I did a similar post about the NES recently and now this is my stab at naming 30 Sega Genesis carts a new collector might consider getting started with. I will try to venture off the beaten path, this isn’t a list of the top 30 games, or even a list of hidden gems, just a good, well-rounded assortment of games to pick up and get a good start. Also I am numbering these to keep track of how many are on the list, these are not ranked in order of important.
1. Sonic 2
For most collectors and gamers alike, if you are thinking about getting into Sega you need to start with Sonic games. Everyone has their opinion and this list will reflect mine so this is the one I recommend up front. This has a very great single player campaign more with an optional 2-player experience if you know how to do it right and work as a team. However the real fun is in the 2-player split screen competition mode. Everyone has that game they could get their parents to play who weren’t exactly gamers, 2-player competition Sonic 2 was our families entry point for family fun. I think it holds up especially well with today’s “speedrun” culture so it’s worth checking out, plus it still has a pseudo-3D special stage to connect the retro with the modern.
You will want a brawler or “beat-em-up” right off the bat. The 16-bit era was the golden age of arcade fighting games and X-Men is a great example of how to bring that action to the home screen and make it exceptional. Unlike typical arcade brawlers though, this game has a lot going for it. It’s actually more of an action game than a straight bean-em-up, but it’s a lot of fun. You get to explore the most popular scenes from X-Men lore, facing their more well-known enemies with a roster that samples some of the best members the X-Men have ever had. The game is great. However, there is a trick to it, in order to beat the game you do have to know the right moment to hit the reset button in order to progress and not everyone is going to know that up front. I highly recommend this as a great 2-player and single player action game with fun characters to explore. It is done in the style of the fondly remembered X-Men animated series that ran on Fox in the 90’s so it’s got a double-dose of nostaglia and cool factor going for it.
3. Shinobi 3
On the surface, like Sonic, you could make a case for any of the three Shinobi titles on the console. However, unlike Sonic, I push heavily for the third installment over the others. All games are fantastic but this one just took everything that was great from the previous and upped the ante by about 1000 percent. The action is immediate, urgent, and very heart-pounding from the moment you turn the cart on, the music itself gets you pumped up and ready to start busting your ninja moves to fight the evil criminal monster makers this game throws at you. The horse riding and jetski levels add an extra layer of variety that make the game even more exciting. Ninja Gaiden on NES is a great Ninja game, Shinobi 3 is a fantastic follow through to damn near perfection. The game is the right blend of hard and fun, with varying degrees of difficult options to help you find your perfect game play style.
If you are going into the Genesis library from the perspective of a SNES fan or gamer, Turrican might be a good starting point. It has some of the Metroid style level and power ups, it has some bullet hail action common in shooters and it has the robot/sci-fi action of any good arcade game from the era. It is basically the perfect storm. This game is also HARD, you think NES hard is a thing, oh no, this takes NES hard and maxes it out. The game can be easy if you use a handy little cheat, but the enemies are non-stop, respawn at the worst place, there are sudden death traps all over and the grand boss battles really remind you of what a boss battle in an action game was supposed to feel like. The game was inspired heavily by Metroid, and it shows. There are other ports out there, some better some worse, but this is a list of Genesis games and the Sega port is a fine entry in the series. Again like above, there are other Turrican games, three total technically, on the Genesis so you are free to explore the library and find more action to keep you entertained. I still enjoy going back to this one the most, especially the music it’s just great fun. I do remember the cheat code, and any NES Contra fan will attest, in some games the cheat code really just makes the game playable, as is the case here.
5. Mortal Kombat
The war between Nintendo and Sega was a blood conflict, and it all started right here with the first volley into the battlefield of violent video games. Sega brought video games to the masses more than Nintendo in many ways, at least to the collective consciousness of the larger public. This game spawned lawsuits and Congressional hearings, leading all the way to the creation of a rating system in place today. Oh and it happens to be a GREAT port of a FUN arcade fighting game. The move set still holds up, the graphics are still passable, for the most part, and the characters and fatalities are as memorable as ever. This is also *THE* game to force you into picking up a 6-Button controller, and it is so worth it. Some criticize it for not being too faithful to the arcade, at least by today’s standards. Well duh, it was released on inferior hardware, but that was common. If Contra or TMNT for NES get a free pass, why does MK for Sega get so much flack? The graphics are mostly the same or at least close enough, all of the levels are there, the minor graphical differences are just that, minor, and the gameplay is spot on plus the music is actually much better in the Sega version, making it a very worthy purchase for a Sega collector even to this day. I can’t, and won’t say that about the subsequent entries in the series, but MK 1 is worth buying and playing today.
