20 Years of the Sega CD

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Monday Oct. 15th was the 20th Anniversary of the North American release of Sega’s much hyped Genesis CD add-on, the Sega CD. Due equally to the fact that no one in the gaming media (save for the almighty 1up.com) even bothered to mention this milestone, and that I am a huge fan of Sega’s much criticized CD add-on, I thought I would take some time to pay tribute to the Sega CD and its incredible and varied library of games.

Let me first get this out of the way… the Sega CD is so much more then the vehicle for awful full motion video games. Sure, there are numerous terrible full motion video games (Who Killed Johnny Rock, Fahrenheit 451, Make My Video series), a couple descent/mediocre titles (Sewer Shark, Night Trap, Double Switch, Time Gal), and at least one fantastic game (Mansion of Hidden Souls), but the Sega CD should be remembered for more then its failings. What about the great games? The games that didn’t abuse the novelty of cramming choppy video into a window a quarter the size of the TV screen.

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Many developers used the expanded capabilities of the new CD format to increase the on-screen color palette, incorporate a CD-quality score, and even dabble in character voice acting. These advances served to answer many of the primary complaints levelled at the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive), chiefly the murky sound and muddy graphics.

For the time era the SegaCD was released, North America got a surprising number of Japanese games, more of less in their pure Japanese form. Much of this was thanks to localization pioneers, who long before Atlus and Nippon Ichi filled the gap were serving up localizations from Japan done with care and respect. Working Designs was responsible for bring over such games as Lunar: The Silver Star and its much refined sequel Lunar: Eternal Blue, as well as Vay and the near-masterpiece action RPG Popful Mail.

Lunar the Silver Star

A few bigger Japanese companies took a chance localizing titles that were hits back home, most notable of these was the Konami published, Hideo Kojima master-minded digital comic/adventure game Snatcher. Relatively over looked upon release, with an estimated print run of 10,000 copies (or less, according to some sources), Snatcher has retroactively become a landmark game, after Hideo Kojima’s massively successful Metal Gear Solid series changed the face of gaming. A clever and superbly localized futuristic cyberpunk detective story, many of Kojima cinematic flourishes and grand video game hallmarks are evident in this early work; in fact, the entire final act of Snatcher is an extended 40 minute cutscene.

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The SegaCD was the home of what was probably the greatest arcade port in history with Capcom’s brilliant Final Fight CD. A meticulously refined port, Final Fight CD delivers the game that was promised on the SNES, but ultimately failed to deliver. About the only thing missing from the arcade version is the notoriously sleazy outfits of famed street brawling tranny Poison.

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The SegaCD also had several fantastic PC adventure game ports, including versions of Sierra Online/Dynamix’s The Adventures of Willy Beamish and Rise of the Dragon. Although plagued by infamously sluggish load times, the SegaCD port of LucasArts’ The Secret of Monkey Island is a worth while alternative to its PC brethren.

The SegaCD had it all; from puzzle games to platformers, from forgettable full motion video turds to truly innovative and daring titles worthy of a second look even today. You can say a lot about Sega’s wonderous CD ROM experiment,  but just make sure its not all bad.

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3 thoughts on “20 Years of the Sega CD

  1. I have been on the look out for some time for a decently priced Sega CD, can’t wait until the day I finally nab one. Appreciate your enthusiasm about the system!

    Note: You wrote Lufia in place of Lunar. Made me do a double-take and thought for a economy there was a Lufia game I didn’t know about!

  2. Shoot, freaking auto-correct…

    “thought for a economy” should be “thought for a second”

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