A top ten list? How I scoff at such a meager display!
I believe anyone with half a mammalian brain and an Internet connection can throw a few glossy photos together and declare game a through j as the best games of all time. Hell, if you give a baboon a typewriter and enough time, I am sure that even he can churn out a Ten Best Nintendo Games list.
But me, I hold myself to higher standards. If I am going to do a list, then by Zeus beard, it is going to be a golly whopper of a list, a magnanimous cross-reference that leaves no stone unturned, no cartridge unblown, and no thrift store unscoured.
This is part one of a GIGANTIC, GIGANTIC I say countdown of 100 of the Greatest Sega Genesis games of all time. Now, before such is instigated, I would like to clarify a few notions.
1. Note that I call this a list of 100 of the Greatest Sega Genesis games of all time and not the list of THE 100 Greatest Sega Genesis games of all time. This is not a list that reflects an unbiased standing of the technically important or mechanically significant. It is simply a listing of the 100 Genesis games from my youth that provided me with the most entertainment. I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT A LISTING OF THE 100 BEST GENESIS GAMES OF ALL TIME. If that were the case, the totality of the order would be way off and assuredly, half of my ballot would be excised. In fact, in hindsight, a lot of games on this list, incontrovertibly, suck and a lot of really kick-ass games did not make the list. I am, simply, measuring the games by their sentimental, nostalgic worth to MY being. Your list is sure to differ.
2. As something of an addendum to the above, I only listed Genesis games that I played PRIOR to my middle school sojourns, which was circa 1997. By then, the machine was basically dead in the water anyway, so that means that I am NOT counting games that I discovered post the release of the movie Titanic. So anyway, before you start sending me hate mail about MUSHA and Beyond Oasis not making the list, that is why.
3. Hey, 8 Year Old Me had some fickle tastes. If you think there are too many sports games on the list or not enough role playing games, I say build a time machine in your garage and take it up with my 1994 being when you get there. I am not revising history, no way, no how.
4. This list is only counting North American SEGA GENESIS titles and NOT the MEGA DRIVE releases in PAL regions. There is ONE exception on this list, so if you played a really kick ass game and you live in Stratford-Upon-Avon and you are wondering as to why it did not make the list, that is why.
5. That Aladdin game sucked. I am sorry folks, but it is the truth.
All right, with those caveats cleared, let us hop STRAIGHT into the pool, shall we?
Ecco The Dolphin
The spots on your head remind me of stars in the sky. . .
Yes, it may not be the manliest of titles on the Genesis, but gosh-darn it if it was not an enticing little offering.
Like many people, I first became aware of the title vis-Ã -vis those old commercials that were routinely rolled on the Fox Television Sunday night lineup. On my affiliate, some horse racing show came on before Batman: The Animated Series, and in between the two were just a cavalcade of Genesis ads. Each week, I was assailed by colorful ads for X-Men and Game Gear software, and the commercial for Ecco stood out in particular, as it featured a rusty seaman (insert girlish giggle) complaining about how his ship hands stopped a-shrimping in lieu of some Sega-flavored nautical adventuring.
I did not play the game until about a year after it was released, and just in terms of being different, it was a worthwhile weekend squandering. Every platform game known to man had an under water level, but a game that was nothing but under water sojourning? You have to admit, that is a risky proposition, but the guys behind Ecco managed to pull it off with fluid controls, challenging game play and some of the best damned graphics on the machine.
I have a lot of memories of playing this one, mainly being frustrated to the point of yelling binomial swear words (per, insert-animal-of-your-choice plus base-term-for-excrement) because of the games oxygen meter. I never really understood why, of all details, that would be the one that the Sega game designers would be adamant sticklers to. I can envision some Sega developer saying at the boardroom, Well, a dolphin is a mammal, so it requires oxygen to subsist, so we better put that in the game, you know, for purposes of reality.
Keep in mind that, in the very same game, you control a talking dolphin that shoots mind lightning at aliens. Japanese logic does not equate Americanized logic, apparently.
