Last week we talked about your favorite Super Nintendo game, so it seems only fair that this week we switch sides and focus on SNES' arch-rival, the Genesis. So without further ado, what is your favorite 16-bit Sega game?
Tricky choice, huh? Or is it an easy one? Either way, while you ponder your answer, as always, here's Team USG on the Genesis games that they love.
First, a bit of disclosure: I grew up as a Nintendo kid, through and through. But in my efforts to catch up with the faction of the 16-bit console war I didn't side with during the '90s, one game stands out above the rest: Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
To understand what makes Sonic 2 so great, you first need to examine the circumstances surrounding its creation. Essentially, Sonic 2 existed as a joint effort between Sega of America and Sega of Japan—two branches that didn't always get along—to create a blockbuster game that would finally sink the Super Nintendo. This Sonic sequel had a major marketing push behind it, and essentially helped popularize the idea of an agreed-upon release date—something we obsess over to this very day. Sega, basically an up-and-comer in the console space at that point, sunk everything they had into the creation of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and it definitely shows.
For me, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 essentially brings the series to its logical conclusion. Its few additions—like the spin-dash and multiplayer—manage to improve the game without complicating its simple, one-button gameplay, and each level keeps the game's fast pace intact. (Meaning there's no slow-and-swimmy Labyrinth Zone to grind things to a halt.) Granted, it's nothing more than a bigger, better version of Sonic the Hedgehog, but in 1992, that's basically what everyone wanted. And even more than 20 years later, Sonic 2 holds up as what most would view as the pinnacle of the character's 2D adventures, even if Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles each did an admirable job of keeping the series afloat.
I'll admit, this isn't the most creative choice for a "favorite Genesis game" article. But if I could only play one Sega Genesis game for the rest of my life, it would definitely be Sonic the Hedgehog 2. That's probably the only scenario where I'd have enough patience to collect all the Chaos Emeralds, anyway.
This took me a while to figure out. There are so many Genesis games that I've loved over the years, like Gunstar Heroes, the Sonics, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe… Castle and World of Illusion. The Road Rash series and the Strike games from EA. Original stuff like ToeJam and Earl and Comix Zone. Even the sheer brilliance of Ristar. All great games that I absolutely adore. And I better stop now, because I'll just keep on going - and I haven't even got to any fighting, RPGs or sports games yet.
But I do need to mention a sports game, because my rather unusual pick comes from that genre. You won't often find it in a top list of Genesis games, but to me it's a stroke of genius - pun intended - and that's PGA Tour Golf II.
Sure, it's not the greatest Genesis game out there by a long chalk, but it's by far my most favorite, and indeed my most-played Genesis game. And the reason for that is because it made perfect sense for my gaming life in the early 90's.
Back then I'd hang out with friends every Friday and Saturday, and we'd play all sorts of games during the afternoon and evening, from Mario Kart to Street Fighter II - whatever cool stuff we happened to have at the time. But once we got to around midnight, out would come PGA Tour Golf II. It was just the perfect game for that time of night when we wanted a more chill comedown game after a hours and hours of super-intense play.
What makes it so great is the fact that the control scheme is supremely simple - a combination of aiming and then a couple of button presses is all it takes to hit the ball - yet the results of a swing delivered what felt like the perfect results of your input. Hit it on the money, and you could deliver a long ball to the green for a birdie. Shank it slightly, and the ball would be in the rough and you'll have your work cut out staying on par. Despite its simplicity, I think it played one of the best games of golf of any game throughout gaming history.
As a consequence, the game had an uncanny knack of keeping competition extremely tight - unless you were having a particularly bad night with your timing, which did occasionally happen. Games were often won and lost on the last few holes, and provided us endless talking points and opportunities to rag on each other.
Considering the sheer breadth of choice in terms of stellar Genesis games, PGA Tour Golf II is definitely an odd choice. But for me it's a deeply personal one. It's the game that delivered to me the best competitive gaming of that era, and some of the best multiplayer games I've ever had with friends. Funny how a humble game can just do that for some people.
I can think of a ton of great Sega Genesis games - Shining Force, Sonic the Hedgehog, Beyond Oasis, Contra: Hard Corps, Streets of Rage 2 - but the one my heart keeps coming back to is Gunstar Heroes. Once you got past that horrid, horrid North American cover, there was a treasure (*rimshot*) to be found behind it.
