It's the 30th anniversary of the Sega Genesis, and a new retro console is dropping next month — here are the best Genesis games of all time
- First released in Japan in 1988 before arriving in North America in August 1989, the Sega Genesis is one of the most beloved video game consoles ever made.
- The Sega Genesis was one of the definitive video game consoles of the 1990s, and the primary competitor to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES).
- While battling with Nintendo for exclusive games, the Sega Genesis produced some of the most memorable titles of the decade.
- Boasting a superior soundcard and a miniature version of Sega's System 16 arcade board, Sega proudly touted the Genesis with the slogan: "Genesis does what Nintendon't."
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Initially released in Japan in October 1988 before arriving in North America in August 1989, the Genesis was one of the definitive video game consoles of the 1990s and the primary competitor to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Though Sega would follow up with new consoles like the Saturn and the Dreamcast, the Genesis is easily the company's most celebrated piece of hardware.
Sega released a special throwback trailer to mark the console's 30th anniversary in North America, referencing the system's old slogan: "Genesis Does what Nintendon't."
Now that the Sega Genesis is coming back in September with an $80 mini version, I'm happy for the chance to take a moment and recognize the console that helped make video games a household commodity and gave us some of the most memorable characters in gaming today.
The original Sega Genesis boasted a superior soundcard and a miniature version of Sega's System 16 arcade board. Nintendo had already earned the prime position in the home console market, forcing Sega to come up with new original characters and concepts to gain a foothold.
The company managed to break through with hit games like "Sonic the Hedgehog" and "Ecco the Dolphin," and continued to invest in wacky new franchises like "Earthworm Jim and "ToeJam and Earl." By the end of its six-year lifespan, the Genesis had a strong enough library to fuel debates between Sega and Nintendo fans for days.
In 2001, Sega stopped making its own video game consoles and shifted to making new games for other platforms. Thankfully, many of the best games for the Sega Genesis have been released in special collections or remastered for modern video game consoles and smartphones. When the Genesis Mini comes out, it'll be the perfect chance to revisit many of these timeless classics, though Sega hasn't announced the full lineup.
Without further ado, here are the 20 best Sega Genesis games.
"Sonic 3 & Knuckles" (1994)
Sonic the Hedgehog isn't just Sega's mascot; his early games helped define a generation of platforming games for both the Genesis and Super Nintendo with their focus on fast gameplay, memorable level design, and iconic music.
"Sonic 3 & Knuckles" was also a pretty impressive work of technology at the time. The game allowed players to stack two existing games, "Sonic the Hedgehog 3" and "Sonic & Knuckles." This made Knuckles a playable character in "Sonic 3," a game that was released eight months before he debuted. Players could also stack "Sonic 2" & "Sonic & Knuckles" to make Knuckles playable in "Sonic 2." It was groundbreaking for the time.
"Gunstar Heroes" (1993)
This arcade-style run-and-gun shooter game had vibrant graphics, a great soundtrack, and tight controls. One or two players can fire their way through seven levels using four different weapons, each of which could be combined with another for a special effect.
"Streets of Rage 2" (1992)
"Streets of Rage 2" is the best entry in a legendary series of beat 'em up games. The game's four playable characters, Blaze Fielding, Axel Stone, Max Thunder, and Eddie "Skate" Hunter fight to overthrow a criminal syndicate that has taken over their city. The "Streets of Rage 2" soundtrack is so popular that some tracks have ended up on the radio.
"OutRun" is one of many famous arcade games that found a home on the Sega Genesis. "OutRun" was one of the earliest racing games to feature 3D graphics, making it wildly popular when it was released. Creator Yu Suzuki told RetroGamer that "OutRun" was partially inspired by the 1981 film "Cannonball Run."
"Disney's Aladdin" (1993)
"Aladdin" is the best-known game in a series popular Disney adaptations released for Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. The game offers playful renditions of the movie's most memorable songs, and added some extra layers of adventure for fans of the film. It's also absurdly and legendarily difficult, so pick this one up if your ego can stand to be knocked down a few pegs.
"NBA Jam Tournament Edition" (1994)
The arcade-style basketball game NBA Jam became wildly popular at a time where video game developers were struggling to create proper sports simulators. With an emphasis on high flying dunks and fast-paced play, the game helped inspire a generation of new NBA fans.
"Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master" (1993)
Sega created the "Shinobi" franchise for arcades, but the game eventually became an important part of the company's transition to home consoles. While it plays like many of the other side-scrolling action games of its time, "Shinobi III" offers a satisfying of speed and difficulty and was a solid capstone for the series on the Genesis.
