Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Sega CD's (Mostly) FMV Fails

Sega CD Summer is out now!

For the most part, it seemed like Sega CD games fell into one of two categories: enhanced Sega Genesis ports or full-motion video (FMV) games. The Genesis ports typically had additions like CD-quality music and video clips plus, you know, loading times. FMV games featured grainy, poorly compressed video clips loosely centered around a plot.

Companies touted FMV as the future of video games, and video clips featured prominently in advertisements for the Sega CD and its various games. A lot of console gamers didn't have high-end PCs with CD-ROM drives, so video definitely provided a novel look and experience.

It was easy to get swept up in the hype.

Since I am, however, talking about video games, the gaming part is kind of important. This is where most FMV games fell short. Interactivity was extremely limited and most of the games played in a linear manner. They suffered from a severe lack of replay value. Many of the games featured hammy overacting and looked extremely cheap.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of FMV games for the Sega CD. It includes some truly infamous titles! I did write about a couple that weren't so bad. I should add that when I talk about FMV games, I mean games in which the FMV was the point. You could include Sewer Shark on this list while I feel like Rebel Assault had enough game variety to separate it from the pack. The console also had several games, like its version of Jurassic Park, that featured video clips but weren't necessarily FMV games.

Here we go... 

Make My Video series. Universally considered the worst "games" on the Sega CD, these early titles had you "editing" video clips to make a music video for different musical artists. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Kris Kross, and INXS all licensed their likenesses and music to this garbage. A different title developed by the same company, Digital Pictures, featured C+C Music Factory. It was also an abomination. 

Here's the Marky Mark version. See if you can actually figure out what's going on here:

Night Trap. This was the bane of video gaming for a while, a title so "controversial" that Congress held hearings on video game violence! Mortal Kombat was also at the center of hearings in which U.S. lawmakers grilled companies about the content of the games kids were playing. Night Trap looks so hokey and innocuous now that it's hard to believe people were Very Concerned about some knockoff, shlocky B-movie-inspired game. It lives in infamy and does possess a certain charm to it. In recent years, it's been re-released on modern consoles with an updated interface and improved video quality. It's a Digital Pictures game. It was released for the Sega Genesis-Sega CD-Sega 32X hybrid as well.

Corpse Killer. Corpse Killer debuted on the Sega CD thanks to our friends from Digital Pictures. It's essentially a shooter in which players kill zombies in a tropical island setting. Like Night Trap, it has a campy charm to it and received an upgraded re-release for modern consoles. It later came out on the Sega Genesis-Sega CD-Sega 32X platform. The opening scene is, well, something.

Prize Fighter. This worked OK as a kind of Punch-Out-inspired FMV game. The black-and-white presentation gives it a quasi-Raging Bull feel, although the acting doesn't stack up in any way. The video looks decent as the old-school presentation actually hides the Genesis' paltry color palette. I rented this once and don't remember it that well. The game involved a lot of pattern recognition and timing--basically a series of quick-time events. You can finish it in under an hour and the replay value is virtually non-existent. Digital Pictures developed it.

Supreme Warrior. Digital Pictures also blessed us with this "gem" inspired by martial arts movies of the '70s. From what I understand, the controls here made the game very difficult to time things up to block attacks. Some reviewers at the time of release appreciated the game's kung fu-movie inspired production design and acting. A playthrough takes a little over an hour. Like Prize Fighter, replayability is limited. It appeared on the Sega Genesis-Sega CD-Sega 32X combo.

Slam City with Scottie Pippen. According to various online sources, Scottie Pippen performed the theme song on this basketball-themed turkey. Players take on various ballers one-on-one with Pippen serving as the "boss" battle at the end. The video actually looks pretty good for the platform, although several reviewers found the game extremely difficult. This was another triple threat, also appearing on the Sega Genesis-Sega CD-Sega 32X platform. The only other game featured on the three-system combo not mentioned here was Fahrenheit

Dragon's Lair/Space Ace. These two were originally LaserDisc-based arcade games, with Space Ace releasing months after the extremely popular Dragon's Lair. The games featured great animation, although they just don't look at that great on the Sega CD thanks to the limited color palette. In a way, these games wrote the book for pulling off FMV games with limited replay value and quick-time events that have you following onscreen cursors to progress. They did feature some stellar death animations, however!

Road Avenger. Called Road Blaster in Japan, this was retitled Road Avenger for the Sega CD release. Essentially an interactive animated action movie, this received high praise at the time of its release and makes a lot of "best of" lists for the Sega CD. Colorful graphics and a good soundtrack help it stand out among other offerings on the platform. While it follows a lot of the same concepts as other games on this list, players feel like they're in control of things. The game has nine stages and replay value is somewhat limited. However, it helps that Road Avenger is fun to play. This was a Data East game.

Tomcat Alley. I rented this one a couple of times and had fun with it. Among the FMV games, it boasted somewhat better video quality. Essentially a Top Gun ripoff, Tomcat Alley has you taking control of a fighter jet and going on different missions. Mission variety was good, the video filled the whole screen (not usually the case!), and the acting hit the right tone. It is honestly one of the better, if not the best, FMV games on the Sega CD.