At the time, I didn't know about the ins-and-out of the industry. I didn't know that the developer behind Gunstar Heroes, Treasure, was comprised of some very talented people who used to work for Konami. The talent that informed Contra III also informed Gunstar but Gunstar brought with it a sense of fun and levity. The Contra gents are dour, serious fellows that don't know what smiling is. Gunstar will make you crack at least one smile.
Even with all the humor, gunstar Heroes still contains the same tight run-n-gun gameplay that defined Contra III. the same non-stop action feeling you get from playing Bayonetta finds its origins in games like Contra III and Gunstar Heroes. In this case, the latter is a class-act with tight action, great stylized art, awesome boss fights, and an epic soundtrack. My Sega Genesis Steam collection is full, but Gunstar Heroes is the game I revisit the most.
Lots of good choices here, actually. Phantasy Star IV is a masterpiece that is also somehow weirdly underrated because of its platform, Thunder Force IV is a fantastic shooter, and NHL 94 might just be the best sports game ever made. But I'm going to highlight the one Genesis game that still has a special place in my heart: Streets of Rage II.
It's no secret that arcade brawlers haven't held up particularly well over the years, mainly because they were designed to quarter munchers, and therefore could be quite unbalanced and repetitive. Streets of Rage II, though, is the one brawler outside of maybe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV on the SNES that is still just a delight to play. Doesn't matter where or when, I'm always down for some Streets of Rage II.
It's funny, because Streets of Rage II isn't really all that different from Final Fight. It has the same goofy thugs, "gritty" urban aesthetic, and digital grunts and yells. But where Final Fight eventually becomes cheap (Rolento!) and starts to outstay its welcome, Streets of Rage II mostly manages to avoid crossing the line. Except for when you're fighting the jetpack thugs, which are just the worst.
As usual, having an outstanding soundtrack makes all the difference. Streets of Rage's II thudding electronic beats are basically the soundtrack of the Sega Genesis in my mind, and I can listen to the boss theme all day long. All told, Streets of Rage 2 is one of the absolute best Sega Genesis games, and one of the few that still holds up really well today. I can't wait for the eShop release on the Nintendo 3DS.
I didn't own a Sega Genesis until after the system had become obsolete — my first was one of those Majesco "model 3" systems that came out around the time the Saturn was being laid to rest — so I guess it's fitting that my favorite Genesis game is one that also showed up in the U.S. late. And when I say "late" I mean more than 15 years late: Monster World IV.
I'm not suggesting MW4 is the best Genesis game ever made, but to me it really hits on all the system's strengths. Visually, it's just completely gorgeous; it takes advantage of the Genesis' comparatively sparse color palette versus the Super NES to present a bold, crisp, cartoon-inspired world. While Genesis games sometimes could look harsh and jagged, just as Super NES sometimes degenerated into a pile of pastel mush, MW4's bright colors, economical yet effective shading, and strong outlines make everything pop from the screen. And it sounded every bit as good as it looked. It neatly sidestepped the tendency of Genesis composers to create ear-shredding cacophony and harnessed the system's music chip for warm melodies — the kind of music you'd hear from the best arcade games, if only they weren't drowned out by all the other machines bleeping away in the background.
In terms of play, Monster World IV pretty much laid down the groundwork for the Shantae series. It's not exactly non-linear, but it also doesn't limit itself to straightforward and isolated levels. So even though you're advancing through a fixed sequence of stages, it feels grand and adventurous. The action has a fluid feel to it, with precise controls and a modest but effective array of powers for the heroine to lean upon.
On top of that, the game has an interesting historical legacy, for those who care about such things. It served as the grand finale to Westone's Wonder Boy series, which had debuted nearly a decade prior and evolved through some strange permutations to arrive at this game: A smart distillation of the series' strengths, with all the fat removed. Plus it featured a cute Middle Eastern girl in the main role to replace the series' usual dopey-looking caveman-slash-knight, which definitely counts as a plus. Compared to many of the games on this list, Monster World IV seems like a simple pleasure… but that's not a bad thing.