The Best Sega Saturn Games For Today: Top Titles That Still Matter
It’s pretty easy to find a list of “The Top 10 Sega Saturn Games” or some similar ranking, but most of them were written back when the console was still on the retail scene and almost all of them only compare the games against other Saturn games. (Digg This Guide)
This is all fine if the Saturn is the only console you own and ever plan to own. However, I know for a fact that most Sega Saturn owners now are hardcore retro fans that happen to own a few different consoles — both old and new. There may also be a few gamers out there wondering if they should bother adding a Saturn to their collection. Because of this, I thought it would be a good idea to develop a list of games that are still relevant in today’s gaming market because of their unique gameplay that has not been improved upon on other consoles.
You will notice that there are not very many 3D games included in this list. This is not because there are not any good 3D games on the Saturn, but instead they are simply overshadowed by their more modern predecessors. For instance, not very many people prefer Virtua Fighter 2 over Virtua Fighter 5. 3D graphics on gaming consoles were still very immature in the 32-bit era and the Saturn was not even as prepared for the 3D demand as well as the Playstation. Because of this, many of the Saturn games that hold up best for today’s gamer are of the old-school, two-dimensional nature.
I hope to keep this list up to date as the years go by so that it is still a reliable resource for those getting into classic gaming. I also intend to provide similar guides for other older consoles as well. And finally, if you have a game for the Saturn that you still think holds up, please post in the comments section along with your reasoning and I will consider adding it to the list.
NiGHTS into Dreams
While a true Sonic the Hedgehog sequel was never realized on the Saturn, Sonic Team was still busy developing a game that was similar to Sonic in spirit, but broke away from standard platforming conventions in order to show off Sega’s creativity and bring an exciting new gaming experience to Sega fans.
Since the Saturn didn’t quite have the 3D horsepower to compete with the likes of the Playstation and N64, Sonic Team bended their brains to create a game that had a traditional 2D videogame experience contained in a three-dimensional world. While Mario 64 created a whole new experience while keeping the spirit of the old Super Mario, NiGHTS into Dreams struck a balance between the old and new, a game world that brings the benefits of both 2D and 3D games.
The immersion of the game world is so compelling that the desire to return rarely fades. Once it is mixed with a brilliantly composed soundtrack, innovative gameplay and even a new controller to make the control that much better, this game is something that every Saturn owner should have.
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Panzer Dragoon Saga
It’s a shame that Panzer Dragoon Saga came out at the end of the Saturn’s short life. Too many people missed out on playing this gem of an RPG. Only a handful of copies of this game were ever manufactured, so that very few people have ever played it. It wasn’t until the Playstation, N64, and the Dreamcast made it onto the scene that the Saturn and its crown RPG got the recognition it deserved from hardcore, classic gamers.
Like the very best examples of the RPG genre such as Final Fantasy VII and Ocarina of Time, Panzer Dragoon Saga has so many subtle secrets hidden within its wonderfully detailed environments that you can’t help but return in order to retrieve every last treasure.
Spanning four CDs, SEGA gave us a completely realized post-apocalyptic alternate world, complete with its own language and a surreal experience that few games have rivaled. The story and art direction were phenomenal, but it was the combat system that had us hooked. With the ability to morph your dragon to fit your attack style and the need to constantly shift positions while doing battle, Panzer Dragoon Saga kept you on the edge of your seat.
Admittedly, Panzer Dragoon Saga does show its age a bit in terms of graphics when compared to more modern systems. However, many hardcore gamers are picking up a Sega Saturn just to experience titles like this that have not been re-published. For years Sega fans have been saying that Panzer Dragoon Saga should be ported or remade on a newer console so that mainstream gamers can join in on the fun. Until that day comes, Saga will remain as one of the best reasons to own a Sega Saturn.
Before you complain that I am not listing the original Panzer Dragoon and Panzer Dragoon Zwei, I do agree that they are excellent games and should definitely be considered when building a Saturn library. However, if you want the best on-rails 3D shooters, you should look to their newer sibling, Panzer Dragoon Orta on the XBox or Rez on the Dreamcast and PS2. They both have a more engaging atmosphere and obviously more updated audio and visual capabilities.
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Radiant Silvergun and Many Other 2D Shooters
One of the fastest-growing segment of gamers that have been joining the Sega Saturn community are 2D shooter fans. Many of these gamers are recommended to the console by sites such as shmups.com as the Saturn as one of the top priority consoles to own if you want to build a quality shooter library. (Check out our full Saturn Shmup Library review — You may also want to check out the Dreamcast shooter library)
The most recommended shooter for the Saturn has traditionally been a gem from Treasure known as Radiant Silvergun. While some claim that this shmup is overrated, there is no denying that Radiant Silvergun broke from the traditional mold of 2D shooters by ditching power-ups, emphasizing strategy, and loading the levels with lots of huge bosses that showed off Treasure’s trademark creativity.
