Sega CD was a mid-life upgrade for Genesis to help it keep up with home computer systems such as the TurboGrafx-16. It isn’t a standalone video game console but a CD-based attachment. CD-ROMs hold much more data than cartridges and allow developers to create games with better graphics, audio, cutscenes, etc.
Apart from the CD reader, Sega also built a coprocessor and custom GPU into the motherboard of this attachment. The coprocessor is a Motorola 68000- same as the basic Genesis, but with a faster clock speed of 12.5MHz. This allows Sega to incorporate features such as sprite scaling and rotation (in addition to much larger sprites).
What was the goal behind this enhanced performance? Sega wanted to match the TurboGrafx-CD’s capabilities and provide a true arcade-like experience. It was also intended to compete with the Neo-Geo AES home console.
Today, I shall take a look at the top 45 all-time Sega CD games that you must play. Several of these old-school games look and play well, even today. So strap in, and let’s get started.
This is the best game on Sega CD, as it perfectly perfects the classic Sonic platforming experience. Sonic is back with a mission to stop the evil Dr. Robotnik from obtaining magical artifacts called Time Stones, which will let him rule over Little Planet. You have all the usual powers- rolling into a ball, dashing, jumping, etc.
Sonic also has a move called the spin dash that lets you defeat enemies in close proximity without taking damage. A total of 7 zones or “worlds” exist, each with sublevels that are designed to let you fully exploit all of Sonic’s abilities. If you collect more than 50 rings, a new quest opens up in which Sonic tries to destroy UFOs within the given time limit.
Unlike Sonic the Hedgehog, this is a very slow-paced game since it’s a graphic adventure rather than an action platformer. However, it still takes number two on my list because of how amazing the experience is. The game puts you in a futuristic Asian metropolis where humanoid robots called “Snatchers” replace human beings.
First, these robots kill designated targets. Then, they secretly take their place. You are part of an elite agency tasked with finding and eliminating these androids.
If you love retro games and are interested in Sega Genesis Games as well then you must check out my other list Top 50 All-time Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) Games That You Must Play
A hexagonal tile-based tactical RPG in which you control warriors with special abilities who fight against dark-magic wielding wizards. The fictional lang in which this game takes place was attacked by evil powers nearly 300 years ago when a priest summoned the dark god. A goddess of light brought balance to the place by bestowing her powers onto two great warriors.
However, this great evil has now resurfaced, and you control one of 4 different characters- each with their own unique backstory. Since this is a classic RPG, your player character has stats and unique spells. You also have an army, the size of which is decided by your “command” attribute.
Shining Force CD
When this game was initially released in 1995, it didn’t generate much buzz, and the sales figures were similarly unremarkable. However, over the years, Shining Force CD gained quite a reputation among enthusiast communities for being an underrated gem. It’s essentially a remake of Shining Force Gaiden I & II, two tactical RPGs that were released for the Game Gear (Sega’s portable console).
Since this is a remake of the Gaiden games, it has similar gameplay features. You get a bunch of turn-based battles to earn XP and levels, spaced out between story sections that contain cutscenes. These story sections also let you save the game, revive fallen heroes, buy equipment, etc.
The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin
It’s one of the closest ways to experience an interactive Spider-Man comic from the 80s and 90s. This game is a remake of Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin, which was originally released for Sega’s Genesis console. It features major updates in the form of fully animated cutscenes and voice-acted dialogue, thanks to the extra storage space afforded by a CD-ROM.
You are trying to stop a nuclear bomb from detonating in the middle of a city while also fighting off classic Spider-Man villains such as Goblin, Venom, Doctor Octopus, Electro, etc. The Kingpin has planted this bomb and falsely accused you of trying to kill millions. And MJ has been kidnapped by Venom, which adds an extra layer of difficulty to Peter’s insane struggle.
If you love retro games and are interested in SNES Games as well then you must check out my other list Top 50 All-Time SNES (Super Nintendo) Games That You Must Play
Earthworm Jim: Special Edition
Gamers and critics praised Earthworm Jim for its innovative gameplay and unique narrative that was filled with weird characters. The Special Edition is an updated version designed to take advantage of the Sega CD’s hardware. This version contains all levels from the original Genesis release (as opposed to the SNES port that removed one of the levels).
