A Five Part Series Counting Down the Best Games the Sega CD Had to Offer!
Hey You! Looking for the Previous Installments in this Series?
PART ONE, counting down games #050 to #041, can be found right here.
PART TWO, counting down games #040 to #031, can be found right here.
PART THREE, counting down games #030 to #021, can be found right here.
For what it’s worth the Sega CD (known as the Mega CD in Europe) might just be the single most underrated console in the history of video gaming. Considered a proverbial laughingstock by gamers that have hardly spent any time at all with the system, the Sega CD was actually a pretty damn good little console, stocked with plenty of killer console exclusives, graphically and musically superior special editions of 16-bit classics, and even a couple of standout genre offerings that, sadly, have become outmoded in today’s all-too-familiar virtual world. Come on, you know you miss side scrolling shoot ‘em ups and digital comic books as much as I do…
After tackling a list of the best the Sega Dreamcast had to offer, I thought long and hard about which console I wanted to focus on for my next countdown. Seeing as how the unsung, unheralded Sega CD generally gets about as much recognition and praise as gonorrhea, I figured the criminally underappreciated console was absolutely perfect the “Top 50” treatment. For those of you that had the honor of owning and playing through some of these classic games (many of which remain under-the-radar gems to this day), consider this a fond recollection and celebration of what once was, and for all of you young whippersnappers that equate the console with “pure fail?” Something tells me that’s a tune you’re going to change in a hurry after seeing everything you’ve missed out on.
As for the criteria for the list, I was pretty lax and subjective. Ever the jingoistic American that I am, I decided that only games that were given North American releases, while the Sega CD was still in production, should qualify as candidates, so no obscure-ass Japan-only SHMUPs or home-brew RPGs some dude made in his basement in 2008 are in contention here.
As always, the opinions expressed herein are solely my own, and your list would surely differ. That said, whose ready to take things to THE NEXT LEVEL?
Clearly, the most maligned genre on the Sega CD has to be its full motion video (sometimes called “interactive movie”) library. Yes, no one is going to call games like “Night Trap” and “Sewer Shark” all time classics on par with “Mega Man 3” or “Gunstar Heroes,” but games of the sort really don’t deserve the critical lambasting they receive from today’s tweens and teens -- who, obviously, have never even held a real life “lime bean controller” in their hands before.
“Wirehead” is one of the more memorable FMV games to be found on the console, thanks to its unique plot, solid acting, and quirky screenplay. A release by MGM’s short-lived interactive division, “Wirehead” was one of the last games to be released on the console, and as such, was only experienced by a scant few players. And if you’re looking for a title that might just change your perspective on the interactive movie genre, there are very few games out there that I think would alter your outlook as much as this one.
The game, more or less, puts you in control of an (intentionally?) bad, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids!”-style family sci-fi comedy. It’s your job to navigate the main character -- the eponymous “Wirehead,” a stereotypical suburban dad who just so happens to have a lightning rod welded on top of his noggin -- through a wide array of misadventures. The gameplay, though limited to “Dragon’s Lair” and “Shenmue”-like quick time events, is actually pretty painless, and the game’s pell-mell plotline throws so many curveballs at you that you really do want to keep playing just to see what crazy shit happens next. Believe it or not, the trial and error gameplay actually gives the title some extended replay value; of course, once you figure out the “right” button presses (and memorize them accordingly), the game more or less plays itself, but up until then, “Wirehead” is a surprisingly fun FMV experience that will have you glued -- perhaps in spite of yourself -- to your Sega CD.
“Kids on Site,” at first glance, a fairly innocuously looking “kiddy game,” is actually one of the most subversively intriguing offerings on the Sega CD. Sure, it may seem like a boring, “edu-game” for the elementary school set, but once you actually get into the nuts and bolts of the title, you’ll actually uncover quite a bit of full motion havoc to wreak.
The “intentional” design of the game, I suppose, is quite the rarity; a “heavy machinery operating simulator.” However, the same way the free-roaming natures of “Grand Theft Auto III” and “The Sims” led to gamers turning the titles into (unintentional?) orgies of sadistic mayhem, “Kids on Site” allows gamers with mischievous intent to COMPLETELY subvert the game into impromptu mass mayhem. A deranged third grader’s mind, and full access wrecking balls and bulldozers -- seriously, what’s the worst that could happen here?
