When reflecting on what was arguably Sega’s greatest console, there are a handful of titles that always spring to mind. Games such as Sonic The Hedgehog, Golden Axe and Streets of Rage came to define the Mega Drive as a platform, and while those series helped to distinguish Sega’s machine from the competition, a whole raft of excellent competitors were left in their wake.
With a library of over 900 games, not even the most ardent Sega fanatic could possibly remember every single title that was released on the platform. Many games were largely ignored at the time of release, whereas others have simply been lost in the misty farts of old Father Time. In an effort to address this imbalance, Power Up Gaming presents the top ten most overlooked Mega Drive games.
10) Comix Zone (1995)
With its release coming in the Mega Drive’s twilight years – not to mention its punishing difficulty level – it’s easy to see why action platformer Comix Zone has been largely forgotten by history.
That said, the beat ’em up has been critically acclaimed by those who were able to contest with its challenging stages and relatively short length, and has rightly gone on to achieve cult status in recent years. Developed by the Sega Technical Institute, whose staff played an integral role in the creation of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Comix Zone features a unique premise. You assume the role of comic book illustrator Sketch Turner, who becomes trapped in his own creation and must traverse actual comic sketch panels to escape this dystopian world; fighting the very same villains he created along the way.
With vibrant cartoony graphics, charming dialogue and rewarding gameplay, it’s a true shame Comix Zone wasn’t released earlier in the Mega Drive’s lifespan, where it may have had a fighting chance of realising its potential.
9) Dynamite Headdy (1994)
Treasure’s Dynamite Headdy is an imaginative platformer that displays a knowing sense of humour and constantly breaks the fourth wall. The game presents itself as a stage show in which you are the main character, and many of your enemies appear to be jealous of this fact. This reference is further enforced by the stage light which displays your health.
As the titular character, you are a puppet with the interesting ability to switch heads. Different heads give you different abilities, in a similar fashion to Kirby’s ability to swallow enemies. Some of these heads are essential to progress across impassable terrain, while others provide invincibility or shoot stars at enemies. Headdy can throw his head as an attack, or use it to bite onto hard-to-reach ledges. This makes Headdy a very versatile character and requires you to change your play style on several occasions.
Despite being one of the most charming games for the console, Dynamite Heady was always overshadowed by the Marios and Sonics of this world, and has since become a long lost Mega Drive treasure.
8) Herzog Zwei (1990)
Herzog Zwei is one of the first examples of the Real Time Strategy genre on home consoles, and initially proved unpalatable amongst games journalists who failed to understand the game’s mechanics. Herzog places you in the cockpit of a transformer that can change from a jet fighter to a bipedal robot, who can capture bases and create units from infantry to missile launchers.
The game is solely focussed on your ship, so controlling everything on the map like in modern RTS games is an impossibility. The leads to frenetic micromanagement as you fly around trying to refuel your units and make sure that the enemy ship doesn’t ambush them. While building individual units and capturing bases may take longer and require much more legwork than a typical RTS, Herzog’s pacing means that the player is always rushing to build his units first, position them in the best spots, and leaves few idle moments. Protecting your own units from the enemy ship Is essential to victory, and he doesn’t tend to go down without a fight. Plus, this is the closest we’ll ever get to becoming robots without the eternal shame of Gundam Wing cosplay.
7) Bonanza Bros. (1991)
If you were one of the million-plus players who bought Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing upon its release back in 2010, you’d be forgiven for wondering who the curious pair of professional thieves you unlocked with your hard-earned Sega Miles were. Chances are, you weren’t alone.
Brothers Mobo and Robo are the stars of Bonanza Bros., which was released in arcades in 1990 before being ported to the Mega Drive – and a slew of other consoles – the following year.
A precursor to the current-era Payday, the co-operative side-scroller puts players in the role of the dastardly duo as they carry out a number of burglaries on locations of increasing importance, including a house, a bank, a casino and, eventually, a treasury.
Bonanza Bros. was ahead of its time in many ways, pioneering the stealth-em-up in an era where mindless run-and-gun titles reigned supreme. The basic gameplay mechanics of walking, jumping, shooting and hiding make for an extremely fun pick-up-and-play experience to this day – though the title was largely overlooked following its original release.
6) Eternal Champions (1993)
Hoping to capitalise on the heightened public interest in fighting games following the successes of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat in the early 1990s, Eternal Champions was developed in-house by Sega exclusively for the Mega Drive.
Best played on a six-button controller or Sega Activator (else having to suffer from a clunky method of alternating between punches and kicks), the title received a 97% rating from the Mean Machines Sega magazine at the time of release, and is considered today to be a Mega Drive cult classic.
Differentiating itself from similar titles through a heavier emphasis on plot and interactive stages, Eternal Champions sold fairly strongly on release, but has undoubtedly been forgotten by history in favour of its flashier peers. Following the cancellation of the third entry in the series after a decent Sega-CD sequel, Sega abandoned the franchise completely; barring a Virtual Console version, it’s also been noticeably absent from recent Genesis collections and re-releases.
