It’s hard to believe Sega is 60 year’s old (it’s hard to believe how old I am, but here we are). The company has had its ups and downs, especially in its later console years. At the end of its console days, making the transition to Third-Party Developer may not have been successful if it were not for Isao Okawa. Although its days of making consoles are over (for now?), it still develops and publishes hits such as Yakuza, Persona and Football Manager. They’ve also released several compilation games, allowing new players to experience some of their 16-bit classics.
Sega holds a special place in a lot of players hearts, with each having their own memories and experiences of the company over its long existence. For some, they remember heading to an arcade with friends to play such classics as Sega Rally, Out Run or even Golden Axe. For others, it’s their home consoles and the joy of being able to play both impressive arcade ports and console exclusives. Some have a strong attachment (and I mean strong, cough, Sonic fandom) to the wonderful characters Sega has created over the years.
Growing up in the late 80s and 90s (told ya I was old) I adored Sega, especially Sonic the Hedgehog. I once had someone draw Sonic on my window using snow spray for Christmas. I would wake up early on the weekends just to watch Sonic on Channel 4 and rush home from school to catch the other series on TCC. We didn’t have many arcades where I lived so I got most of my Sega enjoyment from the consoles.
Below are some of my memories of Sega both growing up and in the present day, starting with the Sega Master System. I’ve tried to limit it to three games in each section so as not to overdo it. Sadly, I don’t own the Mega-CD or 32X (one day I hope to) so they won’t be included.
Sega Master System
Growing up in Europe, the Sega Master System was a massively popular console. As a result it was my first ever machine. I got a Sega Master System II with Alex Kidd built in for Christmas. It would have been when the console was a budget machine in the 90s, with plenty of games available at a cheap price. I also got a Formula 1 game with it but I honestly can’t remember which one (I think it was F1 Championship). Alex Kidd was what I sunk most of my time in to. I was never particularly good at it (I’m still not) but I remember the joy of getting past the first level, getting on the bike, beating the first boss and eventually getting to the first castle.
Looking back, the Sega Master System definitely has some unique quirks. The Control Pad feels stiffer than the NES and having the Pause Button on the console is an odd choice. However, the console did have some memorable games. Nowadays, it’s a console I have a lot of games for because they can be gotten cheap, but I don’t spend as much time playing it as I do with other Sega consoles.
Alex Kidd In Miracle World
This was the game that was built in to my Master System II (some had Sonic The Hedgehog). I loved it as a child and I still enjoy it nearly 30 years later. It’s a colourful platform that involves punching eagles, playing janken and riding a bike through scorpions. Control-wise, it’s fairly solid. To beat enemies, you have to punch them. You can also purchase items at a shop.
Visually, the game is stunning and it holds up today. It has several bright and colourful levels to beat, all accompanied by its addictive theme song. I never made it particularly far in the game (and I still haven’t) but I did enjoy the challenge. The ghosts did freak me out as a child but I loved racing through a level on the bike. The game is available on PS3 through the PSN store, or if you do pick up a Sega Master System II chances are this will be the game built in.
Back To The Future Part II
Not all memories are good and this certainly isn’t one of them. This was one of the few Master System games I owned and it was incredibly frustrating. The game starts off with you controlling Marty on a hover board, as you make your way through Hill Valley. I could tell you what happens next but I never got that far.
The first stage takes a bit of time to navigate through but eventually you get to the pond in front of the clocktower. I had no idea what to do next so I would just keep dying here. As a BTTF fan (especially of Part II) this was incredibly disappointing. Sadly, I no longer own this game but may track it down to see if I can finally get past the first level.
Sonic The Hedgehog Chaos
This is a game I played for the first time not too long ago. It’s a 1993 release that’s also available on the Game Gear. In fact, it’s a PAL exclusive on the Master System. Out of the three Sonic games on the Master System, it is definitely the easiest.
