Well, I’ve decided I’m not yet finished laying waste to Sega. If you didn’t hear, they recently gave a developer called AtGames permission to launch one of those mini classic consoles that were recently made all the rage by Nintendo. The result was the Sega Genesis Flashback, which will go down in gaming history as a ripoff, a gouging attempt, a typically bad Sega release strategy, and the work of a bullshit artist. I can’t say the Flashback sucks, because I haven’t yet played it. But I do know what the game list looks like, and that’s all I need to not only know I’m not interested, but to tell you everything Sega and AtGames fucked up about the thing.
Now, I want the mini Super NES Classic so badly that I consider the 80 percent markup price I’ve seen private collectors selling them for perfectly reasonable. I don’t want anything to do with the Flashback. Maybe things would be different if I didn’t already own a couple of different versions of the Flashback; the main problem with the Flashback is that almost every game on it was released multiple times in the past on Genesis compilation collections. And most of those collections have more impressive games than the Flashback. I own Genesis collections for the Playstation 2 and Xbox 360, and between the two of them, the Flashback is totally useless. The reason the NES minis caught on was because they included libraries of hard-to-find classics that get sold in used game stores for three figures. They also contain a wide variety of different games which includes work from second and third party developers. And since Nintendo is still in the hardware market, they haven’t released 700 different compilations of their old games. What has Sega done? Release compilation after compilation of the same games until you hate your Genesis favorites. They don’t bother with their third party classics or their rarities. Plus, they loaded up the Flashback with app games you play in the dentist’s waiting room. You want to know what games Sega SHOULD be putting onto a mini Genesis to make it as desirable as the Super NES Classic? Here is a sizable list of what Sega keeps missing – games that SHOULD be going onto a mini Genesis. (Here’s a quick note: For this list, I’m sticking with only the Genesis, not the Sega CD or the 32X, basically going by Sega’s unwritten rule and also to show how badly gamers are getting screwed.)
Toejam and Earl
Weird, wild, fun as hell, and coming with an option for a random world in which no two games would ever be the same, Toejam and Earl was like nothing else ever released. The story of two funky aliens looking to repair their spaceship, this game gave us two characters who could have been among the 16-bit Era’s strongest. Toejam and Earl as more or less an early sandbox game – it gave gamers complete control to go in any direction as far as the literal edge of the world. It had characters like Cupid, a talking carrot, giant hamster wheels, and wizards. It had weird power-ups and an incredible in-90’s vibe. The lad characters had franchise potential written all over them. What’s more, this game is hard to find now, and Sega hasn’t seen it fit to release on a classic collection.
While an outstanding and memorable game on both the Genesis and Super NES, the Genesis version is the quintessential version because it contains a whole extra level. As for the game itself, much of what I just said about Toejam and Earl applies to Earthworm Jim: Weird, wild, fun as hell, strong lead character. We can also expand that list to include: White-knuckle, manic, intense, and hard as fucking rocks. Earthworm Jim’s challenge is infamous. By the second level, you’re in the depths of hell. The third level runs you through one of the most painful underwater levels of all time. Later in the game, you get to be the escort of a happy-go-lucky pooch that turns into a hulked-out beast if it falls into a pit, slug it out with a piece of snot in a bungie contest, and the game climaxes in a brutal spike-laden level called Buttville.
Contra: Hard Corps
By the time the Genesis came out, Contra and Castlevania were already popular commodities on the NES and Super NES. These two games were the Genesis entrants in both series, released to both audience and critical acclaim. It was the point where Genesis fans could tell their Super NES peers, “Yeah, how nice. We got one of those too!”
The Genesis was THE go-to console for sports games during its time, and NHL ‘94 holds a particularly high perch among the bunch. Gamers nowadays can afford to take their sports games for granted, but among gamers of my own generation, there are two sports games held almost sacred: One is Tecmo Bowl for the NES. The other is NHL ‘94 for the Genesis. The exalted status is held less for the accuracy than the sheer amount of unlimited fun we had exposing the game-breaking glitches and overpowered players. Tecmo Bowl had invincible Bo Jackson. NHL ‘94 had unstoppable Jeremy Roenick. NHL ‘94 also had goalies who could nearly kill players just by standing around, rowdy audience animations, the ability to score a goal by shooting while just skating by the goalie almost every time… Well, few sports games have reached this level of arcadey accessibility since. Hell, the entire sports genre doesn’t get there these days. The only post-16-bit game that approaches this level is ESPN NFL 2K5.
Here’s a hardcore action run and gun title that most people who played it would gladly dump Contra for.
Let’s be honest: The Legend of Zelda will always be THE LEGEND OF ZELDA. Always replicated, never duplicated. That didn’t keep anyone associated with Sega from trying, though, and reaping the fruits of their labors brought adventure RPG’s as deep and rewarding as any of Link’s games. The Genesis managed to produce a few gems in that area, most notably Landstalker and Beyond Oasis. Both of those games are amazing, but Landstalker is getting the nod here because Sega DID manage to find a brain for a minute and place Beyond Oasis on a compilation. While the triangular plane can take some growing used to, Landstalker was every bit as capable of bending minds as A Link to the Past.
