Favorite Sega Genesis Games

It was 30 years ago today, Sega released their 16-bit follow up to the Sega Master System – the Sega Genesis(or Mega Drive outside North America). For this occasion, I have made a list of my 11 favorite Genesis games. Sega’s foray into the video game home console market began with the SG-1000 which was released in 1983 in Japan oddly enough, the very same day Nintendo released the Family Computer, or Famicom. The follow up – Sega Master System was the first Sega console to be released in North America in 1986(Japan in 1985). By the late 80’s the home console market has prospered greatly and Sega was in the midst of the of a console arms race. The Sega Genesis was released on August 14, 1989 in limited areas, with the rest of North America by the end of the year. The Genesis was by far Sega’s most successful console with over 30 million units sold.

I remember our family getting a Sega Genesis for Christmas of 1993. It was the Gen. 2 model that came with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 packed in, “Santa Claus” had brought us a copy of the Aladdin game too. I remember sitting in my sister’s room playing Sonic 2 and Aladdin the rest of Christmas break from school and spending countless hours over the next several years buying and renting games. I wrote down a list of my 10 favorite Genesis games, only to discover I can’t count….so…these are my 11 favorite games.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Sega’s mascot debuted on the Master System, but Sonic 2 launched the blue hedgehog to a level of popularity that only Mario had seemed capable of reaching. Sonic’s spin dash was added as well as new sidekick Tails, which added some co-op elements to the game. With memorable levels and an iconic soundtrack, Sonic 2 is the quintessential Sega Genesis game.

Aladdin – There were many great Disney games during the 80’s and 90’s, and Aladdin is certainly one of them. An argument has always been which version of the game was better, Genesis or SNES? I prefer the former as my favorite version. The graphics, while nothing spectacular now, were quite impressive for its time. The level that always gave me the most problems as a kid was escaping the Cave of Wonders on the magic carpet, that and sitting on the edge of the screen throwing apples at Snake Jafar so I could finally beat the game.

Gunstar Heroes – I wrote about Treasure’s Gunstar Heroes a while back, saying that I always felt the game was a bit under appreciated compared to the likes of Contra or Metal Slug games. I got the game as a birthday present not knowing anything about it, but quickly became enamored what a great run and gun co-op experience it provided. Gunstar Heroes has aged remarkably well, and being included in the upcoming Mini Sega Genesis being released this September.

Street Fighter 2: Special Champion Edition – While SCE may not be considered the best version of Street Fighter 2 that Capcom released(there were MANY), it is the one that got me hooked on playing Street Fighter games. In general, fighting games on the Genesis are viewed as inferior, mostly due to the standard controller only have 3 main buttons versus the 4 face and 2 shoulder buttons of the SNES controller. I had one of the Genesis 6-button controllers so that criticism wasn’t applicable to me. I remember picking out Street Fighter 2: SCE at a Kay-Bee Toys; having previously rented the game from a local convenience store after thinking the turquoise/black cover with Guile and M. Bison fighting looked awesome.

NBA Jam – An arcade staple that most of us growing up in the 90’s will remember, Acclaim’s NBA Jam popularized arcade sports in the 90’s with its fast-paced gameplay and over-the-top dunks and announcer commentary – “BOOM-shakalaka!” “Is it the shoes?!?”. You could even play as team mascots and then-President of the USA , Bill Clinton. This was the kind of game that would gather friends around the family living room to play for hours.

The Lion King – Another Disney/Virgin Interactive game, The Lion King boasted impressive graphics and sound for 16-bit consoles, but has since become better known for being quite difficult, with a huge difficulty spike and erratic(at best) hit-detection. I played the game recently, and don’t remember for the life of me how I was able to beat this game. I remember being able to finish the game in about 30 minutes as a kid, what happened? Regardless of the game’s shortcomings, it still holds a place on my favorites list from playing this as a kid.

Vectorman – One of the first games that spring to mind when I think of my favorite Genesis games; Vectorman is an excellent action-platformer released near the end of the Genesis’ life cycle. The year is 2043 and Earth is has been rendered uninhabitable, humanity has migrated to colonies in Space(as if written by Jeff Bezos…) and left behind robots to clean up the mess. The story may bit a bit generic, but the tight gameplay and interesting levels more than made up for that. There was even a contest where you had to play through to the end of the game to find out if you won $25,000…which I didn’t <sigh>, but Vectorman is still one of my favorites.

