My Top-10 Sega Mega Drive (a.k.a. Genesis) Games

The Sega Mega Drive was one of the most important consoles in history. It challenged Nintendo’s dominance on the video-games market and ushered in a new era of multi-platform gaming. On top of that, it was just a kick ass console and definitely deserved its spot as Number-2 on my list of the Top-10 Best Consoles of all time.

On top of it all, the Mega Drive had some excellent games to its name. Though I’ve been a Nintendo fan since the first time I played a NES, the Mega Drive has always held a special appeal for me and I’ve always enjoyed the games on it tremendously. Of course, Sonic the Hedgehog had a huge appeal to me as a platformer fan, but other games on the system have also left a strong impression. These are in my view the ten best games I think everyone should try out for the system.

In addition, I have to give an honourable mention to Gunstar Heroes, a game which I played a lot back in the day and which I still enjoy immensely, but cramming all of my favourite Mega Drive games on this list was problematic enough. It’s definitely a highly rated classic of the system and its reputation was deserved, so I felt it deserved, at the very least, this honourable mention.

10. Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

Okay, so it may not be the peak of video-game originality – but god damn it, how cool is it that Sega made a game based on the King of Pop himself. It has everything, his likeness, his voice and his music. Sure, as a game it may feel like your run of the mill beat em up, but I rather like the exploration element of it. It’s at least mildly more inventive than the linear progression from left to right you see in practically all other beat em ups.

Plus, gameplay wise it’s rather solid. The enemy variety could have been better, but you’ll probably be too busy enjoying kicking magic dust (or whatever it is that Michael has on his shoes) and enjoying the awesome music to care. The music is probably the number-one reason to play this game, it has all the favourites from Smooth Criminal and Beat It, to Bad and Just Another Part of Me. Billie Jean is also in there and even in the versions where you can’t get Thriller for the wood levels, you can still get it from using Michael’s special moves.

Admittedly of all the games on this list, Moonwalker is the least noteworthy from a gaming aspect, but it holds a special appeal for me and I absolutely had to have it on the list. And yes, the arcade version is probably better, the Mega Drive version still kicks ass in my view.

9. Columns

With Nintendo hogging the licence to Alexey Pajitnov’s Tetris, Sega had to come up with their own insanely addicting puzzle game. And boy did they ever, Columns is brilliantly simplistic and hellishly addicting. You may feel a tad sceptical about it, I was too, but it wasn’t until I had once tried playing the game for “just five minutes” to kill time and noticed that I had spent half an hour on it that I realised what a fun game it was.

The same idea was later recycled for Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, but in all honesty, Columns was a better game even if it didn’t have Sonic characters to sell it. The stylish designs and delightful music keep you from becoming jaded. Sega really hit the nail on the head with this title.

It’s true that Nintendo pretty much annihilates Sega in the puzzle game department with Tetris, Dr. Mario and Tetris Attack on the SNES, but Columns shouldn’t be underestimated. If you love puzzle games, this one is a must-play.

8. Ristar

Ristar is a game akin to Kirby’s Adventure on the NES, meaning that it’s a game many ignored because it came out so late in the Mega Drive’s lifespan. Which is sad, because it’s probably one of the best platformers I’ve ever played. The inventive gameplay and stage-design make this into a really addicting game. It doesn’t have the speed of Sonic the Hedgehog but it makes up for it with a whole lot of charm.

The graphics are beautiful. Especially the animations on Ristar himself are excellent and I especially love how his idle animation changes from level to level. The enemies also have loads of detail and the soundtrack is also brilliant with varied, colourful melodies accompanying the gameplay. Ristar is the very peak of Mega Drive performance power (minus Sega Mega CD and 32X add-ons).

Although I much prefer the fast-paced gameplay of the Sonic games, Ristar is always fun to try out and I love coming back to it every time. If you’ve never played or even heard of this game, you should try it out.

7. Earthworm Jim

Earthworm Jim is one of those video-game icons who was sadly forgotten when the world turned to 3D gaming and never turned back. Jim was perhaps too much of a product of his day, a cartoony parody of muscle-bulging super-heroes with a crazy 90s design to give him that extra edge. But he was also the star of one of the best multi-system 2D shooter-platformers of the day.

Ask anyone, and they’ll almost always pick the Mega Drive version of Earthworm Jim over all the others. The strange worlds, the goofy bosses and that tongue-in-cheek comedy made Earthworm Jim an oddball in the video-game market, a self-parodying video-game character with loads of charm.

I even loved the Earthworm Jim cartoon show, since Jim was definitely a character who could transcend his 16-bit origins. Sadly, Jim’s legacy came to an end with the lackluster 3D titles of the franchise, but if you want to see what Jim was like at his best, try this one on for size.

6. Mickey Mouse and the Castle of Illusion

You can keep your Epic Mickeys, this is and always has been my favourite Mickey Mouse game. Castle of Illusions on the Mega Drive is my equivalent of Ducktales on the NES – a title that transcends its cartoon-licency origins to become an excellent game. The Castle of Illusions holds a lot of nostalgia for me, I remember playing it for hours on my cousins’ Mega Drive back in the day.