6. Toe Jam and Earl: Panic on Funkotron
Stop it right now, I know you are screaming at the computer telling me this game sucks play the original. Slow down, here me out. First, duh, everyone knows the original is a classic, and yes, everyone knows Sega was not very well known for their platformers, but chill dudes, this is still a top notch platformer with great level design, fun characters, an entertaining and humorous story, and it’s one of the brightest and most colorful games on the Genesis. If you were looking for a uniquely Sega game that also felt Nintendo enough then this is it. The game is fun, and the challenge is great and the 2-player mode requires full cooperation of both parties if you want to make any real progress.
7. Biohazard Battle
I will get this off my chest before I move forward. Those people who “claim” the Turbo Graphix-16 is the “best” console for arcade shooters (shoot-em-ups or shmups) are either lying, or have been lied to. Just by sheer numbers alone the Genesis beats the TG-16. I mean there were a grand total of 21 shooters for Turbo, you can bring that up to the mid 30’s if you add Turbo CD, and yes they were ALL great games, but Genesis has 50+ shooters, and among them is this amazing gem of a game. While not every shooter is golden, this game is great. It has 4 ships, each organic in nature, has a lot of imagery to nuclear war and alien invasions, and the levels get progressively more difficult with the weapons and bosses increasing in intensity at each stage. Oh and as any Sega fan with gladly point out to those Nintendo fanboys, despite the so-called limitations of the hardware, the music in this game is FANTASTIC. This is easily one of the top tier, hidden gem arcade style shooters you will ever discover. Are there better shooters on the console, oh sure, but this game is totally worth buying a Genesis for if nothing else. That doesn’t mean Turbo is not a GREAT console for shooter fans, but come on, it’s got nothing on the Genesis and this game proves that.
8. Cool Spot
I will keep this short, this game is the definitive platforming game based on a licensed non-Disney character. Sure that’s a lot of qualifiers but this game is fun. Sure it is also on SNES but we are focused on Sega right now. Anyways pick it up its fun, its cheap and yeah not perfect still a great game to get started.
9. Bubba N Stix
I won’t spend a lot of time on each game, and here on out I am going to move pretty quick, but this game is just a good blend of 90’s weirdness, Sega coolness, and platforming goodness. It’s not the greatest platformer ever, but it’s a good time nonetheless.
10. D&D Warriors of the Eternal Sun
There are not that many great RPG’s on the console. As a D&D fan, I always recommend this game to anyone collecting for the Sega. It’s not a traditional JRPG it blends elements of both western and Eastern style gameplay and features some pretty good customization based on one of the better rulesets of the game. It’s fun, and a good action RPG to get you started.
11. Sonic Spinball
Once again not to take a “dig” at Turbo fans who brag about the “awesome” pinball games on their console but Sega has you beat with this gem. Take pinball action with multiple boards, multi level boards, mix it with sci-fi themed Sonic, throw in some platforming and amazing 90’s techno inspired music and you got yourself a good time. ‘Nuff Said.
12. Raiden Trad
Keep this quick, a great arcade port of a fun shooter game. It’s a fun game with a lot of action to keep the shmup fans happy and it plays well enough for a Sega game.
13. Decap Attack
Now if you want a quirky game that really shows how different from Nintendo Sega was, this is the place to start. The main character throws his head at enemies, really it’s a lot of fun. It has a very early 90’s vibe and plays quite well for a platformer. It’s a good game all around.
14. Comix Zone
I would be burned at the stake if I mentioned Genesis games and didn’t bring this up. It’s plays into the X-Men/comic book vibe Sega was really great at in the 90’s. Hell, even in the later years their consoles were well known for having fantastic super-hero themed games. This is no exception. Best of all, it’s completely original and hard as hell while remaining fun to play at the same time. Pick it up, I can’t say more good things about it than what is already out there.