In addition to one of the greatest 2D shooters of all time, the Saturn also has one of the best shmup selections for a home console. The Saturn and Playstation shared a big handful of shooter titles, but in most cases the Saturn had superior versions. Each also had a number of exciting exclusives that are worth picking up. A while back I put together a comparison of the Saturn and Playstation shmup library.
Up until recently, the Saturn and Playstation were the best consoles for shooters, but now the Dreamcast has a very impressive lineup as well. Add those three consoles to the PC Engine (TurboGrafix 16) and you should have access to nearly every worthwhile shooter in existence.
Check Out the Sega Saturn 2D Shooter Library
Street Fighter Alpha 3 Many Other 2D Fighters
Hot on the heals of the Saturn’s shooter library it the console’s tremendous selection of 2D fighting games. Not only did the Saturn receive top-notch support from both Capcom and SNK, but there are also a number of other gems from smaller publishers such as Sunsoft.
In addition to the Saturn’s blazing 2D capabilities, the Saturn also has a higher amount of built-in system RAM and the Playstation and an optional 4MB RAM cart for extra graphical capabilities. With this extra horsepower, the Saturn was able to produce practically arcade-perfect translations of all the hottest 2D fighters of the generation (including tag-team games like X-Men vs Street Fighter), which the Playstation was limited to crippled and inferior ports.
Even though there are many newer and flashier fighters (mostly Japanese imports) on the Saturn such as Street Fighter Zero 3 and Waku Waku 7, I still recommend Street Fighter Alpha 2 (Zero 2) as the best place to start when building a Saturn fighter collection. It has the perfect blend of tight controls, solid graphics, and well-balanced character lineup. You can’t go wrong with Alpha 2. Street Fighter Zero 3 (aka Alpha 3) is also available on the Saturn as a Japanese-only import that utilizes the 4MB Cart to really show off the Saturn’s capabilities.
To this day, the Saturn still has superior versions of both games. The Dreamcast did not even surpass the Saturn version in any aspect except gameplay modes. Some of the newer releases such as the Street Fighter Alpha Anthology on the PS2 are excellent versions as well, but they do not negate the fine ports on the Saturn. Also, the Saturn gamepad and arcade stick will beat out most any modern controller for fighting games.
Many of the Saturn’s other 2D fighters such as X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Street Fighter, Cyberbots, and Astra Superstars have yet to receive another console port. Because of this, the Saturn is a prime place to fill in the gaps of a fighting game collection without resorting to emulation.
While the Saturn is a fighting powerhouse, be sure to combine its strength with the Dreamcast’s 2D fighter library for the complete experience. Capcom and SNK believed in both machines and it shows.
See The Saturn’s 2D Fighting Libary
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Treasure was definitely not a one-hit wonder on the Saturn. In addition to the high-flying Radiant Silvergun and smaller gems like Silhouette Mirage, Treasure also produced the cult-classic Guardian Heroes.
At first glance, Guardian Heroes looks like another mindless beat ‘um up. But once you experience the game for a level or two, you realize the game is really a fighting game on a much larger scale. The gameplay of Guardian Heroes is essential an old-school arcade beatemup like Final Fight or the Ninja Turtles game combined with the fighting moves of Street Fighter 2 and RPG-elements like leveling up. The branching storyline also enhances Guardian Heroes’ depth and increases the replayablity.
The enemies in the game are intelligent and challenging (as opposed to the somewhat boring drones in most brawlers) and the number of different ending and unlockables keep you coming back for more. Overall, Guardian Heroes is a very well-rounded title that adopts various concepts from previously successful games to create a phenomenal hybrid gaming experience.
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Bomberman has shown his face on virtually every video game console known to man since the 8-bit era. However, if you ask any die-hard Bomberman fan what their favorite installment was, the Saturn version will most likely come up in the conversation.
So what makes Saturn Bomberman hold up so well to all the others? 10 Player Action. You read that correctly. With the help of two multitap adapters, you can actually have 10 human players playing simultaneously on one screen. Needless to say, Saturn Bomberman should be a constant fixture in a retro party gamer’s library.
