While I’m finishing up the NES book, writer James Swift of Uncommon Journalism has graciously offered to pen some Sega-themed articles for the site. Expect them once a week for the next while!
Don’t forget to check out Part 1 first!
Role-Playing Games / Adventure Games
The Super Nintendo had Zelda and Final Fantasy. The Genesis… didn’t. They did, however, have these games that, in a pinch, work as substitutions:
Beyond Oasis – A Link To The Past meets Streets of Rage, with a visual theme carried over from Aladdin. Yes, it is awesome.
Fatal Labyrinth – An Ys-esque dungeon crawler, notable for being one of the only games where you can die from overeating.
Landstalker: The Treasure of King Nole – The second best isometric Zelda clone on the system…
Light Crusader – …next to this one from Treasure.
Phantasy Star II / Phantasy Star III / Phantasy Star IV – The marquee RPG series on the Genesis, without question.
Rent-A-Hero – An awesome Japan only release where you play a crappy superhero trying to find work; the combat is Streets of Rage-style.
Shadowrun – Superior to the SNES port, according to many (and by many, I mean “me.”)
Sword of Vermilion – A Yu Suzuki-overseen action-RPG with real-time combat. Chrono Trigger it ain’t, but it has its moments.
Ys III: Wanderers from Ys – A great RPG-lite for those who prefer whacking the crap out of things with swords as opposed to casting spells.
Of course, our Genesis-Micro needs some games that will cater to the armchair general set:
Gain Ground – A brilliant single-screen kill-a-thon where you use your noggin to survive lightning fast skirmishes.
General Chaos – A super fun, cartoony war simulator from EA that allows for up to four players; remember to pause the game before your grenade lands for increased damage.
Herzog Zwei – The original real-time-strategy game. Take that, PC Master Race!
Pirates! Gold – A solid adventure game with lots of humor, a ton of gameplay options and some really fun sword fighting mini-games.
Power Monger – The lesser known Populous spinoff that’s actually better than its progenitor.
Shining Force / Shining Force II – The best tactical-RPGs of the 16-bit era, hands down.
Shining in the Darkness – Above average dungeon crawling with some fantastic sprite work.
Uncharted Waters – Part RPG, part colonialism simulator. The game to get on the Genesis if you want to open up new trade routes with Portugal.
Now here’s where the Genesis library really shined. The SNES may have been glutted with console-exclusive RPGs, but I think the Genesis was laden with just as many console-defining (and system-exclusive) action titles. Start doing your thumb exercises now, kids. You’re about to get a major workout with this lineup:
Alisia Dragoon – The lightning bolt attack-centric gameplay is unlike anything else on the system … or any other 16-bit system, for that matter.
Alien Soldier – From Treasure, it’s a Sega Channel original that’s basically an all-boss fight remix of Gunstar Heroes; takes the term “blast processing” to a whole new level.
Blaster Master 2 – A strangely underpublicized sequel from Sunsoft that’s every bit as awesome as the NES classic.
Castlevania: Bloodlines – The Genesis’ answer to Super Castlevania IV; a lot of gamers think it surpasses the game SNES owners received.
Contra: Hard Corps – An insanely fast, insanely hard side-scrolling shoot-a-thon.
ESWAT: City Under Siege – Sega couldn’t get the rights to Robocop, so they made this somewhat underappreciated action-platformer starring a character that looks a lot like Robocop.
Flashback: The Quest For Identity / Out of this World – A two-fisted shot of rotoscoped action-exploration excellence from U.S. Gold; worth playing for the cinematic atmosphere alone.
Gunstar Heroes – Treasure’s magnum opus and quite possibly the single greatest action-platformer of all-time.
Jewel Master – An underrated Altered Beast type game that incorporates elements of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and The Legendary Axe, with superb music to boot.
Revenge of Shinobi / Shinobi III / Shadow Dancer – Come on, you already know these games are awesome.
Rolling Thunder II / Rolling Thunder III – Outstanding side-scrolling, arcade goodness from Namco.
Strider / Journey From Darkness: Strider II – The first game blew the NES version out of the water, and the unsung sequel is a terrific – and often overlooked – Genesis original.
Valis III – A fun hack-and-slasher with great anime-inspired visuals and a surprisingly solid story.
VectorMan / VectorMan II – BlueSky’s rebuttal to Donkey Kong Country is a great one-two combo of Mega Man inspired awesomeness. Visually, they’re two of the most awe-inspiring releases on the platform.
