Looking for The Best Genesis Games?
- The Best Games That Defined the Sega Genesis
- The Best Genesis Games Under $10
- The Best Undiscovered Sega Genesis Games
- The Genesis Games That Pushed The Limits of Graphics & Sound
About This List: With the combination of Sega’s acknowledged interest in Nintendo’s virtual console and the fact that the Gamecube (which shares hardware architecture with the Revolution) already has an excellent Genesis emulator running on it via the Sonic Mega Collection, it is very likely that, in time, Sega will publish downloads of some of its classic game titles. (Read more details on Why Sega Genesis Are a Perfect Fit for the Revolution)
I thought now would be an excellent opportunity to review some of the best games that the Genesis had to offer. This time around, I will only cover games that
- Are Genesis exclusives (since SNES ports would have priority on the Revolution)
- Are not Sonic games since a) they are obvious choices and b) they are already on the Sonic Mega Collection (which will be backwards compatible on the Revolution).
- Still hold up as keepers in today’s gaming culture.
With that introduction out of the way, lets get started…
Castlevania Bloodlines – Konami
Bloodlines is the only Castlevania title to be released on the Genesis but plays much like Super Nintendo’s Castlevania IV. The graphics aren’t as detailed or colorful as the SNES version, but it pushed the capabilities of the Genesis to achieve many effects that otherwise wouldn’t be possible on the system. Many of the bosses are very large and are composed of many sprites that combined into one entity.
If you look at Bloodlines on its own instead of comparing it to the SNES game, it is actually an excellent platformer. Being innovative in both gameplay and graphical effects, Bloodlines has many features that make it stand out. It is worth noting that the storyline from Castlevania Bloodlines ties into Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel. In addition, since Konami was free of Nintendo’s censorship rules, the developers were free to put in a blood and background effects such as hanging corpses.
With the fanbase of the Castlevania series still going strong on the GBA and DS, it only makes sense to bring as many of the 2D Castlevania’s to as many of Nintendo’s systems as possible.
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Alien Soldier – Sega/Treasure
This run-n-gun is considered one of the hardest games ever developed by the cult-classic factory, Treasure, and was released only in Japan and Europe. It is very difficult to find in either region.
As usual, Treasure really put a lot of creativity into Alien Soldier’s graphics and animation. The characters are large, extremely detailed and fluidly animated. And as opposed to most other side-scrolling shooters, the levels are notably short and easy before reaching a boss. This results in the game being mostly large boss fights.
Alien Soldier is slated to be included in Japan’s Gunstar Heroes Treasure Box compilation for the PS2 (no US release is announced), but it would be a great title to see available for download on the Revolution — especially in the US.
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Comix Zone – Sega
This brawler is an extremely original and visually impressive game which immerses you in a comic book world. It’s probably one of the coolest games on the Genesis. Instead of featuring a character that simply walked down a city street and beat people up, Comix Zone had the game’s hero sucked into his own comic book creation and battle the villains within actual panels of comic book pages.
You can leap out of the page and back down into the next panel, perhaps even shortcut to the panels below. Add in the ability to rip loose chunks of the page itself to make deadly paper airplanes, or the power to punch an enemy through the ink boundaries of the panel and you have a fresh twist to the beatemup genre.
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Contra: Hard Corps – Konami
Hard Corps is the fourth major installment in the Contra series of games by Konami. The game retained the fast-paced “run ‘n gun” gameplay from previous titles but slightly shifted focus from fighting onslaughts of enemy troops and vehicles to mainly boss encounters. (Much like Alien Soldier)
Some enhancements were established in this Contra title such as multiple paths, endings, and selectable characters. Because of this, Hard Corps is regarded among fans as one of the best of the series, not to mention a top-notch Genesis title.
Hard Corps is quite challenging, but you’ll want to play repeatedly in order to gradually improve. Most bosses are easy once you know their patterns, but some will keep you on your toes every time you fight them. The regular enemies, when they’re around, come at you very fast and from all angles.
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Dynamite Headdy – Sega/Treasure
This Treasure action/platformer (also to be included on the PS2 compilation) was not quite as spectacular as Gunstar Heroes, but Dynamite Headdy has everything you look for in a Treasure game: Crazy special effects, tons of sprites with little to no slowdown, an interesting weapons system, psychotic bosses, and trademark Treasure strangeness.
Headdy is an ant who bashes enemies with his head and had many different head upgrades availible to him throughout the game. Most of the levels consist of fighting bosses with only small sections of normal batteling in between. As a result, the game is incredibly varied, featuring an incredible array of ideas and fast-paced action, while retaining the platform-game mechanic.
