For most, Sega is synonymous with Sonic the Hedgehog. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The blue blur might have seen better days, but he has seen good days. It also can’t be denied the importance Sonic had in helping bolster the Sega brand. At the same time, it’s important to remember that Sonic wasn’t all that Sega had.
In fact, Sonic the Hedgehog wasn’t even a Genesis launch title like many erroneously believe. With so much time removed from Sega’s heyday, it can be easy to forget that they were competing with Nintendo beyond one platforming franchise. From the Master System, to Mega Drive, to the Saturn, and to the Dreamcast, Sega has always had a wide roster of properties— most of which they’ve since abandoned.
10 Alex Kidd (1986 - 1990)
Alex Kidd was a very deliberate abandonment on Sega’s part. Intending Alex Kidd to be the Mario to Sega’s Nintendo, the Alex Kidd franchise were fairly decent action-platformers that managed to be distinct enough from Mario to justify six games existing. Unfortunately for Sega, Alex didn’t have quite the same staying power as Mario.
It certainly didn’t help that Dragon Ball had its own monkey king in the form of Son Goku catching people’s eyes. Alex’s Son Wukong visual references just weren’t enough. Ultimately, Sega chose to end the Alex Kidd franchise in order to focus entirely on Sonic the Hedgehog. Alex won’t be back anytime soon.
9 Altered Beast (1988 - 2005)
There are actually two Altered Beast games, and they are both very bad! Where the PlayStation 2 is of the “straight up” variant of bad, Altered Beast for the Sega Genesis has some redeeming qualities. On a whole, the game has fantastic audio and visual direction. For a launch title, it looks really nice.
Unfortunately, the game itself is sluggish and unintuitive. It’s really no surprise why Sega abandoned Altered Beast. With the sequel failing to leave any semblance of an impact on the industry, Altered Beast will forever be known as that game packaged with the Sega Genesis no one in their right mind wanted.
8 Beyond Oasis (1994 - 1996)
It’s no surprise looking at those years why Beyond Oasis isn’t referenced often— or at all— today. Sega never gave the poor series a chance. Well, that’s perhaps not fair. Both games in the series are great action-adventure games. They’re Zelda-esque in nature, but they’re distinct enough where they have an identity of their own.
The series likely didn’t survive due to the Saturn. Beyond Oasis’ one follow-up game was relegated to a console almost no one had or wanted thanks to Sega of America blocking all the best Saturn games from being localized. It’s a shame since the Saturn sequel is actually quite good.
7 Ecco The Dolphin (1992 - 2001)
Ecco the Dolphin is a franchise that Sega fans either love or hate. Most agree that the first game is indeed quite good and one of the better titles on the Genesis, but the second game ending on a cliffhanger only for the third game to be a spin-off and the fourth game to feature a brand new story altogether naturally leaves some sour.
What’s sad is that Sega knew which direction to take Ecco in: a trilogy. For whatever reason, however, Sega scrapped the final game in the trilogy and instead shifted development over to Ecco Jr., the weakest game in the series. This is to say nothing of 2016’s legal battle over custody of Ecco.
6 Golden Axe (1989 - 2008)
To Sega’s credit, they really did try to keep Golden Axe alive. Perhaps too hard. Beast Rider was released in 2008, serving as a sequel to Golden Axe II fifteen years after the fact. Beast Rider was not only the series’ introduction to 3D, it was also the series’ first M rated title with the game featuring more “mature” content.
“Mature” written as such because nothing about Sega’s approach with Beast Rider is mature. The marketing leaned into the game’s sexuality hard, failing to highlight the combat. Perhaps this was intentional, though, as Beast Rider is an utter disaster, failing to translate the series from 2D to 3D.
5 NiGHTS (1996 - 2007)
Nights into Dreams is technically categorized as an action game, but that doesn’t sound quite right. Nights goes beyond that. In general, it’s one of the most surreal games ever made. The Sega Saturn original is a genuine masterpiece and anyone seriously interested in the medium owes it to themselves to play it.
The Wii follow-up, not so much. It’s a less inspired game. The motion controlled gameplay isn’t that bad actually, but the game on a whole is of a significantly lower quality than the original. It’s no wonder Sega hasn’t pursued a third entry, but hopefully more time will give everyone the chance to yearn for more NiGHTS.
4 Panzer Dragoon (1995 - 2006)
From on-rail shooter to RPG, the Panzer Dragoon franchise is one of Sega’s very best. Panzer Dragoon Saga alone is considered one of the best RPGs of all time. Unfortunately, these games are hard to find and rare (Saga obscenely so.) This is in spite of the fact that each game in the series was a critical success.
The fact of the matter is that Panzer Dragoon lived and died on the Sega Saturn. By the time the fourth game released on the Xbox, there simply wasn’t an install base for Panzer Dragoon. Also, Orta releasing on the Xbox over the PS2 or GameCube more than certainly sealed the series’ fate right then and there. If nothing else, the first two games are getting remakes.
3 Seaman (1999 - 2007)
A God simulator of sorts, the original Seaman for the Sega Dreamcast featured compatibility with a microphone where players could speak to their Seamen while raising them. Leonard Nimoy would, naturally, respond as the Seamen. It’s a surreal game that had a sequel on the PS2, but it’s the original that’s worth paying attention to.
Unfortunately, Seaman is perhaps too weird for its own good. It’s a difficult game to recommend as the gameplay loop is almost undefinable, requiring a considerable amount of patience on the part of the player. It makes sense why Sega would avoid a third installment, but experimental games will always have their place.
2 Space Channel 5 (1999 - 2003)
Sega’s super stylized and wacky rhythm series, there’s nothing quite like Space Channel 5 aesthetically. Few games can cement a style so firmly, but Sega was always good at finding a brand’s visual identity. Much like Panzer Dragoon, Space Channel 5 was also well received critically, but it being on the Dreamcast ultimately doomed the series.
Although the series was ported over to the PlayStation 2 along with the sequel being rereleased in HD, Sega has never gone back to make a Space Channel 5: Part 3. Which is a shame as rhythm games aren’t nearly as popular as they once were. The niche is there and Space Channel 5 can fill it.
1 Virtua Fighter (1993 - 2012)
The most important fighting game franchise as far as 3D fighting goes, Virtua Fighter was often the first to showcase what could be done technologically and mechanically in a 3D fighting plane. It naturally evolved 2D combat while Street Fighter fleshed itself out. For all intents and purposes, Virtua Fighter should be 3D’s Street Fighter.
But it’s never that easy and despite Virtua Fighter V reviewing incredibly well, Sega never made a sixth entry. By now, the 3D fighting genre doesn’t need Virtua Fighter. Even if there were a sixth entry, it’s highly unlikely Sega could make a meaningful impact— that alone is more than enough reason to quietly end the franchise.