This is considered one of the forefathers of the real-time strategy genre. Are you into Starcraft? Fire Emblem? Advance Wars? Of course you are. And this is where the genre found its legs. (Well, this and Military Madness, if you owned a TurboGrafx-16.)
Yes, it’s the funniest thing a game like Aladdin could be included on a list like this, especially if you know the reputation of movies turned into video games during the 16-bit Era. But Aladdin not only bucked the odds, but managed to turn into one of the Genesis’s iconic titles and one of the era’s great action platformers. With animation worthy of the movie itself (this game was animated by the same people who animated the movie), all your favorite tunes from the film, a level that took place inside Genie’s lamp, a sense of humor, and some of the tightest controls a gamer could ask for, and there’s a game which is not only fun, but far better-made than a game based on a movie has any right to be.
Sega’s attempt to go into fighting games isn’t going to make anyone forget about Street Fighter. Truth be told, I didn’t think Eternal Champions was great – the combo-free interface will probably put off a few purists. But a lot of people seem to love this game, and there are a lot of good reasons to love it. There’s a measure of internal strength which adds an element of strategy that makes up for the lack of combos, and you can’t press two buttons at the same time without running into a special move. The characters have some of the best designs in fighting games, ever; they all look like comic book heroes. But the thing that really pushed Eternal Champions above and beyond in the minds of most gamers is the training room and the option to create a level, complete with obstacles, all of your own.
A dark horse title which people seemed to love or hate, Shadowrun offered a lot of open-world exploration along with a dark cyberpunk atmosphere.
Super Street Fighter II
We need to include the fighting game to end all fighting games in this collection. I know Special Champion Edition has its fans (myself included), but I’m going to go with the uber edition of this classic, which included four new characters.
Road Rash III
Today, driving games are all the rage because the technology makes it easy for designers maximize a console’s engine and provide plenty of tracks and cars for dedicated gamers to collect and drive. Back in the 16-bit years, though, driving games were a lot more hit or miss… Okay, well, let’s be honest: They were misses. Road Rash was one of the few series which managed to create a fun formula which got the most out of the Genesis, and it did so by adding a simple twist: It made a motorcycle race into a street brawl. A good way to let off steam, a good number of iconic driving titles these days owe a debt to Road Rash.
NBA Jam: Tournament Edition
This game was a title for those who wanted to enjoy sports games without the pesky trouble of the actual sports. NBA Jam took basketball and stripped it down to the bare essentials. Giving us a two-on-two game, it took all the fast action of a basketball game and gave it concepts like hot spots, power-ups, exaggerated dunks, secret celebrity players, and being On Fire. The controls used an arcade setup which included a turbo button and quick release shooting to maximize accessibility, and the Tournament Edition included better music than its predecessor and an option to include four players.
Thunder Force III
Although the Genesis is probably more celebrated for its contributions to sports gaming, it holds a dear spot in the hearts of shooter fans as well. The pantheon of available shooting games for the Genesis is second only to that of the shooter library on the TurboGrafx-16, so we need to include a set of shooting games made to show it off. Although the Super NES had better technological specs overall, Nintendo’s dirty little secret is that it had a slower processor than the Genesis, so shooting games on the Super NES would get marred with slowdown while the Genesis counterparts in the genre were smooth and uninhibited for a faster, more intense experience. There are three acclaimed titles which give a taste of what the Genesis can do with such a genre.
College Football USA ‘96
Yes, yes, everyone is keen on the Madden series, for reasons I will never begin to understand. And the Joe Montana Sports Talk series was a breakthrough in play by play. But if it’s football you want, you don’t necessarily have to settle for the NFL. You can go back to college and pretty much have your way with available teams and playbooks. This game was one of the first to really show the grand spectacle that is college football, with an offering of 108 teams, and if we’re trying to give away a sample of what the Genesis could do with sports titles, this one is more indispensable than anything a developer could do with an NFL license.
Rocket Knight Adventures
Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2
A pair of beloved and acclaimed platformers starring a possum named Sparkster who wore a knight’s armor and flew with a jetpack, these games have plenty of fans.
World Series Baseball
Before Sega went third party and started making the greatest NBA games on the planet, it had baseball locked up with this series. The dramatic view from the catcher’s eyes was a big deal at the time, and it still looks great today.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors
An outstanding variation of a shooting game, this one is another open-world setting where you get to wander wherever the world lets you go, shooting up everything in sight while keeping your neighbors safe from an unending zombie horde. Zombies Ate My Neighbors has the sensibilities of any B-movie, and it takes itself about as seriously.
Notably, I haven’t played all of these, but they’ve all reached cult status in the hearts of 16-bit gamers. But here we have it: A good collection of breakthrough games and scarce games that Sega has seen it fit to ignore in the hopes that it can cash in on Sonic the Hedgehog re-releases for fucking ever. If Sega wants in on the mini-console gravy train, it would do well to take a page from Nintendo’s book and ask itself what its fans might have the most difficulty finding, and what games are really worth preserving for posterity.