Quackshot – I don’t exactly remember how I was first introduced to this game, but I’m glad I got to play the game. Quackshot is a Disney adventure game with Donald Duck embarking across the globe with Huey, Dewey, and Louie to find the Great Duck Treasure before Pete and his goons can get to it. An interesting element of the game was your weapons – a gun that shoots, popcorn, bubblegum, and plungers; being a Disney game after all… Quackshot in hindsight may seem pretty much “Indiana Jones meets Donald Duck”, but it remains as a really fun adventure title on the Genesis that not many people seem to remember.

Streets of Rage 2 – The Streets of Rage games are some of the most beloved games on the Sega Genesis, with Streets of Rage 2 usually being the favorite. Fighting your way through the streets and alleys as Axel or Blaze provided some of the best memories on the console, even if I still hate the elevator levels that seemed to be in every beat ’em up game back then. SNES may have had the Final Fight series, but I always preferred Streets of Rage.

Contra: Hard Corps – The Contra series is most closely associated with Nintendo consoles, along with the Konami Code – Up, UP, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start. Contra 3: Alien Wars may be the more popular game, but my favorite has always been Hard Corps on the Genesis. I don’t believe I was ever able to beat this game as a kid, only reaching the final bosses a couple times. Contra: Hard Corps has the weird characters, huge bosses, and tons of blowin’ shit up…everything you’d expect from a Contra game 🙂

Earthworm Jim – While not an exclusive, Earthworm Jim still may be my favorite Sega Genesis game as a kid. You play as Jim, an earthworm being hunted down by a psychotic crow named…Psycrow, as he is trying to save Princess What’s-her-name from the Evil Queen Slug-for-a-Butt. I loved the goofy tone and humor of this as a kid, which probably influenced my own sense of humor…for better or worse 😉 One of my favorite moments of the game is the second level – What the Heck?! in which you make your way through the fiery realm of Heck before fighting Evil the Cat. The level soundtrack begins with a snippet of composer Modest Mussorgsky’s – Night on Bald Mountain, which establishes an ominous mood, before cutting away to elevator music(muzak?) complete with pained screams in the background; the elevator music still playing as you’re being attacked by lawyers who shoot papers from their briefcase. If the game sounds weird, that’s because it is…and that’s what I love about it!

The Sega Genesis was also home to some great RPGs such the Phantasy Star games, or Shining Force; the genres of games listed stick mostly to action/adventure games as I was still learning to expand my “gaming palette”. Have you played any of the games mentioned above? What are some of your favorite Genesis games? Let me know in the comments. Until next time…

Gunstar Heroes – Treasure’s Debut Gem

As someone who grew up loving the many side-scrolling shoot em’ ups released for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis during the golden age of games in the 90’s, Gunstar Heroes may be my absolute favorite. Some of my fondest memories as a kid were playing this on my Genesis and I still dust off my old cartridge and play it from time to time.

Gunstar Heroes was released in September 1993 for the Sega Genesis and was very well received by all the gaming magazines of the time(remember gaming magazines? 😁). The gameplay is similar to the side scrolling shooters popular at the time, like the Contra or Metal Slug games. You play as either Red or Blue, two siblings in the Gunstar family that has taken up fighting the evil Colonel Red (who does NOT wear red) has set out to acquire four gemstones to resurrect a powerful android – Golden Silver and control the galaxy…you know…the usual stuff.

When you choose your character you also select which fire mode you want to use – Free or Fixed. Free fire mode is what I have always preferred as you can run and gun through the levels rather than Fixed fire mode where you have to remain stationary to fire your weapon. You also choose one of four weapon types – Force, Flame, Chaser, or Lightning. Force is the closest to a typical machine gun with a faster fire rate(think Contra). Flame is a short-range but powerful flamethrower-type weapon. Chaser fires homing ammunition( F.Y.I – essentially the SAME as the Seeker fire mode you can use in Cuphead I was pleased to discover). Finally, the Lightning weapon fires laser beams that can shoot through enemies and barriers. One of my favorite aspects of Gunstar Heroes was the ability to combine weapon types; you can combine two of the same type of ammo the make a bigger more powerful version of the weapon such as two Flame types will create an even larger flamethrower or two Lightning types combined together create a steady short-range “blade” which looks conspicuously like a Lightsaber. My favorite pairing however, was the Force and Chaser types combined for a devastating homing machine gun effect which can be a HUGE advantage, as in typical shoot em’ up fashion the action on screen gets pretty chaotic( doubly so playing co-op).

