If you’re the right age of Millennial, you’ll remember that there were two groups in the early 90’s that most kids without proper role models fell into. These distinct and violent fractions even gave the Bloods and Crips and run for their money. It was all about whether you were a Super Nintendo kid or a Sega Genesis kid. The Super Nintendo kids tended to be those that came from families that were a bit better off, kids that were a bit more into their studies and doing the “right thing” and that were afraid to live life by their own rules. Sega Genesis kids, however, were the types to get cigarettes in their lunches, the types that would definitely be part of the Goonies if the Goonies was real and also the types that definitely thought Hedgehogs were more bad ass than morbidly obese Italian stereotypes. So, let’s take a look at the Top 15 Genesis games to show why the red-headed stepchild of gaming consoles for literal red-headed stepchildren is one of the best consoles of all time!
15. NHL ’95
This may be blasphemous, as NHL ’94 is typically talked about as the best sports game, perhaps ever, the truth is that NHL ’95 is actually a better version of it’s predecessor. Also known as ‘NHL Hockey 95’, it was a game that showed that Electronic Arts really was one of the best game developers in the game. Released, ironically, in 1994, if you grew up playing games like Blades of Steel, you’ll know how amazing NHL ’95 was to play. The top down style, the glitch on breakaways that typically allowed you to score, the ability to perfectly one-time passes from yourself or a friend (which was one of the bigger improvements from NHL ’94), NHL ’95 is a perfect hockey game and is so good that it was featured in the movie ‘Swingers’. I’m not alone in my praise for this game, either, as it received a perfect score from GamePro upon it’s release, who said it was the “smoothest, most entertaining hockey title ever created.” On top of the amazing gameplay, you were able to sign/trade/release players from your team and basically create a super-team of players like Stevie Yzerman, Wayne Gretzky, Sergei Federov and more (I’m a Red Wings fan, if you can’t tell).
14. The Lion King
If nothing else, this list proves that the early 90’s was probably the best time to be a child. Between the amazing video games (classic after classic being released on multiple consoles) and the best era of Disney movies also intersecting with Disney releasing some of the best animated movies of all-time (between Beauty and the Best, Aladdin and The Lion King) and the internet just beginning (AOL chat rooms were the place to be, if you could login during peak hours via your 56k modem, of course), the 90’s were where it was at for preteens around the (Western) world. Beyond being arguably the best Disney movie ever, The Lion King also produced an amazing video game for multiple consoles, including Sega Genesis, obviously. Published by Virgin Interactive Entertainment in 1994, the game follows Simba’s journey from a half-orphaned cub to the final battle with his white trash uncle, Scar. There’s a strange dynamic with video games and movies, as most video games based on movies are terrible and the vice versa is also true in that movies based on video games are also awful. Games like The Lion King are the exception to that rule (as was Aladdin (see below)), and it’s definitely an underrated game that doesn’t get its just due when people talk about the best games from back in the day!
13. Battle Toads and Double Dragon
Nothing beats a two-for-one special and that’s exactly what you get with the Battle Toads/Double Dragon game that was released by Rare in 1993 for multiple systems (first it was the NES, then it was ported to Super NES, Game Boy and Sega Genesis). Battletoads, especially, is one of the best games of all time, especially when you’re playing with a friend. It’s not your standard ‘beat ’em up’ game, however, as it mixes up the game-play with different level types that make the game amazing to play over and over (until you get to that jet ski part…). This is a RARE (get it) game as it was essentially put together by two separate companies, in Rare (for Battletoads) and Japan’s Techno (which held the rights to Double Dragon). Despite their ownership of the game license, Techno really had nothing to do with the game, which is fine as Double Dragon didn’t really need any updating from the NES version, anyway. Sega games weren’t cheap, and getting two of the best games ever for the price of one really helps this games legacy (especially as you got to finally play as the third toad!). It’s really one of the better combinations of games ever released and shows that the early 90’s was really the best time to be a gamer (especially when Sega Channel was released).
12. Golden Axe
Golden Axe was an amazing four-player arcade game and is the best example of a port from an Arcade game (for a game that wasn’t a sports/fighting game). The Golden Axe games take place in a medieval-fantasy world where multiple heroes have to come together in the hopes that they can overcome evil and acquire the legendary Golden Axe (while kicking some dwarves on the way). The first Golden Axe is the most iconic and is a side-scrolling “hack ‘n’ slash” game that was released as one of the first games for the console all the way back in 1989. It was created by the same primary developed (in Makoto Uchida) that also developed another Sega classic in ‘Altered Beast’, which means that Uchida definitely should be a much larger household name in gaming circles than he is. In the game you can control one of three warriors, all of which have their own reasons for wanting to obtain the axe and also to enact revenge on the games big bad, “Death Adder”. Adder has overtaken the once peaceful land of Yuria and also killed the fourth warrior (whose name was “Alex”). Between the battle axe-wielding dwarf named Gilius Thunderhead, to the Male Barbarian who wields a two-handed broadsword and whose name is Ax Battler to the long-sword slanging amazonian woman named Tyris Flare, the game offers a lot of diversity in it’s game-play and magic which makes it really fun to play over and over again (especially when you have a friend over). On top of that, you can ride on top of dragons and shoot fire and again, kick Dwarves or Elves for loot, which by itself makes this a top game of all-time.