15. Disney’s Aladdin
Hey Nintendo fanboys, you want to talk about the awesome Disney afternoon games on your NES, okay good for you those cute little 8-bit games sure were fun, when I was 8. Now, let me show you a real game, oh and it’s Disney and based on one of the greatest animated films of all time. Everyone knows the Sega version of Disney’s Aladdin is *THE* version of Aladdin to get, so I am not teaching you anything new. But seriously if you buy a Sega console to game or collect and you wait too long to get this game, you lose all your gamer cred.
16. Thunderforce/Lightning Force
These games are all good, I won’t force you to pick which one is the best, grab the first one you come across that is within your budget and enjoy more proof Sega was *THE* shmup fans dream console, not the Turbo what’sitcalled.
17. Joe Montana Sports Talk Football
I am not a huge sports fan but every collector knows they have to have that one sports game to show off, and if you have a Sega console, this is probably it. Moving on.
I used to go into a video game store with my sister all the time. There was one employee there who no matter what console you were looking for he would always say, have you played Boogerman yet? He wasn’t wrong in how much he hyped this game. Sure, I already had it and if you want to get into Sega collecting you might as well pick it up first chance you get, it’s pretty good and really captures the whole spirit of the console, well the 90’s in general.
This is another one that falls under the quirky category of games. Basically it’s a stop motion animated arcade style 1 on 1 fighting game. Is it the best fighting game on the system, not by a long shot, but it will look damn nice sitting on your shelf and it makes for a great conversation piece.
There are a few different Spider-Man games on the console, this one is just titled Spider-Man no subtitle. It’s loosely based on the animated cartoon, and has some similarities to the Sega CD counterpart. In this game you are Spidey, armed with his spider-powers, and his trust camera that he uses to sell photos to earn money to buy extra equipment. It has a learning curve but once you get the hang of it this wall-crawling action platformer is sure to make your spider senses tingle with joy.
21. Gunstar Heroes
Tell the Nintendo Fanboys they can keep their umpteenth Contra sequel/knock off while you sit back and have a blast shooting down enemies with some of the best run n gun action you will ever come across outside of a Neo Geo. This game captures the spirit of something like a Metal Slug while offering a grounded Contra-esque experience. Sure you could just go for the (not lame) Contra Hard Corps anyways, but any self respecting Sega fan will tell you Gunstar Heroes is where it’s at.
22. Ghouls N Ghosts
Yes it was a launch title. Yes it was a sequel to a (fantastic) NES game, and yes it’s HARD as hell, but you know what, I am almost certain that if you are brand new getting into Sega collecting you will find no better game than this to pick up and get you into the awesome 16-bit mood. Sure there is the (superior) Super Ghosts N Goblins on SNES, which if you have a Super Nintendo get that game too, but this is all about Sega and this arcade style classic is sure to keep you coming back for more. The levels are fun, the bosses battles are challenging, the atmosphere is dark and the music is great for getting you pumped for action.
Everyone is going to tell you get Sonic, get Altered Beast, and get Columns. I am going to tell you get Sonic 2, and get Columns. Columns is a simple, but fun and addicting puzzle game. There aren’t that many good puzzle games on the system unfortunately and Columns is one of the best, it’s a great common game so it won’t break the bank, and it’s a good pick up and play casual game to try to get your friends into the Sega experience. The music is also very good, it will put you in a trance but that’s okay.
24. Streets of Rage 2
Skip 1, wait to get 3 when you are good and ready and just dive into one of, if not the best, 16-bit arcade-style brawlers ever made. This game is just too much fun, the music is just fantastic, the action is great, the levels are perfectly designed and the boss battles are just the right mix of fun and challenge. This is the definitive arcade beat-em-up and it’s exclusive to Sega Genesis* (Or the Genesis Rom is available on various compilations but it was never released in arcades)
I wasn’t going to pick too many obvious choices at the same time I wanted to stay away from too many of the “hidden gems” that are probably too expensive or hard to find. Instead I wanted to focus just on getting you a decent collection of games relatively quickly and your first 30 games for Genesis absolutely must include Vectorman. This is Sega action at it’s peak. The graphics are top notch, the music is fantastic, the level design and boss battles, sounds familiar? Sega actually did make GREAT games during the 16-bit era, in fact they made such great games that this honestly explains why despite their total suckage these days, they still have such a devoted fanbase, because hey even if they never make a game as great as Vectorman again, at least they made this one for the world to enjoy, and hell they did us a solid and made a sequel too. Just shut up and buy this game already.