The game allows you to play as either Sonic or Tails as you once again try to stop Dr. Robotnik (or Dr. Eggman if you want to be correct). The platforming feels tighter than the first two and there are some unique abilities (rocket shoes!). The game looks great visually and the music is the typical cheeriness you’d expect from a Sonic game. For any Sonic fans, I’d recommend seeking this out (preferably the Master System version). It’s not long but really enjoyable.
Sega Mega Drive
Released in 1988 in Japan and 1990 in Europe, the Mega Drive was Sega’s most successful console. It pitched itself as the “cooler” alternative to the SNES (in the 90s, everything had to be “cool”). It had something for everyone, from sports games to fighters, platformers to arcade ports. Growing up, I really wanted a Mega Drive. I had a SNES but my friend had Sega’s 16-bit machine and being the impressionable child I was, I really bought in to the company’s marketing.
My parents would drag me to car boot sales every Saturday and one day, I happened to stumble upon a Japanese console with Sonic for £50 (that’s punts, not pounds) After much begging, I finally got it. I loved the console but only ever had the one game for it, Sonic the Hedgehog. I did rent a large variety of games from TMNT Hyperstone Heist to Mortal Kombat.
Sonic The Hedgehog
Released in 1991, this is the game that would eventually be bundled with the console. Sonic is a fast paced platformer that encourages you to complete levels as quickly as possible. Visually, the game looks good (if you have the Japanese version, the clouds scroll). The music and sound effects are excellent, especially in Star Light Zone (probably my favourite Sonic level ever). Sonic is easy to control and getting his speed up is fun. However, Marble Zone goes against the grain. While Green Hills Zone is all about speed, Marble Zone forces you to take your time and in a game about speed, feels misplaced.
I sunk so many hours in to this game, trying to complete every level as fast as possible. I would also use a cheat to skip to Star Light Zone just to enjoy the music and atmosphere of the level. This game is where my love of Sonic came from and seeing as it was my only Sega Mega Drive game, it would be my go to when I couldn’t find anything to rent. Nowadays, it has been ported to almost everything so it’s easily accessible. While not as strong as its 2D sequels, it’s well worth trying just to see where the little blue ball got his start.
Streets of Rage 2
How could I put together a list of Mega Drive games and not include a Streets of Rage (you could probably say this for a lot of the games I’ve missed). The first Streets of Rage was an excellent Beat’em Up with a “popping” sound track. Its sequel, released in 1992 took everything that made the original great and expanded on it. This time you had four characters to choose from as you take on Mr X and try to rescue Adam. The game controls well, the graphics are great and the music is just as bangin’ (ooh, more 90s lingo) as ever.
This is a game I rented frequently. I would always bring it over to a friend’s house to enjoy the excellent multiplayer. Even to this day, I’ll play through the three Streets of Rage games back to back with that friend (who you can follow on Twitter if you’d like). As with most of Sega’s classics, it’s widely available either on Steam, in the Sega Mega Drive Classics on PS4 and Xbox One, and on mobile. If you like classic beat’em ups, this is an absolute must own.
Prince Ali! Mighty is he! Ali Ababwa! Released in 1993 and developed by Virgin Games and Disney Software, Aladdin has you jumping and slashing your way through several colourful areas from the film in order to stop the evil Jafar. The game-play is solid, with Aladdin controlling incredibly well. Visually, the game is stunning and why wouldn’t it be, it was hand drawn by Disney’s talented artists. The sound is spot on, containing some musical arrangements from the 1992 box office hit.
Aladdin is a game I played well after its release. I did play the SNES version when it first came out, but this is a different beast. The game is fun and I had a great time making my way through some of the more iconic scenes from the film. My cart does have an issue with the escape from the Cave of Wonders (what a place to have problems) but I managed to make my way through it. The game has a good balance when it comes to difficulty. Some parts are hard but I never felt frustrated. It’s been re-released as part of a bundle with the Lion King and is well worth picking up.