First published in CubedGamers (Printed Edition): August 2016
The Sega-CD was the first of two peripheries that were designed to extend the life of the Sega MegaDrive, which was originally released in 1988. The second was the 32X, which boosted the power of the console to something near the power of the Sega Saturn and was meant as a crossover product for those who wouldn’t be able to afford the cost of the MegaDrive’s successor. It was never successful, and produced few games worth talking about beyond novelty.
Though it never took off in Japan, the SEGA-CD sold just over 2 million units worldwide. Sales were hampered by the high launch price, and the fact that only two games were initially available. In hindsight, the proliferation of mediocre FMV games in the peripheries early days damaged its reputation, given their limited long term appeal. Other criticisms included the number of games that were merely MegaDrive rehashes upgraded to CD format, and the slow loading times associated with video clips.
In spite of this, there are plenty of interesting games worth playing from this era of Sega’s history. Here are five to get you started.
Rise of the Dragon (1993)
The influence of 1980s sci-fi movies such as Blade Runner and Terminator on video game designers cannot be underestimated. Rise of the Dragon, a 1990 adventure, was one of two games by Dynamix to receive a conversion. A cyberpunk thriller, Rise of the Dragon casts you as Blade Hunter, a detective hired to solve the mysterious death of the mayors’ daughter at the hands of a mutilating designer drug, and to rid the city of a mysterious Chinese cult. The game runs in real time over the course of two days, and it is quite easy to run out of time. The Sega-CD version has its flaws – the colour palette is washed in a green tinge – but the addition of a good voice cast, including Cam Clarke as Blade, really helps maintain a dark atmosphere.
Lunar: The Silver Star (1992)
The MegaDrive was always more popular in Europe than its native Japan, but this game became its highest-selling title in its home country, and the second highest worldwide after Sonic-CD, reportedly selling its entire production run of 100,000 copies in the first year of its release. Developed by Game Arts, Lunar was a conscious effort to create a game that focus on storytelling over action, and though the plot is fairly generic, it has enough interesting twists to keep the player interested, in part due to the inclusion of high quality anime cutscenes. The English conversion, produced by Working Designs, has long been hailed as the benchmark for translating Japanese games. A sequel, Lunar: Eternal Blue, was also well received, even though it’s set 1000 years after the first game!
Robo Aleste (1992)
What happens when you blend Mecha (giant robots) with Japanese samurai folklore? You get Robo Aleste! The sequel to MegaDrive shooter Musha Aleste, the game is a traditional vertical scrolling shooter, in which the player defeats a series of warlords, holds no surprises, but is a solid game with high graphics, and cutscenes that flesh out the plot, a convoluted story of medieval politics and civil war transformed by the sudden appearance of giant robots. Also worthy of note is the soundtrack, a fusion of traditional Japanese music and techno. This is probably the best shooter for the SEGA-CD.
Popful Mail (1993)
Another port, Popful Mail originally appeared on the NEC PC-8801 (a Japanese home computer) in 1991. A 2D side scroller with RPG elements, the game is set in a fantasy world, and stars Mail, a down on her luck bounty hunter whose main target, the devious Nuts Cracker (the leader of the Ginger Bread Grifter Gang), repeatedly escapes her grasp. After failing once more – Nutts head falls off, meaning she is unable to cash in the bounty – she decided to go after Muttonhead, a renegade magician. On the way she meets two companions; Tatt, Muttonhead’s former apprentice; and Gaw, a small dragon that talks about itself in the third person. With over three hours of humorous voice acting to keep you entertained, the Popful Mail is a welcome break from the usual self-importance and high drama of console RPGs
Ground Zero: Texas (1993)
Ground Zero: Texas, an FMV alien invasion yarn from Digital Pictures was shot with the assistance of a full Hollywood film crew and a two-million-dollar budget. with the technical capacity of the console pushed to its extremes, the footage had to processed into a 64 colour palette to maintain a playable speed. The acting, though predictably poor, was supported by a great sci-fi plot in the style of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and it’s one of only two FMV’s, the other being Night Trap, that are worth your time!