Yeah, yeah, you could play the game the way it was meant to be -- an extraordinarily easy endeavor, which entails simply pressing face buttons at certain junctures, a la “Shenmue” and “Dragon’s Lair” -- OR you could use your excavator lifts to pick up co-workers and drop them…presumably to their deaths…into various trenches. Or how about cranking up that bulldozer of yours and running over some watermelons (this title is a veritable wet dream for Gallagher) and then paving over your foreman’s corpse? Believe it or not, all of the above are options this “kids-oriented” title offer you -- concluding with a final stage in which you get to blow up tons and tons of TNT. Clearly, there’s not a whole lot of meat to the experience, but as a simple WTF experience, this is a compact disc you might want to scoop up, pending the opportunity arises…
Alongside “Mortal Kombat,” one of two games responsible for bringing the violent video game debate to the forefront of American politics, and the title, more or less, single-handedly responsible for the ESRB video game rating system.
Admittedly, there’s not a whole lot to talk about regarding the gameplay in “Night Trap.” As a member of the “Sega Control Attack Team” (yes, a piece of “SCAT,” that makes you), it’s up to you to protect a house filled with sorority-type girls, who are under siege by a gaggle of vampiric ninjas. The gameplay thusly boils down to switching between cameras (there are eight in total) and activating specially laid-out traps before the afore-mentioned vampire ninjas (who use this utterly absurd drilling mechanism to do in their victims) get their undead hands all over Dana Plato and her pals.
As with most FMV titles on the console, there is a LOT of trial and error, and once you have the sequences memorized, the game requires virtually no effort at all on the behalf of the player. As a huge fan of crappy B-horror movies, I suppose I have a soft spot in my heart for this one -- and as such, I am able to overlook a lot of the game’s apparent problems, such as the grainy video and occasionally tedious “trap-em-up” game mechanics. And despite the Senate hearings the game inspired, the title is virtually bloodless, and completely devoid of any nudity whatsoever; and whether or not that’s a positive or a negative, I suppose, is up to the individual to determine.
And speaking of hyper-controversial video games, here’s the OTHER title responsible for turning violent video gaming into an ineffaceable pillar of U.S. polemics!
At this point, what really needs to be said about “Mortal Kombat?” It’s a fairly straight-forward, kinda’ 2D fighting game with blood galore, some REALLY annoying spam attacks (in particular, the teeth grinding, pain-in-the-ass that is Scorpion’s spear-uppercut-and-teleport combo) and of course, the merriment that arises from literally punching a dude’s head off his spinal cord or uppercutting someone so hard their torso flies off. Yeah, in hindsight, it was no “Street Fighter II,” but if you couldn’t get at least a couple of hours on enjoyment from the experience, you might as well be playing pachinko and lugging around a Hello Kitty purse instead.
The original “MK” was stupid, all style-and-no-substance fighting game excess at its very uncultured best, and the Sega CD version is superior to the Genesis cartridge for several reasons. For starters, the visuals are a bit crisper, and the sound is MUCH better -- although the sound effects do remain a little warbled. Surprisingly, however, the game still looks inferior to the SNES version, and I will be several shades of damned if the music in the game is STILL subpar compared to the audio of the Super Nintendo iteration of the game. Of course, us Sega gamers get blood and full fatalities, but is it worth the graphical and audio trade-off? Well…yeah, probably.
At a certain juncture, I suppose you would run out of decent candidates from the mammalian world to use as viable mascot-platformer characters. Ever the progressive sorts, the fine folks at Sega decided to abandon the animal kingdom altogether for “Wild Woody,” a better-than-average platforming title in which you take control of…an anthropomorphic pencil?