In addition to retaining all levels from the Genesis version, the Special Edition also adds extra sections to certain levels. New animations and remixed CD-quality soundtracks were also added, along with a level called “Big Bruty”. The Big Bruty level is set in a wrecked ship that lies within a swamp and features a boss who can kill Earthworm Jim with just one attack.
Originally, Silpheed was developed by Takeshi Miyaji for the PC-8801 home computer. Eventually, it was ported to the Sega CD console with a few tweaks here and there. Silpheed is a vertically-scrolling shooter in which you control prototype space fighters and fend off wave after wave of incoming enemies.
The Sega CD version features a pre-rendered video background, something that is absent from the PC releases. And the ships are made from polygons for a pseudo-3D look. A few cinematic cutscenes have also been added to the Sega CD version, and these play during the end credits.
The Secret of Monkey Island
One of the finest products to ever be released by Lucasfilm Games, The Secret of Monkey Island is a classic pirate tale set in the Caribbeans. It’s a story-driven point-and-click visual adventure featuring plenty of NPCs and environmental objects that you can interact with. You click on a person or object and select one of several commands from a menu.
There are plenty of cinematic cutscenes interspersed between action sequences and puzzle-solving. You get into duels, compete with rival pirates, and engage in activities such as swimming. And of course, there is treasure hunting too- what would a pirate game be without that?
If you love retro games and intrested in Nintendo 64 as well than you must check out my other list Top 50 All-time Nintendo 64 (N64) Games That You Must Play
Final Fight CD
If you look at sales figures for arcade cabinets and home console copies of Final Fight, it’s clear why I included it on my list. Clearly, this is a very popular fighting game- one of the best ever made. The people who worked on Final Fight would later create Street Fighter II.
In fact, Final Fight actually started development as a sequel to the original Street Fighter. Eventually, it evolved from a competitive fighter into a beat-’em-up (clearly inspired by Double Dragon). There are three main characters, each with their own fighting style.
Star Wars: Rebel Assault
Rebel Assault may not be the best Star Wars game ever made, but it’s still pretty unique (in a good way). This is a rail shooter in which you play as a young rebel pilot with the callsign “Rookie One”. A lot of the cutscenes and soundtracks are taken straight from the movie.
And they can be accommodated into the game thanks to the extra space afforded by a CD (as compared to a game cartridge). The cutscenes are rendered with CGI in many instances, but they still look pretty good. And the art design is also on point.
Lunar: The Silver Star
Lunar: The Silver Star heralded a long procession of roleplaying games that would take advantage of the CD-ROM format. These games featured full-motion video and high-quality voice acting instead of dialogue boxes placed atop static background images. This game is the best-selling Sega CD title in Japan (and the 2nd highest-selling Sega CD game ever).
Lunar was designed from the ground up to play and feel different from “traditional” JRPGs. The turn-based combat offers immense player freedom, both in terms of offense and defense. The story is conveyed through cinematic cutscenes and innovatively crafted questlines that feel awesome, even to this day.
Popful Mail is a side-scrolling platformer/ adventure with several RPG elements that make it stand out from other games of this genre (such as Sonic). Since it’s an RPG, you can level up your player character, unlocking access to new abilities and enhancing existing powers. An in-game menu lets you tweak character stats, equipment, etc.
You can use items, open treasure chests, and talk with NPCs who give you valuable bits of information. You start with one character but gradually get access to a couple of new ones. These new characters have different values for mobility, armor, attack, etc.
Lunar: Eternal Blue
This is a sequel to Lunar: The Silver Star and expands on its predecessor’s story by introducing new characters and plotlines. It also features more animated cutscenes, with additional detail and length compared to The Silver Star. The usage of voice acting was also increased, which results in a more “cinematic” storytelling experience when compared to the first game.
Much like Silver Star, encounters with enemies are randomized within dungeons and jungles. A new AI system lets your party members attack independently of player command. And you can now position your characters in strategic locations on the grid before actual fighting starts.
It’s also called Road Blaster, which is the official Japanese release title. This is a story-driven “movie game” with a plot that seems to have been inspired by Mad Max. You are a vigilante who’s hunting down the gang of bikers responsible for murdering your wife.
And your primary weapon on this vengeance-fueled crusade is a sports car that has been outfitted with an array of weapons. Toei Studios did animation work (yes, the same guys who make anime). Over 15,000 hand-painted cels were used to create around 30 minutes of in-game footage.
Heart Of The Alien
Back in 1991, Delphine Software released “Another World”. A game about Lester the scientist who accidentally gets transported to an alien world while conducting one of his experiments. The gameplay is pretty unique since Lester is a scientist and not an action hero- meaning he can’t use special powers or stylish offensive attacks.
Heart of the Alien is a sequel to Another World and was developed by Interplay in 1994. It makes excellent use of cinematic storytelling, which makes for a platforming experience unlike anything else. And you now play as Buddy, who has a special whip that lets him swing like Indiana Jones from platform to platform.
This is a video game based on the movie released in 1992, with many of the villains and side characters copied over. It is a beat ‘em up in which you can swing, jump, run, and throw batarangs. The original version was released for Sega Genesis and was considered frustratingly difficult by many gamers.
In the Sega CD version, you get the same story, levels, graphics, etc., but with an entirely new car combat minigame built-in. And the best part is that this car combat portion of the game is rendered in 3D. Plus, audio quality has been improved thanks to the game being released on CD-ROMs.
Eternal Champions: Challenge From The Dark Side
With the successes of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, the gaming industry plunged into a fighting-game frenzy during the early 90s. Typically, you’d see fighting games released on arcade cabinets before they were ported to home consoles. However, Sega’s Eternal Champions was an exception- it was built specifically for the Genesis console.
Stage-specific finishers and a high focus on cinematic storytelling separated this game from its peers. Its sequel, called Challenge From the Dark Side, adheres to much of what made the original so good. While also adding new fighters, bosses, and special moves.
Alright, this one is actually an interactive movie packaged into a video game box rather than an actual game. And it’s basically a bunch of FMV cutscenes taped together to construct an oddly funny B-movie. You follow a group of teenage girls who visit an old mansion for a sleepover without knowing that it’s infested with vampires.
What do you do? Listen to their conversations for clues that will help you piece together the narrative. There are cameras located in various parts of the house, you can switch between them and activate hidden traps to capture vampires.
With a generic narrative and mediocre character design, it’s easy to discount Vay as just another one of those JRPGs trying to cash in on the craze. However, if you look slightly deeper you’ll find a game that’s actually quite satisfying and enjoyable from start to end. Sure, the story is weird and incoherent- it features a giant alien robot fighting against wizards and some prince trying to rescue his kidnapped bride.
However, the gameplay is brilliantly executed. Character progression through both XP and items feels organic, and you get an ever-increasing arsenal of cool new spells. And the game even has an AI ( a fairly rudimentary one) that lets your characters act without any instructions.
Keio Flying Squadron
You play as a teenage girl dressed in a bunny costume, riding a cute dragon while fighting the U.S. and Russian armed forces. And all this takes place during the Edo era of Japan. Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense to me either, but the game is lots of fun.
There are talking animals, conspiracies, and magical keys that unlock hidden ancient treasures. Your dragon can shoot fireballs and is assisted by two other mini-dragons who can be used as shields. A lot of characters and plot elements of this game are based on Japanese mythology and culture.
Originally developed in 1990 for the Sharp X68000 PC, Sol Feace was later ported to both the Genesis and Sega CD. It is a horizontally scrolling space shooter in which you control a fighter called Sol Feace. The goal is to destroy waves of enemy robots in order to stop a malignant AI from enslaving all of humanity.
The default armament on your craft is a pair of energy cannons that can fire forward, backward, and diagonally. Destroying small enemies gives you the chance to get offensive powerups. These powerups include homing missiles, lasers, scattershot projectiles, etc.
A game that needs no introduction since you have at least heard of it or seen videos (if you haven’t already played it). This is the very first Mortal Kombat, released for Sega CD in 1994. A Genesis version came out one year earlier, but it lacks the arcade-quality soundtrack you get in the CD version.
Much like Street Fighter that preceded it, Mortal Kombat has all the basic maneuvers you’d expect from a 2D fighting game- jumps, flips, dashes, etc. You can choose whether to punch high or low; same for kicks. And, of course, there are the signature Mortal Kombat fatalities (finisher moves) that involve lots of blood and gore.
Android Assault: The Revenge of Bari Arm
A shoot ‘em up game set in the future, featuring a giant transforming mecha called the Bari-arm. Its default state is a spaceship designed by humans to combat the hostile space nation of Zias. Your enemies use cyborgs and other advanced weaponry, many of which humans have reverse-engineered to create the Bari-arm.
Your ship can shoot regular projectiles or charged attacks at four different speeds. Different weapon types can be equipped, each with its own version of the charge shot.
Soulstar is a unique rail/ 3rd person hybrid shooter that combines 3D and 2D graphics and intense gunplay with a futuristic sci-fi narrative. In the future, humanity has started expanding into space, equipped with advanced weaponry and transportation systems. We encounter a parasitic race of aliens who wish to drain all resources from our solar system.
An elite group of paramilitary fighters is tasked with taking down these aliens. You pilot a morphing spaceship that travels on rails across a richly detailed terrain that’s full of hostiles waiting to get shot. Not all missions are on rails; some allow for free movement (you also control other vehicles such as mecha and hovercraft).
Most 2D fighting games in the late 80s and early 90s focused on hand-to-hand combat. And they were set in the modern era, featuring rogue mercenaries or cage fighters. However, Samurai Shodown is very different from these types of fighting games.
It prioritizes weapons-based combat, with everything from nunchakus and katanas to spears and ninja stars. The game is also set in feudal-era Japan, which is a refreshing change of pace. Unlike the same regurgitated urban neighborhood that you saw in so many beat ‘em ups and fighting games of that time.
A vertically scrolling shooter that combines the past and future to create something entirely different from the rest. In Robo Aleste you are thrown into feudal Japan, filled with warlords who are trying to tear each other apart. However, they aren’t fighting with bows and arrows.
Instead, these guys are riding into battle on giant steampunk mechs. There are all kinds of hidden clans, ninja assassins, and scheming supervillains. And the story is actually half-decent, with a consistent plot and characters that you can get emotionally invested in.
Mansion of Hidden Souls
This is a graphic-adventure game heavily inspired by horror classics such as Myst and D. You start out with a cutscene of Jonathan and Samantha- two siblings who are walking around in a field. Samantha notices a butterfly and chases after it, almost as if she is being controlled by its aura.
Jonathan tries to warn her about tales from their grandmother, who warned of people being turned into butterflies by ghosts. Eventually, she enters a mansion and gets trapped. You play as Jonathan, exploring the mansion and looking for clues on how to free her (before both of you lose your bodies forever).
The studio that developed Night Trap later created Double Switch which is also an interactive movie game. Both games have similar plots, in which a group of people we’re observing from our point of view get trapped inside a closed structure. In this game, you play as an unnamed protagonist who is tasked with rescuing the owner of an industrial conglomerate who’s locked in the basement of his own mansion.
The mansion itself is based around an Egyptian archeological expedition and looks like the inside of a pharaoh’s tomb. The owner of the mansion gives you access to its security cameras and door codes, so you can help him escape from the basement. But the people who trapped him in there won’t make it easy for you.
In the mid-1980s, Hasbro was working on a video game console project that would accept VHS tapes instead of cartridges. It never made it to a public release, but one of the games that were being developed for this platform found its way onto the Sega CD. Because the game used FMV for actual gameplay, it required a CD (cartridges didn’t have the space to store it).
Sewer Shark is the first-ever video game to use FMV for gameplay instead of just cutscenes. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic future, where humans are forced to live underground due to significant degradation of the planet’s surface. In this new world, special soldiers are tasked with eliminating mutated creatures that roam the tunnels of a city’s sewer system.
