The next update to the Cheapest Games series is a look at the Sega Genesis and it’s wonderful 16-bit library. A decade or so ago, there wasn’t a huge difference between the values of loose Sega cartridges and their more complete brethren. However as complete copies have more of a premium, I’m taking a bit of different approach to the pricing and cut-off points. My goal is to share the best games that have loose cartridges under $15 and complete copies for $35 or less (there’s a time or two I might budge on that).
Not only is it getting very hard to find complete Genesis games on the store shelves of indie game store (even though loose carts are usually common), the collectable market for complete games has really taken off in recent years. And even though its disappointing that a lot of my favorite “cheap” recommendations from past years have increased a lot and no longer fit the criteria, there’s still an abundance of great values on Sega’s 16-Bit platform. There’s so many choices, I got some help in ranking these I commissioned some assistance from G to the Next Level (who happens to own a full complete collection of North American retail releases)
Prices as of July 2019
Sonic the Hedgehog: $7 / $13
It is worth mentioning that there are many other, more economical ways of obtaining this game, including the Genesis 6-pak mentioned below or on countless re-releases and compilations, but if you’re looking to have it as a stand-along cartridge in your collection for the original platform, it is an essential pickup at a solid price.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2: $6 / $10
There is no doubt in my mind that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the best value on the Sega Genesis. In my humble opinion, this game alone is my favorite 16-bit game of all time and is the pinnacle of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. From the Emereld Hill Zone to the Death Egg battles, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a pure thrill. Those skeptics that claim all you have to do in the old Sonic games is “hold down on ‘right’” obviously haven’t made it past the first zone.
Many Genesis owners, including myself, received Sonic 2 as a pack-in with their Genesis system, so this Sonic cartridge is ultra-common and dirt cheap.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3: $12 / $24
It has superior animation, additional power-ups and some amazing landscapes, but it’s a matter of personal preference when it comes to level and boss design. No matter if I enjoy Sonic 2 more, Sonic 3 is a game that is not to be missed!
Sonic and Knuckles: $12 / $38
This once-cutting-edge cartridge was quite impressive in its day. For those of you that don’t know, Sonic and Knuckles is not only a stand-alone Sonic game, but it also allows you to plug in Sonic 2 and 3 to combine the features and characters of the games. Many Sonic fans consider Sonic 3 + S&K to be the best Sonic experience there is (the two games were originally intended to be one, but were split because of time and budget constraints at the time).
The bare cartridge is pretty common, but it was sold in a cardboard box that often got trashed. So finding a mint copy is going to take this out of the “budget” zone. I still am rocking the cartridge-only version I picked up a long time ago, but someday I hope to get a nice reproduction hard case for it. I really like the artwork, but kinda hate cardboard boxes.
Genesis 6-Pak: $7 / $18
The Genesis 6-Pak is a relatively common collection of some of the early essentials from the Genesis. It includes the original Sonic The Hedgehog , Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Columns, Revenge of Shinobi, and Super Hang-On. So this game pack is a great start for a Genesis collection that will give you a taste of excellent platforming, action, beatemups, puzzle, and racing gameplay.
Of course, if you mostly want to collect dedicated packages of the individual games, this recommendation might not seem as appealing, but even if you’re not planning on getting two or three of these right away (especially Streets of Rage, which goes for $20 bare and $40 with a case), this is a great way to own an original, licensed cartridge on a budget.
Ecco The Dolphin & Ecco Tides of Time: $8 / $12 Each
Ecco had more of a story than most platformers at the time and features some challenging puzzles that turned off many a casual gamer. However, if you like a thinking man’s 16-bit adventure, Ecco will be worth every cent of its low price tag.
It is worth mentioning that there are also the Sega CD versions of these games. There command a bit of a premium (especially with those hard-to-keep-mint manual and case), but many gamers really enjoy the CD soundtrack.
Disney’s Aladdin: $9 / $16
Aladdin remains as one of the finest licensed Disney games of all time. It captured the look and feel of the animated film beautifully while presenting some entertaining gameplay. Fortunately for us mere mortals, Aladdin didn’t have quite the high difficulty level of Capcom’s Disney games on the NES (Although, I did have to re-do that Magic Carpet escape level many, many times).
Overall, Aladdin is a well-balanced and engaging title that is a must-try for both kids and adults. It also holds up surprisingly well. After booting it up after a decade of not picking it up, both its presentation and its gameplay holds up quite well — a true classic.