"Golden Axe" (1989)
Like "Shinobi," Golden Axe was a popular arcade game that was eventually ported over to the Sega Genesis. The game is a sidescrolling beat 'em up like "Streets of Rage," and "Double Dragon," but incorporates fantasy elements. "Golden Axe" lead designer Makoto Uchida also worked on "Altered Beast," a popular Sega Genesis launch title.
"Sonic the Hedgehog 2" (1992)
Back to Sonic! While "Sonic 3" is probably the best overall game in the series, "Sonic 2" introduced some of the series' most iconic stages and songs. The game was also the debut of Sonic's trusty sidekick, Miles "Tails" Prower.
Though Sega was forced to make the game without Sonic's creator, Yuji Naka, it was popular enough to help Sonic make his way into the 1993 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
"Ghouls 'n Ghosts" (1990)
Another arcade classic turned Genesis port, "Ghouls 'N Ghosts" is best remembered for its crushing difficulty and memorable level design. Controlling a knight named Arthur, players fight to save Princess Prin Prin from an army of undead monsters.
"Ecco the Dolphin" (1992)
"Echo the Dolphin" is an unusual action adventure game starring the eponymous aquatic mammal. Ecco is separated from his pod by a huge storm at the start of the game, sparking a journey that leads the dolphin to the depths of Atlantis. As a Genesis exclusive, Ecco was widely celebrated by Sega fans, and spawned multiple sequels.
"Super Street Fighter 2" (1994)
For many, "Street Fighter 2" is the definitive 2D fighting game. While the are more than five different versions of "Street Fighter 2" (including one released in 2017), the console releases struggled to match the rich sound and color of the arcade games. The Genesis did a far better job than the Super Nintendo capturing the sights and sounds of "Street Fighter 2," and "Super" is the best version of the game released on Genesis.
"Road Rash 3" (1995)
Whereas "OutRun" is a more laid back racing game, "Road Rash" forces players to battle (and punch!) other riders while navigating obstacles on the track.
"Earthworm Jim" (1994)
"Earthworm Jim" is a sidescrolling platform that's dripping with attitude. The game's creators built the franchise to poke fun at the popular cliches plaguing video games in the 90s. After a successful release on the Genesis, the game was ported to Super Nintendo and PC, and even got an HD remake in 2009.
"ToeJam & Earl" (1991)
ToeJam and Earl are an alien rap duo working to repair their ship and return to the planet Funkotron. The game was a quirky Genesis exclusive meant to give the console some of its first original characters. Levels are randomly generated and carry a funky soundtrack to match the overall tone.
"Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine" (1993)
"Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine" is the unlikely combination of two of Sega's hit series, "Sonic the Hedgehog," and "Puyo Puyo," a competitive puzzle series that's still widely popular in Japan. While the anime characters of "Puyo Puyo" made the puzzle game a tough sell for Western audiences, giving the game a makeover with Sonic characters helped make it more accessible. Thus, "Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine" was born - and it's addictive as heck, even today.
"Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium" (1995)
While the "Final Fantasy" and "Dragon Quest" franchises trived on Nintendo consoles, Sega developed its own roleplaying games with a similar aesthetic. Unlike "Final Fantasy and "Dragon Quest," the first four "Phantasy Star" games have a shared universe and tell a sprawling sci-fi narrative set in an alien star system.
"Shining Force II" (1994)
"Shining Force II" is a turn-based strategy RPG that gives players control over a large battlefield. Players develop their own tactics and improve their soldiers' capabilities by defeating enemies in combat.
"Gain Ground" (1991)
Like so many other Genesis games, "Gain Ground" was originally released for arcades. The game is simple but addictive: players attempt to clear 50 levels by either destroying every enemy, or getting all of their team members to the exit on the screen. Player-controlled characters have specific abilities to help with certain objectives, so as the game gets harder, more strategy comes into play.
"Comix Zone" (1995)
The 1995 beat 'em up "Comix Zone" is short, sweet, and very hard. Each of the game's four stages has a beautiful comic book art style, and the game's sprites are large and lovely. "Comix Zone" also includes voice clips - a rarity in '90s video games - and a thoughtfully composed soundtrack.
You can still find and play most of these classic Sega Genesis games today.
If you find yourself getting nostalgic for any of these Genesis games, make sure to check out the Sega Genesis Classics collection on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC & Nintendo Switch. Sega also plans to release a replica console, the Sega Genesis Mini, with 40 games later this year.
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