It’s not really “crazy,” nor is it completely “out of left field” to say that the Sega CD was a commercial failure. We wouldn’t even be surprised if a lot of people reading this article didn’t even know what it was back in the day.
Regardless, what we find so intriguing about this console was that, due to its CD-reading technology, Sega CD games featured full-motion video (like actual footage from a film), which, in the most unique cases, you could interact with.
The Sega CD also featured extra hardware functionality, such as a faster central processing unit, graphic enhancements, and high-quality audio. Sure, it may sound good and all, but after the Sega CD’s release in 1992, only 2.24 million units had been sold by 1996. And that’s not good. One of the reasons why it flopped was that a little after the system was released, other CD-based consoles, such as the 3DO Interactive Multiple, came out, rendering the Sega CD obsolete.
After this became apparent to Sega execs, they, instead of trying to upgrade the system, discontinued the endeavor to focus on the Sega Saturn which, as we all know, was yet another Sega fail. Despite its overall downfall, the Sega CD actually generated some pretty good games during its short timespan (while, for the most part, most of them were incredibly bad).
Here are some of those games. The best ones on this list generally spearheaded the Sega CD’s main highlights, most especially the full-motion video action.
15 Corpse Killer
This game almost didn’t make it on the list because the quality of the full-motion video was less than great. (But then again, you could argue that its low resolution was its charm, like one reviewer from GamePro who said that the B-movie production values were stylish.)
People also complained about the audio, which was supposed to be one of the Sega CD’s strong points. But we’re still including Corpse Killer on our list because it was a full-motion video where you got to shoot zombies as a US Marine (whose main mission was to stop Dr. Hellman from releasing his army of zombies on the world).
Footage from the game was filmed in the Caribbean, and most scenes were shot in Puerto Rico, so the game had some exoticness to it. For some strange reason, though, the zombies wore latex masks, but that’s neither here nor there.
We’re also including Corpse Killer because it later became the first game for Sega 32X (an add-on for the Genesis to expand its power into the 32-bit era), so Corpse Killer was some sort of a milestone for Sega, even though the 32X, like the Sega CD and the Sega Saturn, didn’t do that well.
Fun fact: the footage was recycled for the 2003 film Game Over.
Wirehead was one of the more ambitious of Sega CD’s full-motion videos endeavors. But ambitious is not always necessarily a good thing. And in this case, it wasn’t. To play, you actually had to watch an entire movie, and you couldn’t do that much else besides watch it.
Every few seconds, however, you had to choose what your character would do next (and you had to pick quickly), choices that were based on visual prompts that would materialize at the bottom of the screen. At one moment, arrows could pop up, prompting you to choose if you wanted to go left, right, backwards, or forwards. Sometimes, you could choose whether you wanted to punch or kick someone. But that was about it.
Still, you can understand why it was ambitious. In addition to filming the movie, its creators had to capture various possible scenarios.
The actual plot was interesting too. The main character was just your average Joe. All seemed well. But then, he got captured. Luckily, he was able to flee. Oh, and did we say that he had a wireless device implanted in his brain? That’s an important detail because when you chose what he would do next, based on the command prompts that would appear at the bottom of the screen, you were actually manipulating his brain-computer interface. Interesting concept.
Part of what made Sega CD such a colossal failure was the oversaturation of full-motion, live-action sequences in each release, permeating gameplay (thereby shoving the actual act of gaming aside). However, Fahrenheit was one of the few games that not only kept the non-interactive movie footage at the beginning (rather than sprinkling footage throughout the game, thus breaking up the action and interrupting us from doing what we came to do—play the freakin’ thing), but actually utilized live-action gameplay extremely well.
The entire game was basically a movie whereby you controlled the movements of a firefighter rookie, meaning you had to go into burning houses. Then again, this is crucial to understand because these fires were live-action.
Fires are inherently terrifying by nature, and the fact that you were immersed in it, from a first-person perspective, made the situation all the more terrifying, more so than watching a sprite character traversing through perilous cartoon flames. It feels real. Sure, all you actually had to do was dispose of potential hazards (like kerosene and explosives) and choose which way you wanted to go in a burning structure, but everything was exacerbated by a time limit, and rightly so, seeing as fires are notorious for not being complicit to our wishes.
