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Home » Retrogaming, Technology

Sega CD — good idea or a complete mess?

By: 26 January 2011 5 Comments

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.

Dana Plato in 'Night Trap.'

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.

Stay tuned — more reviews to come in the “retrogaming” category here at First Arkansas News.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email =


  • Chrischran said:

    Not to be a jerk, but were you around back then? Did you own a Sega CD? Because I did, I was 13 at the time. My parents weren’t sold on the idea so I spent all the cash I had to get the $300 device and was lucky they got me a couple games for it the next Christmas. Let me tell you this – it was absolutely as bad as everybody says it is.

    I got Sonic CD right away. Good game, yes. Great game, absolutely not. If you want to play it, it’s been released on PC and Gamecube. The cube version works on Wii even. But what’s the bother cause you can emulate it and also play the original Japanese soundtrack if you’d prefer. The FMV games were actually not as bad as people think at the time. I enjoyed both Sewer Shark and Night Trap but not so much the basketball, boxing, and Corey Haim games. They were awful. Years later I purchased Final Fight, NHL ’94, Mortal Kombat, Earthworm Jim, Pitfall, and SEVERAL other “great” Sega CD games at a discount. They were all garbage. I take care of my stuff so I sold it on ebay in practically mint condition and I don’t even think I made a profit after fees and shipping.

    Sega CD was horrible, it was just plain bad. Lunar might’ve been good but it was reissued a million times afterwards. I also bought Snatcher (for $60, not at a discount) and that was probably the only darn good game on the console. I sold it for $150 years later thankfully. Do not hold Sega CD on a pedestal or say it was better than Saturn. It deserves the rep that history has given it. I wish in return I bought something worthwhile at the time… like SNES games.

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Chriscran — Yes, I was around back then and owned a Genesis. I passed on the Sega CD, picking up one years later. Why? I wasn’t sold on FMV games and most of the titles looked like rehashed Genesis games with some extra junk thrown in for good measure.

    I picked up a Sega CD long after they’d gone out of fashion and I’m glad I waited. Are there some good games for the system? Yes, but not so great that I regret waiting until I could pick them up for a few bucks rather than paying for them when they were new.

    Bear in mind that I tend to view the Sega CD, then, from the perspective of someone who digs old games. I likely would have felt cheated had I purchased one when it was new.

    The hostility you’re displaying toward the Sega CD explains a lot about why Sega tanked in the console industry. Enough people felt burned over both the Sega CD and 32-X (I haven’t bothered to grab one of those, by the way) that the company lost a lot of the goodwill it earned from the Genesis. The Saturn and Dreamcast both got whipped in the market, and that all started with the Sega CD.

    Sad, but true.

    And, no, you’re not being a jerk — just a consumer who regrets a purchase and resents the company that made it. Easy enough to understand that…

  • Troy Tanw. said:

    SEGA CD!?

    I was in high school at that time when SEGA CD came out. my friend bought it, but since im SNES fan so i didnt buy it.

    why didnt i buy it? For me SEGA genesis, CD, and 32x, both in design and games were not so appealing to me. I didnt like any of their games… for me, Sonic was an unappealing character compare to Mario and Luigi.

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