Oh, and the bottle-nose attack, to this day, rules harder than the M. Bison Psycho Driver. Yeah, I said it.
Bill Walsh College Football 95
This was really the first college football game to, quote en quote, get it right, at least in my book, any way. On a system quite literally glutted with quality pigskin titles, Bill Walsh College Football 95 stood out from its American football brethren (and by proxy, its 1993 progenitor), by featuring a pretty big assed selection of teams (I counted thirty) and perchance the most in-depth playbooks of the epoch.
For me, this game was ALL about running the wishbone formation. For the longest time, I dreamed of a virtual football facsimile that allowed me to option the shish out of that thing, and what even the mighty Tecmo Bowl and Madden could not provide, Billy Walsh School Ball brought the goods.
I have never really been a huge fan of college football, so mayhap if I were, this game would have gotten a lot more play time on my console. Of course, by now we all know how collegiate licensing works (technically, those ball players are amateur athletes and paid stipends would negate their eligibility, so on and so forth), so there are no real players in the game, although the official school names, logos and nicknames show up.
This game also served as something as a culture shock to a lad weaned on pro football such as myself. I had never heard of half of the schools in the game, and upon viewing the Notre Dame logo for the first time, featuring a pudgy elf sticking up his dukes like that gangly nerd fellow from O Brother Where Art Thou, I almost urinated myself in laughter. I mean, really, how could anybody look at that and thing and be intimidated?
If nothing else, this game was my introduction to the esoteric nature of academically-funded sports, and the weird-ass nicknames they foster. Hell, I am twenty three years old at the current, and I still think it is some sort of postmodern joke whenever I hear the phrase Cornhusker.
I have always kind of had a soft spot in my heart for pinball, going back to my days of dropping quarter after quarter into the local Laundromats Addams Family unit that, in the early 90s, was about as ubiquitous as oxygen particles. Since I likewise owned a Genesis, and therefore was mandated by law to love Sonic, this game was the veritable peanut butter meeting chocolate of video gaming to my enthused third grade self.
Of course, it is not a traditional pinball game as it is a kind of weird hybrid puzzle platform. You see, although Sonic is, technically, the pinball stand-in of the title, he also has the ability to jump around and maneuver about of his own freewill, so at times, the player is controlling both the flippers and the titular hero simultaneously.
Sound kind of convoluted? Yeah, it was, and the game had some serious control issues, but for the price of a weekend rental, it was not too shabby a title.
There are only four levels in the game, but there is a veritable cache of bonus rounds and mini-games within the greater arch of the title, giving the player at least two or three total play-throughs until he or she unlocks all of the extra stages and collects all of the Chaos Emeralds scattered about the playing field.
Oh, and you will HATE the final boss fight. I mean HATE it.
Say it with me folks: NICK mother freaking ARCADE.
That little slice of 90s nostalgia introduced me to the dual pleasure of both esoteric third party games (Kabuki Quantum Fighter, anyone?) and the notion of weirdly colored popcorn. And Yikes! Branded pencils. Oh, the feeble joy of becoming a fledgling consumer.
Anyway, this is one of the games featured on the show, and it was obviously a rip-off of the Indiana Jones intellectual property. However, since it is a rip-off produced by some weird beard Japanese company, the game also features robot octopi monsters and sex subplots, so hoo-ray for the land of the rising sun!
Like I said, this is a weird game, and this is coming from a point in time in which we played games about anthropomorphic toe jam and Michael Jackson and thought nothing of it.
Like the male lead in the Castlevania series, the eponymous protagonist of the game likewise brandishes a whip, but there seems to be something about his movements that are, well, a little off. Apparently, the guys that designed the game tried to use some sort of roto-scoping animation, but I am guessing that Hirohito spilled some coffee in the roto-machine because the movements in this game are way, way, way-off. The main guy moves more like a cinder block with wooden planks for appendages, and when he attacks adversaries, the whip just kind of floats from his body. Yeah, like I said, weirdness, man.