12 Eternal Champions: Challenge From The Darkside
The moral of this story comes in the form of a highly overused saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Genesis/Mega Drive systems worked well because they were a straight-up gaming system. Sega CD tried to take something completely new (live-action footage with interactivity) and incorporate it into gameplay, but did so by shoving it down our throats to such a degree that it didn’t work.
That’s why Eternal Champions: Challenge From The Darkside was so good; because it didn’t do that. It was basically a Genesis versus fighting game, a semi-sequel to Eternal Champions on Genesis with better graphics and some live-action footage (during super intense kills called Cinekills). Get it? “Cine” as in “cinema?”
But because it felt more like a “Genesis release,” many critics panned it.
Anyway, the original Eternal Champions on the Genesis was awesome because it was essentially like a Mortal Kombat game, complete with special fatalities, but featured a sort of ultra-hyper-eclectic bunch of fighters from different eras and mythos, all with a similar background—they were once destined to change the world for the greater good but were vanquished and now fought for the chance to be brought back to life.
To show you just how highly diverse this motley crew was, you could play as the Phoenix-transforming Ramses III, a former Scottish gambler and outlaw who became a sheriff in the American west, an ex-cat burglar from 1920, a voodoo priestess, a Salem alchemist, and so much more.
11 Sewer Shark
While the gameplay of Sewer Shark kinda reminds us of a series of tunnels that certain spaceships, a long time ago, had to maneuver through when taking down the second version of a giant galactic space station (in a galaxy that’s far, far away), it’s actually set in the sewers of a futuristic post-apocalyptic world on Earth (so in a place that’s very, very close by).
Sewer Shark, setting aside, actually ended up being one of the best-selling Sega CD games, and it’s not very surprising. It was one of the system’s first releases, and it was later bundled with Sega CD consoles. Regardless, Associated Press put it on its list of top ten video games from 1993.
AP was quite spot-on in their critique. It was an interesting game because it used motion video for primary gameplay (the video being the sewers), where mutated creatures would sometimes jump out, which, if you wanted to win the game, required you to zap them to keep humanity’s vast network of sewers “clean.”
10 Lunar: The Silver Star
Like the reference in the above dialogue? We do too. Back in the day, Lunar: The Silver Star was marketed as a “different kind of RPG.” What legitimized that claim was it included short video and audio interludes, which accompanied the game’s narrative (thanks to the Sega CD’s disc hardware capabilities). Nowadays, that wouldn’t really stand out to anyone. But back then, it was a pretty big deal.
And to legitimize that claim, The Silver Star was the best-selling Mega CD title in Japan. Heck, it was the second most successful Mega/Sega CD venture worldwide. (It lost to another game on this list, our number one.)
The story was pretty fun too. Gameplay took place on a moon after its planet had become inhabitable, an unstable state that would’ve led to its inhabitants’ extinction. However, humanity didn’t make the transition from planet to moon on their own. It was executed by a merciful goddess, who further protected her newly-located species from extinction by entrusting them in the care of four dragons. And some lucky humans had the capability of wielding the power of these dragons, who became known as Dragonmasters.
Well, the game began after one of these four Dragonmasters “succumbed to an unknown fate,” and you (or your character) decided to become the next Dragonmaster.
9 Road Blaster
Road Blaster basically took Wirehead and made it more interesting (all of the reviewers back in the day agreed with us, too, especially Dragon, awarding it 4 out of 5 stars in ‘93) because the full-motion video footage depicted high-speed chases and vehicular combat you participated in. So no, there wasn’t some random guy with wires in his head getting into shenanigans.
When playing the game, you controlled the cross-hair to steer the car (based on green flashing and beeping arrows) and when to step on the gas pedal, pull the brake, and initiate the booster whenever they lit up. Oh, and remember when we said the game involved vehicular combat? Well, you could also choose when to hit other cars.
If you wanted to play without the indicators, then you just had to switch the game to “hard.” Sure, the game may have first come out as a laserdisc-based arcade game in 1985 and other systems, but Sega CD (and Mega LD versions) were the only ones to make it outside Japan.