Black’s Dice Palace forces you to roll a die to make your way through the level

Each of the first four levels can be played in any order and has a different boss fight at the end. You can pick from fighting your way through a jungle area( again…similar to Contra) and fight the boss, Pink to taking on Orange(who ironically is wearing GREEN military fatigues) and pursuing him on his flying base in an interesting level that begins climbing to the top of a tower chasing Orange as the screen scrolls vertically ending with a battle with Orange on the wing of a helicopter. You can also choose from playing your way through what is essentially a “board game” level as you have to roll the dice to advance to the corresponding spaces until you make your way to the end where you battle the boss, Black in what still remains one of the more unique AND at times, frustrating levels in a video game as a kid. (Another side note: this is just about note for note the SAME idea at the end of Cuphead playing your way to the DiceMaster at the end of the level…hmmm) Lastly, is probably my favorite level of the game in taking on Green( noticing a particular trend with everyone’s name?) – another member of the Gunstar family whose mind has been under the control and has been aiding the Emperor. The level takes place in an underground mining tunnel in which you ride in a small mine cart that can travel on either top or bottom path on screen while fighting waves of enemies before confronting Green who pilots the mech – Seven Force( think Tony Stark with Transformers). This is the most memorable boss battle of the game. Green can shift Seven Force into any one of…you guessed it…SEVEN different “Forces” – Soldier, Tiger, Blaster, Tail, Urchin, Eagle, or Crab. Once you defeat one of the first four stage bosses, you receive another one of the four gemstones. The next level finds you fighting your way through wave after wave…after wave of enemies to confront Colonel Red and rescue your sister Yellow, who has been kidnapped. This is pretty easily the most explosions I had seen on screen playing a video game to that time, possibly to this day, that’s how frantic the action gets during the game. The frame rate during this level gets slowed down to almost a crawl if playing co-op. After making your way through what seems like an endless amount of enemies before confronting Colonel Red who holds Yellow hostage, forcing you to hand over the gemstones before you battle the colonel’s right-hand man – Smash Daisaku who is dressed EXACTLY like M. Bison from the Street Fighter games and appears several times throughout the prior levels. After Smash Daisaku is defeated, the Gunstars chase Colonel Red who has set out to land his flying fortress on a small moon where Golden Silver is imprisoned. The next level takes place in space and has you piloting a small ship to shoot your way through the fortress’ defenses and stop the colonel. The setting of this level is from a top-down camera angle and plays similar to Xevious or the R-Type games and includes once again, a battle with Green and Seven Force in open space. The proceeding and final level of the game you catch up with Colonel Red, but not before he resurrects Golden Silver to be promptly destroyed by the android and initiates a battle between the Gunstars and Golden Silver before ultimately being destroyed.

Battling the brainwashed Green and Seven Force in the underground mine level

Gunstar Heroes was released as developer Treasure’s debut effort in 1993. Treasure was founded by devs working at Konami that had grown restless with Konami’s insistence on releasing sequel after sequel for their biggest IPs like the Castlevania, Contra, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games and wanted to focus their efforts on making a more original title. Treasure was formed in 1992 and decided they wanted to utilize the Sega Genesis’ powerful( at the time) Motorola 68000 microprocessor. Treasure showed an incredible amount of imagination and absurd humor in Gunstar Heroes, and also in later releases like Sin and Punishment, Ikaruga, and Dynamite Headdy( another Genesis game I loved as a kid).

The boss battle against Orange takes place on the wings of an aircraft

There was a sequel to Gunstar Heroes release on the Game Boy Advance in 2005 titled – Gunstar Super Heroes that received critical praise. I very regretfully, never picked up a copy for the GBA and now is a bit of a rarity for the handheld console. As for the original, I absolutely LOVE this game and have recommended it endlessly to anyone who would listen since I received it as a birthday present not knowing the incredible game I was about to play. I still feel that while the game received numerous accolades from gaming media it still is not as well known as games like Contra or Metal Slug, which is an astounding shame. The game has since seen a port for the Sega Game Gear as well as being released as part of the Sega Genesis Classics compilations. The Sega Forever version was also released in 2017 to play on mobile devices.

