We all know of the “classic” Genesis games like Sonic, Phantasy Star, Gunstar Heroes, Shining Force, etc. but with such a huge library of games there has to be some other great games out there too, right? Yes, person who just asked that question, you are correct. In fact, there’s quite a few great games that have been buried underneath the weight of games with bigger marketing budgets, bigger names, and of greater mass appeal.
We’ve attempted to create a list of 10 of our favorite “Hidden Gems” on the Sega Genesis. Hit the jump to read on!
Josh Newey: We’re all well-versed in the legacy of Disney Genesis games. But oddly enough, the empowering, beautiful, and ridiculously fun Gargoyles got the least attention, as more beloved titles like Aladdin and Lion King hogged all the spotlight promised by their blockbuster source material. It’s really unfortunate, as this little Genesis game stands as one of my very favorite action platformers starring a giant, gray, winged beast named Goliath. Contrary to what the title would have you believe, you play only as Gargoyles captain Goliath, smashing through environments like city scapes, castles and factories to fight off wave after wave of surprisingly challenging baddies. Your attacks are all really appropriate and incredibly entertaining–you will crash through walls, claw your way up buildings, double jump with your wings, and demolish your enemies, all with the stunningly fluid animations those classic Disney games were known for. Few games do a better job of making you feel like an uncompromising beast tearing through the world around you. As a guy all-around obsessed with anything monstrous, I can say that Gargoyles is easily one of the best overlooked licensed titles from the 16-bit era. If you want to hear me rave even more about this amazing game (and if you want to feed my ginormous ego), check out my super-old Underappreciated Gems article on Gargoyles. You’ll see how damn much I love this thing.
Josh Newey: The Genesis suffers no shortage of giant, gun-toting robot games. However, Ranger X boasts one major addition that sets it apart from the rest of the genre–a little blue motorcycle robot thingy. It’s hard to describe. Basically, you traverse each stage as you would in most sidescrolling platformers, blasting away at numerous enemy robots with both your main gun and special weapons. Following your every move is a smaller robot on wheels, who carries a gun of his own. If you jump on him, you can ride around, shooting with both weapons at once. If you are standing on him and push down, you actually become part of the vehicle, and your speed and firing rate increase significantly. Sounds cool, right? Trust me, it is. The major downside to Ranger X is that the controls are a bit cumbersome at first. Your have to use the A and C buttons to turn in opposite directions and fire at once, and it can take a while to overcome this awkward an unnatural hurdle. Once you do though, you’ll find an entertaining little shooter whose feet are firmly planted in the constant gunfire and challenging difficulty of games like Gunstar Heroes. Give it a shot; not enough gamers have.
The Valis Series
Flake: Odds are good that you have SEEN at least one of the Valis games for the Genesis / Megadrive. Odds are even better that you quickly dismissed it as a cheap attempt to cash in on the popularity of games like Ys II or Mega Man. If so, no one could fault you; The gameplay of the Valis games was simple, fun, and refined but no one would ever call it original.
But the Valis games were never about the gameplay, either. The games were more of a vehicle for a storyline that is as epic as it is convoluted. A school girl named Yuko is given a magical sword and a mission to protect three separate worlds from invasion by supernatural armies and evil sorcerers. She gets caught up in the schemes of monsters and gods and does her best to save the world while protecting her friends and family from the dangers she has to face alone. It sounds like the stuff of camp but there was real character development, drama, and tragedy to be had in the three Valis games that made it to the Genesis / Megadrive. The story line gave the gameplay context and created an experience that many take for granted today but was quite rare twenty years ago.
Amazingly, the games even managed to make it through the horrors of being localized in the 90’s with much of what made the plot of Valis great intact. As our older readers know, that was no easy feat back in the day. Sadly, the final true installment of this series only appeared on the Super Nintendo. And then there was that awkward moment when the series, much to the dismay of the fanbase, was revived as interactive pornography…
Michael Westgarth: Like pinball? Like video games? Do you also enjoy some good old fashioned satanic imagery? If the answers to all three questions are yes, then my friend, you need to get your hands on Dragon’s Fury.
The game is a standard pinball game, with one board three screens high, as well as numerous bonus games set out on one-screen tall boards. Don’t be fooled however, as the developers took the pinball concept and turned it into all all-out battle against hoards of Lucifer’s mightiest demons. We’ve got a lady’s face that turns into a horrible lizard as you hit it, a dragon whose eggs you have to smash, a skeleton’s head that laughs at you when you loose a ball, and my favourite, a clock guarded by satanic monks, with a huge pentagram in the middle that can be stopped for bonus points. Dragon’s Fury is also noteworthy due to the game being completable, with a last boss and ending. That’s right, beat the game’s six bonus levels and you will face off with the Dark Lord himself. The game is also accompanied by some meaty sound effects, great voice samples what is possibly my favourite 16-bit, heavy metal soundtrack of all time.
