Sega’s expensive add-on is seen as a failure that specialised in rubbish FMV games. The truth is a little different and there are actually some great games available. If you know where to find them.
Every console needs a killer app to justify its existence, and Sonic CD is as close as you’re going to get on the Mega-CD. Regularly cited as one of the best games in the series, this ambitious title made good use of the CD format’s storage potential by including gigantic levels, Mode 7 bonus stages and a spectacular soundtrack. The game was made even deeper by the fact it was possible to time-travel forwards and backwards on each level, essentially making the stages three times as big. Interestingly, the US version features a different soundtrack to the Japanese and European variants – although both selections of songs are equally fantastic.
Final Fight CD
When Final Fight (unquestionably the quintessential arcade hit of the late Eighties) was ported to Nintendo’s Super Famicom in 1990, you could practically hear the cries of despair emanating from Sega fans the world over. For a time it seemed as if this Capcom classic would remain exclusive to Nintendo, but thankfully Sega was granted permission to reprogram the game when the Mega-CD came along – it produced what is arguably the best home console conversion (aside from recent emulated ports). Final Fight CD is packed with all three characters and all the levels. Needless to say, the previously smug SNES owners were left feeling a little put out.
Shining Force CD
The only Shining Force game to make its way onto the Mega-CD is a combined remake of the Game Gear releases Shining Force Gaiden and Shining Force Gaiden 2: Sword Of Hajya. Visually it’s not what you could call a massive improvement when compared to the Mega Drive instalments, but the sheer scope of the challenge is almost overwhelming. So epic was the quest that the Mega-CD internal save game RAM wasn’t enough to contain all the data; the purchase of a separate RAM cart was essential if you wanted to see everything the game had to offer.
Lunar: The Silver Star
Game Art’s epic RPG was the closest the Mega-CD ever got to having its own Final Fantasy, and following its Japanese release, the console’s sales in that region were given a boost. Although the in-game graphics were hardly ground-breaking, they were accompanied by some lush anime sequences and an astounding soundtrack by Noriyuki Iwadare. US firm Working Designs picked Lunar up for Western localisation and did a fantastic job – the company later returned to the game when it was remade for the PSone in 1996.
UK-based Core Design was a staunch Sega supporter and produced some of the Mega-CD’s finest moments. While games such as Battlecorps and BC Racers pushed the hardware but fell a little short on enjoyment, Thunderhawk was a complete success in both regards. Smooth Mode 7 rotation and scaling was coupled effectively with some of the most frantic action ever witnessed on the format, and the game was rightly praised by the press upon release. A 32-bit sequel followed that added full 3D visuals, but the original remains the one we’re most fond of.
Lunar: Eternal Blue
Although it doesn’t attract as much praise as its predecessor, Lunar: Eternal Blue is just as enjoyable an RPG experience as The Silver Star. Also, despite featuring a new cast of protagonists, the gameplay remains largely unchanged. Again, Working Designs took the plunge and brought this Stateside with a great translation. In both Japan and the US, this was one of the final high-profile pieces of software for the ailing platform; by the time of the American launch the system was all but dead.
Originally produced for the NEC PC-8801 in 1991, this 2D action RPG title shares many similarities with the Wonderboy: Monster World series. The player takes on the role of a bounty hunter named Mail, but it’s possible to switch to other characters. With the excellent English translation and voice work, the Western version of Popful Mail is arguably the best of all the conversions and carries a justifiably inflated price tag when it appears on auction sites today. While we’re not fans of unscrupulous game resellers, Popful Mail is unquestionably worth paying through the nose for.
A spiritual sequel to the shockingly brilliant Mega Drive shooter MUSHA Aleste, Robo Aleste featured the same fixation with large mecha as its predecessor, but was unique because it placed these mechanical killing machines in feudal Japan. Although the gameplay doesn’t really present any ideas that couldn’t have been achieved on the good old Mega Drive, the music and cut-scenes genuinely elevate the game to a new level of greatness. The game saw release in all three key territories and is in high demand thanks to its overall quality.
It’s ironic that while many developers wrestled in vain with grainy, low quality FMV to create the ultimate interactive movie, Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima succeeded where others had failed – by using traditional hand-drawn 2D visuals. Showcasing a plot that owes more than little debt to the likes of Hollywood movies such as Blade Runner and The Terminator, Snatcher remains one of Kojima’s most beloved works. It was also released on the PC Engine CD-ROM, PlayStation and Saturn, but the Mega-CD outing remains the only version to be officially translated into English. This makes it a highly sought-after title. You need this game, but your bank balance won’t thank you.
Keio Flying Squadron
The Mega Drive and Mega-CD were never gifted with a conversion of Konami’s deliriously playable Parodius, but JVC’s Keio Flying Squadron is a perfectly acceptable substitute. Putting the player in the high-heeled shoes of a girl dressed in what looks like a Playboy bunny outfit, Keio boasts a similar style of horizontally scrolling wackiness and puts the Mega-CD hardware to good use to produce some excellent cut-scenes and a brilliant CD-quality soundtrack. A Saturn sequel followed in 1996 that added 2D platforming sections, but for pure shooting brilliance the Mega-CD original is where it’s at. A relatively late release, the PAL version of Keio is common and reasonably priced.