The Sega Genesis was a killer console in its day and even though the Genesis add-ons got a bad reputation, the Sega CD actually had a number of worthwhile games to amuse those who invested in one (the 32X wasn’t as bad as you might think either).
Looking back over the Sega CD game library, one may conclude that most of the games were just simple upgrades of Genesis titles and “downgrades” of games from the PC or 3DO.
Much of this was due to Sega of America’s failure to get development kits out to the Western developers. This put developers into a bind, so many were forced to either acquire rights to import titles or do what some of their Japanese counterparts had already done – take existing Genesis games off their storeroom shelves, slap a CD soundtrack on in and graft the odd bits of FMV cinema here and there, and then kick it out the door.
Unfortunately for those that had a Sega CD in its prime time, most of the best games for the console were not widely available or promoted much. While publishers were mainly promoting quick ports of popular Genesis titles with enhanced sound like NBA Jam and Full Motion Video games like Slam City with Scottie Pippin, there were actually a very nice collection of unique RPGs, shooter, and platformers that are still relevant to today’s hardcore gamers. So, instead of focusing on what games defined the Sega CD when it was on store shelves, I will be highlighting the games that motivate retro gamers to actually pick up a Sega CD in this modern era.
Many long-time Sonic fans will argue that Sonic CD is actually the best Sonic the Hedgehog game to date and will probably remain that way. As much as I love Sonic 2 and 3, Sonic CD has a number of unique features that make it an important part of the series.
This Sonic iteration gives us blinding speed and creative levels just as well as any other. However, Sonic CD added a new dimension to the Sonic Formula: exploration. By incorporating a new time-travel dynamic, Sonic could jet to past and future versions of whatever level he was on. This opened a number of opportunities and really gave the game a whole new layer of depth and replay value.
Instead of simply finding the quickest route through a level, players could spend time learning the ins-and-outs of every stage in a totally different way. To see the game’s true ending, you must travel into the past and destroy a machine placed there by Dr. Robotnik. This causes the normally Blade Runner-esque future to become a “good future.” The hunt for the machines adds an element of exploration that was, unfortunately, never revisited in a Sonic game again. If you are up for all the time-traveling, you can have up to around 50 levels plus bonus rounds at your disposal. However, if you just race through the game, there are only about 15 or so.
Naturally, the CD format also made it very easy for the developers to include high-quality music and sound effects. Hearing the Dr. Robotnik’s theme teamed with his menacing, echoed laugh on a quality stereo system during the 16-bit days was jaw-dropping. It still gives me a bit of a chill to this day. The audio in each act of every level (past, present and future) is also different, resulting in a great variety of audio experiences.
The game does have a few quirks as it was not developed completely by Sonic Team. Some of the character animations are different from the normal Genesis counterparts. You will also find that instead of the spin-dash, you have a running-start move. In many ways, Sonic CD feels like a twist of the original Sonic game and Sonic 2.
The bonus stages are interesting – and can be either enjoyed or despised, depending on your outlook. They were designed to take advantage of the Sega CD’s Mode 7 scaling and rotating capabilities. These bonus rounds are very difficult to complete since it is challenging to judge your relation to the UFOs you have to jump at — which is necessary to earn Chaos Emeralds. Just like any other Sonic game, if you get all the Emeralds, you get to see the “best” ending.
In comparison of quality between the other 2D Sonic games, Sonic CD is a strong contender. Sonic CD may not have the polished animation of Sonic 2 and 3, nor the extra shield/moves than Sonic 3 offers, but the added depth of the time-travel feature and the incredible sound gives Sonic CD a real boost.
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Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side
The original Eternal Champions was Sega’s relatively successful attempt at creating a new fighting franchise that would have more a deeper fighting system, more interesting storyline, and even more gore than the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat powerhouses. On the surface, it looked like Sega was merely doing another quick Genesis-to-Sega CD port with Eternal Champions, but they actually did a number of improvements to resolve many of the complaints about the original game.
Like many fighting game sequels, Challenge from the Dark Side increased the playable character lineup from 9 to 25 (13 at start, 12 hidden) and each character actually had a specific fighting style, background, and story. This was quite a large feat at this time as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat hadn’t yet started their massive roster phases.
If Eternal Champion was to really succeed against Street Fighter 2’s rock solid controls and balanced gameplay, Sega would have to spend more time tweaking their engine.
There were a number of moved added to the already-extensive selection of attacks. The special moves that were carried on from the first game were also rebalanced and became easier to use.
Eternal Champion is known for its fatalities, and Challenge from the Dark Side offering an amazing four per finishing moves per character. Remarkably gory and awfully fun to watch, you’ll enjoy sights like a fighter getting devoured by a great white shark after being tossed off of a pirate ship. There were also new fatality moves known as “Cinekills”, which rewarded a player with a short FMV of their opponent’s gruesome demise.
In addition to the obvious sound improvements, the graphics were completely overhauled, so the characters look slightly sharper and the backgrounds no longer have that unsightly, grainy look. It is the only title in the Sega CD library that used programming tricks to pull off 256 colors on-screen at the same time on the Sega CD’s otherwise limited hardware. (The Sega CD was supposed to be limited to 64 simultaneous colors)
Even though the Sega CD was a commercial failure, Challenge from the Dark Side sold better in the U.S. than the Genesis versions of Street Fighter II. Some players griped about the game’s unforgiving difficulty, but fans loved it. It was everything they had wanted in a sequel and showed skeptics what the Sega CD could actually do.
