To this day the majority of people think of the Genesis/Mega Drive when they hear the name Sega. It was the first system to truly compete with Nintendo’s near monopoly on the videogame industry, especially in the US, and was the birthplace of everyone’s favorite blue hedgehog, Sonic. With it’s success comes a huge library of games in all genres with many being worth tracking down for any videogame fan. This week we’ve created a list of some of the best and most notable games on the system, but with a system like this with so many amazing games make sure and watch for some future Genesis specific lists in the future.
Hit the jump to read on!
Phantasy Star 2
Alex Riggen: At it’s release, Phantasy Star 2 was one of the biggest and most ambitious console RPGs ever created. It was so complex and complicated that the game included a 110 page strategy guide just to get players started, which, was probably necessary for many gamers picking up a JRPG for the first time. However, that learning curve was definitely worth it as the game told a huge and unique story full of plot twists, memorable locations and characters, and some incredibly difficult but rewarding dungeons and combat segments. While it can be hard to go back to today due to this high learning curve and difficulty level it’s highly recommended RPG fans give the game a look as it’s one of the most influential and important JRPGs of all time.
Rocket Knight Adventures
Josh Newey: When I was approximately eight years old, my mom surprised me by bringing home a new game for my Genesis. I saw the cover—an armor-covered, sword wielding opossum with a jetpack and a defiant glint in his eye—and assumed I’d be playing as another ‘tude-driven mascot with simple run-and-jump gameplay. Now, almost twenty years later, after playing and beating it more times than I can count, I still hold Rocket Knight Adventures as one of my very favorite platformers, nay, games of all time. Designed by the mastermind behind the fantastic and multi-faceted Contra: Hard Corps, Rocket Knight is a similar ever-shifting experience, with each stage utilizing healthy doses of platforming, shmup-like flying, and swimming to deliver a rare platforming experience that never gets tired or bland. The stages themselves are filled with inspired design, using clever ideas like a stage that obscures your vision and forces to use your reflection in the rising lava below to traverse it. The ominously presented and challenging bosses are just as creative, with memorably long battles and varied attacks that force you to stay on your toes. The visuals are universally gorgeous, and the triumphant, boisterously catchy soundtrack is honestly one of the best to ever grace a 16-bit console. Honestly, I could go on for ages about this one. Few games from that era have aged as well as Rocket Knight Adventures, and few games deserve your attention more. I know I speak from the perspective of a nostalgia-fueled Sega fanatic, but trust me—this game is well worth your time.
Road Rash 2
Scott Morrison: What better way to pass the time than jumping on your motorcycle, crowbar in hand, and making some quick cash through illegal street races? Road Rash 2 introduced vehicular combat long before Twisted Metal made the genre popular in the late 90s. There was nothing more satisfying than starting a race in last place and gradually making your way to the front of the pack while stealing weapons from opponents. Actually, I take that back, as it was amazingly satisfying if you were ever able to punch a cop of his own bike. The racecourses varied only slightly, but enough for a challenge as the game progressed through different states of the US. The best addition to the second Road Rash from the first was of course two-player mode. Typically a friend and I would team up in a way that one person would focus on winning the race while the other made every attempt to punch the living daylights out of every single opponent. This teamwork would actually allow for success, as the game would progress so long as one player qualified for every race. Sure this teamwork may be cheating, but when you need to be the king of the road and the cops are already on your tail, is cheating really a concern?
ToeJam & Earl
Tom Kyzivat: Funkadelic (funk’ah del’ik) adj. 1 being in a state of, or possessing the quality of, funkiness that is out of this world.
This definition of our commonly used word, this staple in our modern vernacular, was included in Noah Webster’s first edition dictionary A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language in 1806. Little would Mr. Webster know that 185 years later, two characters for a game would be developed that would epitomize that word, and bring such a clear understanding of its deepest meanings that the nation would marvel and weep with joy. Toejam & Earl, realeased for the Sega Genesis video game console in 1991, stole the show from the myriad standard platformers available and opened the world’s eyes to what a 16-bit, character-based game could be. An alien and his best friend, stranded. A ship torn asunder by regret. An immersive world of sharp satire. A generation defined. A nation reborn. Toejam & Earl rebuilt their ship, and in the process, rebuilt our faith in mankind. A top ten game? At the top of its game. Times ten.
*special thanks to John Lipton for helping with this write-up
Josh Newey: When Vectorman first came out, many Genesis fans viewed it as a veritable glimpse into the future, showing us how future platformers could one day look, play, and sound. It was even given the award of best Genesis game of 1995 by legendary gaming mag EGM. These days, our view of the game is a hell of a lot more realistic (and jaded), but even without the veil of prerendered faux-3D graphics pulled over our eyes, Vectorman holds up as a solid, ridiculously challenging, and consistently fun platformer. The ability to transform into different forms like a drill or a bomb is absurdly fun, and adds a layer of strategy to traversing the well-designed stages. Vectorman’s blaster is responsive and entertaining, and while the game can be stupid hard (I don’t care what you say Stevie), the game is always a blast to pick up and burn through again. Sure, the story may have been aped by Pixar’s Wall-E since then, but Vectorman stands as one of Sega’s most interesting forgotten characters, and despite the failed attempt at his revival on the PS2, I still say that a new 2D Vectorman could be a thing of beauty.
