Gaming History 101

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Podcast: Frankenconsole

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Sega is most famous for hyper segmenting its markets in the 16-bit generation with the Sega CD and 32X.  This resulted in reduced audiences each time a game was developed.  This was especially the case in 1994 when the Genesis/Mega Drive was struggling to keep up with the more popular SNES, the Sega CD was limited by the high price of hardware, and the 32X just plain didn’t have games.  Fred and Jam discuss the attributes and games that make these two add-ons significant.


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Written by Fred Rojas

April 13, 2016 at 11:00 am

Posted in podcast, Sega CD/Mega CD

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Extra Credit: Sega CD/Mega CD Top 10

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It’s that time again where Fred and Jam bring a whopping 40 games to the table to judge, debate, explain, and dissect until the elite top 10 get lined up and find out who takes home the coveted top spot.  Be sure to submit your personal list for the Community Top 10!


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Written by Fred Rojas

August 17, 2015 at 11:00 am

Posted in podcast, Sega CD/Mega CD

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Buying Guide: Sega Genesis (plus Sega CD and 32X)

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Behold "Frankenconsole"

Behold “Frankenconsole”

We all love our retro consoles, but in many cases the consoles we are buying are because they are cheap enough or we have enough money to purchase what we never were able to in our youth.  Unfortunately the business of making used retro items available to the masses can at times be a money grubbing market where consumers are deceived by people they will never meet in real life.  As an individual who has spent the last decade scouring the local area, conventions, eBay, and the internet as a whole I have learned many valuable lessons.  For that reason I present my buying guide series, which is a handy quick guide to knowing what to purchase and what will cost an arm and a leg to replace.

We have finally come to the console I started this entire buying guide series for: the Sega Genesis (and its many add-ons).  With a short period of its life having a 55 percent market share over the SNES (the year it launched, mind you), there were plenty of households who had a Sega Genesis.  So many, in fact, that there were five different versions of the console and 3 iterations!  Depending on the console version, your specs will vary but the list of what you need should stay the same so I’m going to run over the list.

First of all, figure out which model you want, here’s the gallery of what they look like:

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Written by Fred Rojas

December 20, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Review: Sonic CD (Sega CD)

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soniccd_boxConsole: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $11.99 (used), $23.50 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: Yes – PC, PS2/Gamecube (Sonic Gems Collection)
Digital Release? Yes – Steam, Xbox 360, PS3, Android, iOS ($5 on all platforms)

Sonic CD is one of those games that it’s just popular to like.  I don’t want to start on a negative note, the game does have some merit, but it’s not a particularly good Sonic game and doesn’t quite change the universe like many will claim.  Before Sega decided to blitz every console on the market with the digital version, Sonic fans were gnawing at the bit for a decent port (sadly the Sonic Gems Collection ports had emulation issues).  Now that it’s everywhere the gaming community seems to have adjusted to a more realistic view of the CD adventure that throws a few imaginative ideas at relatively lackluster level design.

At one point you're forced to beat Metal Sonic in a race.

At one point you’re forced to beat Metal Sonic in a race.

For those that aren’t up on their Sonic history, the hedgehog was co-created by Naoto Oshima and his more known partner Yuji Naka.  After the release of the first game, Naka and several members of that team moved to the United States and joined with STI (Sega Technical Institute) to create Sonic the Hedgehog 2.  Meanwhile the remaining developers, including Oshima, took the concepts that were in early development for Sonic 2 and expanded upon them into what eventually became Sonic CD.  This is why despite coming out around the same time as Sonic 2, Sonic CD looks graphically more like the original and doesn’t seem to adapt some of the great ideas of the sequel.  Still, it does feature some interesting gameplay mechanics, like the ability to move into the past and future with two full versions of the many levels.  This dual expansion of the campaign does have a casualty: level design.  Many of the levels in Sonic CD feature plenty of wasted real estate in the interest of moving quickly to the right, odd gimmicks that net death if you don’t tolerate the so-so platforming, and several instances where Sonic’s momentum is completely spoiled by a random ramp or springboard.  Despite these layout flaws I still contest that the boss designs are superior over Sonic 2 and prove that not all of the talent in Sega’s Japanese team migrated to America.

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Written by Fred Rojas

November 30, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Review: Racing Aces (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1994
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Difficulty: Hard
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $4.45 (used), $9.35 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: No
Digital Release? No

Racing Aces is another in a long line of games that came out before their time.  It’s not that the concept is particularly unique – a bunch of different planes involved in a race with occasional weapon combat – but rather that it’s a fully polygonal game trying to operate on a system that just doesn’t have the power.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Sega CD, but I acknowledge that it did nothing more than add some graphical maps and sound channels to the Sega Genesis.  This isn’t very conducive to a fully rendered 3D environment for racing.  As a result it looks and acts much like the Genesis ports of games like Virtua Racing or Hard Drivin’, with large bare environments that are boring to look at and staggered, slow vehicles that don’t make for an exciting battle.  Racing Aces moves sluggishly, the enemies have an unfair advantage, bare bones world, and is a racing game – all negative things in my book – so why do I like it so much?

