Oh, Sega. You had a darn good run in the console market, didn’t you? Gamers of a certain age will fondly remember a time when Sonic was right up there with Mario. In the nineties, the whole Nintendo vs Sega thing was the hottest of hot debates.
For that brief, shining moment, Sega was one of the most powerful forces in console gaming. Like mascot Sonic the Hedgehog, they’ve fallen from grace a little now, and are strictly software-only. Nevertheless, they’ve left a proud legacy for retro gamers to enjoy. The mighty Sega Genesis and its library, for instance.
The system is known as the Mega Drive outside of the U.S., and is home to some iconic titles that are as enjoyable as they ever were. From Toejam and Earl to Ecco the Dolphin, let’s check out some of the very best.
10 Gunstar Heroes
That’s right, friends. We’re kicking off with a game that’s on the more obscure end of the spectrum, but no less beloved for it.
Gunstar Heroes hit the system in 1993, the first big title to come from developers Treasure (who formed during development after conflicts with Konami). This run-and-gun classic would cement Treasure’s reputation as masters of the genre.
It’s big, bold, brash and brilliantly ridiculous. It features a neat weapon mix-and-match system, two playable characters that control very differently (fixed or free shooting) and features some of the greatest boss design in the genre. Remember Seven Force, the amazing transforming mech-boss? Of course you do.
9 Comix Zone
If the nineties are remembered for anything, it’s for the whole cool and/or ‘tude thing that that was absolutely everywhere. Saturday morning cartoons were loaded with it (Biker Mice from Mars? Street Sharks, featuring crime-fighting sharks on roller blades?), so were our comics and video games.
Comix Zone tapped into that whole thing like nothing else. The premise of the game is that comic artist Sketch Turner has been sucked into the panels of his own comic book by a thunderstorm, while Mortus (a villainous mutant from the book) has escaped into the real world.
What follows is a fantastic action romp through the panels of the comic, with Sketch fighting off the enemies that Mortus is drawing into existence in an attempt to take Sketch out.
It’s a little simplistic as a brawler at times, but the presentation and atmosphere of Comix Zone is second to none.
8 Streets Of Rage 2
Streets of Rage 2 has always been the epitome of how to do a sequel right. This is a difficult task for any developer, as we all know how gamers can be (if they change too much or too little there’s going to be a riot), but the follow-up to Streets of Rage absolutely nailed it.
Often regarded as the best in the series, Streets of Rage 2 refined the primitive formula of the original, without compromising any of the satisfying and brutal action that made it popular. With its deeper combat system, excellent soundtrack and intuitive gameplay, this one is a real contender for the best side-scrolling beat-em-up ever made.
7 Ecco The Dolphin
Streets of Rage 2’s high renown is quite a compliment, mind you. The scrolling beat-em-up genre was quite a crowded place at the time, what with Final Fight, Double Dragon and other such franchises. Fans of brawlers had a wealth of treasures to enjoy.
What if you’re looking for a more sedate experience, though? One where you’re not beating punks into oblivion with steel pipes? Don’t worry, the Sega Genesis had everyone’s tastes covered. Ecco the Dolphin is your game.
The original was released in 1992, and went on to spawn a series starring the titular bottlenose dolphin. The concept is creative, if nothing else (Ecco must explore the seas and travel through time to defeat aliens that have invaded the oceans).
An action game it may be, but the Ecco series is best known for its atmosphere and beautiful presentation.
6 Kid Chameleon
Putting the time-traveling, alien-busting dolphins to one side for a moment, let’s take a look at the genre that the era was best known for: platformers. We’re going to get to some other fantastic ones later in this rundown, but let’s start with Kid Chameleon.
The game centers around a young boy named Casey, who must take on the evil creator of a virtual reality game. To do so, he hops into the game as Kid Chameleon.
Casey is able to unlock and equip a variety of masks, each of which gives him a different power. It’s a neat concept in itself, but it’s the creativity of the stages that made this one so much fun.
5 Sonic The Hedgehog 2
Now, when it comes to Genesis platformers, I think there’s a universal law that you must mention the Sonic the Hedgehog series somewhere. If you don’t, Sonic’s creator will show up at your home in a Sonic onesie and repeatedly howl “You’re too slow!” at you (like those infuriating Sonic players in Super Smash Bros. used to do, before that taunt was removed), for three months straight.
That is not something anyone needs in their life, so here goes: as with Streets of Rage 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was an excellent example of how to craft a sequel. The first game is a little tough to come back to these days (dare we call it overrated? Yes, we do dare), but the second game just tickles my fancy in all the right ways. It feels tighter, more varied, and the inclusion of Tails makes it all the better.
4 Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker
Because, sometimes, you need one heckola of a curveball to keep things fresh. When it comes to that, there are… you know, fewer balls curvier than Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. Or something. This is some fantastic, strange and fantastically strange stuff, is the point.
The Genesis is known for the quality of its music, and what music could possibly be better than Michael Jackson’s Beat It, Smooth Criminal and the like? Exactly. Throw in the fact that you’re playing as Michael himself (on a mission to rescue a troupe of children from the villainous Mr. Big), dancing enemies into oblivion with his stylish moves and transforming into a mighty Jackson-cyborg at times, and you’ve got an incomparable experience.
Games exist to entertain, after all, and entertainment is one thing that Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker will absolutely deliver. This version is a little different to the arcade original, but it’s still a winner.
3 Phantasy Star II
If you’re a long-time RPG fan, you’re probably… well, bitterly whining about the lack of turn-based combat in the genre just now. For those who grew up with the PlayStation-era Final Fantasy games, there will always be a nostalgic draw to them. It’s just the way it is. For me, at any rate.
Phantasy Star II, however, is far less well-known. While it looks a little questionable now (being released in 1989 and all), the game was a phenomenal technical achievement in its day. It was among the very first titles to use a 16mb cartridge, in fact, and packed in a dizzying amount of content.
The storytelling was unparalleled at the time, as was the scope of the dungeons and the depth of the gameplay in general.
2 ToeJam And Earl
As we've already said, coolness and attitude were the defining elements of the nineties. The sass of Bart Simpson, the absurdity of Biker Mice From Mars… that’s what life was all about back then.
As another example, how about ToeJam and Earl? Another cult classic adventure, the game stars an alien rap duo (yes, they’re outfitted in cool sneakers, backwards baseball caps, and Mr. T-style medallions) who crash-land on Earth.
Gameplay takes a roguelike direction, seeing you exploring a 2D Earth to gather the pieces of your shattered ship and return to your home planet (Funkotron). It was all about the snark, and its two-player mode in particular was hilarious fun.
1 The Lion King
Licensed games get a terrible rap, don’t they? Excellent games like Marvel’s Spider-Man and the Arkham titles have redeemed them somewhat, but gamers have long memories.
Much like Aladdin, though, the Genesis take on The Lion King is a fantastic platformer. The visuals and music are as gorgeous as the system can muster, and the gameplay’s very varied and surprisingly difficult. There’s no hand-holding here, that’s for darn sure. An excellent time all around.