As one of the very last games released on the Sega CD, “Wild Woody’s” datedness shows quite a bit -- especially when you compare the grainy cut scenes to the video quality of the PS1 and Saturn. Admittedly, the soundtrack (scored by, of all people, a dude that went on to play guitar for that thing Axl Rose wants us to believe is “Guns N Roses”) is a little grating, and dear lord, that voice acting! However, once you get past those issues (a hard sell for some, I know), what you’ll uncover in “Wild Woody” is 2D platformer that’s actually quite a bit of fun.
Of course, it’s easy to mock “Wild Woody” for its aesthetics and its goofy animations (your attack, I might add, entails hopping on enemy heads and “erasing” them with your ass), but once you get past all the superficialities, the meat of the gameplay is actually quite satisfying. It feel pretty safe in describing “Wild Woody” as a mixture of “Comix Zone” and “Donkey Kong Country,” although not as enjoyable or well-constructed as either title. That said, if you’re looking for a standard, no-frills platformer -- on a console with a real dearth of quality side scrolling platformers, as is --“Wild Woody” is actually a shockingly competent title.
If you spent any amount of time in an arcade in the mid 1990s, you surely squandered many a quarter on Konami’s “Lethal Enforcers,” a light-gun game that drew a considerable amount of controversy for including (what was considered at the time, anyway) photorealistic, digitalized graphics. While the game was ported to both the SNES and Genesis, it should go without saying that this version is the best of the bunch -- thanks in part to the improved CD audio soundtrack, and definitely because of the graphical boost from the hardware.
First off, if you were lucky enough to buy the game when it first came out, you also scored yourself an awesome, blazingly blue proprietary light gun produced by Konami, called “the Justifier,” which, yes, sounds just like a bad Clint Eastwood movie from the early 1980s. Although you can play the game with your standard lima bean pad, I recall having a (literal and figurative) blast with the old school peripheral; while the game is still playable with the regular Genesis controller, the actual light gun input is much preferred here.
The backgrounds, for the time anyway, look outstanding, even if some of the bad guys look a little stiff and ill-defined. The sound effects are downright incredible, with menacing terrorists shouting gruff threats at you while innocent bystanders scream bloody murder. There are only five stages in the game (six, if you count the target shooting mini-game), but the title is fairly tough, and there’s quite a bit of replay incentive -- especially when its you and a buddy tag-teaming to wipe crime off the streets of Chicago. A bit primitive by modern standards, there’s no denying the bare-bones, gallery shooting fun of “Lethal Enforcers,” which is certainly one of the best “shooters” to be found on the console.
Another FMV game from Sega’s Digital Pictures, “Double Switch” is definitely one of the hardest games to be found on the Sega CD. While extraordinarily difficult, it’s also a pretty entertaining little title, filled with a rather surprising cast and a B-movie plotline that’s actually somewhat involving and entertaining.
First off, we’ve got to talk about the cast here. The main protagonist of the title is played by Corey Haim (that Corey Haim), and the supporting cast includes R. Lee Ermey (aka, the sadistic drill sergeant from “Full Metal Jacket) and, of all people, Deborah Harry playing a super MILF in Egyptian get-up. Calling the title “star-studded” may be a bit of a stretch, but it’s certainly more well-acted than, oh say, “Corpse Killer” or, shudder, “Power Factory, Featuring C+C Music Factory.” And that’s not even noting the soundtrack, which was produced by Thomas “She Blinded Me With Freakin’ Science” Dolby!
Gameplay-wise, the title is remarkably similar to “Night Trap,” with the player controlling several cameras and activating booby traps at particular junctures. “Double Switch,” however, is a much more complex game than “Night Trap,” as it throws in quite a few additional objectives along the way, including some extremely challenging scavenger hunts. Unlike most of the FMV games on the console, “Double Switch” will probably take you quite a while to get down (if you don’t get too frustrated first, of course), but for those of you looking for an interactive movie game with a little bit of longevity, it’s probably the most intricate FMV game on the system. And just wait until the mummy makes his grand entrance!
Hey, why not one more FMV game from Digital Pictures while we are at it? Of all the games produced by Tom Zito and company, I believe this one is far and away my favorite. It’s trashy B-movie sleaze meets shooting gallery hokum, and while insanely simplistic as a gaming experience, it’s also pretty darn enjoyable.