Like the Lion King game above this one, it definitely feels like there was a perfect time to be a child in the history of the world/Western World and that time was around the time that The Lion King and Aladdin were released both in theaters and also as video games for both Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. While Disney Animation has bounced back in recent years, it’s hard not to considering the Beauty and the Beast/Aladdin/Lion King years as the peak of Disney’s animation arm and, surprisingly, the games that came alongside the movies were pretty amazing as well. Aladdin gets the nod over Lion King because it’s just a lot more fun to be a character like Aladdin, running around Arabia, having to eat to live and having to steal to eat, than a Lion cub in an Elephant Graveyard (just from a gameplay perspective, Aladdin was almost made to be a video game). Add magic in the form of the genie and the help from Aladdin’s (other best friend) in his Monkey, and you get what has to be the best Disney game ever before the Disney Infinity game(s).
10. Earthworm Jim
Earthworm Jim personifies the difference between Sega Genesis and it’s competitors, namely Super Nintendo. It was quirky, violent and funny and actually became popular enough to end up getting ported onto Super Nintendo (and about ten other consoles) before the end of it’s run. The game was a run and gun platformer that was developed by Shiny Entertainment and featured an earthworm named Jim that lived in a robotic suit and battled evil. It was originally released for Genesis in 1994, but thanks to it’s massive popularity (the fact that it came out around the same time as the most amazing product (video game or otherwise) ever in Sega Channel, didn’t hurt it’s cause either) it ended up as a game on SNES, Sega CD, Game Boy, Game Gear and much, much more. The game’s graphics were extremely unique as was the gameplay, especially for a genre as tried and true as 2D sidescrolling. The ability to shoot in basically every direction and to use items (and Jim’s anatomy) to your benefit also made the game feel like the next step in the evolution of video games. Jim had his trust gun, but could also use his head as a whip or lasso to either attack enemies or swing over them and it was that diverse gameplay that really helped EWJ standout. On top of typical running and gunning, some levels had other tasks that helped break up the monotony of the game-play as well. For example, the level “For Pete’s Sake” involved making sure that a dog named ‘Peter Puppy’ also made it through the level unharmed, which was like protecting Natalia from Golden Eye on steroids (because it was a puppy!). Like many cartridge games, especially, Jim was exceptionally difficult to ensure that kids couldn’t get through it in an hour or two and it’s because of that that the game’s legacy has been as strong as it has. There has recently been a movement back to those hyper-difficult 8 or 16 bit games and you’d think that it’s only a matter of time until Jim gets the comeback that he definitely deserves.
9. Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage
Maximum Carnage came in a red cartridge. ‘Nuff Said! Onto number 8!
Really though, while a lot of people will wonder why a game like Streets of Rage (2) didn’t make this list, it was hard to place it above Maximum Carnage a game that coincided with one of the best story arcs in Spider-Man comic history and also played a lot like Streets of Rage in terms of it’s gameplay as they are both side-scrolling “beat ’em up” video games. While there were other Spider-Man games on Genesis (like the aptly named “Spider-Man” (Which gets an honorable mention) and “Spider-Man and the X-Men”), it was Maximum Carnage that really caught the essence of that period of Spider-Man with an amazing story to go alongside the battle between Spider-Man/Venom and Carnage, the most twisted of Spider-Man’s villains (so much so that Venom obviously joined sides with Spidey in an attempt to stamp out the red symbiote that was technically the offspring of Venom’s suit (that bonded with Cletus Kasady, a serial killer)). What’s fun about MC, also, is that you can call on some of the characters from the story-arc if you collect the right items through-out the game (like Black Cat or Cloak and Dagger). Either way, Maximum Carnage was probably the peak of the relationship between Marvel Comics and video game companies, before they reached that dreadful part of their histories where they released pretty bad games alongside their mid-aught movies (although the Xbox 360 game for Spider-Man 3 may be the best Spider-Man game of all-time).
