Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Happy 20th to the Sega CD

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Sega CD Model 2 with Genesis Model 2, the most common setup

Okay, I know the Sega CD actually turned 20 exactly one week ago on October 15, but we’ve been very busy over here so we regretfully missed the window.  Fortunately we are making up for that with tons of Sega CD coverage for the month of November, check in to see write-ups and gameplay on many of the titles that made Sega’s overpriced add-on a temptation in 1993.  Now I know it is popular opinion to crap all over the Sega CD and in full disclosure I’m an avid fanboy of this specific system, but somewhere in between lies its true value.  Someone once told me that any console with at least three good games is worth being in existence and under that theory the Sega CD justifies itself at least three times over.  In recent days the Sega CD has also dropped in price/value so it’s quite possible to get your hands on a Genesis/CD combo for roughly $50-$75, which isn’t too shabby even by today’s standards.

In truth the Sega CD (Mega CD in Japan and Europe) wasn’t designed for our market.  It was developed in Japan to compete with the PC-Engine CD (Turbografx-16 Duo in our country) and hopefully migrate the consumers of the time into the CD generation as an unassuming add-on instead of a full-blown machine.  In the end both consoles did make their way stateside (NEC being very conservative with Turbo Duo distribution and Sega liberally releasing any and all hardware in every market) with hefty price tags ($300-$450).  Sega CD emerged victorious but many would argue its victory was due more to the fact that almost every game that released in Japan came over here whereas an extremely meager amount of PC-Engine CD titles ever made it stateside.  Like the PC-Engine CD, the Sega CD was able to upgrade visuals, considerably upgrade audio quality (especially with straight CD tracks in red and yellow book audio format), and increase capacity of discs to 600 mb when compared to the frail 32 megabit capacity of the Genesis.  Sega CD was kept under wraps so tightly that aside from technical specs, many developers of early games had no idea what console they were developing for.

Getting Technical

Sega CD Model 1 with Genesis Model 1

As a result of Sega’s “release everything” policy, the Sega CD has a few versions that can be found in the US market (ignoring importing, of course) and compatibility can be somewhat complicated.  All Sega CD games (imports from anywhere else will be labeled Mega CD) are compatible in all Sega CD consoles and the add-on peripheral itself is compatible with the Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 consoles, but not the Genesis 3 or Sega Nomad.  There are two consoles – the first version locks under a Genesis and has a slide out tray and is prone to mechanical failure these days due to the bands and screws that make up the device and the second being a top loading console that attached to the right of the Genesis, which has much less moving parts and rarely breaks down even today.  In addition there is also the Sega CDX, a portable CD player and Genesis/Sega CD combo in one, and the rare JVC X’Eye, a licensed console that is also a Genesis/Sega CD in one.  Sega CD adds an additional 12.5 mhz 16-bit Motorola 68000 processor, which is just a higher clocked version of the Genesis, that runs in tandem for CD games (and goes dormant for Genesis cart titles) adding minor video compression capabilities, improved visuals, and rotation/scaling (think Mode 7 for the SNES).  As for sound, it added 8 stereo sound channels to the 6 on the Genesis Yamaha chip and additional 4 PGS, which basically means it could make games sound really good.  The biggest gripe for the console is that the onboard RAM was extremely small, capable of holding one or two save files for most games (especially big JPRGs) so a tempting hunt for the average collector is the Sega CD RAM cart that adds 16 times the storage space but resells today for high prices starting at around $50.  If you don’t mind playing one game at a time with no stores save files, the console is perfectly playable (with saving) on its own.


Quintessential in determining the value of the console is the value of the games.  Sega CD was panned by critics back then and today for its seemingly lackluster library, which I have a hard time agreeing with.  In fact, thanks to re-releases and the lack of demand for the system, Sega CD games can often times be the best and most inexpensive port of a game in that era.  Overall the Sega CD library can be separated in three groups: ports, full motion video (FMV) games, and exclusives.

In the realm of ports, there’s no shortage of Sega CD titles that came from the arcades, the PC, and even the Sega Genesis itself.  Most titles that began life on the Genesis have lazy ports that are basically ROMs from the cart placed on the CD.  Thankfully Sega included four games (Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, Columns, and Revenge of Shinobi) as the pack-in for the Sega CD 1, but Lethal Enforcers and Lethal Enforcers II are famously indistinguishable between the Genesis and Sega CD version.  Chuck Rock, Chuck Rock 2, and Brutal: Paws of Fury also suffer similar fates with little changes over the originals and nothing that can be noticed by the unaware player.  Arcade ports, on the other hand, received very faithful upgrades over most other versions on the market including Fatal Fury Special, the only decent home port of Final Fight, the only version of Mortal Kombat that was bloody out of the box, and NBA Jam: Tournament Edition.  There is a great version of Samurai Showdown as well that skates the line between the performance on Genesis and the visuals of SNES, but it had a game breaking bug that would freeze up as it loaded the final boss that you may want to stray from (this version was fixed and ported to the 3DO).  On the PC front, plenty of ports made appearances including a fully voiced version of Willy Bemish, a point-and-click adventure that borrows themes from Dennis the Menace, Escape from Monkey Island, Rise of the Dragon, Space Adventure Cobra, Wing Commander, Heart of the Alien, Star Wars Chess, Rebel Assault, and the best version of Snatcher.  For those not familiar, Snatcher is a cyberpunk adventure game from Hideo Kojima (of Metal Gear Solid fame) that includes many adult themes and interesting pop culture references, the Sega CD version being the most complete and ironically only English version for a smash hit from Japan.  Depending on who you ask, this is the one game you have to own on the console, but you will pay dearly for it.

