Canned games last longer

Sega Games Can Vol. 1 and 2 are two seemingly random assortments of Mega Drive games, both released on the same day in March 1994, exclusively for… the Mega CD?

Now as we all know Sega have done this Mega Drive on Mega CD thing before: Sega Classics Arcade Collection (the pack with Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, etc. on it) as well as the FMV “enhanced” re-releases of both Ecco the Dolphins were prime examples of a slightly worrying trend of hardware in search of software to play on it – but this instance thankfully contains a happy little twist. We have to start with a look at that beautiful packaging – as you can hopefully see from the photo at the top of this page both of these Japan-only volumes were released in clear plastic boxes (they’re about the size of a standard double CD case) housing the manual, a paper insert serving as the info-filled back of the box as well as the spine, and the titular game can itself; a literal brightly coloured metal can protecting the CD within (don’t worry about the discs – the inside of the main tin and even the lid is lined with a soft foam cushion and the CD is then sandwiched between two soft tissue-y sheets, keeping them safe and scratch-free on both sides). There are eight games contained on the first disc (four of which are Phantasy Star II text adventures, with each one focussing on a different character) and twelve on the second (including four more Phantasy Star II text adventures). Between the two you’ve got a little bit of everything: Some stellar remakes and reimaginings of left-behind Sega classics like Flicky, Teddy Boy Blues, and Penguin Land, quality puzzle gaming thanks to the inclusion of Pyramid Magic‘s ghost-laden block pushing action, those fabulous Phantasy Star II tales (for the sake of clarity I will emphasise again that these are text adventures), an original title so good the rest of the world bought it as a standalone Mega Drive release (that’ll be Fatal Labyrinth) and what we’ll politely lump together as “everything else” – an amusing hodge-podge of card games, mini golf, and unusual blasts of what can only be described as pure Sega with enticing titles such as Paddle Fighter, Robot Battler, and Hyper Marbles.

As compilations go nobody can seriously question the variety or value on offer, with several of the included games genuinely worthy of a better existence than Mega CD compilation limbo – there’s no doubt the utterly adorable Ikasuze! Ai no Doki Doki Penguin Land MD would be a painfully expensive rarities today if it had been released on a Mega Drive cart and given a chance to really shine – and the few that aren’t up to those high standards still feel right at home as one complimentary part of a wider entertainment package, allowing anyone to dip in to titles that perhaps might be a little outside their usual fare without the risk, expense, and commitment that usually entails. Both volumes are great sets when considered separately and even better together, and if you can find them for a decent price (at the time of writing their second hand complete-in-box value seems to unhelpfully range from the reasonable to the ridiculous) they’re just the thing to put on when you’re not really in the mood for anything in particular but fancy doing more than passively twiddling your thumbs, this quick-starting buffet of Sega naturally encouraging easygoing dabbling over do-or-die mastery of any one particular title, while still offering those in search of a lengthier challenge exactly what they’re looking for.

But these seemingly novelty games cans have a purpose beyond cheaply combining several cartridges worth of data onto a single disc: They’re also the surviving piece of a service long gone, a playable peek into an exciting future now past – the Sega Game Library. This was broadly speaking the Japanese equivalent of the better known US Sega Channel, although the not insignificant difference was that at the time of their creation everything available to download from the Game Library was exclusive to that service as opposed to a cabled-in version of a pre-existing game. Available from the extraordinarily early date of 1990 (to put that in perspective – the Sega Game Library predates Sonic The Hedgehog) to… not long enough to be considered even close to a mild success, this service enabled monthly subscribers to connect to a special little corner of the world wide web and download Sega games through their telephone wires using the alliteratively named Mega Modem, an attractive official accessory that plugged directly into the original Mega Drive’s little-used external port (now you know what that’s for!).

And if it wasn’t for these unassuming Mega CD releases playing these once online-only games (these two CDs preserve most, but not all, of the titles created for the Library) would be a heck of a lot more difficult than it currently is – just look at the effort and expense fans go to in pursuit of Satellaview data – and I’m willing to bet we’d all have a very different and slightly dishonest view of the Game Library service too.

It’s very easy to put games we almost had, or games we once had thirty years ago and can never play again, on a lofty pedestal: that mourning for something potentially precious lost mingling with the knowledge that nobody – not even the game itself – can inconveniently leap in and correct you with a harsh dose of reality creates an especially intoxicating swirl of nostalgia that’s hard to break free from. Sega Games Can deserves praise not only for preserving these games for us but also for doing something that’s ordinarily very hard to do – completely demystifying what would have otherwise been some seriously ephemeral releases. Yep, that really is a mysterious blue man flapping himself around with some CYBER FANS and yep, Awoog: City in the Sky really was considered a whole game capable of demonstrating the full potential of what was an incredibly niche and highly expensive peripheral even when it was brand new. Thanks to these releases we get to see what these games actually were (for better or worse) rather than what we hoped they’d be using half-guesses and inflated assumptions pieced together through scans of old adverts and a well-meaning forum post containing little more than vague memories. With their actual work in our hands, presented more or less as it was intended to be experienced, we can enjoy and evaluate them without the distortive reverence that naturally comes with finally getting your hands on what was thought to be software forever lost to the void.

Sega Games Can does everyone a lot of good: When judged entirely on their own merits these discs can only be seen as a good selection of games for your Mega CD, and in the wider scheme of things they’re also a fantastic interactive taste of a past many of us – including people who were Japanese Mega Drive fans at the time – never got a chance to experience for themselves.

[Ko-fi supporters read this last week! Want to join them?]

2 thoughts on “Canned games last longer

  1. Wow, even back in the 90s Sega already did way more to preserve their backlog than Nintendo. Putting these digital releases on a nice CD compilation shortly after the networks demise while the Satellaview library was just left to die with the service.

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  2. Over the last couple of decades I’ve constantly seen comments whereby people claimed that Sony came up with this or only Nintendo could do that. The fact is, Sega did most things first. No point crying over it now but I truly miss the heady 16 and 32 bit Sega era.

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