I have a pretty decent sized Sega Genesis collection at this point. I haven’t quite reached triple digits yet, but I’m close. The thing is, there are hundreds and hundreds of games released for this system. I’m not even 1/5th of the way to a complete Genesis NTSC set, which is NOT a goal of mine. I’m only mentioning it as a frame of reference.
Therefore, my own Genesis top 10 list can only be based off the games I’ve played thoroughly enough to get a genuine feel for their gameplay and other attributes (controls, music, plot, replayability, etc.) that warrant either their inclusion or exclusion from a list such as this.
Right off the bat, I have to admit that I’ve never played some top tier Genesis games such as Phantasy Star IV, Shining Force II, M.U.S.H.A., Crusader of Centy, Herzog Zwei, and Ristar, just to name a few. These games seem to pop up on “must own, must play” Genesis lists all the time, so I accept that my own personal top 10 may be lacking compared to yours. That’s ok. Here’s my list anyway.
10. Tecmo Super Bowl – How could I deny or forget how much fun I had with this game? I’ve always enjoyed sports titles, going back to the original Tecmo Bowl on the NES, so the inclusion of this game shouldn’t be a surprise. I played Tecmo Super Bowl more on my NES, but this Genesis version received plenty of playtime when a good friend of mine upgraded to the Genesis in the early ’90s and bought this title shortly after. Too many Vs. battles & countless lazy Saturday afternoons spent on this game to even begin to count.
9. Truxton – An excellent shooter that reminds me quite a bit of Blazing Lazers on the TG-16. Which is a good thing, because that game is great! Truxton is also extremely difficult and requires the quickest of reflexes to even get to the second level. It sure is fun trying though!
8. Splatterhouse 2 – The sequel to my favorite Tubrografx-16 game of all time had a lot to live up to, and thankfully, Splatterhouse 2 doesn’t disappoint. Utilizing the same format that was so effective on the first game in the series, the sequel doesn’t stray too far from the original in terms of gameplay, graphics and gore. However, the Genesis library is a little deeper than the Turbografx-16’s so even a game as good as Splatterhouse 2 can’t quite compete with the top several games on the console.
7. Shining Force – Objectively speaking, the original Shining Force is a high quality, engaging strategy RPG for the Genesis. Subjectively speaking, the game is flawed (no ability to go back and re-visit sections or grind to level up) but the overall plot and gameplay is addictive and worthy of inclusion in the top 10. This game and series broke ground and has its followers for good reason.
6. Streets of Rage 2 – The SoR series on the Genesis is one of the key Sega 16-bit era franchises, along with Sonic, Phantasy Star and Shinobi. This second entry in the beat ’em up series improves on the original but not by leaps and bounds. Just enough improvement to include it in my top 10, because what list of best games on the Genesis doesn’t include a Streets of Rage? Great graphics, action, music and control…exactly what a 16-bit system should offer to set itself apart from the rest.
5. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Like Streets of Rage, there is no “best of Genesis” list without a Sonic title. Unless you’re one of those Sonic haters. In some ways, I can see how some (odd) people may dislike the entire franchise because of its frantic gameplay mechanics and “go fast” aesthetic. No one likes the underwater levels and the quest for coins and chaos emeralds sometime gets in the way of advancing further in the game. All that aside, there is still a LOT to enjoy from this series. For my personal preference, Sonic 2 contains the perfect blend of difficulty, level design, music, and fun to make my own personal top 10 list.
4. Phantasy Star II – The Phantasy Star series got it’s start on the 8-bit Master System, but like Final Fantasy on the NES, the series didn’t really make a name for itself until the 16-bit era. We saw 3 games in the series released on the Genesis, all of them (probably) deserving of a spot in the top 10, but Phantasy Star II is my personal choice. Truth be told, it’s the only one of the three that I’ve played and someday, I might have to revise this list, but for now, this is the RPG of choice.
3. Shinobi 3 – In many ways, I actually prefer the Shinobi series over the Sonic series. I can’t necessarily explain why, but I really enjoy the leaping, slashing, big boss fighting, special Ninjitsu using, stealthy gameplay of Shinobi over the “gotta go fast!” approach that Sonic takes with his games. Revenge of Shinobi was a bit too difficult for my liking, so I gravitate more towards Shinobi III when I need my ninja platformer fix.
2. Castlevania: Bloodlines – Speaking of action platformers, I think this title gets overlooked much too often when discussing the best games in the Castlevania franchise. Bloodlines has all the important aspects of a good Castlevania game in spades. Graphics, action, interesting and frightening enemies, a couple of characters you can play as to offer some additional replayability, excellent music. The ’90s were good to this franchise and Castlevania: Bloodlines is a game I come back to time and time again when I want to get my gothic horror stab and whip-on.
1. Gunstar Heroes – This probably won’t be a popular choice, but I simply find so much joy in this frantic action platformer that I couldn’t deny it’s place at #1. Contra may be Gunstar Heroes’ spiritual predecessor, but this game takes that format and amps up the gunfire, the weaponry, the bosses (so, so many bosses) and even the number of playable characters. I can’t even use nostalgia as an excuse for why I love this game so much. I didn’t play it for the first time until I was pushing 40. No reason for excuses though, Gunstar Heroes is everything that an action game should be and deserving of the top spot on my list.
Honorable Mention: Beyond Oasis, Contra Hard Corps, Earthworm Jim, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Hyperstone Heist