Sonic & Knuckles
Michael Westgarth: Sonic & Knuckles stands out from the three excellent Mega Drive Sonic games before it. As the title suggests, the game was spilt in two halves, allowing us to play the entire game as, and from the perspective of, the mysterious Knuckles. Not only did this add a new way to play the game, with different paths to be chosen within the same levels, but the added narrative added substantial depth to a genre not known for its story telling. We’ve all played Sonic & Knuckles, we know the levels are fantastic, we know the bosses are awesome, we know the music is just insane, but Sonic & Knuckles is more than just a game, it’s essentially a cartridge-based expansion pack.
Sega’s lock-on technology, save for cheat cartridges, is a technology that had not been seen before and has not been seen since. Popping Sonic 3 on top of Sonic & Knuckles allowed both games to be played with all characters consecutively, while utilising Sonic 3’s battery back-up. Placing Sonic 2 on top allowed the entire game to be played as Knuckles, complete with title and ending screens. As if that wasn’t enough, inserting Sonic 1 or a variety of other games resulted in randomly generated, ‘Blue Sphere’ bonus levels from Sonic 3 to be played to our hearts content.
The game itself is good enough to warrant a place on this list, but the additional hours of gameplay offered by the lock-on function of Sonic & Knuckles makes its place on this list indisputable.
Michael Westgarth: The year is 1995 and the world of Sega games is changing, tales of realistic new games utilising three whole dimensions and coming on shiny CDs spread across the playground. Thoroughly used copies of Sonic and Gunstar Heroes litter the floors of the children of the nineties, and their sights turn to the Saturn for the next step in Sega-evolution. Then Ristar came and reminded them what exactly Genesis does.
This cute, little, intergalactic warrior has come to the Valdi System to free its inhabitants from the mind control of space pirate Kaiser Greedy and will use his weird, stretchy arms to do it. Dispatching enemies, scaling walls, swinging through trees, and swimming super-dooper fast is all made possible thanks to Ristar’s unique armament… Heh heh. But it doesn’t get better that grabbing hold of one of those star poles, swinging round and round, faster and faster and launching off in a random direction, bouncing wildly off walls and blasting through enemies. Now that’s satisfying.
Coming out a full seven years after the Mega Drive’s original release, it is clear that Sega squeezed every last drop of power from their 16-bit dream machine when making Ristar. Luscious and varied environments, well drawn and well animated sprites, nice big bosses and some of the most divine music on the console, combined with the game’s original gameplay makes Ristar not only one of the best 2D platformers around, but easily one of the best games on the Mega Drive.
Streets of Rage 2
Mike Kyzivat: How do you make a sequel to Final Fight? Ask the dev team responsible for Streets of Rage 2. There’s no denying that Streets of Rage 2 is heavily influenced by the Arcade game Final Fight, but like Sonic 2, it improves upon the original in every way. It’s almost as if they found a bloody and beaten copy of Final Fight on the street and said: “we can rebuild him, make him faster, stronger, we have the technology.”
Anyway, Streets of Rage 2 just has more of what made Final Fight awesome, more characters to choose from with wider differences between those characters, more moves per character like the ability to jump over the enemy you are holding and then do different moves from there, varied levels: you go from an alley to an amusement park to a base ball diamond dugout, to an underground research facility. This game has got it all. If you love beat ’em ups, I don’t think there is a better one out there.
Flake: Gunstar Heroes is life’s apology for not getting a proper Megaman game (at least here in the US) for the Sega Genesis. As far as apologies go, it is pretty sincere. In fact, it is a gorgeous apology.
The game plays like a cross between Contra and Metal Slug and that is a combination in the same vein as chocolate and peanut butter or the Internet and cats: It just works so well. Like in those games, Gunstar Heroes is all about frantic, fast placed run and gun action. You acquire and combine special weapons to match your playstyle / become an unstoppable wave of death. Also like those games, Gunstar Heroes is best played with a beer and a buddy so make sure you grab a friend.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Mike Kyzivat: What makes Sonic 2 so great? Two words: Blast Processing. All kidding (and fake software techniques) aside, Sonic 2 is a great game because it took the first Sonic game, another great game, and polished it to perfection. The sense of speed in the first game is here, but improved upon. The colorful graphics are here, but improved upon. The control, the number of players, the enemy and boss designs, everything in Sonic 1 was improved upon, but without overloading it or adding things for no reason. Everything that went into Sonic 2 was put there with a purpose and only the things that made sense or fit the original vision made the cut. That’s why Sonic 2 is one of the best Genesis games out there.