The Sega Genesis may not be as well regarded as its 16-bit competitor, the Super Nintendo, when it comes to in-game music but that doesn’t mean there aren’t memorable and worthy additions to the ’90s era gaming soundtracks that come from this classic console. The Super Nintendo had more sound RAM and audio channels than the Sega Genesis, but the Genesis had a synthesizer, which I feel gave some games a very distinctive sound.
I don’t claim to know all of the music of every Sega Genesis game, so I can only suggest games with soundtracks that I have heard. Essentially, these are games in my own personal Genesis collection that I feel standout due to their memorability and, well, overall awesomeness! Just take a listen & I’m sure you’ll agree.
Castlevania: Bloodlines – The first rule of Castlevania games is, don’t mess up the soundtrack. Second rule of Castlevania games is don’t mess up the soundtrack! Every Castlevania game, with maybe the exception of the games for the original GameBoy, had iconic soundtracks that gamers can easily identify. Castlevania: Bloodlines may be the lone Sega title in the long running Konami developed series, but it not only doesn’t disappoint in terms of gameplay and graphics, but the music holds up very well.
Comix Zone – This selection might be polarizing as some may not feel the synthesized grunge rock sounds hold up 25 years later, but I disagree. Comix Zone has a very, very distinct sound and it’s a perfect product of its time. When played through capable TV speakers, this soundtrack actually sounds revolutionary. Sadly, the Bonus CD that came with the game when originally sold in stores is NOT the game’s soundtrack.
Gunstar Heroes – Like the frantic, upbeat, fast paced game that it belongs to, the Gunstar Heroes soundtrack matches that intensity, note for note. Maybe it’s because the game is so good, or maybe because it amps me up to play it every time I listen, but Gunstar’s soundtrack is the epitome of a 16-bit era action/shooter platformer game soundtrack. It never distracts, instead always enhances.
Phantasy Star II – It should come as no surprise that a game from the Phantasy Star series would make my list. Honestly, you could put any of the 3 Phantasy Star soundtracks on this list and get no protests from me, because they are all excellent. I chose Phantasy Star II because it’s the game I played the most and have the most nostalgia for. Take your pick, though. All are deserving.
Revenge of Shinobi – Like Gunstar Heroes, the Revenge of Shinobi soundtrack is very upbeat and pulse pounding sound that amplifies the game’s intensity. A holdover of the late ’80s, this soundtrack capitalizes on the hardware available to make one of the best soundtracks of the decade.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Like Phantasy Star, there was no way I wouldn’t include a Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack on this list. All of the titles in the series have excellent soundtracks and many would argue that Sonic 3’s soundtrack is the best of the bunch. However, another nostalgia vote goes to Sonic 2 as the music in this game is ingrained into my brain in a way that none of the other Sonic soundtracks can lay claim to. It’s just too good to ignore and it is instantly recognizable to anyone that played video games in the early ’90s. This game was everywhere, therefore, so was the soundtrack.
Shining Force – Epic and ever changing it’s tone to fit the scene, the soundtrack to Shining Force does exactly what a good score is supposed to do. It lets you relax during the relaxing moments in the game (talking to townsfolk) and builds up your adrenaline for the battle scenes, which are the core of the game. The game ending music is befitting of the sadness that occurs (spoiler alert).
Streets of Rage 2 – This is another gaming series where I could have chosen any game to represent the awesomeness within. I prefer Streets of Rage 2 over the other 2 games in the series mainly for it’s level 1 music alone. I’ve never been a big fan of techno music, but when done properly (e.g. Tempest 2000 on the Jaguar), it seems to perfectly fit video games that rely heavily on quick movements and super fast reflexes. I may not be physically sweating from all the dancing that techno music is supposed to encourage, but my fingers sure are feeling the burn when I play Streets of Rage 2.
Toejam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron – The hip-hop and funk stylings of the Toejam & Earl franchise on the Genesis cannot be ignored on this list. This sequel gets the deep & slap bass funk just right while also keeping it playful, like the actual gameplay. I chose Panic on Funkotron because that’s the T&E game I played the most, therefore have the most connection to. There’s no denying it’s worth “jamming out” to.