Holy cow! Sega Genesis turns 25 next week! If you're like us and remember when the Genesis was brand new and toy store kiosks were blowing minds with demos of Altered Beast, this news will make you feel old indeed.
But why be sad about it? The best way to combat that creeping sense of age is to embrace your youth. That's why we've reached back into our memories to relive our favorite (and least favorite) moments with the Sega Genesis... and we've invited you, our readers, to do likewise! Share your own Genesis (or Mega Drive, if you insist) memories in the comments section, and perhaps they will be mysteriously transported into the article itself....
Asking me for memories of the Sega Genesis is like asking me for memories of childhood. I remember playing Kid Chameleon all night while sleeping over at a friend's house and having his dad complain the next morning that we kept him up not by screaming and laughing, but simply by the sound of hammering away at the Genesis pad's buttons. I remember going to the mall whenever I could scrounge up $20 to see what interesting oddity or recently released big-name flop just had a price drop bringing it into my budget. That's how I wound up with Bonanza Bros., Mick and Mack: Global Gladiators, Mega Turrican, and Gaiares.
Then when I got my first job out of college, I went on a Funcoland-fueled binge, buying back my favorite childhood games (and a bunch I never got to try the first time around) at last-chance clearance prices. Who can argue with Super Baseball 2020 for about $0.75 (plus a 10% discount for store loyalty program)? Nobody. Nobody can argue with that.
Collecting all 14 emeralds in Sonic 3 & Knuckles was a feat that took a lot of patience and replays over a month or so, so it's an accomplishment I'm quite proud of. The real payoff, though, was experiencing the adrenaline rush that was the true final boss, where Super Sonic is hurtling through an asteroid field just above the planet's atmosphere chasing after Robotnik's spaceship/mech-suit. It wasn't a really difficult battle or anything, but the spectacle of the entire thing made the month-long effort worth it.
As much as I absolutely loved the Sega Genesis, my memories of the Sega CD are more mixed. I was around 14 years old when Sega CD launched, and leading up to launch I don't think I've ever been so excited about a new piece of hardware. The advertising on Sega's part was stuff legends are made of, and I felt like this system was going to change the world. Unfortunately, I ended up feeling entirely ripped off and misled by Sega's promise of "the next level." They marketed the system to lead consumers to assume that the add-on had serious horsepower. I felt so cheated when, after the gorgeous FMV/CG sequence at the beginning of just about every game was over, the game looked identical to a Genesis game. Over the the course of the system's life, I ended up with some gems such as the Lunar series and Sonic CD, but the system never lived up to its promise of welcoming me to the next level.
Ah! Sega Genesis. Or the Mega Drive, as it was better known to me back in the very late '80s. At that time, I was living in the UK, where the games landscape had been dominated for years by 8-bit computers like the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. But towards the end of the decade, the emerging 16-bit computers, primarily the Amiga and Atari ST, weren't making the same impact with gamers as their predecessors, and instead interest began to swing towards consoles. Including mine.
I first saw pictures of a new Sega machine in Famitsu, one of the Japanese magazines I regularly bought from a specialty store near St Paul's cathedral in London. I had no idea what the article said, because I didn't read Japanese, but I didn't need to. This was a cool-looking console, and damn oh damn. The screenshots of Altered Beast and Space Harrier II looked incredible. I knew had to have one, and after some months of making calls and connections, finally received a machine and wrote the first British hands-on review.
Being an arcade fanatic, the Mega Drive's array of coin-op conversions was exactly what I wanted. And as time went on, its many great original games deepened my love of the machine. In a way, Mega Drive was the perfect alternative to the very cute, more kid-oriented Nintendo products. Sure, Nintendo games were fun, but if you wanted the best shooters, sports games, a bit more edge, and some blood and guts, Mega Drive had what you wanted. Sega also did a great marketing job, positioning its system as a cool machine that was part of gaming counter-culture, versus Super Nintendo, a brilliant machine, but one that was perceived as more of a safe, mainstream choice.
Looking back, I think SNES had a few games that were better than anything the Mega Drive could offer, but overall, Sega's machine had a far broader and more interesting choice of great games. Which is why I spent more time playing it during the 16-bit era than any other machine.
My best memory of the Genesis days would have to playing Phantasy Star IV and the reveal of how the Algol System was actually a seal to hold the Profound Darkness. I could feel the tendrils of retcon, but it fit with such logic that I joyfully accepted it.
My worst memories would have to be the 32X and the glut of FMV based games for the Sega CD. "A million pounds of tube steak!" I don't know who thought that was funny, but it was emblematic of all of the FMV games. A waste of the system's potential, and just plain not fun. The 32X was vexing because the support from the big Japanese developers just never happened.
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I was always disappointed that I only had the basic Genesis as a kid and couldn't afford the hip Sega CD or 32X. Looking back though, I think my parents stopped me from squandering my money, so now I'm disappointed because it sometimes seems like the Genesis was the only worthwhile console Sega ever produced. I loved my Saturn, sure, but most people didn't, so why was Sega sort of a one-hit wonder? They seemed to become a victim of their own attitude, a textbook rock star.
I never owned my own Genesis (or the Mega Drive, as we knew it in Europe) until well after it was "current," so my memories are largely tied to those times my brother -- who was working on a Mega Drive magazine at the time -- would come home to visit my parents and and a young me with some sort of shiny new console from the office in tow. I was torn as to whether the Mega Drive or the SNES was more impressive, but there was one game in particular that really stuck in my mind from those occasions we got to try out the Sega console for ourselves. And it's a peculiarly specific memory that isn't necessarily about the game itself, but rather its presentation.
That game was Thunder Force IV (or "Lightening Force" [sic] as you Americans knew it, I believe) and it impressed me for two reasons. Firstly, I was absolutely obsessed -- as many game-loving kids were at the time -- with parallax scrolling, the quasi-3D effect applied to 2D games to make their backgrounds look as if they had depth. Thunder Force IV's first level had even more levels of parallax scrolling than even Shadow of the Beast on the Amiga, which was my previous benchmark for graphical prowess, and it really drove home the difference at the time between consoles with dedicated graphical hardware and the more general purpose home computers such as the Atari STs we had in our household. At that time, consoles really looked like the "true" future of gaming, at least from a graphical perspective.
The other reason Thunder Force IV sticks in my mind is because of its soundtrack. I'm a musician in my spare time, so I've been conditioned over the years to listen quite analytically to things and pick out individual parts as well as how a piece sounds as a whole -- honestly, it's a curse sometimes when you, say, can't stop listening to what the string section is doing on a song when you should really be paying attention to the lyrics. Anyway, Thunder Force IV had a great soundtrack, but my analytical ear picked out one part in particular that I came to associate inextricably with the Mega Drive's sound chip: the slap bass backing. At the time, not knowing any bassists, I didn't really know that the sound I liked so much was called "slap bass" so I just knew it as "that awesome twangy sound" and got irrationally happy any time I heard it in a game's soundtrack. Thunder Force IV was the first time I heard it in a game, but from that point on, it was always "The Mega Drive Sound" to me.
As an American expat living in Australia in 1993, I was a massive Genesis fan... despite my friends' insistence that it was, in fact, called a Mega Drive. Owning an American console abroad was initially a hassle-free experience. However, my days of gaming bliss were not fated to last. You see, the Genesis is the console that introduced me to the regional lockout chip, a "feature" that prevented me from playing many of the most exciting games of the time, including Streets of Rage 2, Global Gladiators, and Street Fighter 2. As a child, I had no recourse but to just stick with the older games in the Genesis library. Years later, I returned to North America, and the Genesis library, and was greatly impressed -- from the Phantasy Star series to TechnoSoft's shooters, the Genesis proved to be a versatile system. It remains connected to my TV to this day, and I can't imagine higher praise for a console than that.
I didn't own a Genesis, because I couldn't afford to own both that console and a Super NES. My choice had nothing to do with asinine "console wars" or anything; I'd just invested too much of myself in the Nintendo ecosystem of games to jump in for the Genesis -- and I don't even mean the first-party stuff. Did you know Nintendo used to get awesome third-party exclusives all the time? It's true! Mega Man, Castlevania, Final Fantasy, the list goes on. Genesis does this, Nintendon't do that -- who cared? I went where the games I liked were.
But I always enjoyed whatever time I managed to snag with Genesis. Occasionally a friend would let me borrow his system (for which he had only the terrible Altered Beast and the wonderful home conversion of Capcom's arcade masterpiece Strider), but the most fun I had with the system was hanging out with other friends and renting a Genesis and several games every Saturday for a few months. This was well before the Super NES debuted, back when the mere idea of 16-bit graphics and sound seemed dazzling. We rented, we played, we gawped. We were supposed to be playing D&D, actually, but the lure of Genesis was too great and we never made it past the character stat rolls stage of our campaign.
