Tuesday Top Ten: Genesis Games

It’s that time again, friends—time for another Tuesday Top Ten!  Every week, we go through the top ten something-or-anothers related to our hobby, and this week is no different.    Since we’re still in our article series on the history of SEGA, it’s only fitting, of course, that we have a relevant Top Ten—so, this week, we’re going down the top ten Genesis/Master Drive games!

Now, it wasn’t easy to settle on just ten—most of them were downright spiffy, and most of that most were downright stellar.  So, we’re going to find the top ten weird, unusual, or downright interesting games.  We’re talking about games that offered a little something different than what gamers expected.

As such, you won’t find Madden titles or the like; that’s not because they weren’t good, but we had to narrow down the list to ten somehow, and when you popped in a Madden title you knew what to expect, more or less.  With these, they offered something a little—different.  Some you’ve played, some you didn’t but should have, but all were fantastic.

Now for the usual disclaimer: Where possible, I’ve included links to Let’s Plays, play-throughs, game-play videos, and so on.  Some, many, most, or all might well be utterly infused with profanity and vulgarity.  Keep that in mind as that clicking-finger itches.

With that out of the way, let’s go!

10. Wacky Worlds Creativity Studio
It’s hard to make a game aimed more toward younger gamers, but that’s still interesting to older gamers in its own right.  Wacky Worlds was a decent attempt at filling just that niche.    It would never stand up next to Sonic or Ecco, but it wasn’t trying to, either.  It was trying to offer an experience in creativity.

It’s somewhere between a doll house and a coloring book; you had four different “worlds”—backdrops, basically—and you could arrange things to your taste.  What made this a bit easier was that it came bundled with the SEGA Mouse, and was one of the few games that made use of it.

It was as simple of a set up as you’d expect—but there was a bit of hidden depth, there, primarily in the music.  Each “world” had its own music, but you could arrange and rearrange it to your taste.  Want to mash together various worlds’ music?  Go for it.  It was actually a pretty easy system to use, but the young gamer could come out with quite a range of songs and song styles.

Get younger kids into gaming while letting them have an outlet for their creativity.  That’s really not the worst thing in the world.

Game play footage can be found here, and base music from three of the “worlds” can be found here, here, and here.

09. Columns
The world of Tetris clones isn’t exactly a small one.  That game was a smash hit, because it was incredibly fun.  It was simple, but that simplicity made it accessible.  There were, then, many, many “clones” of the game—but few could match the fun of Columns.

It, too, was simple; in many ways much simpler than Tetris.  In that simpler game-play there was more challenge; you had to think differently.  While that did make switching between the two games in a short span of time moderately difficult, that only helped separate Columns from Tetris.  Yes, it was inspired by it, of course it was.  But it showed that sometimes stepping farther away from the “source” isn’t such a bad thing.

A Let’s Play—on an actual Master Drive system, interestingly enough—can be found here.

08. Flashback: The Quest for Identity
Flashback proved two very important concepts—video games could have an intricate, cinematic plot, and platformers could carry those plots well.  The game play itself was deceptively straightforward, even for a platformer.  Run here, climb there, shoot that, grab this.  Where it started to diverge was that you needed actual strategies to defeat the enemies.  It was more than a case of “shoot it a lot until it stops”.  You had to actually plan your moves out, taking into account the “type” of enemy, their general A.I. programming, and so on.

Another area the game shined was graphics.  Everything was rotoscoped, which means that actors were brought in to do this or that while being filmed—climbing, jumping, walking, what-have-you—then animators would go in and trace the figures to create the characters.  That made everyone move so much more realistically, adding a heck of a lot of depth to the game.  Then you have the settings themselves—the game saw you explore all kinds of locations, and every single one looked positively beautiful.  It was nice to just look around.

Of course, the main strength of the game, one of the reasons it’s still played today, is the plot.  Most games have you rescuing this or that—a princess, your sister, your dog, the history report you did on the differences between the arquebus and the musket—basic, every-day stuff that you see in a million games.  Flashback started off with a very important question: “Who am I…?”  Interestingly, it didn’t hold it for a big reveal at the end, which would have been rather cliché.  No, it was actually handed back early in the game—in time to see an even bigger threat.  Helping that plot was that there wasn’t a lot of music; it was mostly ambient noises and the like, adding even more immersion.

