by: Dr. Boogie
When I was a kid, I used to dream about one day having enough money to buy myself a Sega CD for my Genesis. It was the pinnacle of gaming, upping the sound quality of games and pushing graphics to a whole new level. That's what I thought, anyway. In reality, it was a fairly expensive piece of technology that didn't really improve all that much at all. Worse yet, the bulk of its game library were shitty Full Motion Video games where the only thing worse than the gameplay running behind a bunch of horribly-compressed video clips was the acting. Suffice to say, the next generation couldn't arrive fast enough.
On what was probably the second-to-last day of the peripheral's existence, I managed to snag a new one for around $50. And the seller even threw in a free copy of Sewer Shark and, for some reason, Cliffhanger! But this article is about the best Sega CD games, and so I won't be mentioning those two again.
Anyway, being so late in the Sega CD's lifecycle, it was all too likely that I wouldn't even see another game out for it, but luckily, there was a local video rental place that had held onto a ton of Sega CD games for way longer than anyone was interested. They were selling their whole library off for around $10 a pop. So once a week, I would save up some money and snag another title off their wall. And I'm pretty sure I was the only one doing it.
I was surprised by the number of great games I found. I was also surprised by the number of crap games, but I was more surprised by the great ones. That's why, in the interest of preserving the memory of the few games that made the system worth owning, I present this list of the best games for the Sega CD:
If ever there were a classic FMV game (and I’m not entirely sure there is), it would have to be Night Trap. It's not exactly a competitive field, but Night Trap at least brought some star power to the scene, with the female lead portrayed by Dana Plato of "Diff'rent Strokes" fame. She really made you believe that you were watching an honest-to-god slumber party being broken up by vampires dressed like burglars.
It also aroused a lot of negative attention because it dared to show footage of a woman in a frumpy nightgown. Indeed, few people realize just how completely the game destroyed the minds of American children. I know I never fully recovered from seeing grainy footage of women being stalked by "vampires". Still, the game turned a profit, despite costing $1.5 million to make, proving once more that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Normally, I wouldn't even bother to put a movie tie-in game on a list of worthwhile games, let along best. With The Terminator, though, the developers took the fairly mediocre Genesis game and built it up for the Sega CD. The system wasn't exactly a powerhouse, but there was still enough room to add in new levels, tweak the graphics, and add a killer soundtrack by game music legend, Tommy Tallarico. It has the distinct honor of being among only a handful of other games based off of movies that was actually fun to play.
Final Fight saw its fair share of ports, but the Sega CD captured the arcade experience like no other. No missing bosses, no missing main characters, no missing animations, no swapped out enemies, just the straight arcade experience with some new musical arrangements. It's weird to think that this was the only version of Final Fight to maintain so many important elements that were cut to fit the game onto consoles. I mean for crying out loud, the SNES version wasn't even two-player!
And hey, there was even a little voice acting thrown in, in case the terrible acting from all those FMV games wasn't enough for you.
Eye of the Beholder
If you didn't have a PC, you didn't have a lot of Dungeons and Dragons games to choose from. Luckily, Westwood Studios managed to cram the original game onto the Sega CD without losing a thing. Granted, this meant the game created enormous save game files that would chew through the system's internal memory in no time at all, but it was all worth it. If having one of the preeminent D&D games on your home console wasn't enough to love this one, well, Sega found a way to sweeten the pot: They had the entire soundtrack done by Yuzo Koshiro, the man who composed music for so many video games, it would take less time to list the games he hasn't worked on. And when you consider that the ending to the original game was just a crummy text box, it's safe to say which version is superior.
The Sega CD was lucky enough to have a Shining Force game in its roster, but if you're looking for an even more involved tactical RPG in the form of Dark Wizard. As the sovereign leader of Cheshire, it falls on you to fend off the advances of Velonese, the titular wizard, before he can unleash the evil god Arliman. Thank goodness you've got the resources to hire a slew of mercenaries, and the magical chops to summon a pantload of monsters to storm across the hex-based battlefield. The game looked great, the level of tactical control was impressive, and the story played out in well-done anime cutscenes. The only real downside was that the battles could be a bit tough. Or maybe that was just part of my own struggle to grasp strategies more complex than "get a bunch of guys together and fling them at your enemy."
Rise of the Dragon
When it first came out, Rise of the Dragon garnered a lot of negative attention for being one of "those" games. You know what I mean: those games that are poisoning our young people with their depraved depictions of violence and sex. Utterly despicable! It was fitting that the game received a hefty "MA-17" rating, as it would barely qualify for a "T for Teen" rating under the modern system. I guess your character did say "effing" at one point (not "fucking", mind you; "Effing").
In porting the game from the PC to the Sega CD, there were a couple minor graphic issues. The most noticeable issue was the system's lower color palette, which gave all the visuals a faint green tint and made it seem like you were interacting with a scene from The Matrix. On the upshot, however, this version boasts a full complement of voice actors, and competent ones at that. The main character was voiced by none other than Cam Clarke, the man who's done voicework for everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Metal Gear Solid!
Those it shares its name with a Turbographix-16 game, rest assured that this is the superior Dungeon Explorer. Being a gauntlet clone, it's you and your friends against legions of monsters and monster generators with one thing on their mind: march toward those heroes and kill them. It's a great formula, and Dungeon Explorer builds upon it by adding things like status effects and equipable items, as well as separate meters for food and health. As if that weren't enough, each of the six different characters had unique weaponry and in lieu of a single screen-clearing magical attack, each character had a unique special power that bestowed different effects like temporary invulnerability and bullet time (or would that be arrow time?).