FMV titles basically gained popularity on the Sega CD and make up a decent chunk of its library.  Of these games, the most effective to implement the system are Night Trap, pseudo-sequel Double Switch, and Sewer Shark, which all integrate some semblance of gameplay.  For many of the others, they seemed to copy the Dragon’s Lair format of meager player interaction to forward a story.  These titles are abundant – Dragon’s Lair, Dragon’s Lair 2, Road Avenger, Time Gal, Wirehead, Make my Video Series (Kriss Kross, Marky Mark, INXS, C&C Music Factory), Masked Rider, Space Ace, and Supreme Warrior – but also mixed in are light gun games that fused FMV and the Lethal Enforcers mechanic (poorly) – Mad Dog McCree, Who Shot Johnny Rock, Ground Zero Texas, and Crime Patrol.  Basically if you’ve heard negative things about this console it’s most likely in response to these games.  I happen to have a soft spot for a handful of them, but even I can’t stand replaying Mad Dog McCree or Masked Rider again.  There are also interactive mystery games that made a cameo on the console, which are Dracula Unleashed and Sherlock Holmes Vol. 1 and 2, all taking place coincidentally in about the same time period and location (England) that has you solving crimes and seeing cutscenes for clues and plot progression.

Finally we come to the unique titles, and probably the largest justification for the system.  On the top of that list is Sonic CD, which isn’t that great of a game in hindsight, but features a solid soundtrack and unique past/present/future system that was an early attempt to break the Sonic mold.  Several large RPGs made their way to the console, including the highly popular Lunar and Lunar 2, which were first released on Sega CD.  Due to rarity and popularity, these games still remain more expensive and arguably rougher than the PS1 remakes, but those who have copies of the game cherish them.  Panic! is an exploration game starring a young boy who closely resembles Stewie from Family Guy (in looks only) and a canceled game that can be found online today called Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors that featured “fake” minigames to mess with your friends including the cult favorite Desert Bus where you travel for 8 actual hours with almost no activity on a trip from Phoenix to Las Vegas for one point.  There is an impressive point-and-click action adventure Jurassic Park title that stands as possibly the only game from that franchise to somewhat capture the feel of being stuck on Isla Nublar.  Robo Aleste is a Tengen developed vertical shooter that is a sequel to the highly praised M.U.S.H.A. Aleste title for the Genesis and Silpheed is a decent Starfox clone.

The lists I have provided are in no way a complete collection of the console’s titles, but it begins to give you an idea that Sega put forth a lot of effort to see the Sega CD succeed.  Unfortunately its timing and extremely high price tag placed it out of reach for most gamers and the large volume of horrid FMV titles and expensive exclusives make it a timid console to collect.  Still, I loved that console and I’m impressed that after nearly 20 years of life, my Sega CD 2 still runs perfectly.  It introduced me to load times, limited storage, repetitive gameplay and titles that could be conquered in 12 minutes, but for some reason I can’t help but celebrate the Sega CD.

Ghost from Sewer Shark says, “The Sega CD ain’t half bad!”

Written by Fred Rojas

October 22, 2012 at 3:23 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Greetings from California! I’m bored to death at work so I decided to browse your blog on my iphone during lunch break. I really like the knowledge you provide here and can’t
    wait to take a look when I get home. I’m surprised at how fast your blog loaded on my mobile .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .
    . Anyways, fantastic blog!


    July 17, 2013 at 3:51 pm

  2. Someone’s bias is showing.
    >On the top of that list is Sonic CD, which isn’t that great of a game in hindsight
    Seriously? Its widely considered to be the BEST Sonic game ever, and this is from the 2D Sonic fanbase, a bunch of picky nerds. Most of the people I know that own a SegaCD pretty much only have it so they can play Sonic CD.


    October 2, 2013 at 11:15 am

    • Good point on the bias, it is biased. The moment that I comment on a game subjectively its a bias. Personally I feel I did it justice by saying its the top title in almost every list, but I do admit to also not caring much for the game. This debate rages on with me and Andy/Ali on the Sonic podcast ep as they also disagree with me. Its got praise, but my feelings are still the same, my Sonic CD review makes my case (links for my reviews have been added). As a partial Sonic fan I know I will never make the Sonic fans happy all the time, which is okay. Your comments are appreciated though, we all need to assure we are kept in check with our audience.


      October 2, 2013 at 11:44 am

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