A Five Part Countdown of the Greatest 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.
PART FOUR, counting down games #020 to #011, can be found right here.
PART FIVE, counting down games #010 to #01, can be found right here.
PART FIVE, counting down games #010 to #01, can be found right here.
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?
The 16-bit era represented the golden years for platformers, and with so many all-time genre classics released during the time frame, a lot of truly outstanding offerings ended up overlooked. “The Misadventures of Flink,” most certainly, has to stand out as one of the epoch’s most criminally underappreciated genre titles.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about “Flink” is the outstanding visuals. The graphics in this game look downright exquisite, with some of the most detailed sprites to be found on any console game in the early 1990s. The game is vastly superior to the Genesis iteration of the game, not only in terms of visuals, but also aurally -- the game has a really great, low-key soundtrack that, while somewhat subdued, adds so much to the overall experience.
The gameplay in “Flink” is fairly straight forward. You hop on enemy heads, you search for treasure chests, and you do lots and lots of jumping. The gameplay mechanics probably aren’t going to win any awards for sheer creativity (nor is the level design, which is, admittedly, fairly formulaic), but the fact that the controls are so smooth -- not to mention the inherent beauty of everything in the game -- makes this a title all serious Sega CD aficionados would be wise to do their research on.
Capcom’s seminal brawler is one of the most beloved arcade beat em ups of all-time, and the Sega CD iteration is probably the closest we ever got to a truly “arcade-perfect” port on a home console in the 1990s. While the Super Nintendo version of the game looked and played fantastically, it was certainly lacking a ton of features -- deleted enemies, the complete omission of one of the game’s central characters, and the biggest sin of them all, no two-player mode. And not only did “Final Fight” on the Sega CD manage to remedy all of those SNES complaints, it may have actually provided a beat em up experience that was superior to the arcade original.
The visuals are crisp and clear, and all three protagonists -- Haggar, Cody and Guy -- are all fully playable from the start. And yes, you can team up with a body and wipe the streets of Metro City clean, if you so choose. While the SNES version did a little bit of censoring with the enemies (most noticeably, the purple haired trollops that, canonically, are supposed to be transgender prostitutes), the Sega CD version appears to be devoid of any gratuitous “amendments.” Then, there’s the all-new, remixed soundtrack, and yeah, it’s pretty awesome, if you were wondering.
As far as the gameplay goes, you don’t need me to tell you how fantastic it is. Incredibly simple yet incredibly satisfying, you amble down the streets and pummel the hell out of Andre the Giant look-alikes and sundry rouges in identical regalia as part of gloriously fascist vigilante quest, periodically taking respites from whacking hookers upside the head with lead pipes only to chow down on fully cooked turkeys you pull out of dumpsters and telephone booths. Simply put, it’s one of the best genre offerings ever, and outside of owning your own coin-op, this Sega CD disc is the absolute best way to experience it.
In the 1990s, “Mortal Kombat” was one of the hottest properties going. Clearly, the element that propelled the franchise to the forefront was its over-the-top reliance on wanton bloodshed and carnage, with the novelty of “fatalities” probably making up for the game’s (let’s admit it) less-than-stellar game play. “Challenge from the Dark Side” -- a sequel to an OK but not that spectacular fighting game original on the Genesis -- obviously tried to steal “Mortal Kombat’s” thunder by not only incorporating a greater emphasis on over-the-top mayhem, but making it more or less the single locus of the title. Simply put, “Challenge from the Dark Side” is one of the wildest and woolliest fighting games ever, with enough inventive uber-violence to make Midway’s much ballyhooed series look as tame as “Karate Champ” in comparison.
The hyper-violence in “Dark Side” pretty much crosses over into the Sam Raimi/Peter Jackson “splatstick” dark comedy domain, with environmental fatalities resulting in characters being squished by Godzilla doppelgangers, shot repeatedly in gangster drive-bys, being flayed alive by wild monkeys, being melted in “Robocop”-like toxic waste baths and even being impaled by the Washington Monument! As for as degenerate mayhem goes, “Dark Side” is more or less teetering on “Itchy and Scratchy” levels of nigh-satirical comic violence. Hell, the game even included character-specific “Cinekills,” which were full motion, horrible animated CGI mini-movies with characters being liquefied into bloody puddles and having their necks snapped by sentient jungle vines!