8 Prize Fighter
Punching computer-generated characters is fun but it’s profoundly more entertaining when it looks as though you’re punching the crap out of an actual person, not a 3D lookalike.
That’s what Prize Fighter was like.
Gameplay took place in a boxing ring whereby you boxed as “The Kid.” The “reality” aspect of Prize Fighter was accentuated by the fact that all fights were shot from a first-person perspective of the ring, with your gloves at the bottom of the screen. The “view” consisted of black-and-white footage (which Electronic Gaming Monthly described as “being incredibly effective”) of an actual fighter pacing back and forth and unleashing his attacks in the form of his unique style of boxing (a realistic rendering of choreographed boxer styles that required developers spending five weeks with the fighters prior to actual filming).
When you punched and the hit connected, then the footage would quickly cut to a fist punching out (the direction of which corresponded to the glove you chose to lash out with) either punching the fighter in the face or in the gut.
7 Ground Zero: Texas
Ground Zero: Texas, like the “best” and “worst” Sega CD games, was essentially a movie that you could interact in. And what made it work was that the plot of the “film” was one everyone is familiar with and what many great blockbuster hits feature—where an alien species has come to Earth and disguised themselves to look like us. In this case, townspeople had been disappearing in a small border town in Texas, and your character had come to save the day. But you had to complete the mission before the U.S. went to its last research, which was dropping a nuclear bomb on the town. As you would expect, it was more fun interacting in that type of movie than just watching it.
But how did you actually “play” in the “film?” Well, your character was armed with special stunning particle beams (your job was to stun them) while special operatives gave you cover, giving you clues on where to go. When an operative began fighting an alien, you had to shoot the enemy before the extraterrestrials abducted the operative.
It’s not surprising that Electronic Gaming Monthly awarded it the best Sega Mega-CD Game of 1994. It was a bestseller in the UK for two months, too.
6 Keio Flying Squadron
Part of what made Keio Flying Squadron so great was that it...well...didn’t look like a Sega CD game (except for the animated cinematic cut scenes). It was basically the best type of game there is—a side-scrolling shoot-‘em-up.
In what only added to the awesomeness that is a side-scroller, the characters in the game were unique too. You had a little girl named Rami astride the cute, albeit deadly fireball-spewing dragon Spot, a cuteness that was embellished by the fact that Spot was followed by two utterly adorable little dragons. Yeah, these little critters may make your heart melt (and throw bombs), but Spot and Rami were cruel to them, seeing as they could be sacrificed (think Kamikaze baby dragons) to deal more damage.
Keio Flying Squadron also took place in an utterly captivating fantasy land (obviously), with highly imaginative enemies (inspired by ancient and modern Japanese culture), such as the raccoon-like creatures in rowing boats that flew through the air.
Don’t believe us? Retro Gamer included it in their list of top ten Mega CD games.
5 Supreme Warrior
Everyone loves cheesy Kung-Fu movies. Everyone. So what if we told you that you could basically fight in a cheesy Kung-Fu movie? You’d tell us, “Heck yah, I would!”
In this story, you interacted in a world that featured a whopping 15-member cast of highly-diverse characters, some of them even being famous now or having acted alongside famous stars.
As far as the story goes, you fought Fang Tu’s minions and, eventually, Fang Tu himself over a mask that could bear the wearer untold powers. If we’re going to do some compare and contrast, Supreme Warrior basically took Prize Fighter, made it ten times more difficult (many critics panned the game because of it), and added a plethora of moves which, upon impact, would cut to a sequence of your attack connecting. So, in addition to watching your punches connect (like in Prize Fighter), you could watch your enemies being kicked, karate-chopped to the face, and pushed back.
Both the environments and your foes were much more dynamic as well, such as the level where you had to fight the African fire dude with long beaded dreads in a room with many miniature burning piers. This adversary sometimes grabbed one of these fiery piers and swung it menacingly at you and sometimes even performed some sort of magic, whereby he would thrust a fireball at your face, giving you a first-person view of what it might look like if Goku, from Dragon Ball, ever shot a Kamehameha at you.
Every aspect of this game has been seen before, but it was done in a way that made Soulstar timeless.
