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LONG BLOG

The Future Was Here: A Look at the Sega CD.

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"History is written by the victors." - Winston Churchill (attributed)

Sega's history is interesting, to say the least.

The Mega Drive was conceived by Sega of Japan as being the next generation of Sega's game consoles, which started with the SG-1000 and the Master System. Sega also had the goal of dethroning Nintendo as the #1 game company in the industry.

That didn't work.

This idea was carried over when the Mega Drive was brought over to the United States. A trademark issue prevented the name "Mega Drive" from being used, so the console was known as the "Sega Genesis."

Sega's initial ad campaign was called "Sega For The 90s: A New Generation."



Sega's campaign focused primarily on the arcade ports that were in the initial Genesis lineup, as well as the sports games that were on offer at the time.

Once again, this didn't quite work.

Sega didn't hit their stride until 1990-1991, when Sega of America underwent a change of leadership and a change in their marketing of the Genesis. Instead of pushing arcade ports like Altered Beast and Ghouls 'N Ghosts, Sega decided to bundle the Genesis with Sonic The Hedgehog, which was (and still is) an excellent game; and a good example of the Genesis' capabilities.

This decision, along with a price cut and a super-aggressive marketing push, allowed Sega to slaughter Nintendo in the early days of Nintendo's Super Nintendo console.

Sega had some interesting add-on items available for the Genesis. My favorite one is the Sega CD, known as the Mega CD in Japan and in PAL territories. This thing connected to the side of a Sega Genesis, and used black magic to play games that weren't on cartridges. Instead, the games came on a completely new format: The CD.

The Sega CD was Sega's attempt to harness the power of the compact disc, which was new and scary to a lot of consumers even in the early 1990s. If you were a consumer in that time, you definitely had a CD player somewhere near the centerpiece of your home theater system, possibly next to a rear-projection television or a giant JVC Master Commander TV set. Not only that, but the potential for data storage on a CD was astounding.

See, a standard CD can hold roughly 700MB of data, which was absolutely massive compared to the ~1MB of space that the average cartridge-based game had at the time. Oddly enough, most Sega CD games didn't take full advantage of the increased space. A good chunk of the library consists of ports of Genesis titles, like Chuck Rock 2, Ecco The Dolphin, Eternal Champions, Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, etc... For these particular games, most of the space on the disc was used to store actual CD-quality audio in lieu of the regular music from the original Genesis carts.
 
Another use of the CD technology was to cram the disc full of full-motion video clips and cobble some sort of game together with them.

Ah, yes. The FMV genre. The Sega CD wasn't quite the inventor of this particular genre of games, but Sega's marketing arm certainly made people think they were.

For those that don't know, FMV games were games where the "graphics" consisted of actual video clips. The player would have to act on on-screen prompts to keep the action in the "game" going, as you're basically playing Simon Says to keep the video playing out as it should. Being a genre that relied on filmed material as opposed to actual video game graphics, the games were very limited in what you could actually do. You had to play it in whatever way the developer intended, or it didn't work. Very few of these games hold up today.

The Sega CD had some excellent gems among all of the poor choices. Here are a few of my favorites, categorized by genre:

Shoot 'Em Up:

The Sega CD had some great shmups available. This is a genre that seems to gravitate towards obscure game consoles, for some reason.

Android Assault
Silpheed
Robo Aleste
Sol-Feace

Platformers:

There aren't many SCD-exclusive works on the console, as most of the platformers were just ports of Genesis games with better music. Here are some that aren't like that:

Sonic CD
The Terminator
Heart of The Alien

Role-Playing Games:

These games aren't particularly easy to find, but they are stellar examples of the RPG genre that take full advantage of this add-on:

Lunar: The Silver Star
Lunar 2: Eternal Blue
Popful Mail
Shining Force CD

FMV:

Yeah, I said most of these aren't that good. They aren't. But there are a few FMV games that aren't necessarily "bad", just "interesting." No guarantees that these will be the best things ever, though:

Night Trap
Corpse Killer
Ground Zero Texas
Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers
Sewer Shark

I know I left out a bunch of staples (Play Snatcher if you have the chance. It's great.) but this list is a quick start to appreciating the Sega CD slightly more.

This console has a bit of a bad reputation for being not worth the effort to set up and play, but I'd like to think that once you set everything up and pop in Sonic CD or Corpse Killer, you have the potential to have a fun night ahead of you.

Hey, at least it's not the 32X...
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About Titannelone of us since 6:02 PM on 08.12.2013

Hey. I'm Titannel. I am a production specialist for a news station. I also enjoy the video games. I particularly focus on retro video games, though I collect for pretty much everything, against my better judgment..Anyone who can decode my banner wins fifty bonus points. For what? Eh.

Oh, what's that? You want a shorter description? Here's one:

"Production Specialist. Amateur filmmaker. Creative Writer. Real human being. And a real hero."