Also a simple reminder that the Super Nintendo Aladdin game is indeed different. There’s the ongoing debate on which version is superior, but it is probably little surprise that I am in the Sega camp on this one.
Revenge of Shinobi & Shinobi III: $8 Each
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.
With Revenge of Shinobi being one of the first Genesis titles to be released in North America, it gave the a rather stiff and slow presentation, but for fans of old-school gameplay, they are definitely ones you should give a chance.
Shinobi III benefited from four solid years of Sega’s advancements since Revenge of Shinobi and it really shows. In what is arguably, the strongest installment of the Shinobi series, III is considerably smoother, with less emphasis on difficulty and more on speed and benefiting from a wide set of moves and attacks.
Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi is another entry in the series (released on the Genny after Revenge) that falls just a bit out of our “budget” criteria. It currently is about $18 loose and $43 complete.
Dynamite Headdy – $16 / $38
This Treasure action/platformer was not quite as spectacular as the increasingly-expensive 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.
Most of the levels consist of fighting bosses with only small sections of normal battling 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.
Dynamite Headdy was really under the radar (or was too weird to get used to for a lot of mainstream gamers) for the longest time, so it used to be dirt cheap. With its Treasure pedigree becoming more of a selling point, it has really grown in value. It kinda is on the fringe of my pricing guidelines for this time around, but I decided to keep it on for now.
Road Rash II: $9 / $23
The original Road Rash was a revelation at the time of its release. It took the motorcycle racing concept of something like Sega’s Hang-On but added extra upgrades, spills and thrills, and combat with your stamina being a consideration for your success. Instead of just tacking on these additions, Electronic Arts actually packaged into a cohesive package that an addicting experience. If you enjoyed both racing games and beatemups, it was hard to pass up Road Rash.
The original Road Rash is a great experience (and is a couple dollars cheaper at times), but Road Rash 2 builds nicely on this foundation but adds bikes with nitrous oxide injection and a variety of weapons without spoiling any of the original game’s charm. (Road Rash 3 also arrived on the Genesis, but perhaps stretched the changes too far — see Slopes Game Room’s video on the Road Rash series for a great look at the changes).
Thunder Force II – $15 / $37
As one of the Defining Series in the Shmups genre, the Thunder Force games were some of the best examples of why Sega’s 16-bit platform could put up a good fight against the Super Nintendo (which often struggled with the genre early on). The Thunder Force series was also one of the best examples of a solid shooter series that was designed for the home console market instead of being ports from the arcade.
Granted, Thunder Force II is one of the less popular games in the series since it has a bit of a different feel due to some stages which have free-scrolling sections. The game, however, does have a nice gradual difficulty curve to ease you in.
If you want to dig into the later, and more popular installments of the series, Thunder Force III goes for about $35 loose and $75 complete. Lightening Force (aka Thunder Force IV) commands $40 loose and $80 complete. (BTW, the original Thunder Force original only was published on Japanese home computers)
Toejam And Earl In Panic On Funkotron: $16 / $30
It’s hard to find a game that feel completely 90’s and Sega than the Toe Jam and Earl series. The original Toe Jam and Earl is a relatively slow-paced, collect-the-items game with early 90’s hip-hop influences, unique graphics, and a really juvenile sense of humor. It built a solid cult following, but also has stayed out of the budget territory for most of its lifespan.
The second game in the series, Panic on Funkotron, took a strong departure from the original’s gameplay and became more of a standard platformer that tasks you with capturing humans that have been unleashed on your planet and collecting a variety of items. This change could have been an attempt to make it more mainstream (the original didn’t necessarily sell super well), however this was quite a disappointment to many of the game’s fans. However, Panic on Funkotron is still a solid platform with amazing music, colorful visuals with cartoon-quality animation, and a quasi-Simon Says/rhythm mini game you can play at certain points. The two-player mode has been retained, but it has a different feel to it since you must remain on the same screen as your partner.
Forgotten Worlds: $15 / $30
Forgotten Worlds is a classic Capcom arcade shooter that features excellent character and level design and a phenomenal soundtrack. The game received a handful of console ports, and while the PC Engine port may be superior in some ways, the Sega Genesis put up a respectable effort and has full two-player support (the TG16 does not).
Forgotten Worlds does not follow the traditional shooter formula. Instead of playing as a space ship you are a jetpack warrior that has a small gunner satellite that follows you around. Your gun can be powered up with several upgrades, but you don’t just fire forward in this horizontally scrolling game.