I’m not a big fan of pinball games, but Dragon’s Fury is a game I always come back to and in fact I consider it to be one of most over-the-top yet addictive Mega Drive games created. Check it out, it’s a real gem.
Dinosaurs for Hire
Scott Morrison: I feel like I could simply copy and paste the description found on the back of the box for reason enough to play this game, but I will elaborate, so I don’t lose my job on this site. If you take one part Contra, add some heroic dinosaurs, mix in some 90s humor, stirring lightly, you will get Dinosaurs For Hire: one of the more challenging/ridiculous run-and-gun shooters found in the 16-bit era. Pick from one of three characters: Archie the T-Rex in a leather jacket and shades, Lorenzo the triceratops in a Hawaiian shirt, or Reese the stegosaurus, whose favorite movie is Terminator 2. The game begins with the “final boss,” which is easily defeated and followed by the credits before a fellow dino explains the joke to throw you into the real battle. Classic! Anyway… Robots, dinosaurs, sports cars, explosions, and lots of colors. All of these random words are the best recipe for a game that not nearly enough people have played. Originally based off a comic book, Dinosaurs For Hire can be best described as a slightly slower version of Contra, but in all the good ways. Contra games can immediately seem unfairly difficult for any newcomers, but DFH makes things more accessible with a life bar instead of single-hit deaths, quick weapon pick-ups, and generous checkpoints. I think it goes without saying that controlling huge dinosaurs makes for an entertaining game overall, even if the size comparison with yourself and enemies is rather inconsistent. Two-player mode is more of a requirement than a recommendation, because some levels can eventually become ludicrously difficult with insanely quick bosses, or unforgiving level design. However, sometimes the “hilarious” taunts following a level completion make the stress worthwhile. So after you finish watching Terminator 2, grab your best Super Soaker, throw on some Ray Bans and your trusty leather jacket, and prepare for the worst! Unless for some reason you are one of the 2 people who do not believe that dinosaurs make anything significantly more awesome, you have no reason not to immediately play Dinosaurs For Hire.
Mazin Saga: Mutant Fighter
Tom Kyzivat: My two favorite game genres growing up were beat’em ups and fighting games. Wouldn’t it just be magical to combine the two? Well, only one such game ever had the balls to do it (to my knowledge): Mazin Saga! I was blown away by the fact that the game itself is a beat’em up, with fighting game boss fights. How genius is that? Very genius. The sprite work was also pretty good, and impressive when you consider that the fighting game sprites were entirely different from the beat’em up counterparts. Granted, like a VCR/TV combo, you’re not necessarily getting the best each has to offer. In essence, you’re only getting a slightly above average beat’em up with a below average fighting game, but it’s two things! Besides, the game was fun, and these sprite used segmented characters (since everybody had lots of armor or exoskeletons) which allowed them to sort of “cheat” and get much smoother animation out of the individual parts. I’m a sucker for smooth animation, even if it’s not key-framed. Aside from those aspects, the game was pretty innovative in other ways. The boss character you’d fight would harass you in each level, but they would show up in huge scale. At the end of each level, you’d “power up” and grow to match their scale before battle (all Japanese monster properties were required by law to do this), which I thought was pretty damn cool. The downside to the boss fights is that they lasted FOREVER. Each hit would barely take anything from the boss, and your limited amount of moves and the fact that simply jump-attacking them was the best strategy made the fights pretty boring. But still! It’s two things! I always felt that with a bit more polish and know-how, this game could have ascended out of the “hidden gems” rank and become one of the well-known and highly favored games on the system.
Mike Kyzivat: To me Fighting Masters is a hidden gem, for the same reason you watch a Godzilla movie, it’s for the fun of it and the ridiculousness of it all. The cast of characters ranges from really weird to “seen it.” There are boring characters like an amazon female with armor, a generic wrestler named Dirk, and a dragon that breathes fire Then you have your lobster man with beetle wings, an anthropomorphic unicorn that wears clothing that uses every color in the rainbow, a blue cyclops with boxing gloves, or a sphinx head with little arms and legs.
The fighting consists of trying to hit an opponent, either with a jump kick (most preferable) or a ground punch, to stun them so that you can grapple them (yes, grapple in a fighting game) and then proceed to do a throw or slam that uses preexisting sprites to fudge the “new” move. And that’s pretty much the only strategy you can come up with as there are no fireballs, no flash kicks, no spinning bird kicks, no electricity, nothing to change the dynamic of play. What are these lame moves you ask? Well, for example the dragon, after grappling you, can take you high into the air where he just kicks you with the same jump kick he used to stun you in the first place. And the “wrestler” does a “pile driver” that is nothing more then him jumping into the air frozen in his standing sprite, and the opponent is just turned upside down in their standing sprite as well. Yep, it’s gloriously lame. Plus, certain characters like the aforementioned lobster man shares moves with other characters, so someone else may have that same magnificent pile driver as the wrestler does. Oh, and don’t forget the neon pee color you flash each time you are hit with a grapple attack, like you are some kind of lame Konami boss. The mega cheesy sound track is worth a listen and if that doesn’t entice you, how about the trading cards of each of the characters that came with every copy of the game. They even had stats: let’s see Dirk, the human is 57ft tall and 2200 lbs? WHAT?!!! See what I mean?
