Perhaps time got away from you. Perhaps you were a child at the time and couldn’t afford every single game out there. Whatever your excuse, there may still be a few Megadrive gems that have yet to be experienced by you.
Article by Dan Curtis. Follow Dan on Twitter at @FrostedSloth
We won’t judge you if you haven’t played any of these classics (well, not much), but you should take steps immediately to rectify this problem.
This list compiles a selection of the true must-plays of the systems, based on an intricate system devised in my brain from years of Megadrive experience. Naturally not everything is on here, but if you see an omission, feel free to tell me all about it and why it should be in!
Anyway, here it is, the 10 top Megadrive games you really should have played.
10: Golden Axe
What other game can you play as a crazy green dwarf, a burly blue dude and a woman with hardly any clothes on? I got nothing – can you think of anything?
Better yet, all three of these crazy characters can cast spells, have access to deadly weaponry and are experts at kicking small creatures in the face to make them give up magic potions and health pickups.
For those unfamiliar with Golden Axe, it’s a strange fantasy-adventure sidescrolling beam-em-up where you’ll bash the snot out of enemies repeatedly, fell some bosses and avoid deadly pits that waste your lives. I’m sure there’s probably some kind of semblance of a plot to it, but it’s hard to care when you’re smacking skeleton warriors across the screen.
Like most of the best Megadrive games, Golden Axe lets you bring a friend along for the ride, adding a layer of extra fun to the proceedings. Getting to the end is a hell of task even with a mate, but those who achieve this are rumoured to receive a real life Golden Axe for their collection.
I have sixteen of them. No biggie.
9: Revenge of Shinobi
Here’s a storyline we’ve never seen. Your girl has been snaffled away by mysterious evil people and it’s up to you, the player, to rescue her and save the day.
Ok, we’ve seen that storyline a million times, but most of the games with this type of narrative don’t cast you as an awesome, bad-ass somersaulting ninja with throwing knives and magical powers.
Revenge of Shinobi thankfully bucks this trend and casts you as said ninja. Your task is to travel through busy highways, junkyards and even a ridiculously complex maze as you try to rescue your love, eventually squaring off with a final boss who attacks you with his razor-sharp hair while the ceiling tries to squash you. No, I didn’t make that up.
Perhaps one of the most memorable things about Shinobi is its blatant disregard for copyright law.Along your travels through the game you’ll fight a boss who is a bit like the Terminator, a boss who is a little bit like Godzilla and a boss who looks a lot like Spiderman who will then transform himself into a guy who looks equally like Batman.
If that doesn’t sell a game to you, I don’t know what will.
8: Ecco The Dolphin
Although it still gives me nightmares, everyone should play and attempt to master one of the Megadrive’s trickiest games.
Those who expect a cutesy game about dolphin swimming should think again; Ecco is an eerie, disconcerting game where you – as Ecco – are forced to traverse the seas of our world and beyond to recover your dolphin friends who have been taken away by alien forces.
Part puzzler, part platformer and part rock-hard, Ecco includes unique mechanics such as the need to surface to breathe every so often, sonar attacks and mapping and other dolphiny things such as doing pointless flips. Along his travels, Ecco will meet giant whales, terrifying octopi and also meet some of the more horrible creatures who live at the very bottom of the ocean.
What makes Ecco so particularly jarring is the music and sound effects, both of which have a haunting tone to them. When you’re swimming through the dark bottom of the sea and a hideous alien jumps you suddenly, it’s scary stuff.
Don’t let that put you off though – Ecco is well worth dallying with purely for the challenge. Getting through a level is like getting through a section on Dark Souls nowadays – you’ll be hard pressed to find a sense of victory like it.
For even more of a challenge, go play Ecco 2: The Tides of Time afterwards. That one has crazy waterways which are in the sky.
7: Gunstar Heroes
Grab a friend for this one – this game is a blast to play with another player.
Relentless, fast-paced and endlessly enjoyable, Gunstar Heroes is another 2D sidescroller where you must fight off evil people using guns. The difference is that GH allows you to shoot in eight different directions, making it easier to fight a huge amount of enemies at once.
You’re not limited to single guns here either – Gunstar allows you to pick up one of four distinctly different weapons, and collecting repeated powerups of the same type will boost the power of the weapon and make it even more deadly.
The bosses are another highlight in this game. They’ll routinely swap forms throughout fights, making each encounter unpredictable and unique. Unlike Contra and other shooters of the era, Gunstar is more approachable because your health is measured in percentages, rather than lives. This allows you to get hit more, and unlimited continues means you won’t be unceremoniously shoved back to the start of the game should you die too much.
And there’s nothing worse than that happening, am I right?
6: Rocket Knight Adventures
Grab your jetpack, we’re blasting off on an adventure! In RKA, you are Sparkster, who is apparently a creature known as an opossum. That’s kinda like a possum, but not. No, I don’t know the difference.
Sparkster isn’t just any regular old opossum doing opossum things – he’s a Rocket Knight, a band of heroic adventurers who use energy swords and jetpacks to fly all over the place and cause untold havoc while saving princesses from evil space pigs. Use of the rocket pack mechanic makes Rocket Knight one of the most unique sidescrolling games on the Megadrive. Players must use the rocket pack both strategically and to navigate the environment and it even gets used continuously on certain levels were Sparkster is actually flying.
The boss battles are a serious highlight of Rocket Knight; you’ll fight everything from your rival knight Axel Gear to giant worms that attack you through the walls and ceiling. There’s even a duel where you fight your rival in a giant pig mech, complete with unique punching mechanics.
