The Sega Genesis was a video game console from the fourth generation of gaming. Released in Japan in 1988 as the Mega Drive, it was released in North America as the Sega Genesis the next year. Sega was Nintendo’s main competitor in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and both the Genesis and Super Nintendo Entertainment System are regarded by many as classic gaming’s crowning achievements. I know the library of the SNES inside and out, it’s my favorite system of all time. However, I never had a Genesis, so I missed out on a lot of classic games. I did play some of them via various collections like on the PS2, or through less…legal methods (you put it together, it’s fine if you get rid of it in 24 hours), but now I’m going to make an attempt to rectify this with Steam’s Sega Genesis/Mega Drive Collections. They’ve released 5 collections so far, each including 10 games. I bought all of them, and intend to write a paragraph or two about how each game holds up in 2013/14. Also, instead of tackling them in the collections they’re presented in, I’m going to go through them 5 at a time in a somewhat chronological order (by year shown on the title screen, then by which collection the game is in) to get a better representation of the progression of games for the console.
Altered Beast (1988, Collection 1)
Welcome to your doom! If you’re familiar with the Genesis at all, you should also be familiar with this game. Altered Beast is a single-plane beat-em-up, and is remembered fondly by Genesis fans. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same. It looks nice, but is a pretty boring game. All of the characters and backgrounds are nicely detailed, but the controls are sluggish and the action is fairly unengaging. The “turn into a beast” mechanic is neat, but getting the power ups feels like busy work. A better, albeit much simpler example of this style of game is Kung Fu on the NES. Rise from your grave…or don’t bother if you don’t want to.
Space Harrier II (1988, Collection 1)
Get ready! Space Harrier II is a third person shooter. The scrolling effects are done fairly well, but that’s about it. Lousy music, terrible hit detection, and boring gameplay make this quite a forgettable game. I can at least recommend Altered Beast to people, you might like it…but I don’t see how anyone can enjoy this game.
Super Thunder Blade (1988, Collection 2)
Super Thunder Blade is another third person shooter, although it’s only marginally better than Space Harrier II. It solves the problem of poor hit detection by giving you guided missiles, but that really just turns it into a “hold the fire button down and dodge” kind of game. And this works well until the second level, where I found the giant stone pillars nearly impossible to dodge. One big advantage that Space Harrier II has over this one is that the controls don’t seem so slow. It feels like your helicopter has a lot of weight, and as such it takes a second for you to move in the direction you’ve intended.
Golden Axe (1989, Collection 1)
Now THIS is a beat-em-up. Before the rivalry of classics like Final Fight and Streets of Rage, there were games like Double Dragon and Golden Axe. These vastly improved on the model set by Altered Beast by changing the view to an isometric perspective, increasing your area of mobility. Also, combos were added to vary the playing experience. You could slash, run, jump, grab, and throw your enemies. The addition of selectable characters, each with their own different appearance and magic, is a very nice touch. The enemies aren’t just mindless punching bags, either. They’ll often run at you from the edge of the screen if they know that they’re lined up with you, so a bit of strategy is necessary when approaching them. Some of them will attack while riding on monsters, and if you hit them you can take control of the monsters, giving you an offensive advantage. The storyline, while simple by today’s standards, is good enough to convey that you’re traversing on a quest, rather than simply playing through levels. For example, with the exception of the progress screen/map, you don’t actually see the giant turtle or the giant eagle, but the map serves its purpose as a storytelling mechanic.
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (1989, Collection 2)
Maybe this one’s my fault for expecting Sega’s equivalent of a Mario game, but I pretty well instantly disliked this one. The only time the words “controls” and “good” should be in the same sentence describing this game is if the word “not” is there as well. Everything feels floaty and slippery, and playing rock-paper-scissors (or “janken” as it’s known in the game and, incidentally, in Japan) to be able to buy items is ridiculous. When you go into a store, you should be able to go to an item and just buy it, not have to pay to play a random game of chance to the death.
In short, time has not been very kind to 1988 Genesis games, if they were ever actually good in the first place. They all seem very “tech demo” to me. 1989 hasn’t fared much better so far, with the only one of these early Genesis games that I can recommend to Sega newbies being Golden Axe. It may be showing signs of age, but is still a very fun game, especially with 2 player co-op action. So where do all these games fit in the grand scheme of things? Instead of giving scores, I’m going to put each game into one of 5 categories. Please note that these are based solely on my opinion, and may change to a different category as more games are introduced.
Awesome (I will play these again. Definitely recommended)
Good (I will play these again. Recommended)
Average (I might play these again. Somewhat recommended)
Boring (I will never play these again. Only recommended if you’re a big fan of the genre)
Awful (I will never play these again. Cannot recommend to anyone)
Space Harrier II
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Super Thunder Blade
Next time I’ll finish 1989 and dive into 1990, with Phantasy Star II, The Revenge of Shinobi, Crack Down, Shadow Dancer, and Columns.
Click here for part 2!