Overall, this is not the greatest game ever on our hidden gems, but back in 1992 when we didn’t know better it was really cool. It has since lost some of its playability (what little it had) to modern games, but it still retains that same cheap goofy spectacle. That “how can they use that same sprite for the 100th time and get away with it?” charm. It’s like playing a Godzilla movie. Younger eyes may look at it and say it’s just horrible, and it is… horribly awesome.
Mike Kyzivat: Beast Wrestler is a game that from a gameplay stand point is only average, but when you consider the whole package it becomes a much more attractive game. The gameplay is in some ways your standard wrestler fair, minus the pile drivers and backdrops, and more the clutches and strangle moves. Instead of pinning a dragon (as they are called) for a win, you must cause enough damage in a short amount of time to make it cry out 3 times. The game has 3 buttons punch, tail, and special attack (this is what you will most likely use to cause the dragon to cry out) The special is built up by hitting the opponent and doing damage. So it’s pretty standard fair wrestling wise.
Where Beast Wrestler really shines is everything else the game does. For example, the character designs are very creative and cool as hell. The manual even has really cool drawings of each of the characters. This was the first time I had ever seen good artwork in a game case or manual. The characters range from a giraffe colored dragon with bird wings and a snakes tail, to a two headed dragon with a snake lower half and a rock like texture for skin, to a little gremlin looking creature with one eye and a paper glider for wings. Another cool feature is that at certain points of the game your dragon is too damaged to continue on, so you are given a choice to have it’s DNA spliced with one of the opponents you have already defeated in a prior match. So it is really cool to see how your dragon changes (not only physically but also in its move list) after it has been spliced with another dragon. This makes you want to replay the main campaign again and pick a different dragon to splice with just to see the outcome.
There is also a store where you can use your prize money to train your dragon or buy him supplements to make him stronger and a 2 player vs mode where you can use any of the dragons available. As I said before the gameplay is not bad, but it’s the creative premise, artwork, and cool DNA splices that make this game a hidden gem.
Michael Westgarth: Any way you look at it, there’s no doubt that Gunstar Heroes is a well-known Mega Drive classic, but how many experienced first-hand its spiritual sequel Alien Soldier? Strictly a single player game, Alien Soldier is essentially a huge boss run with a whopping 31 bosses to defeat interspersed by brief side-scrolling sections. These 31 bosses are nothing short of amazing, being graphically impressive with their huge, multi-jointed sprites and gameplay-wise each presenting a unique challenge that will test the usage of the main character’s impressive skill-set. Moves include hovering in the air and rolling into a double-jump, teleporting through enemies from one side of the screen to the other and switching between the two shooting modes found in Gunstar Heroes on the fly, not to mention some of the tightest controls to be found on the console. The game has six interchangeable weapons, will take you through extremely diverse and graphically impressive environment and offers a legendary level of difficultly that will test the mettle of even the most hardened Mega Drive veteran.
Alien Soldier is a hidden gem in more ways than one. Never getting a physical release in North America, and limited print runs in Europe and Japan, finding an original copy and forking out for the hefty price tag will be a challenge in and of itself. I personally know of only know one guy lucky enough to find and buy a copy of Alien Soldier: me, and I can truly say that this hidden gem was worth every penny.
Flake: Assault Suit Leynos. These are the words you need to think of the next time you are in your local brick and mortar retro game store and you see Target Earth, a plain looking Genesis cartridge with the most low-budget, black and white label ever manufactured. It is the original Assault Suit Leynos game given the most unfortunately underwhelming title ever.
Before Armored Core, before Gundam games made it outside of Japan, before Virtual On: this was THE game to own for geeks who loved big robots. It’s one part big robot simulator and two parts shmup. Target Earth is also an unforgiving but rewarding experience. You side-scroll your battle robot through combat zones where you are outnumbered by about 1000 to 1. At your disposal are a variety of weapons that all do the same thing: Kill evil robots and help you to end the war.
The game also has a mature vibe that was quite different back in the day. I think only MUSHA did a better job of presenting a subtle ‘You are the last hope for Earth and ending the war’ narrative to help give the action context. Conservative use of cut scenes and dialogue give the world of Target Earth some flavor. This is important because this game is HARD and those tidbits of storyline will help to reward determined players who push their way forward.