Even in those early days, you could see the versatility of Genesis in action. We spent the most time playing two games that weren't originally even made for Genesis, actually, but the system handled them with such panache we didn't even notice that they were effectively émigrés from other platforms. Ghouls 'N Ghosts was another stunning Capcom coin-op conversion that we never came close to finishing, while Star Control kept us busy trading with alien races for hours on end as we collaboratively planned our space odyssey instead of fighting vorpal rabbits or whatever.
I always had a soft spot for Genesis and its cold, alien music, even though I wasn't able to properly explore its library (and Sega CD's!) until the system was long dead.
ToeJam and Earl. I was the youngest of three brothers, and pretty much every game we had was competitive. But TJ&E was different -- it had a cooperative concept. You had to work together, which in my case meant that my older brothers had to help me fend off literal boogymen, insane dentists, and ghostly ice-cream trucks. Getting to the end of the 100 procedurally generated levels felt like a real struggle.
My best Genesis memory was the first time I really saw it running. Super Monaco GP was on display and I couldn't believe how great it looked. I rented the system then and there and was essentially hooked from then on.
The worst memory for me was getting my Sega CD. Being from the east coast of Canada, it was common for us to get video game hardware and software fairly late. There was nothing like a KayBee Toys or Toys 'R Us around here. So after saving my money for a year to buy a Sega CD, I got my aunt to ship one from Florida as soon as they were released. Imagine my disappointment when I got the thing hooked up for the first time, hit the power button, and nothing happened. If you remember, the first run of the Sega CD hardware had a major issue where turning it upside down would sometimes render the system useless. Apparently mine had been turned upside down during shipping.
My best Genesis memory was discovering the series Shining Force and realizing there was an alternative to Fire Emblem. A series just as polished and fun with the same strategic gameplay. It was a revelation. My worst memory was the 32X -- paying for the add-on under the assumption it would really be supported. It was discontinued after less than a year, and I felt like I wasted my money.
Jeffrey L. Wilson
My most vivid memory of the SEGA Genesis is tied to Christmas week, 1991. My best friend Bakemia had received the Genny as a gift, and his mom was cool enough to let him bust it out days before Christmas itself. I should note that at the time I had received a NES in '88, so cutting edge graphics and sound, to me, was Goonies II, Contra, and Punch-Out! So when he plopped in the Sonic the Hedgehog cart and fired up the system, it was like getting a taste of gaming's future. Sonic's sprite was relatively large in comparison to Mario's, his world was colorful, and the cart cranked out some of the best tunes I'd heard on a home system up until that point. We played Sonic for hours and beat the game the same night while downing pizza and soda. Whenever Bakemia and I get together now (we live in different cities) we break out his Genny for old time's sake and give the Blue Blur a spin.
I have a lot of love for my 32X, and I really have no idea why. I don't even own Chaotix! I had to return the darn thing three times because it was either DOA or was missing those dumb little metal separator things! Why do I look on the 32X so fondly?! I think part of the reason is due to the fire-sale of games when it became clear the 32X wasn't going anywhere; my local rental store had the for $5 a pop. Even though I'm missing a few key games, I still managed to amass most of the console's library in a short amount of time. The 32X port of NBA Jam: Tournament Edition had all of its button-press combinations inexplicably swapped on all of the hidden characters and their initials, so after wasting so much time figuring them all out by trial-and-error, I pretty much had to convince myself if was time and money well-spent.
My sister is terrible at video games. Like, genuinely bad at them. I have vague memories of her doing nothing but bounce up and down in terror while attempting to navigate Disney's Haunted Mansion. However, in spite of that, we played a ton of co-op games together, particularly those that were kind to player two.
Sonic 2 was our go-to for years. It's one of the few games we finished as kids. My sister wasn't the most excellent Tails in the world, but she was stoic and determined and really good at snaking away from possible danger. (Occasionally, it was to my detriment because, really, the rescue helicopter shouldn't leave without its target.) One of my most bittersweet recollections of the game, I think, involves barricading ourselves into the room with the Sega Genesis and trying to drown out our dad's angry rumblings outside. We were supposed to be punished, you see, for... something. I forget what. And neither of us were in the mood to be spanked. So, we stayed inside the room for the entire day, ran through Sonic 2 as thoroughly as we could, and emerged only after mother promised the coast was clear.