Flashback broke molds no one even knew existed.  It was sometimes known as the C.D.-R.O.M. game in a cartridge, because there was just so much crammed into it.  It promised a fun, engaging experience and delivered in spades, by cracky.

A mostly informational Let’s Play can be found here.

07. Exo-Squad
The series the game is based on can truly be called “America’s first anime”.  Everything that was considered good about Japanese animated storytelling at the time could be found right there.  The plot was long, deep, and rich; people died, people the viewer grew to care about, and they stayed dead.  No last-minute tuchus-pull of an evil clone coming back or the like.  It told a tale of war, a tale that kids needed to see—war is not fun, war is not great.  No matter what reason each side has, people still die, and they sometimes die by the truckload.

Shockingly enough, this licensed game was able to escape the curse.  It didn’t necessarily further the story or wrap up any loose-ends that by necessity existed in the television show’s too-short life, but it was actually a decent title.  It wasn’t necessarily the best licensed game ever made, but it was innovative, or at the very least interesting, from the top down.

The characters pilot E-Frames, which are basically exoskeletal suits that bring pain to the enemy, and each E-Frame is made up of segmented sprites, coded to move together just so.  That created a believable feeling of motion; mechanical, without being too clunky.  The music was superb, helping to make it feel like the series that inspired it.

It did have some flaws, of course; some innovations were unnecessary and made navigating the menu a bit more complex than it needed to be, and the controls were difficult to learn, but those are minor issues, really.  It honors the source that inspired it while being accessible for gamers who hadn’t watched the series.

A Let’s Play of it can be found right here.

06. Comix Zone
Comix Zone is one that you might not have heard of.  It debuted late in the console’s life, when the focus of gamers and developers alike were turning to systems like the PlayStation.  Yet it’s earned something of a cult following over the years, and it’s not that hard to see why.

It was different; it was hard as heck, but on its own that wasn’t unusual.  What was different was that everything will harm the protagonist.  Blocking an attack, a certain special attack, and more.  That made it difficult—but it did let up.  Some bosses could be easily gotten past, some requiring only looking at things a little differently.  It really beat the player—then it let up, with a bouquet in-hand.  It never let the player get used to anything, which kept them interested.

An informational Let’s Play can be found here.

05. Vectorman
Vectorman existed in a weird grey area between a platformer and a shooter.  This was also back when such a thing was still somewhat new.  You had your platformers over here, and your shooters over there, and that’s just how it was.  Yet—here was proof that mixing genres together would work—and work well.

The controls made this simpler by being a two-button control scheme.  One button jumped, the other shot, and there you go.  With those and the D-pad you could do anything you wanted—and you’d want to do a lot.  The world was visually stunning even by Master Drive standards, which is saying something.  Everything looks truly three dimensional, as sprites are animated independently, similar to Exo-Squad, though kicked up quite a few levels.  Everything looked beautifully fluid, there were slightly different ways to get from point A to point B, and it showed just what good can come when genres are mashed together with an eye toward balance and fun.

A humorous Let’s Play can be found here.

04. Earthworm Jim

Earthworm Jim was just—an odd game.  A strange game.  It wasn’t like some games that would follow it, that tried for strange and ended up just campy.  Earthworm Jim was the real deal.  The plot was absurd—Jim was trying to rescue Princess Whats-Her-Name from Queen Slug-for-a-Butt while Psy-Crow tries to stop him—that’s actually making the whole thing sound almost reasonable.

Anyway—the entire game was absurdity the likes of which Salvador Dali would feel right at home with.  The graphics were beautiful; everything moved well, and exploded in humorous puffs.  The backgrounds were gorgeous; they even made a junkyard rather striking.  Over all it was an insanely fun game—with an emphasis on “insane”.  That emphasis showed gamers just how limitless the medium really is.

A somewhat informational Let’s Play can be found here.

