CD Drive Game Console Add-on - Dismantled for reference and curiosity
*Points specific to the unit photographed below are found at end of this text.
In 1991 SEGA decided to tackle the Japanese CD ROM game market dominated exclusively by the TurboGrafx-16. Enter the Mega-CD. A hardware add-on for the SEGA Mega Drive launched in the United States (as the Genesis) in 1992 then in Europe and Australia in 1993.
The Mega-CD was released in two versions, the Mega-CD and the Mega-CDII. The Mega-CD sits below the Mega Drive and offers a motorised CD ROM draw. Significantly difference the Mega-CDII is part of a horizontal tray the Mega Drive or Mega Drive II sits on next to the spring loaded lid CD Drive. An additional section of base was supplied with the Mega-CDII to accommodate the extra width of the original Mega Drive as seen below. No version of the Mega-CD is compatible with the Mega Drive 3/Genesis 3.
Both Mega-CD versions give the Mega Drive the ability to load CD ROM disc software, play audio CDs as well as access CD+G discs. They add additional CPU, RAM and sound & graphics capability to the Mega Drive, but in all honesty, it really was a bit rubbish.
It had great potential but with the Mega Drive's aging colour pallet of 512 colours and a maximum of 64 on screen at any time it really needed to enhance the Mega Drive in ways it just didn't, or maybe couldn't. Even though the CD ROMs greatly upgrade the possible storage from the 16 megabits on cartridges to 640 megabytes on CD, what developer is going to make use off all that space for a console that just can't output any more than what cartridges were already offering? After all, that's how the Mega Drive had been designed. The saving grace were games released with improved CD quality audio.
SEGA became enamoured with the idea that with all this space they could use it to play Full Motion Video (FMV) games. These were surprisingly popular for a very limited time on a number of consoles and in the arcades. While the Don Bluth animated 'Space Ace' and 'Dragon Slayer' titles were exceptions to the rule, on the whole FMV games were novel but terrible.
Real life footage FMV games played on a system that can only output 64 colours simultaneously are grainy, dithered and horrible to look at. They were fine on laserdisc (for the most part) but not on the Mega-CD. Even the anime/cartoon games like the pack-in 'Road Avenger' is so horrible that at times you really can't see what is going on. 'Time Gal' is much the same even though I will confess to having frustrating fun with both in spite of the technical limitations.
The Mega-CD does have one famous or more so infamous title and that is 'Night Trap'. This title involved probably the best FMV of all Mega-CD titles and centres around the player trying to unravel a mystery where a group of girls went missing from a house..... by watching another group of girls go missing from a house. Night Trap was banned and pulled from shelves in the US due to its content that by today's gaming standards is laughable tame. It was later released on the 3DO with much higher quality FMV.
If I sound bitter about this piece of hardware it's because I sadly bought a Mega-CD when they were near new, and paid for it... and like most kept on paying for it with next to no titles being released in Australia and terrible ones at that. The only plus side was that some of the Mega Drive magazines started offering CDs with demo games on their covers and more than once it turned out to be the entire game. If you used a level skip cheat you could get past the first 'demo level' and play the whole thing; 'Keio Flying Squadron' comes to mind.
Batman Returns on the Mega CD was a stand out title in music and varied game play (uuugh the boat bit a the end) so it wasn't all bad. If you look up a play through, skip in to 3/4 of the way through to see what I mean.
*Relating to the unit below, you'll see that there's a smaller, brown PCB soldered to the motherboard. While there's limited information relating to it, it's a factory installed board and not an aftermarket addition / mod. Very early MEGA CD II units don't have this board and it's thought to be a late addition resolving an issue identified after the units went into production. It's suggested the board may add copy protection to prevent the use of burnt MEGA CD software. Home market CD burners were only just starting to appear and during design it's likely pirated CD games weren't seen as a significant future problem.