26. Virtua Racing
Nintendo has their F/X Chip, Sega gas their SVP chip. Now Nintendo went on to release a good number of F/X games, Sega released just one for their SVP chip. Fortunately for gamers, and unfortunately for Sega investors, they topped Nintendo by forgoing the expensive chip and replaced it with the, much maligned, Sega 32X add-on. Now I would highly recommend just getting a 32X, but until you are ready for that, or if you decide to stick to the basics, fine but at the very least get this game. The arcade original was a game changer and yes it actually won awards and accolades. Is this version fun, you bet your ass it is. Sure it is clunky by today’s standards, hell it was clunky by the standards of the time, but it’s a great demonstration of what they were trying to do, demonstrates that Nintendo weren’t the only ones desperate to beef up their console with some 3D graphics, oh and it’s actually a fun racing game. Also if you are into collecting, which these guides are aimed at collectors, you KNOW you want this beast of a cartridge sitting on your shelf for your gamer friends to stare at. Yes you do, we know you do.
27. Super Street Fighter II
Did you honestly think I, a devoted Fighting game fanatic and self proclaimed Sega nerd (seriously my handle online is Segagamer12) was going to not mention *the* fighting game of fighting games? Well think again. Shut your Nintendo fanboy friends up with a good 6-button pad and a copy of the best 16-bit version of SF2 in existence, and yes this one is actually better in every way to the SNES counterpart, especially if you have the 6-button pad, or hell a REAL gamer/collector would even have a 6-button arcade stick so there you go pick this up and show off that HELL YEAH the Genesis blast processing was good for more than just shooting blue rodents through rollercoaster-like loop-d-loops. This is the definitive cartridge version of this arcade classic that to this day continues to impact the gaming world. Hell the Switch is itself getting a port of this game, okay the Arcade game, but it’s still proof that at one time Capcom knew how to make some of the very best games on the planet. Hyperbole and fanboyism aside, this is a great version of the game.
28. Mutant League Hockey
Sega were the MASTERS of making sports games back in the 90’s, in fact they were more known for their SEGA SPORTS branding than E.A Sports was in the later half of the decade. Their hockey games are among the best of the best and while they didn’t actually make this game, in fact it was Electronic Arts, the fact that the console is so known for it’s hockey games is pretty much common knowledge. This is also a great example of a 90’s theme that was done well, monsters and mutants. This game is probably one of the most fun sports titles and non sports titles on the console. Before EA became the butt of many jokes, they were one of the most respected developers on the Sega platform that we all know and love.
29. Garfield Caught in the Act
So you got your Cool Spot do you? Good. Got your Sonic 2 and your Decap Attack? Fine. And of course you got your Disney’s Aladdin. Now if you want a really fun game starring everyone’s favorite furball then this is it. No it’s not a great game by any stretch of the imagination. But it is a great character, it has some great ideas and hell it’s not the normal boring old Golden Axe or Altered Beast everyone else is recommending. Seriously you are going to get those games but don’t you want your Genesis collection to stand out from the crowd? I mean if everyone bought the same 25 games life would get pretty boring. And I know I already throw enough of the super common picks everyone is going to suggest, with good reason of course. No this game belongs in your collection because it’s different, while familiar at the same time. This game tried what Gex perfect on the next generation of consoles. It’s not entirely bad, some people like it but it’s nothing more than an average platformer, which to be honest isn’t even all bad as platformers are the true appeal of the 16-bit era of gaming anyways.
30. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. This is a great game. Also I am sure I have mentioned by now I am a HUGE fighting game fan and while I could suggest something else that isn’t another fighting game, seriously come on now you want to get some games that others are going to shake their head at. This is a one on one arcade style fighting game with monsters and levels taken directly from the show. The play mechanics are simple, it’ actually a very easy game, nothing special but you get that Go Go Power Rangers tune stuck in your head while playing and that alone should get your pumped up for a few minutes.
I didn’t want to just recommend the same old games everyone does, but I also didn’t want to dig too deep into the obscure. I tried to pick games that were iconic for the time yet would be great talking points for a Genesis collector to point to and give their friends something to be in awe of. Maybe there are better lists of games out there, this is by no means comprehensive it’s just a jumping off point, but a good list of games to get you started. And there you have it, a good set of Sega 16-bit carts to get your going.