After 30 years since its original release, Sega celebrates its game-changing legacy by creating the Sega Genesis Mini.
I’ll start by saying I have very, very fond memories of the Sega Genesis. After our family was one of the few on planet Earth to have a Sega Master System instead of a Nintendo, I was dying to have a system that
A) people had heard of
B) was actually GOOD.
God…so much of the Sega Master System’s game library was unplayable dreck.
To celebrate this momentous occasion, I, E.C. Larson of the Stratosphere will rank every game included in the full US retail release of the Genesis mini, sorting each game into quality tiers based on marketing slogans Sega used over the lifetime of the Genesis system. Sadly, there will not be any add-ons to this list that require you to pay $350 in 1993 money to obtain.
Can we just marvel at this tag line for a little bit? This could only be born in THE 90’S!! I’m pretty sure this is BlueChew’s marketing slogan now…
40. Alex Kidd in The Enchanted Castle
This is the game where SEGA finally gave up on Alex Kidd as their flagship mascot (the Kidd to challenge the plumber), and for good reason. This game simply doesn’t belong on this system. It’s a relic of the Master System days, and it shows. It’s boring, repetitive, juvenile and hard. So hard. You’d think a game with the art direction of a toddler story book would be forgiving. It’s not. And I don’t understand the rock-paper-scissor-decides-the-fate-of-the-world dynamic at all. Hard pass.
39. Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition
I know what you’re thinking. How can one of the greatest fighting games of all time be listed among the lowest quality games? Well, it’s not the game itself; it’s the game on THIS SYSTEM. Yes, the Genesis Mini gives you the classic three button controllers, straight from 1989. Which might be cool for the bevy of shooters or Sonic that only uses one button, but Street Fighter uses…er…six. We put up with using the start button to toggle between punches and kicks in 1994; in 2019 it’s unforgivable.
38. Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
I thought this was going to be cooler, given how dope the box art was…till I remembered the cardinal rule of every Ghosts and Goblins game ever: we try to kill you. A LOT. I’ve only gotten to stage 2 a handful of times in 30 years of playing the same game.
37. Eternal Champions
Mortal Kombat clone with grosser fatalities? Ok, sure. Still a bitch to play with three buttons.
36. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
Meh. You’ve played one Puyo Puyo, you’ve played them all.
Again, it’s a match-3 game. It’s fine. But you’re not getting a Genesis Mini for Columns. Play that shit on your phone.
34. Kid Chameleon
It’s like Little Nemo the Dream Master chugged 4 Mountain Dews and traded in adorable PJs for a Red Hot Chili Peppers T shirt. Ughhhhhhhhhh, let’s move on.
33. ToeJam & Earl
I still don’t *get* ToeJam & Earl. It was a weird game when I was 9 and it’s still a weird game today. I have no idea what to even do in ToeJam & Earl! At least the character designs remain fly as hell.
32. Altered Beast
Altered Beast is also weird, mainly for its legacy. It went from being tolerated to hated to mocked to understood to revered. Not sure why. The characters are slow as molasses and the gameplay’s stiff, but the logo looks really cool on a hat. I guess that’s the appeal.
31. Golden Axe
Andy’s is going to hate me for this, but the truth is Golden Axe is only slightly better than Altered Beast. Otherwise it’s a forgettable entry that’s trumped by what came after.
It’s Tetris. On your Genesis. What a world.
29. Ecco the Dolphin
This would be a nice relaxing game…if Ecco didn’t move 400 miles an hour!
Seriously, this game is so juxtaposed it’s utterly jarring. On one hand you have this relaxing island soundtrack and comforting graphics with a crisp, calming color palette (seriously, this game HITS on an HDTV), and then you have this maniac dolphin that’s impossible to control flying all over the screen!
I know SEGA was really trying to show that they were the anti-Nintendo, and in the “let’s make everything FAAAAST” mindset, but this game didn’t need that. Let me move rocks at a comfortable pace and zone out for a little bit. Is that too much to ask?? My four-year-old daughter loved it though, so mission accomplished…?
28. Light Crusader
Light Crusader’s alright, but there’s other games on this list that do what Light Crusader does (hack n’ slash role-player) better. The music is also atrocious. My ears are still bleeding from the dungeon theme.
27. Road Rash II
One genre that is crazy underrepresented on the Genesis Mini (other then, ahem, another category which we’ll get into later) is racing games. With the emphasis on speed in processing, the Genesis was ideal for racing games. Road Rash 2 is probably the pinnacle: it’s really fun, it’s REALLY fast, and being able to attack your other drivers with various weapons is the icing on the cake.
