The 1990s were a big change for video games. Sega’s Genesis console took the world by storm right when the decade began. The cool system was the Genesis, which was different from Nintendo’s NES and SNES. Even though some of its hardware parts weren’t as good as Nintendo’s SNES, it always had good games, and the way it sampled sound made for great soundtracks. The famous “Genesis does what Nintendo doesn’t” ad campaign helped make the Genesis a bold new brand that game developers wanted to make games for.
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And there were so many games to choose from! The Genesis had games for everyone, from Sonic the Hedgehog, who ruled pop culture, to Contra: Hard Corps, which would give you blisters on your fingers after a weekend of play. Here are the 15 best Sega Genesis games that made the 16-bit and blast-processing era what it was.
Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda may have spent the 1990s establishing itself as the best action-adventure series, but Sega’s Beyond Oasis was a good attempt to move into that Hyrule territory. In some places, Prince Ali’s Quest was called Story of Thor. The top-down view, beautiful graphics, and exciting action made it both charming and exciting. It’s one of the forgotten games of its time, but after it came out, this beautifully animated epic became a cult favourite.
By 1994, Castlevania was well-known as one of Konami’s most popular game series. For its Genesis arrival, Konami went back to the drawing board so that a Castlevania experience could be designed exclusively for that system, resulting in a game that’s seen as one of the best in the series before Symphony of the Night came along and set a new status quo. Bloodlines makes the most of the 16-bit Sega hardware by going all-in on the classic-vania style, with waves of enemies on a variety of different stages. It looks great, you have to be quick to keep up with the action, and the game’s experimental gameplay made it better than its predecessors.
Contra: Hard Corps
Contra: Hard Corps is the best example of Konami’s run-and-shoot formula. It is a testosterone-filled gauntlet of guns, bullets, and nonstop action. Contra: Hard Corps was a break from the past. It made the action even faster, made the game harder, and added new characters to choose from. The boss fights are ridiculously over the top, the music will make you tap a hole in your floor with its catchy beats, and the constant action will make your thumbs grow abs.
Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
Some of the best puzzle games for the Genesis could be found between some of Sega’s most popular games, and Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is a great example of this. It’s basically the exciting action of Puyo Puyo with an Eggman twist so that it can be popular in the West. It’s a good alternative for people who were tired of Tetris but hadn’t yet found the magic of Bust-a-Move. This Sonic game combined colourful combos with bean stacking in a way that no other game at the time could do better.
Ecco the Dolphin
Even though you were in charge of a dolphin, which is a merciless killer in the ocean, Ecco was surprisingly calm and atmospheric. That didn’t mean that there weren’t some nasty difficulty spikes every now and then, but most of the time, playing Ecco meant you were in for an adventure. It was a beautiful swim in the deep blue ocean, and Ecco’s sonar skills let you open up new, interesting areas in a game that never held your hand. All of this, plus a final boss that is still enough to give you nightmares after more than 20 years.
Long before Metal Slug made a name for itself with its chaotic gunplay, Gunstar Heroes was the best place to see this kind of action. Gunstar Heroes wasn’t just a well-polished romp through different levels that barely gave you time to catch your breath. It was also a beautiful display of the Genesis’s blast-processing power. It looked as good as it played, and the levels were almost three-dimensional, which was years ahead of their time. The gameplay was just perfect. Anyone who played Gunstar Heroes would remember it forever, and it set a new standard for developer Treasure.
Monster World IV
When it came to RPGs, Genesis players were spoiled for choice with Shining Force, Phantasy Star, and Sword of Vermillion. Monster World IV was one of the most popular games in the genre, but it was only available in Japan. Those who were able to get the game, however, were in for a treat. At the time, this game was unique because it had action, platforming, and RPG elements, and the technical side was a masterpiece of rock-solid design.
Mortal Kombat II
Mortal Kombat 2 is the perfect example of how a sequel should be made. The sequel to Mortal Kombat was better in every way, building on the brutality of the first game. The roster had almost twice as many characters as its predecessor, and the core gameplay felt harder than ever. Each character also had a wide range of special moves, making them all good choices for competitive play. Even better, as Friendships and Babalities joined the finisher scene, you could add a bloody cherry on top of a win with more than just a horrible death. Mortal Kombat 2 was the coolest game on the Genesis block. It was bigger and better than ever before.
Phantasy Star IV
In Phantasy Star IV, another great RPG for the Genesis, the series went back to its sci-fi roots for one last time. As a love letter to classic RPGs, Phantasy Star IV didn’t change too much from the tried-and-true formula of the genre, but everything felt perfect. There were tricky dungeons to explore, the turn-based combat was powerful, and the character growth was always satisfying.
Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker
Even though the King of Pop has died, his legacy will live on (in Moonwalker nonetheless). The arcade version of the game was more of a beat-em-up, but the home console version was more of a platformer. It was about Michael Jackson dancing his way to save a group of kidnapped children from Mr. Big. Each of the game’s five levels has bits and pieces of the late singer’s career, like his famous dance moves and vocal shouts. Hits like Smooth Criminal, Beat It, and other songs from Jackson’s resounding back catalogue are also played in the background. The animations and backgrounds are fluid and range from bright clubs to dark caverns. The game is full of bad guys that players can punch and kick in Jackson-style moves. Even stranger, shooting stars can turn the player into a cyborg with artillery. That is, when the player isn’t taunting other players with crotch grabs and spreading dance moves that everyone wants to do. Since the singer died in 2009, it’s become even more of a cult favourite, but don’t let that put you off.