The storyline was tried and true (an alien species, like the Borg in Star Trek—think space zombies—were sucking the life of star systems, and your character was the last of a race who was going to take ‘em on).
Soulstar also stood out because gameplay wasn’t Sega CD’s characteristically defining motion picture footage. It was a straight-up rails shoot-‘em-up game, but in a good way. Throughout the game, you controlled three types of vehicles—the Strike Craft in a texture-mapped planetscape, a hovering Turbo Copter in different 360-degree areas, and in similar 360-degree maps as seen when you flew the copter, except this time, you controlled a freakin’ mecha, called the Strike Walker.
Oh, and this was a two-player game, too.
3 Tomcat Alley
Tomcat Alley isn’t just on this list because it was the first Sega CD game to feature full-motion video on an extensive full screen.
It’s also because you played a US Navy pilot who flew fighter jets (with the gameplay taking on a first-person view), launching missiles at enemy aircraft. And the things you fired at looked real because it was actual footage. It’s as though you had the chance to “play” the aircraft battle scenes in Top Gun (you know, the movie with Tom Cruise). And don’t just take our word for it. Consumer Electronics Show said it featured “outstanding aerial footage to create a breathtaking aerial battlefield.”
Plus, the storyline was pretty intriguing (and kinda realistic). The former Soviet Union, completely out of money, had sold its military equipment to an unfriendly government, one that you now had to fight.
2 Night Trap
Who doesn’t want to play a game, which was once referred to as “shameful,” “ultra-violent,” “sick,” and “disgusting?” This is especially the case when these things are said by senators Joseph Lieberman and Herbert H. Kohl, to be more specific. Heck, they even said that the game encouraged the pastime of trapping and killing women.
In other words, this game was plagued by controversy, and who isn’t drawn to controversial elements? Here’s a few more nuggets: Night Trap was not only cited in the Congressional hearings about violent video games in the 1990’s. In Christmas of 1993, it was pulled from various stories, including Toys R Us, which is crucial to point out seeing as Mortal Kombat hadn’t been pulled.
Interestingly, the controversial elements of the game spawned from the very thing that made Sega CD, the Sega CD—the live cinematic footage. Basically, gameplay manifested within a live-action world, where the player watched, through various hidden cameras in a house, vampiric beings, who wanted nothing more than to take the blood of women, break in, and harm the women inside. Your goal was to activate traps to capture the Augers.
The moment in the game which garnered the most negative attention has been since dubbed “the nightgown scene” whereby Lisa, wearing a nightgown, is about to be captured by Augers.
1 Sonic the Hedgehog CD
It’s a real shame that this particular installment in the Sonic the Hedgehog gaming series was released on the Sega CD because, due to the system tanking, no one ended up playing it. (And it really ranks up there with the likes of Sonic 2 and 3.)
In all realness, Sonic CD was the real “Sonic 3” (it came out between Sonic 2 and 3), but who cares? Let’s talk about the game.
Sonic CD was actually pretty crucial as far as canon goes because two major characters debuted on it: one being awesome and the other not so much—Amy Rose and Metal Sonic. Guess which one we thought was awesome and the other not so much?
Sonic CD, due to it being a Sega CD venture, featured high-quality audio and, more importantly, full-motion video in the opening and ending credits, giving fans some fun footage to enjoy that remind us of the old Sonic The Hedgehog show on Saturday Morning Cartoons with the Freedom Fighters: Sally, Antoine and the gang. But the real treasure in Sonic CD was the time traveling aspect, whereby, if you went all “Doctor Who,” it created alternate stage layouts, music, graphics, and enemies.
But these alternate time zones were more than just extra visuals and sounds. There was a “bad future,” wherein you entered a world of industrialized dystopia filled with neglect and decay, a “good future,” exemplified by it being a utopic technogaian (where technology and nature existed symbiotically), and the past, where everything was overgrown with plants.
The special stages were cool, too, because they employed Sega CD’s graphic capability. You might find it ironic that the best Sega CD game didn’t employ its full-motion video footage capability (beyond the opening and ending credits), but we had to give it the number-one spot.
Hmm. Maybe it makes perfect sense?