It’s like Mario Kart with chains and whips! Also, watching your driver get wiped out in epic fashion NEVER GETS OLD. It’s just…not as good as everything else on the system.
26. Virtua Fighter 2
I guess Virtua Fighter 2 is good for the, “when I want steak, I go to Golden Corral” crowd (proud member!).
It’s good for what it is: decent fighter that kinda/sorta resembles the coin-up, but is nowhere near the technological marvel, arcade perfect Saturn version.
It’s ballin’ on a budget…or something.
25. Alisia Dragoon
Alisia Dragoon is a cool little game. It reminded me of early Castlevania mixed with early 90s, PC shareware platformer/adventure games like Jill of the Jungle. Unfortunately, it’s on a list with the rest of these bangers, and it simply can’t keep pace…which speaks to the curation of the Genesis Mini and how Sega took this system seriously.
This is where all the shooters live. Shooters, whether they’re parallax scrolling or run-in-gun, are the ultimate YMMV genre. Either you love them, 1cc them or play them for five minutes and get bored. The Genesis had arguably some of the best shooters of any system, and they’re all represented here on the Mini.
Whether it’s your garden-variety, traditional Thunder Force III or one of the best Contra games in Contra: Hard Corps, it’s hard to find fault in the Genesis Mini’s lineup if shooting random shit is your thing.
I just personally fall in the “can’t play longer than 10 minutes or my hands cramp” camp.
24. Space Harrier 2
22. Super Fantasy Zone
20. Thunder Force III
19. Contra: Hard Corps
Now we’re starting to split hairs. This is where the meat and potatoes of the system lies, and what better way to trumpet the arrival of these games than the iconic SEGA scream.
18. Dynamite Headdy
This game is bizarre, man. But it’s by Treasure, so it has to be good! Maybe…I’m not sure. Dynamite Headdy wasn’t for me, but it almost felt criminal rating this game any lower.
17. Earthworm Jim
Earthworm Jim is another game defined by its quirkiness. From everything from the art style to the gameplay (using your face as a whip), it’s basically The Tick: the video game, which may or may not appeal to you.
What’s not cool: Resource management.
For this type of game, unlike a game like Shinobi where being a ninja involves being crafty, just give me unlimited gun ammo. I get you can use the whip as a weapon, but you can still use that dynamic alongside an underpowered, unlimited ray gun. But we’re quibbling…it’s a slick, enjoyable game worth playing.
Strider is the Snickers bar in the bucket of Halloween candy that is the Mini’s game lineup. Strider satisfies. There’s no better feeling in the world than slashing some dudes with a HUGE ASS sword animation. The SHINK! is practically etched into my brain. The game itself is a little on the repetitive side and is VERY challenging (as many of these arcade ports are), but slashing everything in sight never gets old.
Can we also talk about how the Errol Flynn looking jabroni from the US cover looks NOTHING LIKE Strider?
Strider’s a long-lost cousin of Goku (Go-ride-r?), not some dude with a ponch.
15. Sonic Spinball
My late father’s favorite game. What an innovate way to use Sonic’s spin dash maneuver, to bring more casual game players over to the Genesis with some fast, story-based pinball…and the game is downright FUN! This one’s for you, Pops.
14. Comix Zone
It’s been over 20 years and you still don’t see something as innovative and unconventional as the art style in Comix Zone. What a fascinating concept to create an honest-to-God comic book within a 2D beat-em-up, where your Rob Liefield inspired protagonist traverses through the panels and fires off word bubble quips while beating up baddies. It’s really amazing we haven’t seen anything close to a sequel or inspired indie game with this concept.
13. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
12. World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck
These are more-or-less the same game (with the slight edge going to World of Illusion), which makes me happy that quality Disney platformers are well represented on the Mini. But I’m not going to lie…I really wanted Aladdin. And Lion King. But mostly Aladdin.
11. Phantasy Star IV
Look, I’ll level with you. I didn’t play this game nearly enough to be qualified to say anything meaningful about it. I’m not going to spend 70 hours grinding through an RPG for this crappy review. Andy said this game is great, and through the ten minutes I played/watched on YouTube I agree. That’s good enough for me.
10. Sonic the Hedgehog
There’s some people that prefer this over Sonic 2. Those people would be crazy, but I can see what they’re coming from. This was the big blue cockscomb that launched the console wars, and game SEGA a real footing in the US. The game is GOOD, don’t get me wrong…this was basically the same game as Sonic CD, what many consider the best Sonic game ever. It’s just a little on the easier side (especially with the stage select cheat) and won’t hold that special place in my heart like Sonic 2 does.