In addition to the increased competition, Saturn Bomberman also sports some of the best 2D Bomberman graphics in the series. Many of the newer Bomberman games feature 3D graphics and don’t quite have the tight controls and feel that Saturn Bomberman benefited from. Saturn Bomberman’s graphics are clear, sharp, bold and colorful. Everything is large, so you never have trouble seeing anything, and all symbols are easy to identify.
In the multiplayer modes, battle arenas take place on a hi-resolution mode, making the characters, bombs and everything rather tiny. Occasionally, it may strain your eyes a bit but the idea of being able to play with 9 other friends make up for it.
This game alone is enough to keep a Sega Saturn handy for when you have a group of people over. Maybe someday we will see Saturn Bomberman topped on XBox Live Arcade or something, but until then, keep this game on your list!
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Shining Force III
The Shining Force series was one of the most treasured franchises on the Sega Genesis/Megadrive due to its addictive turn-based strategic gameplay. Shining Force featured deep gameplay that rivaled the Fire Emblem series on the Super Famicom (which was never released in the US on the SNES) and set the stage for more contemporary titles like Advance Wars.
If you are a fan of the original Shining Force games on the Genesis, you will feel right at home with the third installment. Almost everything about Shining Force III feels familiar at its core. However, the Camelot team managed to enhance the series with a more complex and entertaining storyline, more intense battles, better sound quality, and surprisingly detailed graphics.
Sadly, Shining Force III was the last Shining game made by Camelot Software Planning (before they moved onto Nintendo projects) and because of this is considered by most fans to be the last game relevant to the true storyline.
While the countries outside of Japan only had one Shining Force III game, there are actually three separate scenario discs available, but are only enjoyable if you know Japanese or have a translation handy.
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Shining The Holy Ark
Throughout most of the Shining series’ history, the games have been strategy-based RPGs, but Shining The Holy Ark was the first Shining game to be a pure Japanese RPG but ties nicely into the rest of the series.
Shining the Holy Ark actually takes place 10 years before Shining Force III and you play the role of a young swordsman Arthur, who decided to work as a mercenary for various people needing his services. On his first mission, his boss sends him to a mine, in order to find and punish a renegade ninja who has escaped from him. However, an accident occurs that makes Arthur realize that he’ll have to do much more than your usual mercenary assignment, and that there is a true evil in the world that must be defeated at all costs.
The game features some decent 3D graphics and utilizes first-person perspective for dungeons and battles. Gameplay is most similar to the Genesis classic, Shining in the Darkness as the player explores towns and dungeons in the first-person view, with battles almost exclusively taking place in dungeons. Battles take place in a turn-based format, maintaining the first-person view but also allowing the player to view allies as they take their actions. One unique mechanic is the “pixie” system, where the player can befriend pixies that will attack enemies as the party encounters them.
There’s nothing in Shining the Holy Ark that RPG fans haven’t seen in one form or another before, but it does put them all together nicely. If you’re looking for a great way to waste some hours (this game is long), this is definitely a game that you should pick up.
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Die Hard Arcade
I’ve always been a fan of side-scrolling brawlers, but sometimes 2D beatemups feel a bit limited. That’s where Die Hard Arcade comes in. DHA is essentially a 3D Final Fight/Streets of Rage style brawler with 2D gameplay.
One refreshing aspect about Die Hard Arcade is that it lacks the constant side-scrolling that traditional 2D games feature. After defeating the enemies in one particular room, you automatically move on to the next room. While in transit from room to room, you may meet up with a terrorist and have to take him/her out quickly to avoid an additional battle.
Die Hard Arcade also improves on the controls of many of the brawlers that preceded it. The game actually offers a number of combos in addition to the standard kicks, punches and weapons. You can also score extra points for performing arrests (which is basically a combo in itself) as opposed to killing the enemies.
While multiplayer naturally improves brawlers, Die Hard Arcade thrives on teamwork more than most games in the genre. It also boosts the fun factor as two players with massive weapons is nothing but pure fun. Having two friends watching big explosions and bodies flying is not an experience to be missed.
Die Hard Arcade has received a couple of pseudo sequels in the form of Dynamite Cop (Arcade/Dreamcast) and Dynamite Deka EX (Arcade) but didn’t have quite the polish and hard-hitting fun that the original possessed.
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This rare strategy title saw a US release thanks to a wonderful localization job by Working Designs and is one of the most desirable Saturn games to this day. Dragon Force serves as an excellent complement to Shining Force III as it gives a different perspective of battle and is significantly different than more strategy RPGs.
Dragon Force was unique in the 32-bit era for many reasons; among them the ability to play out 7 storylines and the game’s ability to have over 200 characters (200 soldiers and 2 leaders) on-screen at once. For the most part, Dragon Force has yet to be duplicated still by modern RPG titles.
