28 years later, a no-disc version of the Sega CD exists—and it rocks [Updated]
It’s a nice time to play previous video video games on fashionable TVs. Fan-favorite corporations are taking emulation significantly with merchandise like the NES Classic and the Sega Genesis Mini, whereas fanatics are filling in the gaps to both improve unique consoles’ connectors or rebuild them as “hardware-emulated” FPGA techniques.
Last 12 months, nonetheless, we noticed arguably the first massive product to fill in a single main under-served area of interest: the early ’90s CD add-on adapter. Specifically, the Sega CD has obtained new life in the kind of the MegaSD. This mixture flash drive and FPGA board plugs into unique Genesis and Mega Drive consoles (and the newer Analogue Mega Sg). It replicates the unique Sega CD’s capabilities with out requiring a laser-driven disc drive whereas additionally remaining appropriate with that add-on’s peculiar system-communication type.
I used to be initially hesitant to jot down up the MegaSD’s announcement—particularly since it comes from comparatively unknown flash card producer TerraOnion versus Sega, and it prices a whopping €232 (roughly $261 USD). But my tune modified upon seeing its first hands-on evaluate from YouTube channel RetroRGB (embedded at the finish of this text). In quick: It seems to work precisely as marketed, full with lowered CD-based loading instances, an identical gameplay, practically an identical CD-based audio, and another nice-to-have options. [Update, March 28, 2020: Now we have up to date this text with our personal hands-on impressions, as examined on unique Genesis hardware. Long story quick, it’s nice.]
A brand new strategy to Snatcher
For the uninitiated, the Sega CD works by plugging into the Genesis’s hidden male cartridge connector. Truly, the Genesis all the time noticed the Sega CD as a sport cartridge and handled its 128Kb buffer accordingly. The Sega CD would then continuously swap that buffer with its personal equivalently sized buffer, which it stuffed and manipulated with its personal devoted processor.
I level all of this out as a result of the MegaSD is not simply a flash cartridge that holds big ISO information ripped from traditional CDs; it additionally emulates the complete Sega CD motherboard to do its important processing (which was used for issues comparable to Sonic CD‘s 3D-rotation tips à la the SNES’s famed “Mode 7” choice). RetroRGB confirms that this all runs with none hiccups on traditional video games, whether or not they’re rendering Sega CD-powered visible trickery or enjoying again unique CD “Redbook” audio. The worst information confirmed by RetroRGB at the moment is the MegaSD’s incapability to operate when linked to a Sega 32X adapter, as a result of how the Genesis manages each of its cartridge slots.
Before going hands-on with our personal MegaSD evaluate unit, RetroRGB’s assessments gave us a sense that the MegaSD’s excessive asking value was merited—particularly in a world the place growing old Sega CD hardware has grow to be prohibitively costly to purchase. If you need to play some of the period’s finest 16-bit video games, notably the arcade-perfect port of Final Fight and the English-language version of Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher, the Sega CD is usually the finest strategy to entry some of them. (Next month’s Turbografx 16 Mini contains a playable version of Snatcher, however it’s the Japanese-only version, so for English-speaking Kojima followers, the Sega CD stays the finest path to go.)
If you need another excuse to spend a lot, MegaSD permits customers to load Genesis, Mega Drive, and Sega Master System video games by dumping them onto an SD card as ROMs (although precisely how you will dump ROMs from your present, legitimately acquired cartridges or CDs is as much as you). RetroRGB explores some funky sound playback on SMS video games as a result of its dealing with of that system’s elective FM Synthesizer add-on, so you will need to watch the under video to the finish to see if that issues to you.
Update: Great hardware with twists like MD+ assist
Months after this text’s unique publication, we have returned to verify some nice information: TerraOnion has been on a assist tear for this factor. Multiple firmware updates have been pushed to MegaSD homeowners since its launch, and these have ranged from timing updates for CD search emulation to elevated backup RAM storage assist. The most killer function added to this cart is its assist for the Genesis version of Virtua Racing, and this one is particular as a result of it was the solely Genesis sport to ship with an additional processor in its cartridge. (Nintendo was higher recognized for this type of per-cartridge trick.)
From a authorized standpoint, the MegaSD is one of the simpler traditional game-backup options to suggest, since Sega CD discs did not ship with copy safety. Pop your favourite traditional Sega CD sport into a laptop’s DVD-ROM drive, “rip” the information out utilizing the freeware app ImgBurn (utilizing the “create image file from disc” choice), switch them to a micro SD card, and stick mentioned reminiscence card into the MegaSD. I used to be ready to do that with a few discs I’ve available, together with rarities lent to me by some Seattle-area collectors, and I booted them on my unique Genesis 2 hardware and my fancier Analogue Mega Sg with out incident.
You may also use this flash cart to retailer and run Genesis cartridge ROMs, and like different flash drives, this contains a “save state” function (just for Genesis video games, not Sega CD ones). I would not blame homeowners of unique cartridges (or traditional video games’ license purchases on Steam) for dumping their video games onto a MegaSD in order that they’ll save progress, since most Genesis video games lacked battery back-up choices.
Don’t purchase this anticipating CD search instances to be obliterated; relying on the sport in query, chances are you’ll face a default pause-to-load it doesn’t matter what, owing to how the unique video games have been coded. But I used to be joyful to see slight, noticeable boosts in fare like the Sega CD variations of NBA Jam and NHL ’94, that are enjoyable upgrades to their Genesis originals in phrases of including voice appearing and cleaner music tracks.
Speaking of music: The MegaSD helps a comparatively new “MD+” file format that mixes unique Genesis ROMs with Redbook audio. The thought being, you’ll be able to play your favourite traditional video games with their unique graphics and sound results, then exchange their music wholesale with 16-bit, 44.1kHz audio. Only a few video games have obtained such updates from the neighborhood, however you are in a authorized grey space grabbing these from exterior sources, particularly after they supply copyrighted audio. If you need to tread safely, your best choice is a sophisticated one: hack your favourite video games your self. While I have not gone to that bother, I used to be in a position to check a good friend’s challenge and ensure it labored as marketed, with higher-resolution music thumping on unique Genesis hardware.
The MegaSD lands in a retro-niche candy spot: a little expensive, positive, however not far more than attempting to purchase a working Sega CD. For no matter premium you pay on high of a Sega CD public sale buy and its transport (if any), the MegaSD provides the extra bonuses of improved search instances, MD+ assist, and the peace of thoughts of not questioning when (not if) your Sega CD’s laser will crap out.
Listing picture by TerraOnion