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Snatcher is the classic example of a low-profile game that comes out during the final days of a short-lived console (actually an add-on in this instance) and is only discovered by hardcore gamers. Developed by Hideo Kojima (of Metal Gear Solid fame) and his Konami teammates, Snatcher showcased and entertaining experience and creative cyberpunk story built upon strong sci-fi influences from movies such as Blade Runner and Terminator.
Instead of being a typical FMV game that was quite common on the Sega CD, Snatcher is similar to the graphical adventures of old on the PC (some gamers refer to it as a “digital comic”). Actually, it was originally released in Japan for the NEC PC-8801 and MSX2 computers in 1988. It later went on to be ported to other consoles, but the Sega CD version remains as the only English release.
You can definitely see Kojima’s story-telling ability and love for cinema shine though in this game. The plot, while a bit complex, is full of twists and unexpected scenarios. The game is not overly-challenging in terms of gameplay, but the characters, dialogue, and storyline will definitely keep you engaged.
In addition to the adventure-style gameplay, Snatcher also contains action sequences, in which you shoot down incoming Snatcher robots or other enemies. These are fun, but a little rough around the edges. They were originally designed to be used with Konami’s light gun, so if you don’t have one you’re forced to make due with the regular Sega gamepad.
I’m always fascinated by cult classic games. I can’t help but be drawn in by titles that the majority of gamers have only heard in passing, but genuinely deserve to be played to their fullest extent. If you are into the same time of games, Snatcher is a must-play.
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Shining Force CD
The original Shining Force game was one of the pioneering console games in the strategy RPG arena and is one of my personal favorite Genesis games. If the first two Shining Force games for the Genesis don’t keep you satisfied, you can take a look at Shining Force CD which is divided into two “books”, which can be played in any order.
Each book is a remake of one of the Shining Force Gaiden games (Shining Force Gaiden and Shining Force Gaiden 2: Sword of Hajya) from the Sega Game Gear with improved graphics and sound. These two books actually help connect the dots between the stories of the original Shining Force and Shining Force 2 for the Genesis.
After finishing both books, a third book can be accessed. Unfortunately, it is necessary to back-up the game saves with a Back-up RAM cart (which are a bit pricey these days), since the Sega CD’s internal memory isn’t enough to save both games data. (You can probably figure out a work-around via and emulator, if you’d like).
Even though there are actually a number of excellent RPGs on the Sega CD, the Shining Force series is your best bet if you like more of a strategy element. Shining Force CD doesn’t necessarily replace the original Genesis game, but complements their gameplay and story for a complete experience.
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Lunar and other RPGs
Yes, RPGs are the main reason to pick up a Sega CD a decade after its release. While it may not be the RPG wonderland that is the original Playstation or the SNES, it does have quite a few titles that will keep RPG fans entertained for many hours.
As one of the leading localizers of the great RPGs of the late 1990’s, Working Designs, smiled on the Sega CD with many releases that pushed the add-on to its limits in terms of full-motion video, audio, and storage capabilities.
In 1993 they secured the rights to produce an English-language version of GameArt’s monster hit RPG Lunar: The Silver Star, and the rest is history. Lunar was named Best RPG of 1993 by GameFan magazine, and eventually went on to become the #1 best-selling Sega CD title of all time. Three other essential RPGs followed close behind – Vay, Popful Mail, and Lunar 2: Eternal Blue.
If you prefer hardcore twitch shooting to RPGs, the Sega CD may still be up your alley. The shooter lineup on the Sega CD was surprisingly diverse and had high quality standards.
The Sega CD’s shmup library ranged from your standard 2D space shooters like Android Assault and Lords of Thunder to the 2.5D Galaga-inspired Silpheed (one of my personal favorites) in addition to the quirky Keio Flying Squadron.
Keio Flying Squadron is a very cute horizontal scroller starring a girl in a bunny suit riding a dragon. While it is hilarious and very playable, it is considered to quite challenging.
Robo Aleste is an excellent follow-up to the impressive M.U.S.H.A. on the Genesis an some consider it to be the best shooter of the Sega CD’s selection. Lords of Thunder and Android Assault (aka Bari Arm) also are excellent games if you like PC-Engine CD shooters like Gate of Thunder.
Some good ports of PC games include Flashback, Heart of the Alien (Out of This World Parts 1 + 2 combined), Rise of the Dragon (has extras such as great voice acting), and The Secret of Monkey Island.
Some of the better SNES/Genesis-to-Sega CD ports include Final Fight CD (which actually included multiplayers and all the characters unlike the SNES version), Earthworm Jim SE, and Ecco The Dolphin (The better audio completes the experience), Mickey Mania, and Spiderman vs. The Kingpin
Finally, some other interesting titles to take a look at include Night Trap, Ground Zero Texas (the two better FMV games), Batman Returns, AH3 Thunderhawk (uses alot of the Sega CD’s sprite scaling and rotation), and Soul-Star.
Much like the 32X, the Sega CD actually had quite a bit of potential (especially if you combined the two). The platform was proven to thrive for both RPGs and Shooters and could have been stretched out if Sega wasn’t feeling the pressure to release the Saturn before the Playstation.