After initially selecting from six characters, your goal in Dragon Force is to lead your armies to take over the continent of Legendra. You move along with enemies on a real-time world map, and when you come into contact with an enemy, your forces enter into battles featuring a couple of hundred sprites fighting it out. When not fighting, you’re responsible for managing your country, castle and generals. Clear the game, and you gain access to two more playable characters for your second time through.
Throughout the game, you will follow the story from that general’s point of view. Much of the game is spent on the world map, micromanaging troops, and fortresses, and moving men from one location to the next. It is a slightly different approach to the typical strategy RPG and gives the genre a breath of fresh air.
A Japan-only sequel was also released in Japan, but good luck making sense of it without a translation. A Japan-only remake was also released on the PS2.
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Assault Suit Leynos 2
One of my first impressions of this game was “Mechs meets Metal Slug“. It’s an impressive but very tough 2D Mech shooter with some spectacular graphics and gameplay. It never made it over to the US, but it is definitely worth looking into if you are a shooter fan.
As with the previous Assualt Suit Leynos games (see also Cybernator on the SNES), the player pilots a mech equipped with various weapons, while waves of enemy mechs attack you and your fellow Assault Suit pilots. Due to the high difficulty curve, your energy meter can go down pretty quickly. Luckily your Assault Suit is equipped with a shield (with its own energy level) that will deflect most enemy attacks.
Your Assault Suit can fire in any direction, which can be rather awkward when you’re trying to target a specific enemy. There is also an auto-aiming mode, however, which makes targeting significantly easier. The game initially takes a bit of time to get used to, but eventually you will find that the controls are very tight and responsive.
Leynos 2 has nearly 50 different weapons, eight different mechs, and you have to earn them all as you go through the game. ASL2 also has a grading system — the better a grade you get on a level, the more stuff you get, like weapons, armor, devices — and hopefully a new machine. Similar to many RPGs, you can equip your devices to your mech and they modify it in some way, like make it faster, more power, or better stats.
The graphics are very sharp and look superb for a 2-D side-scroller. The bosses are HUGE and the explosions are top notch. The mechs look good and have the detail of the weapon they are carrying. Assault Suit Leyos 2 is definitely another prime example of some the hidden gems on the Saturn that utilize killer 2D graphics and hardcore gameplay.
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In a time when nearly every game publisher was frantically trying to put together a 3D platforming game, Ubisoft was quietly building a beautiful 2D platformer that would eventually lay the foundation for one of their most profitable franchises. The original Rayman was actually a 2D game and took advantage of the Saturn’s many strengths. This gem features well-animated characters, excellent controls, sharp, colorful graphics, and a perfectly-suited soundtrack.
Unfortunately for the casual gamer, Rayman walks a fine between entertainingly challenging and terribly difficult. There are a few spots in the game that are particularly frustrating, but (from what I hear), the game is definitely is worth finishing as the last level is incredible.
I have played Rayman on the PlayStation as well, but I found that the Saturn version comes out victorious. The Saturn version has added sound effects and some additional graphical effects that, while they aren’t anything major, add nice little touches to the experience.
While the challenge may scare some away, the wonderful two-dimensional animation, inventive puzzles and impressive bosses can just blow your mind. Those that get easily frustrated should probably steer clear, but if you enjoy a good challenge that yields big rewards, take a look at Rayman.
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Baku Baku, Super Puzzle Fighter, and Other Puzzle Games
Puzzle games are the one genre that is best suited for two-dimensional gameplay and are most likely to remain relevant as the decades pass. However, as game publishers move their puzzle games to mobile platforms, it is getting harder to find good puzzle games on a home console. The Saturn has a number of excellent mind-bending examples such as Super Puzzle Fighter 2, Baku Baku Animal, Bust-A-Move, and Magical Drop.
At first glance, Baku Baku Animal looks like a rather strange example of a kids’ puzzle game. In reality, Baku Baku is a very unique puzzler that revolves around player speed, strategic thinking, planning ahead for combinations, and friendly competition. In the game, blocks (which are either animal faces or foods) fall into place and the player must match the foods with the corresponding animals (ie Panda and bamboo, Rat and cheese, etc.) to have the animals eat up the food, clear your screen, allow for other animal combos, and dump the food on your opponent. While Baku Baku sounds a lot like many other puzzle games, once you play a few rounds, you will realize there is a great deal of uniqueness.