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Gunstar Heroes – Sega/Treasure
Guardian Heroes is one of Treasure’s most popular titles because of its graphical innovation and killer gameplay. It combined a linear, side-scrolling shooter with plot elements, a dice game, recurring bosses, and combat strategy. It also was an incredibly compelling and blissfully chaotic 2-player game.
The weapons system is innovative and gives the player the ability to adapt to many different situations. And like most every Treasure game the bosses are huge, made of dozens of independent sprites, all of which move, jiggle, and rotate. The animation is so advanced that it wouldn’t be a stretch to compare Gunstar Heroes to the Neo Geo games of the era like Metal Slug or Shock Troopers.
Gunstar Super Heroes has received rave reviews for the Gameboy Advance, so it would be a natural to bring the original back to a new console to show all the kiddies where this great franchise began.
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Herzog Zwei – TechnoSoft
Combining elements of real-time strategy and resource management into a shmup, Herzog Zwei is possibly one of the best games on Sega’s 16-bit powerhouse. Herzog Zwei is a two-player game in which the object is to destroy the enemy’s base. To accomplish this, the player was able to construct an assortment of units — including tanks, anti-aircraft guns, attack boats, infantry and armored cars.
Herzog Zwei was neglected by Sega at its release and was literally years ahead of its time. Nevertheless, it ultimately laid the foundation for games like Dune 2, Warcraft, BattleZone, and Command & Conquer by introducing most of the modern RTS conventions. The mechanics of Herzog Zwei make it a game with a slower feel than most modern RTS games, making for more thoughtful play.
I always find hybrid games like this to be interesting and such a neglected yet groundbreaking title should be shared with future gaming generations.
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Toe Jam & Earl Series
The Sega Genesis had a heaping spoonful of quirky yet delightful titles and one of the first Sega titles to set this standard was Toe Jam & Earl. This cult favorite broke the monotony that the glut of side-scrolling platformers brought. This uniqueness is the primary reason that fans were so dismayed by the format change in the game’s sequel (even though it was still a good game).
It is hard to put your finger on what makes Toe Jam and Earl stand out, but everything from the gameplay, music, and characters is so well done that it melds into an unforgettable experience. If you have two players the game gets even better due to the then-groundbreaking split screen mode the results in a satisfying co-op session.
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Phantasy Star Series (II, III, IV) – Sega
One of the greatest turn-based RPG series of the 16-bit era, the Phantasy Star games had rich storyline in a futuristic setting with several worlds to explore. The story itself is half fantasy and half science fiction. It obviously borrows elements from fantasy such as Dungeons & Dragons, but it also expands upon itself by incorporating elements from science fiction pieces, such as Star Wars. As the series is allowed to evolve, it becomes less like a standard D&D game, as the fantasy aspects become intertwined with the technology.
The Phantasy Star series is noteworthy in that all of the games take place in the same universe, as opposed to many RPG series such as Final Fantasy (where each successive game takes place in an entirely different alternate universe). Each major Phantasy Star game adds a bit more to the series’ overall story, culminating in Phantasy Star IV which ties all of the series’ plot elements together into a final, epic conclusion.
While the Final Fantasy installments and other Square RPGs may have gotten all the attention on the SNES, the Phantasy Stars showed that RPG fans could have fun on the Genesis.
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Revenge of Shinobi, Shadow Dancer, Shinobi 3 – Sega
Shinobi has long been one of Sega’s flagship characters, and its games a showcase of their technical accomplishment. Today the games are still noted for their high quality of graphics, gameplay and music, as well as their difficulty.
Revenge was the unofficial sequel to the original Shinobi (from the arcade, NES, SMS, and more) and the debut of the ninja on the Sega Genesis console, The Revenge of Shinobi was widely praised at the time of its release and, for a while, was one of the most popular games on Genesis.
Shadow Dancer is the second Shinobi title on the Genny and is the official sequel to the arcade game. This time, our hero, Joe Musashi is accompanied by Yamamoto, the shinobi dog. The dog effectively adds a strategic element to the action, allowing you to subdue even the toughest enemies.
Known as Super Shinobi II in Japan, Shinobi 3 is regarded by many as the high point of the series. It introduced a much smoother, faster style of gameplay while keeping the series’ familiar trademarks firmly intact. The action never gets repetitive due to the constantly-changing scenery, numerous surprises, and lots of incredible bosses to test your skill. If you like ninja games, you cannot afford to live without this one.