That being said, beyond the screwed-up animation, this is one fun little side-scrolling title, one that I literally leapt upon when finding it sandwiched betwixt a copy of Aladdin and Tommy Lasorda Baseball at the local mom and pop video store. The super-hard-to-find sequel, El Viente, is considered a far superior title, but after playing both, I have to say that I prefer that fouled-up charm of this one to the technically better made addendum.
Still, is it weird that every time I boot up the cartridge, I suddenly have the urge to scream VIDEO CHALLENGE at the zenith of my lungs?
Super Volley Ball
Let me ask you this: how many football games have you played in your video career? A lot? Yeah, me too. How about hockey, and boxing? Yep, I can not count them all, either.
Now, what about volleyball?
If you are drawing a blank, that is whole-heartily understandable. Of all sports in existence, volleyball would seem to prove the most boring of video game transfers. I mean, really the real-life sport sucks, so why do I want sit around and play make-believe suck on a home console?
Then, you play Super Volley Ball, and you kick yourself in the genitals, because someone, no doubt through some sort of voodoo magic, managed to make a fun video game about a sport so lackluster in origin.
The game is, fundamentally, vertical Pong; instead of horizontal batting back and forth, the game consists of vertical parrying, which thanks to a surprisingly in-depth physics system and the wise choice to mask the direction of the balls eventual placement, makes for a game that is addictive, challenging and strategic in design.
This is one of those titles that you can find floating around in the value bin at your preferred mom and pop video game store, and I would seriously advise the astute Genesis player to pick up a copy if he or she stumbles across it. Seriously, it is better than any tennis game ever made.
Evander Holyfields Real Deal Boxing
Yeah, I like Punch-Out as much as the next guy, but let us make no bones of the sort; that was not really a boxing game as much as it was a rhythm action title with crude stereotypes. The real sport of boxing is perchance the most draining physical activity imaginable, a sport that requires both intellect and tenacity, and as far as Nintendos mainstream annexation to the pool, such realistic attributes were non-existent.
Anyway, Tyson gets KTFO by James Buster Douglas in Tokyo, Tyson does some raping and Buster in turn gets KTFO by Evander Holyfield, and the guys at Sega say hey, why not make a realistic boxing game?
The end result? Evander Holyfields Real Deal Boxing. Much like the real sport, the game required both dexterity and stratagem, as just mashing buttons would end up with your ass on the floor quicker than a beauty queen in Iron Mikes bedchambers. Of course, since the Sega administration spent all of their dough on securing the likeness of Evander, all of the other boxers are fictitious, sporting monikers like Lumpy and Soup Can. To this day, finding out that Soup Can Jones was not a real boxer was akin to finding out that Santa Claus was not real or that the Ramones were not really brothers.
Anyway, this game ruled. I really liked the ability to cross train in the game, as after each fight, the player had the option to install iron gum shields and eat all red meat diets before the next bout. Yeah, a systematically perfect in game boxing system is neat, but the ability to chew on virtua ribeye in a video game? Sign me up!
John Madden Football 93
I think it is easy to hate on EA for becoming the devil worshipping baby blood drinking corporate mega power that they are at the concurrent, but their contributions to the world of sports video gaming in the early 90s simply cannot be discounted.
Anyway, this is another terrific football simulation, and as far as I am concerned, the zeitgeist of the 2D Madden experience.
We all had our favorite package; I suppose mine was running roughshod over the opposing D with the unnamed Raiders RB, or should I restate, attempting to do so. As a child weaned on the sheer unstoppability of Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen on Tecmo Super Bowl, I expected to plug in my controller and simply barrel over the defense a la my virtual heroes on Joe Montana Football.
Yeah, not so much in this one. Madden has always been a more technical experience than the other games in the genre, and this one rewarded cerebral play as opposed to the hell-hath-no fury smash mouth play of the more arcade-like titles in the library. Well, at least Howie Long still kicked ass in the game, anyway.