Rocket Knight also has a narrative running through each level, complete with transitions from each level to the next. What levels they are as well – you’ll ride mine carts, fly through space, traverse waterways, battle through a mech factory, avoid lava pits (complete with mirror reflection mechanics) and much more.
5: Flashback: The Quest for Identity
You are Conrad - an amnesiac living in a Dystopian future. Pursued by the police, you must evade capture, regain your memory and get your ass to Mars. Oh hang on, that last bit is Total Recall, isn't it?
Minus the getting posteriors to Mars, this is the synopsis of Flashback. Similar to the sleeper hit Another World in terms of visuals, Flashback uses beautifully rendered backdrops for its levels. It was originally billed as a CD-ROM quality game on a cartridge and, to be honest, it's hard to argue with that.
Flashback is a completely unique game - it's part puzzler, part shooter and has fluid animations that are hardly seen on anything else at the time. Conrad can climb things, use elevators, interact with machinery, shoot, roll, jump, hang, grab and also gets a load of unique items as he goes along such as a shield or items essential to the plot.
Plot wise, the game plays very like dystopian thrillers of the time. It's kind of a mash of Total Recall with elements of the Running Man (methinks the developers were Arnie fans) where you'll travel to Earth, alien planets, alien spaceships and even a gameshow where all the contestants try to murder each other.
Flashback is also a really, really difficult game. You'll need to make use of the sparse save points throughout each level to get anywhere. Or you could use save states, but that's cheating.
4: Streets of Rage 2
Skip right on over the first one in the series - 2 is the superior game.
A huge improvement over the original, SOR2 has fluid animations, faster response, better collision detection and much better level design. The core of the game remains the same - you, or you and a friend - must traverse through the streets of rage, smashing enemies in the face and ingesting apples/whole cooked chickens directly into your netherregions to regain health.
SOR2 is another one with fantastic boss battles. You'll get into fisticuffs with a vastly overweight boxer, a fast-moving wrestler, a jetpack-wearing lunatic and even what appears to be a giant alien head living inside a theme park funhouse.
It's also another game that is an absolute must to play with a friend. Two player co-op on SOR2 is a hoot, particularly as you can accidentally hit each other due to friendly fire being very much present. If you've got a friend like me who's out to sabotage you from the get-go, you're probably screwed.
If there’s one thing game developers did right back in the day, its Disney games.
Based on the movie of the same name, Aladdin tasks you as the titular hero in his quest to become something better than a lowly vagabond. You’ll play through all of the most iconic places from the movie from the sprawling markets of Agrabah to the depths of Jafar’s palace with all of it rendered beautifully in a hand-drawn style reminiscent of the film itself.
We’re quite used nowadays to movie games being soulless cash-ins with hardly any appeal, but Aladdin and other Disney games of the era are actually exceptionally good.
Aladdin is the best of the bunch, with great platforming, an excellent soundtrack based on the movie and some truly unique levels such as a crazy magic carpet ride that’ll truly challenge your dexterity.
The Lion King is another Disney game well worth sinking your teeth into. In fact, it came a very close second.
2: World Of Illusion (Or Castle of Illusion)
Good golly Pluto, you mean Mickey Mouse actually had a good game once?
Yes, unlike the recent Epic Mickey titles, Mickey’s Megadrive adventures were pretty stellar from head to toe. There’s two particular standouts – Castle of Illusion and World of Illusion.
Although these are two different games – and probably therefore cheating a bit on this list – I can’t possibly decide which one is better and they shall live here as one entry.
The main reason they’re both on here is they’re quite similar in concept, but different in their own ways. Castle of Illusion is a bit darker and difficult than World, while World adds optional two-player (Donald Duck no less!) and magic carpet attacks to the mix.
Both are sidescrollers where Mickey will travel through colourful, vibrant worlds. Like Aladdin before it, these games are extremely well presented with fantastic graphics (particular World of Illusion, which practically pops off the screen).
I’d advise you play both of these and make up your mind which is better. You’ll have an awesome time with both of them.
1: Sonic 3 (& Knuckles)
Fun fact for you – Sonic and 3 and its sequel, Sonic and Knuckles, were originally meant to be the same game. Due to cartridge size and time, the decision was made to split the two apart and release them separately.
As this was the case, SEGA made the cartridge of Sonic and Knuckles differently to its usual cartridges, allowing gamers who owned Sonic 3 to plug into S & K and play through each game back to back in one comprehensive adventure.
This is the definitive way to experience Sonic 3, and is an essential for any discerning retro chap or chapette.
Sonic 3 and its sequel are different games to their predecessors, with an integrated storyline, improved graphics and animations and a wide range of diverse levels to blast through at super Sonic speeds. It simultaneously retains the spirit of the original two titles but builds upon it significantly with iconic, memorable bosses such as a badnik machine with arms, Metal Sonic and other and equally iconic levels such as Hydrocity Zone, Sky Sanctuary and the Doomsday.
If you’ve got the two cartridges locked on together, gamers can also play an entirely different game with Knuckles, who has his own bosses, storyline and can access hidden paths that Sonic can’t (mainly due to Knuckles’ climbing/gliding abilities).
Better yet – Sonic 3 is one of the very few Megadrive games to come with integrated memory, allowing it to be actually saved when you’re done playing. This means it’s actually finishable without leaving your console on for weeks – huzzah!
Article by Dan Curtis. Follow Dan on Twitter at @FrostedSloth
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