8. Wolverine: Adamantium Rage
This game definitely should be higher on this list as it’s the quintessential Wolverine video-game, ever. That’s right, even in the day and age of what I can only assume is 1.21 billion-pixel graphics, a 16-bit sidescrolling platformer about the Mutant that is good at what he does, even if what he does isn’t very nice from 1994 is still the best representation of Wolverine in a video game ever. It really starts with the soundtrack, which is so haunting/chilling that it was probably a bit too much for eight-year old kids in 1994. On top of that, some of the villains were just creepy as all get out but were a great representation of the villains that Weapon X was dealing with, especially at the time (although it could’ve definitely used some Omega Red). Those villains include Shinobi Shaw, Lady Deathstrike, Geist, Cyber, Blood Scream and the Black Queen and the game also has some support from the rest of the X-Men like Gambit, Storm and Cyclops (who somehow escapes without having his head cut off by Wolverine). It’s really a must play for any fans of Wolverine and if nothing else, check out the soundtrack for the opening screen and ask yourself if that isn’t the most amazing and chilling song to ever blare out of a Sega Genesis. The Genesis version is great, also, as it really only shows Wolverine looking at a photograph and beginning in what appears to be the lab where his skeleton was bonded with adamantium with no backstory, which makes you feel like Wolverine himself after he lost his memory, which may have no been intentional but is a fun way to approach the game when you’re a lonely 10-year old who wishes he could forget his past as well.
7. Streetfighter 2
Streetfighter 2 is often talked about as one of the best fighting games of all-time and you really have to think about how spoiled fighting game fans were back in the early-to-mid-90’s with games like Streetfighter, Tekken and Mortal Kombat all coming out around the same time. For parents, Street Fighter II was the safe alternative from all the controversy that surrounded Mortal Kombat and while it is a less violent game, comparing it to Mortal Kombat in that way isn’t fair as it’s just such a brilliant and pure fighting game. While people refer to ‘2’ as the best fighting game of all time they may be talking about the standard version or one of it’s many rehashes that came out around the same time. For example, I distinctly recall saving up for months to buy Street-Fighter 2: Championship Edition, which cost $70, which was a ton of money to a kid in the 90’s (obviously). The differences between the games typically were only skin deep, with different fighting modes being allowed outside of the standard edition (sped up fighting came from “Hyper” or “Turbo” editions) and while you’d think that they could’ve just included the different versions in the original game, considering they had kids like me shelling out $70 for essentially the exact same game that I already owned, they clearly knew what they were doing. In addition to being considered the best fighting game of all-time, it’s also one of the best Arcade game ports as well, as like many Sega games, Street Fighter 2 started as an insanely popular arcade game. So, while $70 did seem like a ton of money, it was only about 140 different games at the arcade, so when you looked at it that way it really felt like an amazing and smart investment. Considering the quality and replay value of the game, as well, it really was.
6. Mortal Kombat II
It may not be fair to put Mortal Kombat II ahead of Street Fighter II, but unless you were a gigantic fighting game aficionado, then you’ll probably remember the Mortal Kombat games a lot more fondly than the Street Fighter ones simply due to how controversial and fun they were back then. The blood code for Mortal Kombat II is one that is seared into the mind of many a Millennial (ABACABB) and it was that blood (and the obvious fatalities) that really made the day of many a kid back in the 90’s. Beyond that, who among us doesn’t remember rubbing their control until their knuckles blistered over and bled in the hopes that we’d be able to break diamond in between the fighting levels? When you see games like the ones that exist today it’s pretty laughable that a game like Mortal Kombat (II or otherwise) would be as big of a controversy as it was but it was really one of the first games that showed “photo-realistic” characters and photo-realistic violence. Video games are all about context and what people are used to and people simply hadn’t seen graphics that looked like pixelated versions of real people, especially when those people had their spinal cords ripped from their necks. So, while Street Fighter has Ken and Ryu, Mortal Kombat has “FINISH HIM/HER” and it’s that iconic status that gives it the spot just above Street Fighter II.
5. NBA Jam (Tournament Edition)
While NBA games today are extremely realistic, from the graphics down to the types of plays that you can run (or modes that you can also run, like running the team as a general manager or even owner), there may never be a basketball game that is as fun or as popular as NBA Jam was in the early 90’s. Like Mortal Kombat above, NBA Jam created multiple catch phrases that many Millennials remember to this day, like, “Boom-Shakalaka!” or “It Must Be the Shoes!” and like Street Fighter 2 above, as well, NBA Jam was also re-released with multiple editions as well. The best of those editions was the Championship Edition, which had additional game modes that allowed for up to 50 point shots (or dunks) and more celebrity players. The only real drawback for NBA Jam was that it didn’t include Michael Jordan, as he was so famous that he had his own video game contract and thus wasn’t included with the “rest” of the NBA players on NBA Jam (even with a cheat code). “Rest” was put in quotation marks as each team in the game only really had two players from each team in a two on two format. That made it the greatest two player game on Genesis (and the other platforms it was on, like Super Nintendo) and also one of the most successful Arcade game ports as well.