Obviously, “Dark Side” is a game worth experiencing just for its absurdity. The cast of characters is ridiculously diverse, with fighters ranging from a Creature from the Black Lagoon-type fish man to a cybernetic super hero from the year 2300 (a black dude named “Blade”…sound familiar?) and even a nefarious character called “The Senator,” whose attacks include literally entrapping his adversaries in red tape. While the title is far from being the most refined, technical fighting game on the system, its style is just impossible to resist: I mean, how could you NOT love a game that features cavemen and warlocks fist fighting outside a McDonalds?
Probably the biggest genre gap on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive line-up was its role playing game offerings. Yeah, there were quality games on the system like “Phantasy Star IV” and, uh, “Phantasy Star II,” but compared to the SNES juggernaut of titles like “Final Fantasy II and III,” “Chrono Trigger” and “Earthbound,” the Genesis certainly paled in comparison to its 16-bit competitor when it came to RPG selections.
“Lunar: The Silver Star” is probably one of the two best RPGs to be found on the Sega CD (and I bet you’ll NEVER guess what the other title is!) Although pretty standard today, the game was quite revolutionary for its time, with an outstanding soundtrack (just ignore the opening cutscene, though) and full-motion, wonderfully animated sequences which served as exposition for the game’s engrossing storyline. Really, the only negative thing you can say about the game is that it’s too short: at about 20 hours long, “The Silver Star” is a briefer affair than most Game Boy Color RPGS.
As far as the gameplay goes, it’s fairly simplistic and easy to hop into. Everything is top-down, and while the animation here isn’t the greatest from the era, it is still very respectable. Turn-based-combat is similarly facile, and there is an absolute TON of stuff to explore in the game. Unlike most other role playing games on the Sega CD, this one is actually more story-oriented than it is grinding-based; all in all, it’s one of the absolute best traditional, JRPGs to ever appear on a Sega console, and arguably the very best to be found on the Sega CD. Well, except for…
“Eternal Blue” is arguably one of the best 2D role playing games from the early 1990s, and certainly one of the absolute best to appear on a non-Nintendo manufactured console. It’s really hard to overstate just how much of a technical achievement this Working Designs classic truly is; the staggering amount of audio dialogue in the game was completely aberrational at the time, and even now, I think gamers would be impressed by the quality of the game’s voice acting. Add to that the amazing soundtrack, the tremendous storyline and the smooth gameplay, and you have what may very well be the best RPG on the Sega CD.
Really, the reason to play this game is the storyline, which, in my humble opinion, just blows away anything that Square or Enix was producing at the time. Eschewing the usual “Final Fantasy” melodrama, “Eternal Blue” has a much more nuanced and complex array of heroes, including allies with severe drinking problems (Ronfar) and a Starfire-like alien with zero command of how normal humans works (Lucia.) The dialogue is pretty intelligent, and the storyline throws so many twists and turns at you that you’re utterly compelled to keep playing to see what happens next. I’m not really a huge fan of the genre, but even I was able to get caught up in the experience in this one.
Pretty much everything that worked in the first “Lunar” offering on the Sega CD has been heightened in “Eternal Blue,” and the first title’s few shortcomings have been rectified. Overall, “Eternal Blue” is a much lengthier, much more complex experience than “The Silver Star,” with a lot more plot, way more characters, more diverse game worlds and larger towns to roam around in. The animation, while not world class, is noticeably better than in the first game, and the soundtrack, as expected, is downright stellar. The battle system hasn’t been changed all that much, but a few tweaks, especially a new auto attack feature, makes things much smoother. Outside of a somewhat crappy save system, I can’t think of a single major negative for the game; if you’re in need of a classical RPG, and you have a Sega CD lying around…well, what are you waiting for, exactly?