The arcade game used a dial to rotate themselves in a circular motion thus changing the direction they fire, but on the console ports rely on two of the gamepad buttons to pull this off. One button rotates right and the other to the left. Forgotten Worlds is fun game, though the transition from the arcade’s twin-stick mechanics to the Genesis pad might be too much to overcome for some. If you can get comfortable with the rotating shooting mechanic there is a very enjoyable gaming experience here.
Sub-Terrania: $6 / $12
Much like Forgotten Worlds, Sub-Terrania is a shooter with a interesting departure from the usual horizontal and vertical scrolling. Sub-Terrainia game gives you free range to move, but it also imposes heavy restrictions on you. Mainly, you have to manage your fuel. Each stage has a set of goals that does not necessarily just consist of killing a boss, often times you will find yourself rescuing hostages a la Choplifter.
If you are craving a typical on-rails shooter where you only have to worry about dodging and shooting, Sub-Terrania will get very frustrating very fast. I gave up on it numerous times as a kid. If, however, you have an idea of what you are getting into and you take the time to master the thrust mechanic Sub-Terrania can be a very fun game.
Unlike Forgotten Worlds, Sub-Terrania is actually a Genesis/Megadrive exclusive (with a native control scheme) and has some production quality that takes good advantage of the hardware. It also can be found fairly easy in the wild for pretty cheap prices. The low price alone makes this a pretty easy recommendation for those that are up for a challenge.
Vectorman & Vectorman 2: $8 Each
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. These run-and-gun shooters feature their own 3D-ish character, slick animation and lots of 16-bit eye-candy in addition to lots of stuff blowing up.
Both titles are straightforward run-n-gun action platformers with a wonderful balance between the genres. Vectorman doesn’t focus on only the shooting aspect like Gunstar Heroes or Contra does, but also requires a lot of skilled jumping that you would expect in a solid platformer. I still find both of these games to be guilty pleasures on a regular basis.
Target Earth (Assault Suit Leynos): $16 / $35
I’m guessing the American title and cover art probably didn’t help the widespread adoption of this action plaformer. Some of you might be more familiar with the Japanese name “Assault Suit Leynos” and the Assault Suit series as a whole (which also included Cybernator on the SNES).
Target Earth is the first game in the series, and much like its predecessors, it is an intensely-challenging side scroller that allows you free movement and a variety of weapons. It isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you love shooting platformers with a challenge, you need to track down this bargain.
Strider: $17 / $37
Strider was one of Capcom’s very first big Arcade hits due to its action was fast, furious, and original. Strider, at its core, is a side-scrolling action game, but it has many impressive platforming elements as well. Stider lets you run, jump, perform acrobatics and climb walls and overhangs.
The controls and objectives are relatively simple, but as you progress, Strider requires you to build your skills to tactfully navigate the enemies and overcome obstacles without taking much damage.
Strider was ported to numerous platforms, but the Sega Genesis version was an especially impressive port for its day. While some might want to play a modern port of the arcade original, the Sega port is a great testament of craftsmanship on the Genesis/Megadrive and a great value for a starter library.
Disney’s Lion King: $7 / $15
It was hard to live up to the Disney’s Aladdin game, but The Lion King, did a pretty great job of capturing most of what worked to bring a quality license into the 16-bit platforming world. This includes compelling visuals and capturing the music of the movie’s soundtrack on a cartridge format.
What’s especially interesting here is that your character’s trades nimbleness for power as Simba grows up. There’s also the interesting (and rather innovative for the time) change in gameplay on the iconic stampede level.
Overall, it’s a solid game that both adults and kids can enjoy (although both will have to work their platforming skills to succeed). A noted downside to the Genesis/SNES battle, both system have essentially the same game with the SNES have an edge on colors. So no “exclusivity” advantage like Aladdin did on the Genesis.
Flashback: The Quest for Identity – $10 / $17
Touted as a “CD-ROM Game on a Cartridge”, Flashback: The Quest for Identity was one of the most graphically impressive Genesis games in its day. The game features fully hand-drawn backdrops and for its time remarkably fluid rotoscoped animation of walking, running and jumping movements, reminiscent of the earlier Prince of Persia.
The game had a decent print run and had ports on a number of other platforms, so the supply to demand ratio has remained quite stable. And even with all the ports, I do believe it is quite special to play it as a Genesis cartridge.
Shop for Flashback: The Quest for Identity on eBay
Shop for Flashback: The Quest for Identity on Amazon
NBA Jam / NBA Jam TE: $4 / $10
There were so many great sports games on the Sega Genesis, but one of the most iconic and memorable sports games in the 16-bit era was NBA Jam. While the console ports might not fully capture the arcade, the Sega Genesis put up a pretty solid port considering what it had to work with.