4. Comix Zone
Full Disclosure: I’ve played and beat most of the games on this list but was never able to get beyond the second level of Comix Zone. Despite that, though, it’s clear that Comix Zone was a game that was well before it’s time and while it was said that Earthworm Jim was the best example of the difference between Sega and Super Nintendo, it’s probably safer to say that Comix Zone is the better example of that (especially considering that it was never ported to SNES). The game follows Sketch Turner, a “Starving Artist” who draws comic books in his dumpy apartment (with his pet rat). His newest comic is titled “Comix Zone” and features the story of the New World Empire’s attempt to defend Earth from an onslaught of alien “renegades” (with Sketch getting inspiration from his nightmares). While working on the comic, Sketch is somehow hit by lightening in his apartment and is transferred into the comic, where he has to fight panel to panel along with his trusty rat. It’s a beautiful game that has amazing gameplay and feels like a real comic book (and really, really did back then). However, it’s also extremely difficult and because it’s hard to regain any health (or reach checkpoints), it’s one of the more difficult games even by Genesis standards, which is really saying something. It’s so good, in fact, that as a child I replayed the first two levels probably 5,000 times, showing how fun and amazing Comix Zone really was. Just imagine how high on this list it’d be had levels three plus been discovered!
3. X-Men 2: Clone Wars
While the original X-Men game has a warm spot in the hearts of many a Millenial, it’s the sequel that really built on what was great about the original while also stamping out a legacy of it’s own. That really seems to be the case with most of the sequel games on the Genesis (and in fairness, most sequel games for games that came out in the first months of a new console launch), as developers had more time to figure out the full capabilities of the console and what they could and couldn’t (or should/shouldn’t) do. Clone Wars allows you to play as multiple X-men, from Beast, Cyclops, Gambit, Nightcrawler, Psylocke, Wolverine and Magneto (who was an unlockable character) as they battle to get to Apocalypse in his first apperance in a video game. Despite being met with mixed responses upon it’s initial release, it is thought of as the best Marvel related game on the platform and it’s really not hard to see why. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses and while it’s not easy, it’s also not so hard that it’s discouraging. On top of that, each character’s powers feel natural, with Gambit throwing playing cards or Wolverine both healing and being able to destroy everything with his claws. Apparently there was a sequel lined up to be released in 1997 that was to be titled “X-Women” that would’ve featured only female characters of the team like Jean Grey, Storm, Kitty Pryde and the like, but luckily that was scraped.
2. Toe Jam and Earl: Panic on Funkotron
If not for the iconic status of Sonic the Hedgehog, Toe Jam and Earl would definitely be the best game that the genius’ at Sega ever created. While the game was a typical 16-bit side-scroller, but it felt like so much more than that to someone playing it, as the alien world that you played in had all sorts of fun little secrets and really even a mythology that really felt perfect to the mind of someone who was around 10 years old. The game revolves around Toejam and Earl, who had a previous game that was good but nothing compared to PoF, as they attempted to save their home-world from Earthlings that invaded and were basically ruining things (with things like pollution, being generally irritating, kicking knees and taking pictures). In between that, you could bounce on fungus/a sponge for points, kiss fish for air while swimming and attempt to replicate the beat boxing of one of their alien friends (whose name was PJ, IIRC?). One of the best non-sports two player games out there, Toe Jam and Earl: Panic on Funkotron was one of the most beautiful 16-bit games ever and showed that Sega had a bit more flavor than Super Nintendo did, in the best way(s) possible.
1. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Sonic and Tails)
While one could argue that Sonic and Knuckles is the better game, as you can plug and play that game with the first two Sonic games while also utilizing a new character named Knuckles that could glide on the wind and use his knuckles to climb walls. However, Sonic 2 was such an improvement on the already stellar Sonic that it really deserves this spot outright. Sonic 2 took everything that was amazing about the original Sonic and basically fed it meth, from the level designs to even the music, the game was like playing Mario on speed and the graphics were beautiful (especially for their time). The best level, by far, was the Casino level, in which you could spend as much time as you felt comfortable with, risking your coins in the slot machines while attempting to avoid those damn spikes and also running out of time while realizing that you may have a gambling problem at the tender age of 10. Beyond that, Sonic 2 introduced a co-op of sorts, in which your younger brother or sister could play as tails and help you out especially in boss battles as poor, poor Tails (who would mostly end up either too far ahead or too far behind to really accomplish anything outside of that). The versus battle, though, was amazing as you could race Sonic vs. Tails on multiple levels, something that Mario and Luigi never could do! Beyond that, Sonic 2 improved upon the 3D bonus levels from the first Sonic and if you were good enough and collected enough Chaos Emeralds, you could become Super Sonic, which is a highlight of the life of many a young geek out there.