When I retried the game earlier this year after over 15 years since I last played it, I discovered that the game had not lost an ounce of its charm and magic. The graphics are still brilliant, the music is cheery and up-beat and keeps you going. On top of it all, it’s just a solid platformer, with loads of challenge and memorable levels. Beating the game makes you feel you’ve accomplished something, it’s really that good.

Licensed video-games tend to hold more appeal for us when we’re children and don’t usually age well, but this one is a major exception. I never get tired of it.

5. Zero Wing

“How are you, gentlemen? All your base are belong to us! You are on your way to destruction!”

If you know the line, you know the meme – but Zero Wing is a game that shouldn’t be underestimated by its horrendously translated opening animations. Sure, it’s a space-shooter but it’s also a space-shooter with two major advantages compared to other games of this genre: infinite continues and one of the best soundtracks for the Mega Drive.

Battling giant robots and alien ships can get dull and even frustrating, especially with titles like R-Type, which despite their excellence, are very difficult and require careful playing so you wont blast all your ships to bits and have to start the whole damn game over. Zero Wing gives you a break by allowing you to keep trying as many times as you like until you get it right.

Beyond that, it’s not that special of a game, but I get a rush from playing it and the game really surprised me when I first tried it out. Highly recommended.

4. Sonic the Hedgehog

I didn’t want this list to be over-crowded with Sonic games, but I had to include the first game from the series for obvious reasons. It’s the game that made me a Sonic fan. Sure, Sonic 2 improved tremendously on it, but I get the feeling people ignore the first game because of that. Sonic 1 has as much to offer and its personally speaking one of my all time favourite games.

Sure there’s no spin dash, but the game has a brilliant set of memorable levels (except Labyrinth Zone, I fucking hate it) and an excellent soundtrack. The first few levels will feel like a breeze, but soon the game starts challenging you and you have to try not get killed by playing the game recklessly. Sonic 1 is great, because it feels like you’re really using your head and not just running for the goal.

The first Sonic shouldn’t be ignored simply because its sequel was such a timeless classic. If you prefer the speed and gameplay of Sonic 2, fine – but at least give Sonic 1 a try since it’s the game that started it all.

3. Streets of Rage 2

To be honest, Beat Em Up games tend to bore me. I love one-on-one fighting games, but for the scrolling variety, I tend to feel that once you’ve played Final Fight, there’s usually no reason to play any other titles in this genre. Streets of Rage 2 is a major exception though. It’s not only the best Beat-Em-Up for the Mega Drive but possibly one of the greatest in the entire genre.

The gameplay is vastly improved from the first game in the series and your array of playable characters is much more impressive and varied than in that game as well. Plus, you have some brilliant background music and vastly improved graphics. This game gets your adrenaline pumping and makes you ready and willing to throw down and beat down criminal punks of all variety.

Streets of Rage 2 is so good that it’s really the only game in the series worth playing. The first game is fun for a while, but gets much more repetitive a whole lot quicker and the third game upped the difficulty so much that it’s not even fun to play. Streets of Rage 2 got everything right and is therefore a joy to play.

2. Mega Man: The Wily Wars

This is a game that unfortunately was only ever released in hard-copy form in Europe, but if you are a Mega Man fan you need to play this. Mega Man: The Wily Wars is effectively the Mega Man games 1-3 being given the Super Mario All-Stars treatment, but that’s certainly not all. While playing through the classic first three instalments in 16-bit form is fun (especially for Mega Man 1 which is so infamous for its difficulty) the game has a brilliant bonus waiting for once you’ve finished all three games.

The Wily Tower combines elements of all three games to create a set of completely original levels. The best part of the experience is getting to customise your own personal selection of master weapons for each from the arsenals of the first three Mega Man games. This immensely is kick ass and begs the question: Why something like this hasn’t been tried in any other Mega Man game?

The Wily Wars is a Mega Man game I think everyone should try. You get three NES classics and a completely new gaming experience all in the same package. This collection was so awesome it even wound up on my Top-10 Mega Man games list.

1. Sonic the Hedgehog 2

A rather obvious choice, but I think one everyone can get behind. Sonic 1 blew my mind when I first played the Mega Drive, so you can only imagine what Sonic 2 did to me when I played it and actually found it to be an even better game. The levels were more hard-core, there was a larger variety of them and even the music was better.

Plus, you got a cute little fox to follow you around and help (or at least trying to help) fight Robotnik in this game. Sonic 2 is one of those titles that infinitely improves on its predecessor to the point where it becomes practically untoppable. It’s a game, much like Sonic 1 that I never get tired of playing and which I can just pick up and start playing, having a good time.

I know it’s a rather unimaginative pick for number-1 on this list, but it’s another one of those games that hasn’t lost an ounce of its likeability over the years and which has also aged extremely well as a gaming experience. Sure, Sonic 3 had a save-game and Sonic & Knuckles had more flash, but Sonic 2 had the most heart. It’s the crowning jewel of the franchise, pure and simple.