It’s a truth universally acknowledged in the gaming world: if it’s a game from the 1990s, and its based on a movie, odds are, it’s going to suck. With that in mind, perhaps it understandable why so many gamers would proceed with the Sega CD version of “The Terminator” with much trepidation; that said, it’s actually an utterly fantastic game, and in my opinion, one of the most underrated run and gun titles of all-time.
First off, the game looks and sounds terrific (thank you very much, Tommy T.) Secondly, the “Contra” inspired gameplay is very smooth and satisfying, and unlike most run and gun games from the era, the levels are actually pretty huge for a genre title. There are some neat environmental effects here and there, and I really enjoyed the diversity of the game worlds; just like in the 1984 movie, one minute, you’re dressed up like the dude from the box cover art of “Doom” and shooting robot skeletons in a nuclear wasteland filled with nothing but metallic debris and ladders, and in the next, you’re packing a shotgun and running around L.A. blasting holes a mile wide in various street criminals and hoodlums (who, for some reason, are all armed with Molotov cocktails.)
Unlike most movie tie-in games, this one is actually quite faithful to its inspiration, right down to an awesome final boss bottle with Ah-nold, whom you have to vanquish in a pretty ingenious puzzle-solving/run-and-gun sequence. To be fair, you could probably complain about the game’s brief length (if you can’t beat it in under an hour, there’s probably something wrong with your controller), but up until its dénouement? It’s a seriously fun title, and easily one of the best Terminator games ever produced.
“Star Fox” on the Super Nintendo is regarded as one of the best space-shooter games of the early 1990s -- this, despite the fact that the gameplay was largely underwhelming (the ‘90s being a golden epoch for graphics whores, I think enough poor souls were wooed by the now-hideous polygonal visuals to give it a mostly undeserved reputation.) What “Soul Star” does, effectively, is the same kind of space shooting action, only with gorgeous 2D graphics and downright awesome parallax scrolling effects that, in my humblest of opinions, produces a far, far superior “second person” shooter than Nintendo’s much ballyhooed furry-bait.
I tend to think of “Soul Star” is the absolute best version of “Space Harrier” ever made. Targeting is a breeze, the controls are smooth as silk and there’s enough challenge to keep you glued to your screen WITHOUT there being the unfortunate roadblocks (and I mean that literally in the case of “Space Harrier”) that made previous forays into the genre so frustrating. I also liked the sense of speed conveyed in the game -- it feels like your blasting through space at top speed, but it doesn’t feel unwieldy, like you’re going to be flying off into the recesses of space at any moment like in “F-Zero.” These are really difficult mechanics to peg down, and in “Soul Star,” they’re implemented about as perfectly as I’ve ever experienced them.
The music is really good, the gameplay is accessible and satisfying, and the 2D visuals are just fantastic. Each game world feels unique from the last, and the boss fights (especially the grand finale) are absolutely awesome. Hell, at some points in the game, you even get to trade in your space cruiser for an aquatic sub and an AT-AT-like mech walker! Simply put, “Soul Star” is the kind of criminally overlooked, virtually unheard of titles that made the Sega CD such an underappreciated gem of a console, and if you’ve got a hankering for some space shootin’, than this is a game you definitely ought to give a try.
Android Assault: Revenge of Bari-Arm
In case you kids haven’t figured it out yet, I’m kind of a sucker for SHMUP games. The Genesis may have easily been the all-time greatest console for SHMUP fans, but that’s not to say that there weren’t some fantastic, side scrolling shoot ‘em ups released on the Sega CD, too. Among them was “Android Assault,” a beautiful, solid-as-a-rock genre offering with some of the best beats and aesthetics the hardware ever produced. It’s a treat for the eyes and the thumbs, no doubt, providing the Sega CD with one of its absolute finest 2D offerings in any genre.
What makes “Android Assault” different form most SHMUP games from the era is its power-up dynamics and its pace. One of the really awesome things about the title is that you’re able to “level up” until you transform into a super-ungodly-powerful mech warrior, and just annihilating every enemy spaceship on screen is an utter hoot. Secondly, the game is noticeably slower in tempo than most side scrolling shooters of the early 1990s -- while some may construe that as a negative, I actually kinda’ dug the more leisurely pace the game offered. Hey, that way, you actually have time to soak up all the pretty visuals and neat (albeit, subdued) stage effects, no?