When you look back at this game, you can see the sparks of what would later go on to become Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider franchise. After all, the same person worked on both Tomb Raider and BC Racers. However, the gameplay of BC Racers is nothing like Tomb Raider.
It is a racing game with wacky prehistoric vehicles and millionaire cavemen. Each stone-age vehicle has an assortment of unique weapons. The game almost feels like an interactive version of the car racing from Flintstones.
Of all the weird FMV games to come out for Sega CD, this one takes the cake. It’s not an interactive movie, even though it extensively uses prerecorded cutscenes featuring real actors. Nor is it a proper fighting game because the controls and movements feel so disconnected from your actual input.
The boxing itself involves basic moves like jabs and hooks. You don’t get much in the way of defense. And the enemy AI is always able to knock you out with a couple of hits, whereas you have a very slim chance of hitting them.
Lords of Thunder
You’re a legendary knight fighting against the dark lord Deoric and his generals who threaten your homeland. Lords of Thunder is a typical side-scrolling shooter in which you can throw different kinds of ranged attacks. There are no guns since this is set in a medieval fantasy period, but you do get primitive bombs and an arsenal of spells.
At the start, you can choose the type of armor your knight will wear. Each armor is linked to one of 4 elements, as well as a difficulty setting that decides enemy patterns. Before each stage, you can buy health-restoring items, bombs, shields, etc.
The gameplay in Flashback is very similar to Prince of Persia in that you have static backgrounds instead of scrolling ones. Each of these screens has several platform levels that require you to climb, swing, jump, and run to get across. Since this is a sci-fi game set in the future, you’ll also come across elevators and force fields.
You’re equipped with a handgun that has infinite ammo and a rechargeable energy shield that does down after tanking a finite number of hits. The energy shield is your health bar, and you also get a portable fixed shield that can be dropped in front of you to block incoming fire. In the game’s later stages, you’re given a teleporter that can be thrown across gaps.
One of the earliest RTS games to be developed for a home console, Powermonger has an impressive AI that brings the entire world to life. You even get a 3D map that can be rotated (to a limited degree). And all of this somehow managed to run on a 16-bit home console from the early 90s!
NPCs have routines- they will farm, hunt, fish, and chop wood. You can focus on individuals to view their stats such as health, age, sex, items, etc. This is a game in which you can reform entire landscapes, command armies, and create empires.
Everyone loves to talk about Terminator 2, but its more horror-themed predecessor often gets overlooked. Well, this game is based on the first Terminator movie. In which a soldier from the future has come back in time to save the mother of their resistance leader.
Of course, you play Kyle Reese, the movie’s protagonist. There are various platforming levels, and you can shoot while crouching/ jumping. Cutscenes use FMV clips taken straight from the movie.
Rise Of The Dragon
Judging from its name, you might think this is a fighting game or action platformer of some kind. But no, it’s actually a graphic adventure set in cyberpunk Los Angeles. Upon playing Rise Of The Dragon, it’s clear that many of its characters and plot elements are inspired by the cult classic future noir movie Bladerunner.
You are a former LAPD officer who now works as a private detective. A case just dropped- the mayor’s daughter has been killed, her body completely disfigured. She was in possession of a new drug type, and you are tasked with finding the criminals responsible for its distribution.
An officially licensed NHL game made by EA before they transformed into microtransaction overlords. And guess what, NHL ’94 is actually a fun game. In fact, a lot of the mechanics and concepts introduced by this game are still used in new NHL titles- just with updated visuals.
With its wide, overhead camera, you can see every bit of the action as if you were watching an ice hockey match live on TV. NHL ’94 is also the first game to introduce the one-timer, which is a move in which you shoot the puck right after a pass is made.
Ground Zero: Texas
Alright, guys, it’s pretty clear by now that FMV video games were an actual industry trend at one point during the early 90s. This is primarily due to the increased storage space afforded by CDs. However, a lot of developers simply used this added capacity to chop up pieces of a low-budget movie and ship them as a game disk.
Is Ground Zero: Texas another one of those cash grabs? Thankfully, no- it has a good plot and clever dialogue that keeps you engaged. This is an interactive movie game that’s inspired by classic sci-fi monster flicks from the 1950s.