Oh, and the John Madden sideways talking face always makes me chuckle a hearty chuckle.
RBI Baseball 3
I really can not say that I have ever been a fan of baseball, be it of the virtual or real life composition, so for me to state adulation for such a title is surely the most superlative of diktats.
This was one of the first games I played on the Genesis, and the one that really proved just how much graphical ass the machine kicked over the Nintendo. I mean, compare the little square people featured on the first game on the NES and compare it to the players in the 16 bit iteration; seriously, you can even see the mounds of chewing tobacco in their cheeks!
And it just was not about prettiness, either (although considering the craggy mugs of guys like Bobby Bonilla at the time, that is something of an inadequate term to use). The game was the first sports title I ever played that allowed for the gamer to trade players and micro manage the entire line-up. Suddenly, that one game on the Super Nintendo where you throw leaves at people begins to look like a pile of Marge Schotts poodle poop.
If I have a complaint about the game, it would be the fact that it is perchance too easy to hit home runs, a notion later validated years later when me and my high school chums created a drinking game centered around doing shots every time a homer was hit.
To state whether or not accumulating points was too facile in the title, by the second inning, everybody in the den was literally hammered.
Rolling Thunder 2
You know, for the life of me, I cannot figure out why run and gun games like this and Elevator Action never really took of in the video game market. I mean, sure the arcade versions of the genre forerunners like Impossible Mission and Xenophobe produced some rather crappy home ports, but with truly stellar titles like Rolling Thunder 2 popping up on home consoles, one simply has to wonder why the transition was never made from coin-op.
Regardless, this game has basically everything you could want in an early 90s action title: main characters modeled after real life movie stars? Check. Pixilated boobies? In surplus, actually. Lots of Middle Eastern stereotypes and exploding barrels and kick ass gun play and a weirdo sci-fi under cover agent storyline? Dear heavens, yes.
Oh, and for those of you that like to vaunt the Metal Gear franchise, I say but one thing: lengthy cut scenes? Thunder did it first, brother.
NBA Jam Tournament Edition
As a young lad, I remember this one time, one of my cousins put an aluminum wrapper in the microwave and started a miniature fire, and as he ran around the kitchen screaming, I just stood in the living room and laughed while shouting Hes heating up! A la the announcer from NBA Jam. That should tell you the sort of cultural impact that particular game had on the 1990s.
As mayhap THE seminal arcade game of the 1990s, everybody and their mother owned a copy of NBA Jam, no matter if they carted about a Super Nintendo or an Atari Jaguar. That game was pretty much everywhere, and when an upgrade was released in 1994, everybody was chomping at the bit to once again mop the floor with James Worthy whilst playing as Bill Clinton.
I was practically invincible with the Utah Jazz in this game, as John Stockton was a three point machine and Karl Malone was sure to shatter the backboard at least once no matter who I was playing against. Unlike the original title, the player actually had options of who he or she would like to have on the team, so if you did not like the default tandem of Stacey Augmen and Mookie Blaylock on the Atlanta Hawks, then by Job, nothing was stopping you from switching them out for other players.
Due to licensing, of course, there were several notable excisions from the game, so no Mike Jordan, no Sir Charles, and no Shaq to be found anywhere in the title. That being said, there IS a magical 10-point spot that opens up on the court from time to time, and if you make the basket, you get quintuple the point value of the bucket.
That, and I say onto you but one thing: The Phoenix Suns Gorilla. I mean, really, you are not topping a basketball game in which Horace Grant gets stuffed by an orangutan. You just are not.
Anyhoo, that wraps up the first part of our massive, enormous TEN part series. #090-081 will be coming up in a month or two, so in the interim, why not fire up your old Genny and have a couple rounds of the games mentioned above? Come on, party like its 1993!
- - James Swift is a fledling freelance writer from the metro Atlanta area. Although somewhat unsung in the U.S., he is positively HUGE in Portugal.