All in all, “Android Assault” is just good old fashioned, old-school arcade fun, with diverse stages, which are not only more beautiful than most contemporary genre offerings, but considerably lengthier, as well. The boss fights are also quite impressive (although a little too easy for seasoned SHMUP vets,) and unlike virtually every other game in the genre? When you die, you DON’T lose all of your power-ups…a much needed kindness that makes replays of the game much, much more desirable than some other Sega CD discs.
Oh, full motion video games…you blight of the early 1990s, you digital disgrace to the medium, right? Although kids today reflect on FMV games as utter crap, the reality is that quite a few FMV games released on the Sega CD were not only enjoyable, but actually pretty damn good games in their own right. Yeah, they may not have been classics on par with “Super Monaco GP” or “Shining Force 2,” but at least games like “The Masked Rider” and “Night Trap” attempted to do something new with the medium. And in the case of “Road Avenger,” the ultimate outcome wasn’t just a unique gaming experience, but earnestly, one of the best racing games of the early 1990s.
For my money, “Road Avenger” is the absolute best FMV game on the Sega CD, in addition to having arguably the best soundtrack of any game on the console. One part “Mad Max,” one part “Speed Racer” and one part “Death Race 2000,” the game is an awesome, extremely well-animated racing game with some of the absolute best visuals to be found on the hardware. Presentation-wise, it’s far and away the best FMV experience on the console, making for an extraordinarily gripping audio-visual adventure.
The best way to think of “Road Avenger” is Steve McQueen’s “Bullit,” only in anime-form. With simple button commands, you weave your way in and out of oncoming traffic, occasionally tapping the brakes and hitting the turbo pedal to push enemies off cliffs. The quick-time-events and actual game footage meld together better than any other offering on the system, providing a super intense, super-enjoyable game of “Simon Says” that, while about as rudimentary as gaming can get, still manages to provide plenty of spills and chills. If only the game wasn’t so short -- and mostly, unchallenging -- this thing would be an all-time masterpiece, and possibly the game that could have made full motion video titles something more than experimental, niche offerings. Even so, “Road Avenger” is undeniably a fun experience, and a game I would highly recommend to any Sega CD owner out there.
Digital comics were a pretty popular genre on PCs back in the late 80s and early 90s, but due to the hardware limitations of the 8-bit and 16-bit systems, the niche never really found a home on consoles until the Sega CD arrived. “Rise of the Dragon” is one of two games that more or less defined everything great about the unusual game medium, and as an added bonus? This Sega CD iteration actually includes animated sequences and voiceover segments that the original DOS game did not!
There’s really no sugarcoating it: the game is an unabashed ripoff of “Blade Runner”, with the developers of the title going as far as to ACTUALLY name the main character of the game “Blade Hunter.” That said, the game, despite its thematic uncreativeness, is a really rock-solid adventure game, with an absolute ton of stuff to explore, with literally hundreds of seedy, underground labyrinths to comb through. And if that’s not enough, the title even switches up genres every now and then, at times turning into a light-gun shooter and a side scrolling, “Elevator Action” type platformer.
The presentation in the game is fantastic and the gameplay is satisfying, but it’s the story that’s the real reason to check out the title. “Rise of the Dragon” was one of the first home console games to attempt a truly mature story, with a plotline rife with more adult-oriented fare. Of course, there is some (censored, I am sad to say) sexual and violent content in the title, but it’s really the intellectual components of the narrative that are the most delectable elements of the game. It’s a title that makes you think and isn’t afraid to step outside the “instant gratification” button-mashing safety zone and try to do something a little bit more cerebral with the medium. With a shockingly complex story and so much content to wade through, “Rise of the Dragon” is easily one of the most worthwhile games to be found on the Sega CD; if you’re in the mood for a game that doesn’t treat you like a kindergartner, I really can’t think of too many other games on the system that would serve you this well.
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