The game starts off with a training arena that gets you used to using the easiest of the four classes of airplanes, the basic bi-plane.  It allows you to learn navigation, pointing the plane where you want it, and how to navigate the air before throwing competition your way.  It’s during this tutorial level that I learned I had a long way to go and for some reason remained a blocked part of my fond memory of this game.  Racing Aces controls like a computer that has too many processes (which may very well be what’s happening) because all of your inputs have drastic changes to the movement of your plane and come a few seconds after you press them, so it’s difficult to re-adjust yourself after an overshoot.  You eventually get the hang of it but that really means you get used to tapping directions to slowly adjust your direction to just the right spot.  Well until you hit a turn, that is, when everything gets thrown drastically off course and you’re again fighting to fly in a straight line.  Since I’ve never flown a plane before, I guess it’s possible that this is a normal experience for pilots but for those of us just trying to play a game it was a bit specific.  This speaks nothing for the other planes in each class, there are usually 2-4 different ones, which will force you to readjust to even more picky controls.  It’s all worth it once you grind through the hour or so of practice to get your skills up because then you feel like this laughably sluggish race moving at stuttering speeds is actually intense.  By the end of it onlookers couldn’t help but crack up as I inched my way toward a finish line.

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Written by Fred Rojas

November 27, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Technopop
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Helpful – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $8.88 (used), $39.99 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: Yes – Simply known as Spider-Man on Genesis, Game Gear, and Master System
Digital Release? No

As we sometimes see in the 16-bit era, first party published titles became interesting exclusives on either side of the console wars and among the various Spider-Man titles I have to say this is my favorite.  Amazing Spider-Man vs. Kingpin (or better known on all other ports as Spider-Man) tasks you with defusing a bomb set by the nefarious Kingpin within 24 hours (pretty sure that’s not real-time) by collecting keys from different foes in the Spider-Man universe.  This was the first game I played that gave me exactly what I expected out of a superhero title.  It allowed me to play as Spider-Man, it had solid controls that included web slinging and wall grabbing, and it did it all in a side scrolling platformer/brawler.  Not only that, but the game embraces a non-linear structure where you visit locations throughout the city and face whatever is in certain locations, which felt like it freed the game up to your personal pacing, something quite uncommon in the days of early platformers.  While the plot centralized around the Kingpin, you will take on almost all of Spider-Man’s key foes including Venom, Doc Oc, Lizard, and Electro, just to name a few.  Graphically the game had that semi-real grit that Sega titles all seemed to offer in the early 90s with great animated storyboard art throughout.

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Written by Fred Rojas

November 25, 2012 at 11:34 am

Friday at the Movies: Jurassic Park (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment
Publisher: Sega
Instruction Manual: Helpful – Link
Difficulty: Easy
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $1.02 (used), $10.39 (new) (pricecharting.com
Other Releases: No
Digital Release? No

When the movie Jurassic Park came out in 1993, it was an absolute phenomenon.  People who had never read the book were picking it up in droves, and from what I could tell through conversation at that time almost no one actually read it.  Dinosaur craze returned in full force as Michael Crichton’s novel about a genetic research company cloning dinosaurs on a Costa Rican island brought out the kid in everyone.  Not only that, Spielberg’s film adaptation utilized cutting edge computer generated image technology along with stop motion and creature expert Stan Winston to create lifelike dinosaurs onscreen that amazed everyone.  Jurassic Park was not only ideal for the medium it was on, the premise was tailor-made for marketing companies to merchandise the hell out of it.  Back then development cycles were short and coordinating a solid game release along with a movie wasn’t so far-fetched, and honestly most home ports of the game were as diverse as it came across platforms and all pretty decent.  My personal favorite has to be the Sega CD port, which merged details from both the movie and the book to create, of all things, a point-and-click adventure set on the island.  The opportunity of exploring the vacant island and interacting with the dinosaurs was a great opportunity, but I didn’t come to appreciate it until I was much older due to the lack of action in the game.

Set shortly after the abandonment of the island in the movie, you’re tasked with returning to Jurassic Park after the tragedy that befell its visitors and recover dinosaur eggs for rebuilding.  Since the eggs are lost and you are unaware of Dennis Nedry’s specimen can, your only option is to sneak into the nest of the 12 given dinosaur species, recover an egg, and return it to the incubator at the visitor’s center.  While locations remain in a controlled environment (you’re forced into fast travel movies that drop you into the screens you explore), there is an awful lot of freedom to roam about.  What I found most iconic is the ability to explore areas like visitor center laboratory and even special access to Dr. Wu’s office, the tyrannosaur paddock and seeing the after effects of the attack on the SUVs that Tim, Lex, and Grant were in, and even a tense trip down the island river (which is never featured in the movie but a crucial part of the book’s plot) as dilophosaurs spit venom at you.  While this sounds gripping and almost too high brow for 1993, you must remember that this game is a true adventure game not unlike the LucasArts and Sierra titles, which means action is few and far between.  Even in the sequences where you do engage dinosaurs, the answer is always some sort of puzzle that usually has you dying quite a few times before figuring out the secret.  I think most people who go into this game are imagining something that is a bit more interactive than it is, but if you approach it with an adventure game mindset it weaves an intriguing story.