5) Landstalker (1993)
Before Navi earned the title of “Most Incessantly Annoying Fairy Companion”, we had Friday. Friday was the enigmatic magical cohort who accompanied the player in the isometric action-RPG Landstalker, and was responsible for most of the scrapes that you found yourself in. While it was tempting to catch Friday in a bottle and put her in a recycling bin, the game offered a light-hearted fantasy romp in which you search for the treasure of the ancient King Nole.
Landstalker was the closest the Mega Drive ever came to having its own Zelda game, and yet, comparing it to Zelda seems to do the game a disservice. Landstalker had a lengthy, twisting storyline which involves human sacrifice, thinly-veiled brothels (sorry, dance studios), and RPG elements that really set the game apart. While the isometric view lent itself to some tricky platforming, Landstalker remains one of the standout titles on the Mega Drive, even if its legacy appears to have been overshadowed by Nintendo’s green-hatted poster boy.
4) Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors Of The Eternal Sun (1992)
One of the earliest attempts to bring Dungeons & Dragons rules to a Sega console, Warriors of the Eternal Sun is a faithful recreation of D&Ds Hollow World campaign. This is reflected in the unusual creatures you’ll fight such as Beastmen, Lizardmen, Hydras and more.
Warriors of the Eternal Sun allows you to create a party of four characters using the standard races (Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Halflings) and a variety of typical character classes (Fighter, Thief, Cleric, Magic user etc.). When your entire town is transported to a mysterious world, the Duke orders your party to explore this strange new world and investigate. However, as the story progresses, the town slowly succumbs to madness and violence, and it’s up to you to figure out why.
While largely ignored at the time, it’s interesting to see a game which takes an early stab at the gameplay elements that made Baldur’s Gate so successful. The turn-based combat may not be stylishly presented, and some of the rules of combat may seem obtuse, but Warriors of the Eternal Sun offers a more measured approach than its RPG counterparts of the time. It successfully creates a standout world and allows the player an authentic D&D experience without the required weight gain, wizard shirt and cheeto-dusted fingertips.
3) Gynoug / Wings of Wor (1991)
Released shortly after a slew of critically acclaimed side-scrolling shooters such as R-Type, Gradius and Hellfire, Gynoug was criminally overlooked despite its overall quality. While other games in this genre usually cast you as a space ship pilot blasting his way through an alien invasion fleet, Gynoug took an unusual approach and cast you as an angel fighting off the demonic hordes of hades. This allowed Gynoug to carve out a gnarled niche, exposing the player to disembodied heads, twisted beings welded onto steam machines, and enemies that will vomit themselves inside out. Gynoug combines humans and machinery more gruesomely than an Ann Summers party at a retirement home.
Maybe the world wasn’t ready for the twisted vision that Gynoug offered. Maybe players couldn’t tear themselves away from the science fiction of other titles. Or maybe Sega simply failed to promote the game. Either way, Gynoug is a forgotten gem of the Mega Drive era.
2) Alien Soldier (1995)
A run-and-gun game released towards the end of the Genesis’s life, Alien Solider is often forgotten in favour of Treasure’s other great side-scrolling shooter, 1993’s Gunstar Heroes.
The fact that it only saw a release in Japan and Europe (until it was launched on the Virtual Console some 12 years later) and its hefty price tag has only added to the sci-fi title’s mystique. Smoke and mirrors aside, Alien Soldier is a fantastic, albeit brutally punishing, Mega Drive title.
Make no mistake about it: as its upper difficulty mode suggests, this game is ‘superhard’. Although most side-scrolling Mega Drive shooters feature long and complex levels packed with minor enemies that give way to an end-of-stage boss, Alien Solider is atypical in that its levels are actually relatively straightforward and short – but gone are the minor enemies, in favour of bosses everywhere!
Set in the ultra-futuristic 2015 (wait a minute!), players assume the role of Epsilon-Eagle as he rebels against the terrorist organisation he once led. Alien Soldier really is a struggle – the game was recently listed by the Guinness World Records Gamers Edition in the “most boss battles in a run-and-gun game” category – but it’s consequently extremely rewarding, and, in our eyes, unfairly overlooked.
1) Pulseman (1994)
With a physical release confined to Japan, this 16-bit side-scroller from Pokémon creators Game Freak enjoyed only very limited exposure in North America via the Sega Channel; which itself wasn’t widely used. Europeans were left in the dark altogether. As a result, millions of gamers missed out on what was arguably one of the Genesis’s most innovative games.
Channeling electricity through his body both as a means of traversing the game’s futuristic levels at high speeds and as a weapon to fight a gang of cyber-terrorists, the titular Pulseman must stand up against his own mad-scientist father for the sake of the free world.
While the game may have taken more than a hint of inspiration from Capcom’s Mega Man, this platformer excelled in ways its chief rival could only dream of back in the early 90s. Its psychedelic level design, glorious cartoony visuals and unique controls make Pulseman an often-overlooked game worth picking up.
And there you have it; our look at the most overlooked and underrated Sega Mega Drive games has come to a close. Please feel free to leave us a comment if you can think of a deserving game for the list, or let us know if you agree with our choices.