Sega CD — good idea or a complete mess?
History has not been kind to the Sega CD add-on for the time-tested Genesis.
Some have pointed out the tons of shovelware available for the system, while others have acknowledged a lot of junk games were made for it but there are some classics buried in the library for the system. The Sega CD has been blamed for everything from ruining Sega’s future in the video game industry to be an absolute waste of money.
Regardless of what people think of the Sega CD, there are a few facts about the unit that are hard to dispute. First of all, the system didn’t quite achieve what Sega wanted — it was introduced in 1992 and was pulled in 1995 due to a lack of popularity in spite of initial enthusiasm for the product. Second, Sega completely misread what gamers wanted with this — the system was all about full-motion video, but the Sony PlayStation proved in the mid-1990s that the future was in 3D gaming.
Before getting into all that, one question must be answered — why treat the Sega CD as something that is separate and apart from the Sega Genesis? The Sega CD is, after all, an add-on to the Genesis, so why treat it as anything different? Simply put, Sega released this as an attempt to do a couple of things — increase the longevity and appeal of the Genesis and introduce players to what the company hoped was a rather new aspect of what could be achieved with a console. Also, bear in mind that the folks over at Nintendo were in a contract with Sony to develop a CD unit for the SNES. As we know, that unit never materialized, but Sony took what it had developed and incorporated it into the PlayStation.
Those factors, and a couple of other ones, suggest that Sega viewed the Sega CD as as something that was a bit apart from the Genesis. For example, the Sega CD upped the hardware capabilities of the Genesis. Obviously, more data can be jammed on a CD than a Genesis cartridge, but the Sega CD increased the capabilities of the Genesis by adding an additional CPU, more RAM and rotation and scaling capabilities that the original system lacks. The unit also allows the Genesis to — finally — output CD quality sound (a capability that wasn’t utilized as much as expected, by the way).
The unit itself is meant to be rather permanently attached to the Genesis. The unit comes in two flavors — the original that was meant primarily for the initial Sega Genesis and sits below the unit and the more common Sega CD 2 that sits side-by-side with the Genesis 2. Neither unit is officially supported by the Genesis 3. The unit comes with its own power supply, by the way, meaning Genesis owners with crowded surge protector strips had to make room for something else.
At any rate, Sega geared up for what the company hoped would be a demand for full-motion video (FMV) games. Unfortunately, the Sega CD wasn’t set up all that well for it in that videos tended to suffer from terrible frame rates due to the slow CD player and the limitations of the Genesis. The videos were often a bit blurry, too, because the Genesis simply couldn’t display enough colors to render that “real life” aspect that was deemed necessary for FMV. The result was a lot of FMV games that were downright terrible and haven’t aged well at all. There are some exceptions to that rule, of course — Night Trap was a particularly popular title that is notorious for both depictions of violence that prompted a Senate investigation that resulted in Sega pulling the game off the market. The title also starred Dana Plato, marking an early appearance of a celebrity (minor or otherwise) in a game. Yes, you’ve got some winners among those FMV games (Dragon’s Lair and Road Avenger, for example), but most of them weren’t much fun when released and just look terribly dated by today’s standards.
A good number of companies decided to exploit the market for the Sega CD by making games that were rehashes of Sega Genesis titles with a few cut scenes and some enhanced audio thrown in for good measure. That tactic was used on a few hit Genesis titles — NHL ’94, Mortal Kombat and Road Rash, to name a few. The CD enhancements add nothing essential to the games and people who already own the Genesis titles might feel absolutely cheated.
So, is that to to say the Sega CD is a waste of time. Absolutely not. Why? For one thing, you can pick up a Sega CD 2 unit for next to nothing on eBay an the same is true of most of the better games for the system. For another, there are some truly great games out there for those who are willing to sift through the junk and get to the good stuff.
What are some titles worth having? Ironically, the great games are typically the ones that used the Sega CD to offer supreme two-dimensional games that used rotation and scaling very well and took advantage of the compact disc’s high storage capacity. Sonic CD is a must-have for the system and as it offers more levels, better bonus rounds and the unit’s built-in capacity to save games (a great addition to an already legendary series). One of the best shooters on any system is Robo Aleste (warning — for masochists and fans of mayhem only) and Slipheed is another great shooter. Even the legendary Wing Commander — a 3D space combat simulator — is on the Sega CD, and the version of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: Eye of the Beholder for the system is very good. Speaking of great role playing games, the Lunar series started on the Sega CD (but you’ll pay a pretty penny for those games).
In the end, the Sega CD is a mixed bag. A lot of games for it are downright terrible, but those Sega fans willing to sift through the junk and get to the good stuff might be pleasantly surprised. Want some help sorting through that Sega CD library? Having a look at the game reviews at The Video Game Critic is a great place to start.
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.