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Written by Fred Rojas

November 16, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Review: Sewer Shark (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1992
Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Sony Imagesoft
Instruction Manual: Helpful – Link
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $0.87 (used), $20.00 (new) (pricecharting.com
Price: $3-$10 (used) – Since this game was a pack-in, almost never seen sealed outside console bundles
Other Releases: 3DO
Digital Release? No

Sewer Shark is another converted game from the canceled Hasbro NEMO console and was intended to be played using a VHS (just like Night Trap) although how they were going to do it is completely beyond me.  Most of the games I covered last week were good concepts that resulted in okay launch games that were flawed either by long load times or just not fully fleshed out.  I would argue that among the launch window titles, Sewer Shark is the exception.  It is a complete video game that utilizes the video functionality of the console and combines it with simple gameplay mechanics to make a solid experience.

sewershark1Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the surface of Earth is unlivable and creatures are forced underground to dwell in drab conditions.  Not only that but the creatures of the sewers have mutated, causing larger sizes (scorpions and bats) and hybrids (ratigators – a hybrid of rats and alligators) that make sewers a dangerous world to trek on foot.  As a result, little ships that can navigate the sewers, known as Sewer Sharks, navigate the tunnels to get people around, hunt for food, and offer a promise of the one haven left on the planet: Solar City.  In Sewer Shark you play a new pilot recruit (nicknamed “sewer jockey”) that has the overall goal of retiring in Solar City.  Unfortunately almost every jockey that attempts the trek dies in a sewer crash or by the hands of some mysterious danger in Sector 19, the final stretch before Solar City.  As best put by your co-pilot Ghost in the beginning, you receive, “a name, a boss, a friend, and a reason to live…a million pounds of tubesteak, that’s all you gotta deliver today hotshot!” in order to make it to the end.  This is important because the game has a very simple task – navigate the sewers, kill enemies to collect points (pounds of tubesteak), and once you hit a million you get the final encounter.  It’s a pretty decent setup and definitely a concept not overused in games at that point, unfortunately to collect all this information you have to read the manual and play close attention to the introduction that can be skipped by simply pressing start.

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Written by Fred Rojas

November 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Review: Make My Own Music Video (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1992
Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Sony Imagesoft
Instruction Manual: Not necessary
Difficulty: Non-existent
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: pricecharting.com has hilarously not even covered these games
Price: Don’t even bother
Other Releases: Absolutely Not
Digital Release? No, aside from how horrible they are, the music is timely

There is just no getting around this, these are terrible video games.  Not only are they pop groups that only existed in the early part of the 1990s, but they aren’t games at all.  You goal is just as it sounds: make a music video.  It’s a crash course in linear digital editing where three streams of video appear on the screen at once and you use the A, B, and C button to select the “active” feed that will become your master video.  Unfortunately the three feeds are made up of a random lot of public domain videos from the first half of the century, sometimes altered slightly for the beat, and the original music video for the game.  I’m not saying that these videos are directorial masterpieces, but when combined with the patethic hodgepodge of public domain video, they’re the next Star Wars, I have never once wanted to leave the feed of the main video.  Having said that, they are amazing fun at a party when you want to laugh your head off at how pathetically cheesy this generation of pop music was.

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Review: The Adventures of Willy Beamish (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1993
Developer: Dynamix
Publisher: Sierra
Instruction Manual: Not necessary
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $8.99 (used) $15.01 (new) (pricecharting.com) – Price for Sega CD version only
Price: $6.00-$10.00 (used) $88.00 (new) on eBay
Other Releases: Amiga, PC, Mac
Digital Release? No

Another early Sega CD release, while most of the games that came out near launch were cool new CD-ROM interactions and FMV games, The Adventures of Willy Beamish was a port of an Amiga point-and-click adventure title that received several enhancements on Sega’s system.  Published by Sierra, one of the two major producers of the adventure genre at the time, Willy Beamish totes you along on an adventure of a nine-year-old boy and the several decisions and influences you will deal with.  Beamish is somewhat of a troublemaker as established by the opening scene in detention on the final day of school before summer break, which begins your adventure by sneaking past your ancient teacher and getting home.  In typical Bart Simpson emulation for the time, Willy rides a skateboard, has a pet frog, and is prone to causing problems for any adults in his wake.  From then on an amusing tale of a young boy saving his town unfolds that has you doing everything from the mundane – playing with your younger sister on the swingset – to the completely crazy – combat with a vampiric babysitter.  As much as many critics have compared this game to a storybook come to life, little touches like a playable video game console in your bedroom and somewhat brancing plot paths show impressive game design for the time.

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Written by Fred Rojas

November 7, 2012 at 4:34 pm