That does it for this week! Has anyone else out there played Gunstar Heroes or any other Treasure games? What are some games that you absolutely LOVE and feel are criminally unknown to the majority of gamers?

Keep on playing…

Coffee Crisis – A balanced roast of retro gaming

I thought it would be interesting this weekend to pick up a random indie game on my Switch without knowing really anything about it and write my thoughts about it. In looking through the Switch Online Store, which I believe could use a bit more organization as it seems daunting to look through page after page of titles without there being much for filter options…but I digress. I found the game Coffee Crisis which was developed by Mega Cat Studios and published by Qubic Games. The game appeared to be a bit of a retro throwback to all the 16-bit side scrolling beat-em-up games that I played as a kid on the Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo. It also happens to involve metal music, retro games, and as the title would suggest….coffee.

I have fond memories of playing beat-em-ups like the Streets of Rage, Final Fight, and Golden Axe games; everything about this game fits right in with these games. I enjoyed the aspect of playing a game so reminiscent of the previously mentioned early-90’s titles. Mega Cat Studios I discovered, even produced an authentic Homebrew version of the game on cartridge with case and manual to play on Sega Mega Drive/Genesis that you can purchase on their website.

The story is set on Smurglians – a race of aliens who’s entire planet runs on the energy generated from coffee, metal music and WiFi( that’s right!) and have set their sights on planet Earth’s most precious resources. You play as either Nick or Ashley, two metalhead baristas at the Black Forge Coffee House who are not going to sit idly by and let this travesty occur as you fight your way through the streets of downtown Pittsburgh.

Walloping the elderly to save the metal…

The gameplay is pretty standard as far as beat-em-ups go; you progress through multiple levels with the occasional mini-boss appearing every several levels until finally making your way to the boss at the end of the game, which I was mildly disappointed in the abrupt not-quite-an-ending of the game, it more or less just….stops. The length of the game overall I was satisfied with, being roughly the same length as others of the genre. My criticisms of the game are pretty mild, as I any drawbacks to the game are the same that you would hear of games like Streets of Rage. For better or worse, Coffee Crisis is authentic to a fault with negative attributes that are commonplace in games like it. You screen position is difficult to keep track of when multiple enemies attack and you get “Caught In A Mosh”( couldn’t resist!). There is also the annoying abundance of enemies who can shoot projectiles at you or simply have “weapons” such as a lasso or a cane…yes, among the enemies you fight off are humans that have been taken control of by the Smurglians. These can be range from random looking “dude bros”, to western looking…uh…cowgirls, to I guess….the elderly? You fight your way through the streets of Pittsburgh drinking coffee, listening to metal, and pummeling old men and women that attack you with canes and walkers. There is also an array of Smurglians to fight from purple aliens sporting mohawks to tuxedo-clad aliens in wheelchairs who can shoot “mental projectiles” at you ( Professor X as a Smurglian). The game in premise alone is not any danger of taking itself seriously, I ALMOST felt like I shouldn’t have been enjoyed this developing chaos as much as I did. My other critique is also all too common in games such as this where, you have a powerful special move at your disposal HOWERVER, using it costs you a small portion of your health. The game is not an easy game, as it was clearly intended to be played in “couch co-op” with another player alongside you.

I still feel these negatives don’t overly hinder any enjoyment to be had playing Coffee Crisis, I had a blast playing this game. The soundtrack to the game is excellent as well, with tracks being provided by Pittsburgh area metal band Greywolf. There is also a couple small cameos from retro-gaming YouTubers Metal Jesus Rocks and Alpha Omega Sin. Mega Cat Studios clearly shows a lot of love for the 16-bit beat-em-ups of yesteryear and I very heartily recommend to anyone looking for an entertaining indie game to play, it’s got coffee, retro games, and metal, hell yeah!

I thought these dudes looked familiar….

Side Note: Coffee Crisis is currently available for LESS than the price of a coffee house brew at $1.99, a GREAT DEAL until May 27th. https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/coffee-crisis-switch/

For anyone else who would like to purchase a physical cartridge version to play on Sega… https://megacatstudios.com/collections/16-bit/products/coffee-crisis-sega-genesis

Keep on playing…