With every video game generation that expires, a new one begins and memories of the past rise to the surface. With the PS4 and Xbox One both releasing in the next few weeks, I have become somewhat nostalgic for the old days when game consoles were just game consoles, and game developers were in the nascent stages of evolving the medium into a conduit for more artful expression. In my recent private cogitations, I have been reminiscing about the Sega Genesis, a console I first owned in 1989. Many great titles were created on this venerable platform, and many great franchises were established. The 16 bit era was truly special, characterized by a maturing of the creative and developmental processes combined with the modernization of the industry as a whole; a time when the video game industry became firmly rooted as a legitimate entertainment giant. The following list is Part 1 of my most memorable Sega Genesis games, the ones that had the most profound effect on me during the formative years of my early adulthood, or the ones that left me with the fondest memories. Because this list does not represent any particular order of importance, the list is organized in alphabetical order. Please don't forget to check back with us next week for Part 2.
Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
Sometimes a game comes around that ends up occupying a special place in your heart. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is one of those games. Capturing the magical qualities of the lovable Disney characters and cartoon aesthetic, Castle of Illusion wasn't as long or challenging of a game as it was evocative. The faithful animations, colorful and creative level design, and endearing protagonist, made Castle of Illusion a delightful, lighthearted, and fun experience during the early years of the Sega Genesis. I will always fondly remember the many hours spent playing through this game during the holidays in the early 1990s.
Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
I didn't think I would like this game because of its mildly complicated controls, but once this hurdle was overcome, Desert Strike became an addictive delight of military destruction bliss. Whether it was rescuing hostages, hoarding hellfire missiles to take out tanks, or exploring the isometric terrain for fuel and ammo crates, Desert Strike was a unique action-shooter that tugged at the hearts of completists like myself. I couldn't finish a level without destroying everything in sight, and the fully destructible environmental objects simply facilitated for this compulsion.
Ecco the Dolphin
Many people, in retrospect, don't really remember Ecco the Dolphin fondly like I do. The game was beautiful to look at, and it had some sophisticated physics and animations for its time. Although the learning curve for the controls was quite steep, learning how to control Ecco with fluidity and purpose was very rewarding. Ecco the Dolphin was a punitively difficult game, and the fact that I beat it ranks this game at the top of my list of brag-worthy conquered titles in my nearly 35 years of gaming history.
Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing
Buster Douglas was the first man to finally usurp boxing's most coveted crown away from the nearly invincible Mike Tyson. Tyson's ring presence and undefeated record earned him his own video game on the NES – Mike Tyson's Punch Out – and it was great. Beating Tyson earned Buster Douglas his own game on the Genesis, and it was horrible. Sega finally found success in challenging the great Mike Tyson's Punch Out when they signed on Evander “Real Deal” Holyfield and designed a game around his likeness and prestige. Mike Tyson's Punch Out was more of a puzzle game surrounded by the trappings of boxing; Evander Holyfield's Real Deal Boxing was more a simulation of the “sweet science”, and it was my favorite boxing game until the release of Fight Night Round 3 on the Xbox 360.
Golden Axe 2
The sequel to the popular arcade original and early Genesis release, Golden Axe 2 is a continuation of the classic hack-and-slash beat-em-up franchise. This is a game that I had memorized to almost to every detail. I used to hurry home from school to play this game in an attempt to speed through it faster than the last time I played it. Thus was the nature of gaming over 20 years ago; the fun of many games came from the memorization of the A.I. behavior and level design, and beating the game as quickly and efficiently as possible was the main motivator. I used to love making charging enemies throw themselves over cliffs.
Anyone who has been following our weekly podcast or features posted on our website knows that I like space and spaceships. There was a time that I also enjoyed side-scrolling space shooters such as Hellfire. This game was so difficult that I never beat it, but I would spend hours trying. I think I made it close to the end, but the game became seemingly impossible no matter how well I memorized enemy patterns and level design. Nevertheless, I used to hurry home from school daily just to play this game before starting my homework. These fond memories are what qualifies Hellfire as being a part of this esteemed list.
Jungle Strike is basically more of the same as Desert Strike, and this is a good thing. This title basically swapped the arid, monochrome milieu of the desert for the verdant, green jungle, then plopped in the same helicopter combat of the first game with the addition of a few new vehicles for a little variety. Sadly, the Saddam Hussein style Madman from the first game didn't make it to the sequel; now there was a comical antagonist who deserved a good hellfire missile in the mouth.
This one brings back a lot of memories. For some reason, King's Bounty reminds me of weekends where I would head to the gym to lift weights in the evening after a few hours of gameplay. The strategic turn-based gameplay mechanics of this fantasy RPG are both rewarding and addictive. I enjoyed purchasing hundreds of cheap Sprites for units, then using them to annihilate smaller groups of stronger enemies. Another notable peculiarity about this title involves its save system. Instead of a battery back-up save system, the developers opted to use one the most burdensome and punitive password systems I have ever seen. Writing the password on paper was like writing an essay, and making a mistake could lead to losing your game altogether.
I used to love playing the classic board game Monopoly when I was a child. I think this game had a great influence on my personal faith in our capitalist system. Monopoly has been translated into digital form many dozens of times over, but the Sega Genesis version was the one I acquired, and I loved it. Even to this day, if I were to fire this game up, I would become instantly transfixed. I currently have the PS3 version and it is great, but the Sega Genesis game is the one I will always remember with fondness, and it's the only version I have that I can play on my Sega Nomad.
Mortal Kombat was quite the craze in the arcades back in the early nineties. With its gruesome and violent fatalities, and with some amazing digitized graphics - a novelty for its time - Mortal Kombat's lack of depth in the technical aspects of the fighting arts were easily forgiven and ignored. Although Street Fighter 2 ruled among the video game fighter purists, Mortal Kombat was still a lot of fun and very accessible. Many didn't believe this title would translate well to the console, but the Genesis port was remarkably faithful to the arcade original. I was so excited about this game that I actually pre-ordered it, something I almost never do. The Genesis port is best remembered for being the version that retained all of the blood and violence of the arcade original, while the Super Nintendo version was sanitized due to Nintendo's policy concerning violence. The Genesis version may have not been as pretty as its competitor's, but it had it where it counts.
Phantasy Star 2
This game is very special to me. Phantasy Star 2 kept me company during a difficult, transitional period in my life where I had little interaction with my peers. I found this game used, and affordable, at a local comic book store that sold video games. After nearly 22 years, this title's theme still has a calming effect on me. Also, Phantasy Star 2 is notable for being one of the first games that had an impactful, emotional narrative that included the sorrowful death of a likable and important character.