five bucks or five thousand, and I would still play this game, treasure it, and never part with it. In fact, I started playing it just to take a few screenshots for this post, and kinda couldn’t stop playing it. It’s that fun!
Ah, then there are the RPGs — a genre that absolutely flourished with the CD console format on both PC-Engine and Genesis/Mega Drive. The addition of orchestrated music, voices, and cutscenes really helped cement the style of JRPGs in the ’90s and made them some of the most revered games of the 16-bit era.
Here in the States, we have Working Designs to thank for localizing and releasing some of the best of them, including my very favorite RPG series, Lunar. Lunar may have a rather basic, Final Fantasy-like menu-driven system, but its characters, story, and presentation makes it so much more lovable to me. I remember many long sessions of playing, grinding, and achieving goals in both the original, Lunar: The Silver Star, and its sequel, Lunar: Eternal Blue. Both games are equally awesome, showing a rare case of catching lightning in a bottle twice in a row. Lunar TSS has been remade several times (and I’ve bought it every time), and Lunar EB once, but the original will always probably be my favorite, thanks to the great memories I have of discovering and experiencing it.
Working Designs also gave us Popful Mail, a sidescrolling action/platforming/RPG by Falcom that had been preceded by PC-88, PC-98, and Super Famicom versions, for the first time in the US, as well as Vay, a Phantasy Star-esque RPG. Sega themselves also released Shining Force CD for the strategy-RPG crowd, another highly-sought-after title. Many other RPGs unfortunately stayed in Japan, such as Fhey Area, Aisle Lord, Cosmic Fantasy Stories 1&2, and even an entry in the Shin Megami Tensei series.
Speaking of Japanese titles that never made it to the US, it would have been great to have gotten Annet Futabi (the sequel to El Viento), the crazy music RPG Funky Horror Band, and some of the anime-based games like 3×3 Eyes (an RPG), Devastator (mech shooter), Cyborg 009 (a sidescroller), and graphic adventures Detonator Orgun, Ranma 1/2, and Urusei Yatsura. I have yet to actually play any of these, but I’m hoping to remedy that someday. I also seem to remember there being a Golgo 13 game announced and previewed, but ultimately canceled, but I’m having a little trouble digging up any information on it now. I’ll put that on my list of things to research later.
Years after I had already slowed down on my Sega CD game buying, I actually found a JVC X’Eye (Genesis/SCD all-in-one console, which was the JVC WonderMega in Japan — actually the US version was the WonderMega2, the second version) at a local shop for a super reasonable price. What a beautiful piece of gear this turned out to be! Very high quality audio and video output and the convenience of a single console make it a very desirable unit.
It actually seems that time is being rather kind to the Sega CD. While the platform was once thought to be a failed endeavor thanks to the aforementioned FMV games/non-games, I don’t think I’m the only gamer to realize how many great games the system actually had to offer, as I’m seeing more Sega CD fans and collectors pop up in the retro gaming community. And of course, some of the prices that games like Keio and Snatcher are currently commanding certainly support this theory.
As I mentioned, I haven’t played everything there is on the Sega CD — I know even this long article is just scratching the surface. The titles I touched on are just some of my favorites, but I own (or formerly owned) quite a few more. But you tell me, what am I missing out on? Jump in with some comments and let me know what your favorites are!