Y-You don’t? Well I can’t blame you. After all, it was one of those schemes from the higher ups of Sega who were ready to capitalize on the popularity of their new flagship console of the 90’s. Competing with the CD-Rom technology of the PC Engine, and to attempt to stay above the rest of the competition, Sega was ready to stay among the pioneers of the uncharted fathoms of a disc-based medium. While not as successful as the Core system, the Sega Mega CD still acts as a milestone of game development that would bring the game industry it’s future, today. The add-on brought upon innovative gameplay, political controversy, expanded the possibilities of sound, graphics, storytelling, and of course helped with the transition of a cartridge based format to compact disc as a storage medium. Without a doubt there should be a buzz of excitement around the upcoming re-release of Sonic CD despite not actually coming out on a CD based consumer format. What a shame! On the bright side this is a good of time as any to highlight the add-on’s history and to show that it was more than just ‘The Sonic CD add-on.’
The CD based add-on connected to the Core unit through connections to the extension bay and drew power from its own AC adaptor. The CD based format allowed for additional space (from 24 to 500MB) and introduced new sound channels including the higher quality PCM and CD redbook audio. The system allowed for additional graphical techniques including scaling and rotating that would compete with the basic functionalities of the SuperFX chip found in several Super Nintendo carts. FMV games introduced the Cinepak codec that would provide video compression primarily used for live-action video. Sega would continue to use the codec up until the middle of the lifespan of the Sega Saturn. It wasn’t entirely fool proof, but for the most part the codec fared well for the otherwise slow 1x speed (800ms) of the internal laser. Users could make use of the built in CD player for playback of audio soundtracks, which were amplified with the ability to attach stereo speakers to your Mega Drive system for karaoke or just blaring out the rocking 16-bit synthesizer. For saving progress, each Sega CD unit had 64kb of internal back up RAM, or could purchase an Back-Up RAM Cart that would fit into the Mega Drive/Genesis cartridge slot for 1MB of RAM.
With the expanded hardware, higher quality music and slightly better hardware, the system would see numerous enhanced Mega Drive ports, including Ecco the Dolphin, Earthworm Jim – Special Edition, Eternal Champions, to even individual Mega Drive titles bundled in Sega Classics Arcade Collection. The system would also feature ports from other systems taking advantage of the additional disc-based storage including Final Fight CD which would feature a remastered introductory cinematic, CD sound and feature all three playable characters straight from the arcade original, which was a big deal at the time, considering the stiff competition on the Super NES couldn’t contain all three playable characters on one cartridge. In addition, the system would be able to handle more complex stories involving expansive dialogue, audio and overall presentation. The system would find a home for a number of Adventure games including The Secret of Monkey Island and The Adventures of Willy Beamish normally seen on personal computer platforms. The add-on also hosted a number of titles that would normally be seen only in Japan due to the additional effort to translate the material. Namely Working Design’s efforts bringing over the Lunar series and Konami bringing Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima’s cult cyberpunk adventure Snatcher. (This was exclusively released on the Sega CD in the US.)
Full Motion Video became a big proponent for the system which would showcase B-list movie actors and celebrities. The lion’s share would be released by Digital Pictures, including their most notable landmark, Night Trap. A number of games would rely on precise control, in that hitting a button at the right time would trigger an action, similar to Dragon’s Lair. (This also appeared on the Sega CD!) Most, if not all of the titles fail to stand up overtime, but there would be no shortage of FMV titles to follow after the success of Night Trap including Double Switch, Ground Zero Texas, Slam City with Scottie Pippen, and more.
The realism conveyed from these games, along with Mortal Kombat and Lethal Enforcers would breach the safety net of realism that triggered senate hearings that begged the question of how regulation would involve Government mandating or industry-self contained methods. It was so severe that Night Trap was pulled from store shelves before a decision was even met. Very few games would be exclusively home to the system, including the officially unofficial sequel to the Amiga hit Another World; Heart of the Alien, the cute-em-up shooter Keio Flying Squadron, even Sega’s attempt to create a new, successful mascot character with Wild Woody. As a result, the idea of “More” only brought upon little success for the system. Bringing upon consumer confusion as to what the next, definitive hardware would be from Sega. The 32X only brought upon more confusion, as well as a handful of 32X ‘enhanced’ Sega CD games that only required the unit to be plugged in, with the CD in the tray. Oddly enough the only games that would feature these enhanced versions were FMV games.
Not even halfway through the lifespan were the limitations of hardware so apparent with the release of the 3DO, Phillips CDi, Jaguar as well as computer platforms that came out at the time. The add-on’s performance in the market was enough for Nintendo to break their ties with Sony as they were working on a CD based add-on for the Super NES which would later form the Playstation. Despite the Mega CD’s performance the peripheral would last up until 1995 and would only help build a path that has since become an industry standard; disc based storage. While the system hasn’t lived on through an en masse of Mega Drive ROMs Sega routinely puts out, most Mega CD games would see a home on other systems either during or after the lifespan of the hardware from PC systems up to the Playstation, with additional features and less compromises imposed by the Sega CD hardware. The Sega Mega CD was truly ahead of its time and the games suffered in terms of profitability, but the harsh gamble would help pave way to the future of the industry that would help extend the efforts of developers and hardware manufacturers for years to come.