If you’ve never played NBA Jam before, you need to experience it — even if you’re not much of a basketball fan. The game is relatively simple and addictive and is a wonderful multiplayer experience (but still fun on your own). If you have played it, you can probably attest to the fact that less than $10 is a pretty good deal for this classic.
Bio Hazard Battle: $14 / $28
The classic Shmups on the Genesis have been gradually rising over the last few years, so there are few bargains to be found. Bio Hazard Battle fits into the “good but not great” category, it is a Genesis exclusive and had some interesting characteristics.
Bio Hazard Battle starts by letting you pick one of four “ships” to play. They all seem modeled after something aquatic, in fact the whole game’s aesthetic features a biological/oceanic theme which makes it visually unique among the typical ‘space ship in space’ shooter. The uniqueness of the enemies and the stages is what puts it a notch above some of its peers.
Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine: $5
If you want a good puzzle game for your Genesis, look no further than Mean Bean Machine. The game is essentially a straightforward Puyo Puyo game with characters from the classic Sonic the Hedgehog TV series.
Playing against a human opponent is most likely to deliver the most fun, the one-player mode is surprisingly well-executed. Each round you play again a new Dr. Robotnik sidekick and each has their own distinctive approach to the game and has a gradual difficulty level. The game will start you out slow and work your way up to mastery before facing Dr. Robotnik himself (good luck with that one).
Other Cheap Favorites:
- General Chaos: $14/$22 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Golden Axe: $15/$27 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Golden Axe II: $20/$31 – eBay / Amazon.com
- The Lost Vikings: $10/$20 – eBay / Amazon.com
- X-Men 2 The Clone Wars: $14/$37 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Tiny Toons: Buster’s Hidden Treasure: $11/$18 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Street Fighter II: SCE: $8/$12 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Super Street Fighter II: $10/$20 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Mortal Kombat II: $9/$13 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Road Blasters: $6/$32 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Maximum Carnage: $15/$28 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Mickey Mania: $12/$23 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Eternal Champions: $7/$10 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Dick Tracy: $16/$35 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Predator 2: $14/$35 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Alien 3: $10/$17 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Quackshot Starring Donald Duck: $13/$30 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Super Baseball 2020: $7/$12 – eBay / Amazon.com
- NHL ’94: $10/$13 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Phantom 2040: $10/$24 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Championship ProAm: $6/$17 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Cool Spot: $8/$16 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Bart’s Nightmare: $14/$21 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Dragon’s Fury (Devil Crash): $21/$38 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Urban Strike: $9/$18 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Desert Strike: $7/$9 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Jungle Strike: $6/$11 – eBay / Amazon.com
- NFL Football ’94 Starring Joe Montana: $4/$5 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Garfield: Caught in the Act: $11/$19 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Quackshot Starring Donald Duck: $13/$30 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Batman Returns: $8/$15 – eBay / Amazon.com
- MERCS: $16/$30 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Addams Family: $13/$27 – eBay / Amazon.com
- King of Monsters: $10/$22 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Gods: $11/$25 – eBay
- Dungeons & Dragons Warriors of the Eternal Sun: $17/$30 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Shining in the Darkness: $15/$30 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Zany Golf: $11/$32 – eBay
- Sonic Spinball: $4/$9 – eBay / Amazon.com
- X-Men: $10/$15 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Afterburner 2: $11/$21 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Space Harrier 2: $13/$24 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Bonanza Brothers: $10/$20 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Kid Chameleon: $12/$22 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Virtua Fighter 2: $5/$15 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Taz-Mania: $5/$9 – eBay / Amazon.com
- World Series Baseball ’95: $5/$6 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Altered Beast: $9/$21 – eBay / Amazon.com
- Cyborg Justice: $7/$14 – eBay / Amazon.com
- RISK: $4/$7 – eBay
- Sports Talk Baseball: $5/$10 – eBay
- FIFA ’95: $4/$9 – eBay
- Tailspin: $8/$17 – eBay
- NBA Live ’95: $4/$7 – eBay
- Sword Of Vermillion: $10/$27 – eBay
- Zoop: $3/$4 – eBay
- Jurassic Park: $5/$10 – eBay
- Paperboy: $9/$17 – eBay
- Spider-Man: $10/$18 – eBay
- Superman: $13/$27 – eBay