03. Sonic & Knuckles
The blue hedgehog had, for a time, become as synonymous with SEGA as the squat Italian plumber had been with Nintendo.  For a time, it seemed like he would have raced the Italian into a tizzy.  From the first Sonic the Hedgehog title, they just kept getting better and better, each outdoing the previous when it almost wasn’t thought possible.  Sonic & Knuckles is, perhaps, the pinnacle of the blue speedster’s career.

You can tell that the developers really learned as they went along; they tweaked things here and there, refined things.  In Sonic and Knuckles, the worlds were grander, and designed to really take advantage of Sonic’s speed, or Knuckles’ flying.  Plus, only hinted at in previous titles, there were numerous ways to get to the end of the stage, so it made exploring quite worth it—and with a game as downright beautiful as Sonic & Knuckles, it really was indeed worth it.

Topping the sundae is the cherry of lock-on technology.  By flipping open the top of the cartridge, you could plug Sonic 2 or Sonic 3 into it and play as Knuckles in those games.  If you plugged it into the first game, you got access to a mini-game, of sorts, since the code was too different in that game from later titles.  Interestingly, some enterprising R.O.M. hackers managed to make a version of the first title with Knuckles in it, appropriately enough titled Knuckles the Echidna in Sonic the Hedgehog.

That “lock-on” feature made gamers start to question what else could be possible.  What other wondrous things would we seen in the coming years from SEGA?  No one knew, but that little feature—designed as something of an apology for not getting a playable Knuckles into Sonic 3—made us wonder.

A play-through of Sonic’s side of the game can be found here, while Knuckles’ side can be found here.

02. Phantom 2040
Not very many North Americans are really all that familiar with the Phantom, which is a shame.  He started two concepts now ubiquitous in the super-hero genre—pupil-less eye-masks and skin-tight bodysuits.  Some might have watched the Phantom 2040 cartoon show, the tone of which was somewhere between the original newspaper and comic book stories, and the old Defenders of the Earth cartoon.

The cartoon was a moderate success, enough to make a licensed video game not a huge surprise.  One thing that worked against it, though, was that, like with Comix Zone, it came out when the general focus was shifting away from the Master Drive.  As such, it didn’t get the reception it I dare say deserved.

The plot was inspired by the series without really trying to “fit” into it anywhere; the primary antagonists are after the last Black Panther (which is, yes, technically redundant, since the “black” is there in the “panther”, but) for various nefarious reasons, but they aren’t the only baddies on the block that threaten Metropia, the home of the protagonist.  As the Phantom, the gamer explored numerous locations, and confronted various decisions—all affecting the game itself.

That brings us to the most interesting feature—the game play changed as the gamer made their choices.  There were almost two dozen different endings, and along the way, parts of the game world would get locked off, or get a certain type of enemy, depending on what the player did.

This game showed us that variety really is the spice of life, that one can create something that won’t be the exact same experience every single time.

A play-through with the best ending can be found here.

01. Ecco the Dolphin
As I mention in my review of Defender of the Future the Ecco the Dolphin series has always been a bit of an odd duck.  There’s really nothing to compare it to, even now.  There really aren’t any other dolphin-centered games out there or anything.  it’s almost amazing, then, that the first game caused plenty of eyebrows to arch.

So much about it was unique—the cetacean protagonist, swimming through the water, and one of the more interesting features: Echolocation.  Using Ecco’s sonar, one could get a map of the immediate area, making navigation a bit easier.  Then you had puzzles—using rocks to get through a bad current are one in an earlier part of the game, but they get more head-scratching later on.

Everything was gorgeous, too.  Everything.  From the intricately-animated Ecco, to other dolphins, to enemies, to the backgrounds—the gamer who wouldn’t grin in delight from just looking at the game would be a sad sort indeed.  It also had everything—adventure, exploration, a touch of platforming, and so much more it seems impossible that all of it was crammed into one cartridge.  This is what the future of gaming was—exploring different concepts, trying the oddest of things in the name of fun.  Ecco the Dolphin was all of that and more.  It showed us what the future could be.  Looking back, it stands as what the future of gaming quite possibly should have been.

A blind Let’s Play can be found here, and an informational one can be found here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: