It took a while there, but the video game industry finally took hold of the CD format around the early 90's, but it took a bit for everyone to really get into it. Nintendo, relying on cartridges for the longest time, wouldn't even give mini-CD's a try until the GameCube rolled around; the Turbo-Grafx CD technology was the first to go out the door, though Hudson Soft left most of the more memorable games (like Dracula X: Rondo of Blood) in Japan; and the PlayStation was the system that really took advantage of the format when it came to built-in technology, which was originally designed as an add-on for Nintendo's Super NES.
In the middle of all this was Sega, who decided to release a CD add-on device for its Sega Genesis console, enabling users to experience next-gen (at the time, anyway) visuals and sound, miles further from what the ancient Genesis hardware could offer. Unfortunately, most developers under-utilized said technology, instead reserving it for lame full-motion video games like Slam City With Scottie Pippen and the Make My Video compilations, featuring "Marky Mark" (aka Mark Wahlberg, yes, THAT Mark Wahlberg) and Kris Kross.
But believe it or not, rifting through the somewhat iffy game library, there were a few diamonds in the rough, and just in time for the add-on's 20th anniversary, we take a look now at some of the better offerings for the system. If you're lucky, you can probably track a few of these down in a game store – along with the CDX, the all-in-one Genesis/Sega CD player with a more compact design. Be prepared to pay a bundle, though…
Though the Sega CD had its fair share of platformers, most of them appeared on previous platforms. Though Popful Mail wasn't really any different (it appeared on PC Engine CD-ROM before the Sega CD), it seemed to flourish the most on this platform, with its beautiful cartoon graphics and engaging gameplay. And since it was produced for U.S. release by Working Designs, it also came with beautifully flashy cover art, which stands out in any collection. We like.
Earthworm Jim: Special Edition
Originally released for the Sega Genesis and SNES, Earthworm Jim got a boost with this special "director's cut", featuring a pair of new levels (including one where Jim is missing his suit, aka "nude") and a newly remixed soundtrack by music composer Tommy Tallarico. There were also additional animations and drawings thrown in for good measure, which fans truly adored.
Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side
Continuing on in the same brutal fashion as the original Eternal Champions, Challenge From the Dark Side expanded the roster with a number of new fighters, including a duck with a killer kick. Yes, we're serious. For good measure, Sega also bumped up the carnage significantly, including a nasty fatality where a character falls down a pit, getting ripped to shreds by blades before eventually falling to the bottom in a bloody heap. Oh, and the clown car running you over hurts too. Ouch.
Keio Flying Squadron
One of the few shoot-em-ups that actually showed signs of innovation on a new platform, Keio Flying Squadron is a silly, delightful offering from Victor Entertainment, where players control a Playboy bunny-esque character as she rides atop creatures and shoots enemies like no one's business. This one's definitely got some Japanese flavor, and is in high demand through eBay listings. For good reason, too – it's a lot of fun.
Lords of Thunder
Originally released for the Turbo Grafx 16 a couple of years prior, Lords of Thunder made a mostly successful transition to the Sega CD, complete with a rockin' soundtrack, challenging boss encounters, and plenty of fiery power-ups for your would-be god hero. Sadly, Gate of Thunder and Air Zonk, two of the Turbo's finest shooters, failed to follow suit. They would've been right at home, we think.
Lunar: Eternal Blue and Lunar: The Silver Star
Back in "the day", Working Designs was the go-to team for role-playing game localization, and though not everyone was crazy about the inclusion of Western references, both Lunar: The Silver Star and Lunar: Eternal Blue received excellent transitions to the home market. The games would eventually be re-released for the PlayStation in special edition packages, but nothing would beat the hours of gameplay that the originals provided.
Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse
Sony Imagesoft's Mickey Mouse platformer is actually just as engaging as Sega's take on the mouse with Castle of Illusion, featuring designs inspired by some of his better cartoons, including Steamboat Willie and The Mad Doctor. Throw in some beautiful music compositions and compelling 3D visual effects (which the Genesis wasn't truly capable of at the time), and you have a platformer that still stands the test of time, even with Epic Mickey 2 coming next month.
Yes, Digital Pictures actually made a GOOD game for the Sega CD, even with garbage like Slam City With Scottie Pippen and Double Switch lurking about. Believe it or not, it was a cheesy B-grade movie production called Night Trap, dealing with a bunch of scantily clad girls who battled against high-tech vampires, using tools of unspeakable means to suck blood. Sure, it was cheesy, and it was weird seeing Diff'rent Strokes' Dana Plato trying to play this garbage straight, but the traps you could set off did make for some interesting gameplay sessions.
Konami has been highly regarded for a number of classic franchises, including Metal Gear and Castlevania, but one that has fallen off the wayside, with the exception of fans who fondly remember it, is Snatcher. The story follows a detective who's trying to hunt down a group of "Snatchers," beings that are killing off humans and replacing them in society. Compelling and built with a completely new gameplay engine (for the time, anyway), Snatcher ended up being a surprise hit. We're shocked that Konami hasn't tried to resurrect it yet.
Sonic the Hedgehog CD
Finally, we conclude our tribute to the Sega CD with a run down memory lane with Sonic the Hedgehog. His CD game was quite good, jam-packed with time travelling components and a new challenging setting that wasn't seen in his previous games. What's more, the soundtrack was pretty good (the Japanese version was even better), and the opening cinema really set the pace for Sonic's forthcoming adventure. If you missed out, don't worry, as you can download it for Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and mobile devices for a mere five bucks!