Thirty years. That’s a long time. Time enough for seven and a half World Cups. Time enough that, when I think about it, my brain hurts a little. That might be all the cold medicine, to be honest – it is that time of year. But I’m pretty sure it’s the passing of two flipping decades weighing on me.
Thirty years ago, plus a few days, the SEGA Mega Drive launched in its home territory of Japan. On 29 October, 1988, home gaming changed forever as the bold sprites and blistering speed of the 16-bit era properly arrived. It might not have been the first 16-bit console, but to millions around the world, the Mega Drive became the 16-bit machine of choice.
Which isn’t to say the Super Nintendo wasn’t great, too. Or that the PC Engine, the first 16-bit machine on the market in Japan, didn’t play a role in what many consider to be a golden age of video games.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2
But from where I was growing up, in Britain in the late 1980s into the early 1990s – where the Mega Drive didn’t launch until 1990 – it was SEGA’s asymmetrical console that really excited me for home gaming’s next step. After all, it was SEGA who had the arcade pedigree, and here was a system promising arcade-perfect games, on your TV (not that we quite got them). Nintendo? Nintendo made toys.
The Mega Drive – known as the Genesis in North America – would go on to be SEGA’s best-selling console of all time, with between 40 and 43 million units sold. In comparison, the company’s final system, the Dreamcast, sold fewer than 10 million units. A damn shame, given just how great it was, despite it existing in the commercial shadow of both Nintendo’s GameCube and Sony’s all-conquering PlayStation 2.
But enough about business – it was the games that really made the Mega Drive the classic console it’s rightly regarded as today. And through compilations like this year’s SEGA Mega Drive Classics – already out for PS4 and Xbox One, and due on Switch on 7 December – the platform’s greatest games live on.
Streets of Rage 2
Which leads me to the question at the heart of this post: what are your favourite Mega Drive games? Maybe you played them at the time, on the original hardware; or perhaps you only picked them up via one of several re-releases? It doesn’t really matter, because the classics, they really don’t go out of style.
For me, Streets of Rage 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Story of Thor, Gunstar Heroes and Disney’s Aladdin immediately leap to mind as big favourites. A couple of 10-outta-10 sequels; the Mega Drive’s best Zelda-like adventure; a hyperspeed debut from the acclaimed Treasure; and perhaps the slickest, most interactive-cartoon-like platformer of the time, respectively.
But there are so many more that warrant attention, even now, from absolute beginners to all things Mega Drive. Ecco the Dolphin might look cute from the artwork, but it’s a challenging, complex affair that sees its hero face off against some horrendous enemies. Earthworm Jim is zany, sure, but it’s rooted in compelling, consistently tight gameplay.
And inventive platformer Ristar mightn’t be as recognisable as Sonic, but allow me to go on record as saying it’s a lot better than the blue blur’s debut game. I mean, who doesn’t want to play a game where you’re cast as a bright yellow star, with arms and legs, who goes around headbutting things?
So, it’s over to you. Are you an old-school Mega Drive fan, or a more recent convert to the charms of the console? What games stand out to you as must-plays, whatever your age, and however ancient those titles might seem in terms of graphics? Let us know on Twitter and Facebook.