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Rocket Knight Adventures – Konami
In the avalanche of 2D platformers during the 16-bit era, it was easy for a game like Konami’s Rocket Night Adventures to get lost in the shuffle. Rocket Knight Adventures has more technique and plot than any other platform of the era.
RKA’s protagonist is Sparkster, is an opossum who fights an army of robots and pigs, many of whom are piloting various mechanical vehicles. Sparkster is armed with a sword that can project energy over a short distance and a rocket pack that allows him to fly.
The slick effects and big bosses alone can carry the game. It may have its flaws — mainly with the replay value, but overall, this is one of the best bets for the Genesis, period.
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Shining Force & Shining Force II – Sega
One of the first groundbreaking title to make lay a foundation for the strategy RPG genre was Sega’s Shining Force. The developers, which would be later known as Camelot Software Planning, departed from the dungeon-crawling focus of Shining the Darkness, and took many of the conventions that were made popular in traditional Japanese RPGs, blended in deep strategy, and produced a game that felt like enhanced Chess with a fantasy-based story.
It’s a shame that the latest PS2 installments of the Shining series have strayed so far from its roots. It would be great to bring back these great strategy classics to give more great gameplay to those that enjoy titles such as Advance Wars and Fire Emblem.
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Streets of Rage Series (SoR, SoR 2, SoR 3) – Sega
Street of Rage was released when the Genesis needed an increase of sales against the SNES, which boasted most of Capcom’s arcade ports such as Final Fight. The series took the brawler genre to a whole new level, with more attacks, realistic-looking characters, and interesting backdrops.
The punch and jump buttons let you execute a surprising variety of moves, including throws, jump-kicks, head-butts, and body slams. The “special attack” button calls in a police car which fires a cannon that rains down fireballs on everybody but somehow doesn’t harm the good guys one bit.
Overall, Streets of Rage 2 is regarded as the best game in the series, and one of the best beat’em ups of the 16-bit era, although it was considered by many fans to be relatively easy, even on the highest difficulty setting. Streets of Rage 2, driven by the strength of the fresh soundtrack, groundbreaking gameplay, and an incredible two-player cooperative experience, was easily one of the best games available for the Sega Genesis, regardless of genre.
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Thunder Force II, III, IV (aka Lightening Force) – Technosoft
No shmup fan can go without this series. All three Genesis titles built upon their predecessors in terms of graphics, weapon selection, and great gameplay.
Thunder Force II was a solid overhead unidirectional scroller with some sidescrolling thrown into the mix. It set the stage for the rest of the series with a great weapons system. Thunder Force III kept most of the concepts of II and polished them to become the standard for fast action sidescrollers. Thunder Force IV went by the name Lightening Force (sic) in the States and is possibly one of the best shooters on the Genny. It became a seminal and classic sidescroller, and one that paved the way for the remaining innovations to come in the shmup scene.
While shmups may not be the hot property with modern gamers, the Revolution could really score some retro gamer love if it stocked this classic series.
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Vectorman & Vectorman 2 – Sega
As an answer to Nintendo and Rare’s Donkey Kong Country series and it’s pre-rendered, 3D-like graphics, Sega fought back with the Vectorman series. It features its own 3D-ish character and provided some animations, which in my opinion, were even more impressive than DKC. Just watching the introduction makes it difficult to believe this is a Genesis game. It features 3-D scaling and morphing that only Gunstar Heroes seems to have touched.
The games themselves are straightforward 2D action platformers in which Vectorman is equipped with a blaster that fires one bullet at a time; powerups include a machine gun, “bola” gun, and triple-fire guns. Vectorman possesses the ability to transform, through the use of powerups, into several different forms.
Like the Street of Rage series was outside of the US, both Vectorman games were included as bonuses on the Sonic Gems collection. However, these are good enough titles to be available as individual game downloads.
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Elemental Master – Shooter
Eternal Champions – Fighter
Aerobiz Supersonic – Simulation
Ecco the Dolphin – Adventure/Puzzle
Fire Shark – Shooter
Golden Axe – Hack-N-Slash
Beyond Oasis – Action RPG
Alisia Dragoon – Action
Mega Turrican – Run-N-Gun
General Chaos – Strategy
Panorama Cotton – Shooter
Ristar – Platformer
Ranger X – Shooter
Landstalker – Action RPG
Shining in the Darkness – RPG
Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse – Action/Adventure