Hailed as one of the best puzzle games of all time, Super Puzzle Fighter is chockfull of ferocious competition, pint-sized characters and non-stop high-energy insanity. Carefully stack the falling colored gems in strategic combinations. When the moment is right, use a burst gem to shatter your blocks. During the game, super deformed versions of various characters from Capcom’s two main fighting game series (Street Fighter and Darkstalkers), will act out a comical battle based on how the game is going. Every time one player sends Counter Gems to his or her opponent, his or her character will perform a typical fighting-game action, anything from a taunt to a special move. The more Counter Gems the player sends over, the “bigger” the move the character will perform.
The Bust-A-Move (aka Puzzle Bobble) series has been around for a while and has popped up on a number of diverse consoles. Bust-A-Move 3 (Bust-A-Move 2 is also on the Saturn) is the peak of the franchise as it maintained the simplicity that made the franchise successful while adding some great puzzle modes to keep the addicts happy. Why shouldn’t you jump to Bust-A-Move 4 on the Dreamcast? Well, with the fourth installment, Taito saw the flashy combo systems that other puzzlers like Puzzle Fighter featured and try to implement them in their game. While the result wasn’t terrible, it definitely distracted from the game instead of complementing it.
Magical Drop is actually a series that is based on the Neo-Geo console, but has an excellent port on the Saturn. It offers are refreshing change from traditional block-dropping games. In Magical Drop, you have a little elf on the bottom of the screen that scoops up beads of a certain color and lets you drop them back in another spot to try to combine and elimate colors. The controls take a bit of an adjustment if you are used to other puzzle games, but before long you will be flinging beads with tremendous speed.
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- Albert Odyssey – Another colorful RPG translation from Working Designs that is reminiscent of the SNES-era Final Fantasy games.
- Grandia – One of the best RPGs of the 32-bit era. Unfortunately, on the Saturn, the game was only availible in Japan. So unless you like trying to figure out Japanese, you may want to opt for the Playstation version
- Silhouette Mirage – Treasure’s oft-overlooked platformer. The color-based gameplay mechanics are the inspiration behind their later shooter, Ikaruga. Again, the Saturn version is superior over the Playstation port, but its in Japanese only.
- Dracula X (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) – Probably the best Castlevania game of all time, but this is one of the few 2D games that is actually better (and more accessible) on the Playstation.
- Legend of Oasis/Story of Thor 2 – The follow-up to the Genesis Legend-of-Zelda-wannabe, Beyond Oasis was good, but didn’t improve enough over the original or do anything noteworthy to hold its place in time.
- Earthworm Jim 2 – A great platformer, but it doesn’t have enough improvements over the Genesis and SNES versions to make up for the additional load times.
- Sonic Jam – In addition to being a great compilation of older Sonic the Hedgehog games, it also features a mesmerizing 3D world as an interface to the games and bonus materials. Some consider it superior to the newer Sonic Mega Collections.
- Magic Knight Rayearth – another interesting RPG based on Manga
- Iron Storm – A great WII Strategy game from Working Designs
- Tempest 2000 – a great remake of an old-school classic
- Bulk Slash – graphics haven’t aged well, but some great gameplay
Other Great Saturn Classics That Didn’t Make The Cut
Before you complain about some landmark Saturn game that didn’t make the list, here is my reasoning for why they don’t hold up to today’s games
- Burning Rangers – This game was oh-so-close to making the list, but the block graphics and choppy animation date the game quite a bit and keep it from reaching its full potential. Burning Rangers really is a great game, but it could benefit from a modern remake tremendously.
- Wipeout – As possibly the best racer on the Saturn that wasn’t developed by Sega, Wipeout is a great experience. However later sequels and other futuristic racers like F-Zero GX make it obsolete.
- Daytona USA & Sega Rally Championship – both were excellent games in their day (although not perfect arcade ports), but between the Dreamcast upgrades and other modern racers, these games are all but a novelty now.
- Fighters Megamix & Virtua Fighter 2 – as with racing games, 3D fighters have made a great deal of progress over the last decade.
- Panzer Dragoon & Panzer Dragoon Zwei – as I mentioned above, the original Panzer Dragoon games haven’t aged very well and probably wouldn’t interest most modern gamers. Check out Panzer Dragoon Orta and Rez first.
- Virtual On – a great game in its day, but you may want to look at the sequel on the Dreamcast for a more modern experience
Games That Defined The Sega Saturn
The Best Sega Dreamcast Games for Today
Games That Defined The Sega Dreamcast
The Sega Saturn 2D Fighters Library
The Sega Dreamcast 2D Fighters Library
The Sega Dreamcast Shmups Library
Games That Defined The Sega Master System
Games That Defined The Sega 32X
Games That Defined The Sega CD