If you had a multi-tap, the game was even more fun. Sure, Gauntlet-style games could be solo, but what's more fun than spending an evening mowing down hordes of witless monsters with three friends?
It wouldn't be a Sega peripheral without a visit from the company mascot. Some internal conflict within the company led to most of the Sonic team bailing for the US, with the remainder left to work out a Sega CD sequel. It sounds like the recipe for a major screwup in the franchise, but that wasn't the case at all. All the great elements of the Sonic series were there, along with an interesting time travel mechanic, wherein Sonic's quest to thwart technology will take him into both the past and future.
The downside, at least for fans in the US, was that for some reason, Sega decided to completely redo the soundtrack for the North American release. There wasn't any real need for it, and having the soundtrack redone delayed the release for months. I guess Sega just thought North America wasn't ready for a video game with techno music.
One thing the Sega CD did not have a lot of was RPGs. Luckily, it did have one of the best RPG series. What made Lunar such a standout series was the way characters were given much more in the way of development, and while the plot was a fairly common story of a boy becoming a hero and saving the world, the Lunar managed to present it in a way that didn't seem trite or boring. It also marked the first major outing by then-small time publisher, Working Designs. Whatever your feelings about their practice of changing certain dialog and gameplay elements during the translation process, they knew how to package a great game (metaphorically and literally).
The game was so popular in Japan it had nearly 1:1 sales with the Sega CD itself, and worldwide it was the #2 best selling Sega CD game of all time, just behind Sonic CD. The sequel, Eternal Blue, has the distinction of being the best reviewed game for the system.
Another Working Designs title, this one was a little less RPG and a little more Action. As with a number of other titles on this list, this one was released on a number of different systems, but the Sega CD version was undoubtedly the best, and the reasons are much the same: better production values, better sound, and some nice cutscenes to boot. Working Designs also took some liberties with the original script, adding English puns and American pop culture references that seemed a bit out-of-place in the medieval fantasy setting, but still struck a nice balance between comedy and the serious stuff. There was quite a bit more of the former than the latter, but it worked as a nice counterpoint to the oft-visited "unlikely hero vs. great evil" storyline.
Before he set out on his life's journey to create the world's longest cutscenes, Hideo Kojima turned out this little gem. You play Gillian Seed, a detective of sorts whose job it is to track down and destroy robots impersonating humans. It's more than a little like Blade Runner, but damned if it isn't compelling. For the most part, gameplay consists of moving from place to place and sorting through short lists of potential actions in each scene, with the occasional shooting sequence to break things up a little. It may not sound like much, but the story unfolds in such an impressive way that you'll be too caught up in the atmosphere of tension to notice any of the game's minor flaws. Still waiting for a serious sequel, though...
Earthworm Jim: Special Edition
Once again we've got a port of a game released on another system, and once again, the Sega CD version is superior. Shiny, the developers behind the original, took a ton of suggestions from the Earthworm Jim fan club and put them into this version. For starters, you've got a much sought after password system so you don't have to tear through the game in one sitting, but there's also vastly improved animations, a new CD soundtrack, a new weapon in the form of the all-too-literal homing missile, and a new level featuring the terrifying Big Bruty.
Best of all, beating the game now rewards you with a speech from EWJ creator Doug TenNapel. Easy mode gets you a long lecture about real earthworms, but if you can beat the game on Difficult, Mr. TenNapel will heap praise upon you, and he'll let you know that even if your life turns out to be total crap after this moment, even if you wind up serving a life sentence, you can rest safe in the knowledge that at least you beat Earthworm Jim on its highest difficulty setting. That's real inspiration, people.
Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side
Back in the mid-90s, there was a glut of fighting games made by people hoping to cash in on the success of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Eternal Champions was one such game, but it wasn't too bad. It had a bunch of interesting characters, all pulled from various historical periods (including a few suspect eras that turned out cyborgs and mermen), a special attack meter so you wouldn't get stuck flinging projectiles at your opponent for a full minute, and it had its own version of MK's fatalities, in the form of stage-specific "overkills".
It was fun, but Challenge from the Dark Side took things to the next level. For starters, it more than doubled the roster of fighters so that it included even more weirdoes. You had monkeys fighting pharaohs, acupuncturists fighting cowboys, ninjas fighting senators, it was insanity! Plus, you had better balancing, better music, and better sound effects. And in a time when people thought the violence in Mortal Kombat was shocking, this game was a veritable pioneer of ultraviolence: More overkills, more stage-based kills called "sudden deaths", character-specific "vendetta" kills, and CG "cinekills". All these with a level of detailed gore that made Doom and Mortal Kombat look like the latest installments in the Super Mario Bros. franchise. Even the developer logo was gory!
As you can see, there were plenty of diamonds in the rough. If you had a Sega CD and just those games, you'd be wondering why people thought so little of it. That feeling would last only as long as it would take you to discover the sheer volume of games like Ground Zero Texas, and Make My Video: Kriss Kross.
Are there any missing titles that you think have been unfairly overlooked? Well, why not post about them in the comments section below and reveal yourself as one of the few people who actually still play a game or two on the Sega CD?
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Didn't Phantasmagoria have a Sega CD port? That was an awesome game :D
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