Alike “Night Trap,” the game utilizes a multi-camera set-up. However, instead of trapping foes like in “Double Switch,” the game utilizes a more straight-forward, “Lethal Enforcers” and “Sewer Shark”-type cursor-shooting system of game play. While the title is extraordinarily uncomplicated (and admittedly, quite repetitive), the super-fun, better-acted-than-the-norm screenplay keeps you glued to your cathode ray tube, regardless.
The title -- which is one part “Tremors” and one part “V” -- was actually a full-fledged Hollywood production, costing $2 million and utilizing almost two full hours of video (which, considering the console’s hardware limitations, is actually quite astounding.) Hell, the game itself actually had a credited director -- that being the same dude that helmed “Halloween 4” and “Free Willy 2.” You’ll probably be able to blast through “Ground Zero Texas” in an afternoon, and yeah, once you’ve already beaten the title, there’s not much to revisit. That said, if you’re looking for a wholly unique, hybrid video game/movie experience…well, this is probably one of your better bets out there.
At last estimate, I believe there were about 4,000 different version of “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” released on home consoles in the early 1990s, from the Master System to the SNES to the Game Gear. What makes the Sega CD version of Francis Ford Coppola’s movie tie-in different from other iterations is two-fold; first, this one uses pre-rendered graphics (meaning, you more or less take control of a digitalized Keanu Reeves, “Mortal Kombat”-style), and of course, the title features lengthy clips from the 1992 film of the same name. Yeah, that’s not really an impressive feat nowadays, but back then? Being able to see real scenes from a real movie on a video game console was just mind-blowing.
The music in this game is also really good, creating a somewhat spooky atmosphere that definitely keeps you on your toes. The graphics -- while a little hokey -- are also detailed enough to keep you wondering what’s ahead, with some pretty diverse backgrounds and level lay outs. There are even some surprisingly decent looking, pseudo 3D environmental effects, too, like pendulums that literally swing right in your face as you hop and punch your way through Dracula’s castle.
OK, so “Castlevania III” this one isn’t; the sound effects are repetitive, the enemies are just ridiculous (seriously, who punches spiders and snakes?) and the boss fights typically leave a lot to be desired. That said, the gameplay -- which entails rudimentary platforming, at times, taking on the vibe of a side scrolling beat ‘em up --is altogether satisfying, and the general ambiance of the game is pretty unique and just a wee bit scary. It’s not going to replace “Splatterhouse 2” and “Zombies Ate My Neighbors!” on your list of essential Halloween-time plays, but if your looking for a new All Hallow’s Eve gaming experience, you could certainly do a lot worse than this one.
Despite having a name that sounds suspiciously like “feces,” this is actually a downright awesome side scrolling SHMUP, with terrific music, hyper-addictive and challenging game play, and some extraordinary looking 2D visuals. The title would certainly rank a lot higher on the countdown, if it wasn’t so short; once you pare out the opening cinematics, end credits and load times, you’re left with a title that’s barely 20 minutes in length.
I suppose I would feel comfortable referring to “Sol-Feace” as a standard SHMUP, alike “R-Type” and “Life Force.” Of course, the big variable this game has that those others don’t is the CD-audio, which is thumping with intensity from start to finish. The soundtrack on this one is so good, it actually improves the quality of the gameplay; when that techno bass starts pumping, you can’t help but get a little nervous, and thusly start losing your grip on the control pad. This is a game that knows how to make gamers antsy, and it does so majestically.
On a system glutted with kick-ass SHMUPS, there’s really not that much that makes “Sol-Feace” stand out, however. While the dual cannon gameplay is satisfying, you don’t really get that many power-up options (which is just ridiculous, seeing as how NES-era games like “Zanac” gave you twice as many upgrades as this title) and to be fair, the backgrounds are a little plain compared to some other genre offerings on the system. That said, with the terrific music and rock-solid side scrolling action, “Sol-Feace” is clearly a must-play for any arcade-loving Sega CD owners And yeah, it’s a much better game than the downgraded Genesis port, which was called, inexplicably “Sol-Deace.” Seriously.
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