Before I start rattling off some of the best, exclusive Genesis games, I want to take a moment and lament the loss of one the truly defined bragging rights for owning a Genesis: sports games. I know there’s countless licensing issues, but c’mon…sports games exemplified the greatness of the Genesis. Give me Madden, give me Sports Talk Baseball, give me Tecmo Bowl III, give me Live ’95…dammit, give me NHL ’95! Just strip the teams and players and anything remotely licensed on those carts and give it to me NOW, SEGA!
9. Shining Force
Yeah, Fire Emblem may be better and has the longer legacy, still pumping out classics like Three Houses in 2019. But when I want my Japanese SRPG fix and don’t have 100 hours to devote to FE or even Final Fantasy: Tactics, give me Shining Force. Shining Force was the de facto Strategy JRPG, not receiving FFT till 1997 and FE many years after that. It doesn’t hurt that Camelot is one of my favorite developers (shout out to Golden Sun on the Game Boy Advance).
8. Castlevania: Bloodlines
Right up there with Dracula’s Curse and Rondo of Blood with the strongest, arcade style Castlevania entries.
Pro tip: Always, and I mean always play with the spear guy. He has a freaking SPEAR!
Remember when I said Light Crusader was OK but there’s better versions of that game on here? Yeah, it’s Landstalker. In fact, don’t waste your time playing Light Crusader. Just play Landstalker. Thank me later.
6. Mega Man: The Wily Wars
I’ve been hearing about this game for so long it almost seems like I played it. This is the Sega Channel exclusive compilation of the first three Mega Man games, all remastered in 16-bit glory. It was truly a delight playing Mega Man 2 on my NES Classic, and it’s just as good if not better on here.
5. Shinobi 3
Man did feel like a complete BADASS playing this game. It’s been so long since I’ve played Shinobi, and I forgot how awesome this was. There’s skill, there’s challenge, there’s resource management, there’s some gorgeous pixel graphics, there’s a HORSE at one point. Shinobi has it all, and dare I say it’s the better ninja game (or at least, better overall package) when compared to Ninja Gaiden.
Man, I feel sacrilegious just writing that sentence…but it’s true!
4. Beyond Oasis
This Zelda clo—ahem—adjacent game is so good I truly regret not playing it sooner. I don’t know what 11-year-old me was doing in 1995 but I should’ve been rocking the shit out of this cart. I think I may have gotten a Game Gear or a Jock Jams CD, I dunno…but whatever it was, it was the wrong choice.
3. Sonic The Hedgehog 2
My sister and I really hammered this game, man. We played and played and played this cart till the sticker wore off, always getting so close to the end but never conquering Sky Chase Zone (seeing that bi-plane again gives me heart palpations). Again, it’s like picking children with Sonic Genesis games, but I’m rolling with the game that more or less defined my relationship with my older sister. Sorry Naoto Ohshima.
2. Streets of Rage 2
When you’re talking again, NON SPORTS GAMES, on Genesis, nothing (other than an anthropomorphic hedgehog) comes close to defining what that system was better than the Streets of Rage franchise.
It was SEGA compressing all their arcade programming might into a gem of a game. It was beat-em-ups taken to the next level, with smooth as butter controls, a hard rocking art style that somehow looks better with age and an iconic soundtrack.
1. Gunstar Heroes
Look, if you’ve never played Gunstar Heroes, drop what you’re doing RIGHT NOW and play this absolute masterpiece. It is one of the best 16-bit games ever created, easily going toe-to-toe with the SNES darlings Super Metroid and Zelda: Link to the Past.
Yes, it’s a shooter, but it’s so much more than a shooter, with so many varied stage types, more enemies (with ZERO slowdown) than you can count, and weapon choices that are so balanced that any random drop could be your go-to weapon (I’m a flamethrowin’ man personally). Play with a buddy and you’ve somehow unlocked Nirvana. If you don’t like this game, you’re the Anti-Christ…and may God have mercy on your soul.
Thanks for reading, everyone, and I hope you enjoy the Genesis Mini as much as I did. Playing this with my wife really brought back some good memories for both of us (she’s a ride-or-die Sonic 1 gal), and being able to share this with my four-year-old daughter was a treasure.
Agree? Disagree? Think I’m crazy for having Street Fighter II 39th? Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter @eclarsonbooks.