WonderBoy III: Monster Lair / WonderBoy in Monster World – The first is a unique side scrolling shooter/platformer hybrid, while the second is a more traditional action-platformer with light role-playing elements.
You go left to right and pummel the crap out of anything that moves. How could you go wrong?
Comix Zone – An outstanding beat-em-up variation with a great theme, excellent level design and some really hard boss fights.
Golden Axe / Golden Axe II / Golden Axe III – Grab a buddy and club cave people upside the head, then stop momentarily to steal medicine from dwarves and ride dinosaur creatures.
Streets of Rage / Streets of Rage 2 / Streets of Rage 3 – Pretty much the pinnacle of the genre; bonus points if Sega includes the uncensored Japanese version of Bare Knuckle 3.
Splatterhouse 2 / Splatterhouse 3 – A horror-themed take on Final Fight. Spooky, action-packed and filled to the brim with some of the most disturbing content ever allowed on a Sega console.
Sunset Riders – Technically, it’s more of a side-scrolling shooter, but it’s the closest thing we’ve got on the Genesis to Hyperstone Heist or The Punisher that isn’t tied to a license. Also noteworthy for being the record holder for most offensive stereotypes included in one Genesis cartridge.
Now here’s a domain where the Genesis unquestionably shellacked the Super Nintendo. Here are several examples why hardcore shoot-em-up fans cite the system as the best ever for 2D shooters:
Advanced Busterhawk Gley Lancer – A top-notch R-Type inspired game that often outdoes the series it imitates.
Eliminate Down – An insanely hard (and insanely hard to find) shoot ‘em up that’s also one of the best pure 2D shooters ever released for any system.
Grind Stormer – Tengen’s port of the obscure arcade shmup is easily the best Raiden game ever made (despite not technically being a part of the Raiden franchise)
M.U.S.H.A. – Considered by many to not only be the greatest shmup on the Genesis, but the greatest shmup of all time.
Mercs – Capcom’s arcade port includes an entirely new mode that’s twice as long – and twice as hard – as the arcade twitch-action masterpiece; pity it doesn’t have a multiplayer mode, though.
Thunder Force II/ Thunder Force III / Thunder Force IV (Lightening Force) – The Phantasy Star of shoot-em-ups; I’m not sure how to elaborate on that comparison, but ask anybody who’s ever played these titles – it just makes sense.
And lastly, we come to a slate of games that don’t fit neatly into any one genre classification. If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind experience, these quirky, offbeat selections will be right up your alley:
Bonanza Bros. – A game where you commit armed robberies and home invasions. For some reason, it never drew the ire of Capitol Hill the same way Mortal Kombat and Night Trap did.
Dashin’ Desperadoes – A competitive multiplayer game where you outrace your foe using dynamite and all sorts of other nefarious tricks.
Devilish – Arkanoid only with a quasi-satanic theme … and load times, for some reason.
Dragon’s Fury / Dragon’s Revenge – Easily the greatest pinball video games (or is that “greatest video game pinballs?”) of the 16-bit era.
Ecco / Ecco: The Tides of Time / Ecco Jr – Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you gotta’ give Sega credit for trying something different with this trifecta of porpoise simulators.
Haunting! Starring PolterGuy – It’s kinda’ like The Sims, except you play a ghost who turns household objects into killer monsters with the intent of giving the homeowners a nervous breakdown.
The Ooze – Remember that old movie The Blob? Well, this is pretty much the four-decade-late, unofficial video game adaptation that lets you play as the titular wad of goop.
Toejam and Earl / Panic on Funkotron – People have tried to describe the Toejam and Earl games before, but it’s no use. You have to experience them for yourselves.
Whew, that took forever! Still, I’m never going to complain about revisiting the Genesis library, and honestly, there’s still room for a couple of more additions to the line-up (did I really leave out Ranger X and Gaiares?) Even factoring out all the great licensed games on the system – and that includes heavy, heavy hitters like Madden, NHL, NBA Jam, Aladdin, TMNT and a whole host of outstanding Disney platformers – there’s still an absolute embarrassment of riches remaining for our hypothetical Genesis microconsole. While it’s unlikely we’ll ever see Sega put out a retro revivalist platform a’la Nintendo’s NES and SNES redux, it’s reassuring to know there’s plenty of software out there waiting to be rediscovered.