Fatal Fury Special
Fatal Fury Special is an upgraded version of the 2nd Fatal Fury game, with new mechanics and an expanded fighter pool. However, the graphics are pretty much unchanged when compared to Fatal Fury 2. This makes sense since this game was also designed for 16-bit consoles.
The game speed has been tweaked, so it’s faster. Action is more fluid, and a new combo system is implemented. Landing a successful hit will give a brief moment of invulnerability during which you can execute chain moves.
A side-scrolling platformer that plays very much like Mario Bros. 3. Flink never managed to get the mainstream appeal of Sonic or Mario. However, you can play this underrated gem of a game today and decide for yourself as to how good it is.
For starters, the art style and stage design are unlike anything else. It is high fantasy, with a cartoonish tint applied on top. The characters look charming and cute, plus the soundtrack is something you can listen to for hours.
Brutal: Paws of Fury
Instead of human fighters, you control anthropomorphic animals who use their claws and teeth to launch vicious attacks. According to the in-game lore, every 4 years a special tournament is held on a secret island. Only the strongest warriors from each corner of the planet are invited.
And get this, the one who wins will challenge “Dali Llama”. You read that right- in this game’s universe, Dali Llama is the greatest living fighter. After you prove the strength of your warrior spirit in combat with the Dali Llama, he shall give you the Belt of Heaven.
A shooter in which you pilot an attack helicopter. The gameplay is quite realistic, and missions are based on historical events. Such as the UN intervention during the Bosnian War, anti-pirate campaigns in the South China Sea, etc.
The aircraft you pilot is an AH-73M (fictional design), the Apache gunship clearly inspires it. Mission profiles and objectives can vary significantly depending on which “ conflict zone” of the world you’re operating in. Your chopper is armed with missiles, rockets, and a machine gun.
Ecco The Dolphin
An adventure game that feels like playing a JRPG with aquatic creatures in place of humans. Ecco is the protagonist, and a storm sucked up his entire pod in the ocean. A friendly orca instructs him to travel toward the Arctic ocean, where an ancient blue whale resides.
Some weird things happen, and you end up having to fight aliens. Ecco can ram into enemies, switch up his swimming speed, and jump out of the water. An interesting feature of this game is Ecco’s ability to communicate with other aquatic life using special songs.
This is a 1980s crime movie simulator, complete with a light gun. You play as a Chicago PD officer who’s doing his routine patrols. You’re at the donut shop (like every cop), having a quick snack during your break.
Suddenly, dispatch tells you that a major crime syndicate has started a shootout in the center of the city. You rush there, one of two elite cops still alive. Pulling out the six-shooter from its holster, you get to work on eliminating as many hostiles as you can.
Prince of Persia
This is the classic Prince of Persia that was originally released for Apple II and DOS systems. Its Sega CD remake adds a few things, such as voice-acted dialogue and saves. Animations are buttery smooth since they are basically digitized versions of an actual person jumping and running.
Combat involves swordplay and dodging incoming attacks by jumping. You also have to avoid spike traps and jump across gaps on your way to rescue the princess. The Sega CD version also has different graphics and new soundtracks when compared to the original PC release.
To use the Sega CD, you needed a base Genesis console. The CD attachment connects via a secondary cartridge port. And the Sega Genesis treats this attachment as if it were a game cartridge by reading from the buffer.
The Sega CD swaps its own data into this buffer, using its built-in processor and GPU. As a result of the increased storage capacity afforded by disks and superior processing power, you get some really impressive-looking games with FMV cutscenes that were considered “cinema-quality” for the time.
Very few people know this, but Sega also released an all-in-one console called the CDX (which didn’t sell many units). This standalone unit combined the Genesis and Sega CD into a single device. And it was portable, so you could treat it like a Walkman.
The CDX could play audio CDs, making it a portable music player in addition to a game console. It even had an LCD screen to show you the music track and media control buttons. Many people consider the CDX a precursor to portable entertainment systems such as the Vita, Switch, NVIDIA Shield, etc.