With the NES selling like hotcakes, it was only a matter of time before a rival popped up to snag a cut of the profits: enter Sega. True, Sega’s first entry in the console market was the 8-bit Master System, but the company didn’t hit its stride until the release of their next system, the Genesis, so that’s where we shall begin. Touting the slogan “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” and bogus features like “blast processing,” Sega was in it to win it with the Genesis, and they were able to stay competitive thanks in part to a great lineup of games – here are my picks.
5. Zero Wing
Can’t remember what “Zero Wing” is? I offer only one non-grammatical phrase as a reminder: “All your base are belong to us.” Yes, “Zero Wing” is the game that started one of the earliest internet fads with its poor translation. But when you look past the game’s horribly translated opening scene, you find that it is a surprisingly above-average 2D space shooter. With eight fairly lengthy stages, a satisfyingly varied power-up system and the kind of hair-pulling difficulty that you’d expect from any shoot-‘em-up game, “Zero Wing” has got enough going on that you won’t regret pressing start after that iconic opening scene.
4. Comix Zone
“Comix Zone” puts you in the role of Sketch Turner, an ordinary comic book artist whose life gets much more complicated when the villain of his comic book manages to jump into the real world and cram Sketch into his own creation, forcing him to fight his way out. For starters, “Comix Zone” plays great – it has a useful item system, the fighting mechanics are slightly more complex than your average beat-‘em-up and its difficulty keeps you coming back for more. But where the game really excels is in its presentation: sure, the graphics alone make for great presentation, but everything about “Comix Zone” pops out like it would in a real comic book. Dialogue appears in the classic comic book text bubbles and the art style bears a close resemblance to everyday superhero comics, but what makes “Comix Zone” so cool is the way that the camera is panned out more than normal, displaying the lines between each panel as Sketch rips through one panel and into the next. It’s an effect that solidifies the comic book-y feel of “Comix Zone” and makes it an instant classic.
3. Golden Axe
Moving from a shoot-‘em-up to a beat-‘em-up to a hack-and-slash, “Golden Axe” offers classic gameplay and multiple modes to keep you hacking and slashing. An evil being known as Death Adder decides to take the king and princess hostage in their castle, forcing you to take up your sword (or axe) and show him who’s boss. The game gives you the option to play as three different characters, each with his or her own little quirks. Gameplay also features a magic system, allowing you to unleash varying levels of magic spells based on the amount of potions you pick up. Other than story mode, “Golden Axe” also has a mode called “The Duel,” an addicting alternative that pits you against enemy after enemy to see how far you can get before defeat. Indeed, “Golden Axe” packs a ton of fun with a decent amount of replayability in one cartridge.
2. Gunstar Heroes
Step aside, “Contra,” there’s a new shooter in town. “Gunstar Heroes” is the kind of game that many gamers have never heard of, but those who have cherish it greatly. The game follows the story of the Gunstars, a group of siblings determined to stop an evil empire from resurrecting an ancient destruction machine by collecting the four gems that power it. “Gunstar Heroes” features a great soundtrack and a deeply varied weapon combination system, but what makes it stand out from most other games is its emphasis on boss battles, so much so that roughly half the game is spent fighting against bosses. This never becomes a problem since all of the boss battles feel fresh and different from one another. “Gunstar Heroes” is a tough game to put into words, so playing it first-hand is your best bet to get the full experience.
1. Sonic 3 & Knuckles
Okay, this one requires a bit of explanation. You’ll never actually find a Genesis cartridge labeled “Sonic 3 & Knuckles.” Rather, it’s a combination of two games: “Sonic the Hedgehog 3” and “Sonic & Knuckles.” At the top of the cartridge for “Sonic & Knuckles” is a slot similar to the one located on the Genesis, allowing you to plug cartridges directly into the “Sonic & Knuckles” cartridge. Best results were attained when you stuck “Sonic the Hedgehog 3” into it, which made for a substantially different experience. “Sonic 3 & Knuckles” combines the levels of both games, allowing you to play as Tails in the “Sonic & Knuckles” levels and Knuckles in the “Sonic the Hedgehog 3” levels. Another new feature to the game was the addition of Super Emeralds, allowing you to access Knuckles and Sonic’s Hyper modes and Tails’ Super mode after upgrading all of the original Chaos Emeralds. While both the originals are great games, combining them both into “Sonic 3 & Knuckles” creates what is quite possibly the greatest Sonic game in existence.
Next week, we’ll take a look at Nintendo’s 16-bit retaliation to the Genesis, the SNES. Until then, game on!