If you were a kid in the 90s, you no doubt have at least a passing familiarity with the console wars. Bloodless battles fought on school playgrounds, they saw kids of every background defend their video game console of choice with ferocity. See, kids don’t typically have a lot of money. Whatever video games they get are typically given to them, and Mom and Dad aren’t going to shell out for two video game systems when one is more than enough (in their minds, at least). This created a strong connection to your home console, and required you to downplay others’ if they weren’t like yours. After all, if you have a Super NES, why on earth would you want a Genesis, of all things? That console is lame.
If you were a Sega household, you probably heard a lot about the RPG selection on the Super NES, with their epic stories and anime-style melodrama. If you were a Nintendo kid, you might have been jealous of Sonic, a mascot with more attitude and 90s coolness than Mario. Plus, Mortal Kombat for Genesis had a blood code, so…
Now, the console wars are long over. Sega threw in the towel, but took the important next step of releasing their games for all consoles. Now, in 2018, you can have the somewhat bizarre experience of firing up classic Sega Genesis games on a Nintendo console, something that would have been sacreligious twenty years ago. You’ve been able to play these games on PS4 and Xbox One for awhile now, but on December 4, the SEGA Genesis Classics collection finally launches on the Nintendo Switch.
This classic collection gathers almost all of the heavy hitters from the Genesis’s storied library. The full list is at the end of the article. But first, I want to point out a handful of my favorites, the ones I’m most looking forward to playing again this holiday season. Especially if you were a Super NES kid, it’s time to bury the hatchet and check out the best the Genesis had to offer.
Even though I owned a Genesis, I missed out on this classic until later in life. Gunstar Heroes is a much-lauded game from developer Treasure. One of the premier 2D shooter developers, Treasure made a name for itself in the 90s with some amazing games, like Dynamite Headdy and Mischief Makers. Gunstar might be their best-known game, however, and for good reason. Packed to the brim with action, every level is a flurry of bullets and enemies. The game is fully playable in cooperative mode, as well, a friend blasting foes along with you. Throw in a rocking synth soundtrack, and this is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon.
Streets of Rage Series
The Genesis excelled with side-scrolling beat-em-ups. The Golden Axe games (also featured in this collection) are some of the best, but in my mind, no beat-em-up beats Streets of Rage. While the Super NES featured games like Final Fight — perfectly fine in its own right — the Genesis had the heaviest hitter of them all. The controls are tight, the characters are memorable, and the music. What can I say about the music that hasn’t already been said? Yuzo Koshiro, famed composer behind the game Actraiser for the Super NES, presented legitimate club music, music so good it could actually serve as the backdrop for a 90s party. You can buy this music on vinyl records, it’s so legit. While some consider the third game in the series a bit of a step back, it’s great that all of them are included in this package.
Gamers can argue about which system has better graphics until they’re blue in the face. This system has a faster GPU, that system has more memory, this other system has Blast processing. However, especially nowadays, great graphics aren’t the be-all and end-all. Instead, if a game possesses a truly unique sense of style, that might be enough to carry it from store shelves to gamers’ homes. That’s what I think about when I consider Comix Zone. On paper, it’s a 2D platform-brawler, but in execution, it’s a work of art. The world is designed like the pages of a comic book, complete with distinct panels separating areas. Your character traverses the panels, fighting enemies and exploring environments that could have come straight out of a Marvel comic. Dialog between characters even appears in the expected speech bubbles. It oozes charm and style, and whether or not the Genesis could support as many colors on screen as a Super NES, this game is a real looker.
Shining Force Series
Few games made as big an impression on me as Shining Force. Its world full of colorful characters, involving combat, and epic music was just what pre-teen me was looking for. Its sequel, Shining Force II, took things further, with an even more intricate plot and more involving battles. Scouring the world for secret characters, chatting with everyone you meet in town, and, of course, taking to the battlefield, each element of the game works together to create a role-playing masterpiece. I’ve never been able to get into another strategy RPG series quite like I did Shining Force. Its lighthearted nature and simplified combat (compared to many modern strategy RPGs) might turn off some of the hardest of hardcore, but they’d be doing themselves a disservice by avoiding these games. The Shining series is larger than just these two games (it includes Shining in the Darkness, also in this collection), but its finest entries are right here.
Phantasy Star Series
While Nintendo held the monopoly on the Final Fantasy series through the 8- and 16-bit eras, not to mention Dragon Quest (notable in Japan, at least), Sega had its own homebuilt RPG series worthy of love. That series was Phantasy Star. The original game, for the Sega Master System, set the stage by telling a story very different from RPGs of the day. Gone are kings and dragons, replaced with lasers and spaceships. A science-fiction RPG before they were cool, Phantasy Star broke new ground for the genre. Its three sequels, included in this collection, took that foundation and built an incredible, multi-generational storyline. With complex combat and some innovative storytelling sequences, Phantasy Star 2-4 are must-plays. And if you’re a completionist, Sega is releasing the original Phantasy Star for the Switch as a standalone title on December 13th.
The Complete List: (updated 11/29/18)
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Columns III: Revenge of Columns
Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
ESWAT: City Under Siege
Galaxy Force II
Golden Axe II
Golden Axe III
Phantasy Star II
Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom
Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium
Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi
Shining Force II
Shining in the Darkness
Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
Sonic 3D Blast
Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Space Harrier II
Streets of Rage
Streets of Rage 2
Streets of Rage 3
Super Thunder Blade
Sword of Vermilion
The Revenge of Shinobi
ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron
ToeJam & Earl
Virtua Fighter 2