Yes that’s right, there were at least five SEGA CD games worth playing. Although I’ve made my peace about growing up Genesis; the 32X and CD were the toughest parts of finding forgiveness. Still, I had some fun, and here are the best of that rotten bunch.
5. Power Rangers
I know what you’re thinking. Power Rangers was a popular TV licensed FMV cash-in like all of the other Sega CD crap. But after running through it recently, I realized how underrated this little gem was.
The developer was given less than six months to have the game ready for Christmas and the time crunch significantly altered the development, but perhaps for the better.
Instead of a lame side-scroller or Street Fighter knockoff with crappy cutscenes, the lead designer doubled down on the FMV as the gameplay itself. He cut together a story using the most of the plot from Season 1 and turned the whole thing into a Quick-Time-Event. The player watched a bit of story and then it was onto some sweet martial arts action. Arrow and button prompts popped up on the screen and the player would match them as quick as they could, with failures dropping their life bar. It was simple, but it worked, and was the best implementation of FMV on the console.
I’ll also put Sonic CD here, as it’s a fantastic Sonic game with a psychedelic edge.
4. Lunar: The Silver Star / Eternal Blue
The RPG community is eternally thankful this series didn’t die here, instead making it’s way to the Saturn, Playstation, Windows, and even iOS in 2012. While Silver Star was aimed at a younger audience and was much shorter than your average RPG, Eternal Blue was a true epic.
Lunar: The Silver Star was downright revolutionary when it hit way back in 1992(J)/1993(NA). It featured great voice acting, music, and (slightly) animated cut scenes that realized the greatest strengths of the SEGA CD console. To put it in perspective, Final Fantasy V had just come out and that series wouldn’t have voice acting for nine more years.
If more games like this were available, perhaps Sega could have become an RPG titan and we would have seen Final Fantasy VII on the Saturn instead.
3. Popful Mail
Popful Mail is a charming and challenging side scroller with light RPG elements. It featured a spunky main character and a plethora of great anime to flesh out the genuinely funny story. The gameplay consists mostly of platforming, hack and slash, visiting towns, exploring dungeons, and fighting tough MegaMan-esque bosses. It was Zelda II on steroids.
It still holds up today and I’ve got the video right here to prove it.
2. Wing Commander
Before X-WING there was Wing Commander. The SEGA CD version wasn’t perfect, but it was miles ahead of the almost unplayable SNES port.
The voice acting is great, starring Liquid Snake as Colonel Halcyon, while the story branches off in multiple directions depending on how well you perform certain missions. The combat is fast and furious (with a bit of slowdown), weaving through asteroids, escorting transports, and bombing enemy capital ships. But the heart of the game is in between missions. Much of the plot is told at the bar by Shotglass the ‘tender and your fellow pilots, each with distinct personalities. A chalk leaderboard keeps a friendly competition of kills, with a bonus for pegging enemy ‘Aces’, again with their own personalities. I’ll always remember the Red Baron, known for his great shot, but mediocre flying.
It’s a bit tough to go back to, but was definitely a reason for Genesis owners without a PC to make the upgrade.
Hideo Kojima brought his cinematic flair to Sega with Snatcher. It plays mostly as a visual novel, using first-person scenes and a menu system for conversation and investigation. There are also shooting scenes controlled with either the D-Pad and a grid, or a light gun for the best effect. Having to put down your controller and ‘un-holster’ your sidearm must have been quite immersive for those with the right hardware.
The story was very mature compared to most console games in the early 90’s. There was gore, death, strippers, bombs, and even nudity in the Japanese version. Kojima went for a Cyberpunk/Noir theme and succeeded brilliantly. The game drips atmosphere, looks gorgeous, and the story is still one of his best as it remains coherent and strong throughout.
The Sega CD version was ported from the PC Engine release and added an extended intro animation and more shooting in the Third Act. It’s just too bad it sold abysmally due to the consoles horrific install base and lack of support from Sega.
Snatcher still holds up and definitely deserves a re-release on newer consoles to spread this criminally underplayed game.