The Sega CD is an oft-overlooked little marvel of a machine. You might know it better as the Mega-CD, since that was the name Sega gave to it in many regions around the world. Whatever you call it, the Sega CD is a CD-based add-on for the Mega Drive (or Genesis, depending on where you live) that adds CD functionality, as well as better CPU power and the capability for improved graphics.
Some of the best games in the Mega Drive’s lifetime were released for the Sega CD addon. It gave developers new and exciting tools to play with, resulting in excellent new additions to existing franchises, as well as ports of games the Mega Drive would never have been able to handle by itself. Here are some of the best Sega CD games that you can play right now.
Sonic CD (1993)
Many still believe that Sonic CD is the best Sonic the Hedgehog game of all time. With lofty competition from the other Mega Drive titles in the series, that’s no mean feat, but it’s a title Sonic CD utterly justifies. Its excellent level design is aided no end by the Sega CD’s additional functionality. Levels twist around themselves and pop in 3D like they never have before, and Sega makes the most of the hardware’s new capabilities by giving Sonic lengthier and more impressive playgrounds in which to show off his skills. You should start here if you want a masterclass on just how to make an excellent Sega CD game.
Hideo Kojima’s flawed adventure masterpiece makes a great companion for the Sega CD. It’s a strange mixture of graphic violence, juvenile sexual humour, and bizarre self-referentiality, but if you know anything about Hideo Kojima, you know that’s what you should expect. It’s also brilliant, combining canny political references with a pulpy anime-style cyberpunk narrative to create something truly special. Metal Gear Solid aficionados should definitely check this one out. It’s a glimpse at where Hideo Kojima was before he created Metal Gear Solid, and it’s easy to see how Kojima carried over some of Snatcher’s ideas into that game.
Shining Force CD (1995)
This remake of two Game Gear Shining Force titles should be reason enough to seek out a Sega CD if you’re a strategy geek. Hardware wobbles aside (you needed a special piece of hardware if you wanted to access the third and fourth chapters of the game), Shining Force CD is full of the tactical battling and character work that made Shining Force such a cult smash. If you love Fire Emblem and you want to see what Sega would make of that franchise, then look no further than Shining Force. It’s worth seeking this one out, although physical copies often command eye-watering prices on secondhand and retro websites.
The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin (1993)
There were plenty of solid Spider-Man beat-’em-ups to choose from in the SNES and Mega Drive era, but The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin tried something a little different. It’s a side-scrolling platformer complete with beautiful comic book-style visuals and a surprisingly engaging plot involving – you guessed it – the Kingpin. The Sega CD version added voice work to make everything feel just that little bit more immersive, and it also improved the visuals and audio design across the board, making it the definitive version of this game. Grab this one if you want to see the humble beginnings of triple-A blockbusters like Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Silpheed has a rather unique visual style for a scrolling shooter. The ships in the game are polygonal creations, but the action is taking place over pre-rendered backgrounds, giving the whole thing an uncanny cinematic feel. It helps that Silpheed is also an excellent space shooter; it’s got plenty of arcade action, packing in different weaponry to try out and a variety of stages across which to battle your enemies. It’s been described in part as empty spectacle since its original release, but there’s nothing wrong with that; Silpheed did an excellent job of selling the technical improvements you could expect if you bought a Sega CD.
Lunar: Eternal Blue (1994)
The Lunar franchise is Sega’s secret weapon that it uses whenever anybody says that Nintendo is peerless in terms of JRPGs. While it’s true that Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI are unimpeachable classics, between Lunar and Phantasy Star, it’s clear that Sega has some tricks up its sleeve as well. The 2D art and spritework in Lunar: Eternal Blue, which is the second game in the series, are both phenomenal, and the story is no slouch either. The anime portraits lend a sense of authenticity to the protagonists, and the technical improvements brought on by the Sega CD are palpable as you play through this epic adventure. Give it a shot if you love JRPGs.
Earthworm Jim: Special Edition (1995)
Ah, Earthworm Jim. The cause of many a broken controller and teary-eyed child back in the day. Earthworm Jim is not for the faint of heart; it’s a brutally difficult run-and-gun platformer with plenty of unfair enemy placements and strange jumping sequences. However, it’s also a sumptuously animated treat. The characters pop and weave throughout the bizarre, surreal landscapes of the game, and the dialogue suggests a Saturday morning cartoon on which Earthworm Jim was, contrary to popular opinion, not actually based. It’s easy to imagine a lazy 90s Saturday morning on which we’d throw on an Offspring album and give Earthworm Jim another playthrough.