Monday, June 23, 2014

Welcome to the next level?

“You still don’t own a Sega CD? What are you waiting for, Nintendo to make one?”
-          Sega CD commercial

I received my Sega Genesis in 1992, about a year after my Super Nintendo. Although the SNES was technically superior and a role playing gamer’s dream, the Genesis had soul. I found myself thinking that if only the Genesis had just a little more power, it could do more than just hang with the Nintendo juggernaut.  

The big blue Sega CD box under my family’s Christmas tree in 1993 represented potential and the promise of quality, courtesy of the House of Sonic.

The tech specs were good. The CD format offered at least 650 megabytes of storage space – hundreds of times more than Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo cartridge games. The quality of music was limited only by the game maker’s imaginations, and video – though not quite VHS quality – could be integrated into the experience. And the Genesis’s color pallet was expanded.

But as time passed, it became evident that there wasn’t much to get excited about with the Sega CD (at least on North American and European shores). The technical aspects of the system were promising, but game makers, including the mighty Sega itself, had no idea what to do with all that space. Third parties looking to make a quick buck habitually released “enhanced” versions of cartridge games with CD music.

Sadly, the full motion video titles the SGCD was best known for, like Ground Zero Texas, Corpse Killer, and the infamous Night Trap are some of the best examples of what the system might have been capable of. Full Motion Video (FMV) games were plentiful, hardly interactive, and a stigma the system was never able to shake.

Sonic CD, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side, Snatcher – some of the strongest titles of the ‘90s, and all were exclusive to the Sega CD. But for each of these successes, there were 10 lazily produced clunkers. And with only some 150 titles on released in North America, the system couldn’t afford so much junk weighing it down.

A price tag that even the stoutest Sega devotees scoffed at, a dearth of triple A titles, and FMV shovelware lead to the system’s quite demise about four years after its debut, an early death when compared to the near-decade the Sega Genesis graced gamer’s dreams. With the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation already on store shelves, both of which could produce 3D games, suddenly the Sega CD’s FMV was obsolete at best, and embarrassing at worst. The Sega CD went out with a whimper.

I moved on to the PlayStation and the Saturn, but sometimes I would ponder that ol’ Sega CD sitting on my shelf next to them.

It’s silly I guess, but 20 years after that Christmas, I still believe in the Sega CD’s potential. It was mishandled, but I see glimmers of greatness in its library. Maybe if some of those glimmers had been multiplied, the Sega CD might have been a titan like the Genesis, not just a footnote of gaming history and the beginning of the end of public good will for Sega.

With that in mind, I intend to review every North American Sega CD game, looking for that greatness. See you next time with The Adventures of Batman and Robin!

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