There was a time before Xbox and PlayStation dominated the console market. A time before, the internet was a standard tool for connectivity, a time when 2D graphics and 16-bit was the bar. Forget Sony or Microsoft; they didn’t have a stake in the race yet. Instead, the industry was lead by bigshots like Atari, Nintendo and of course, Sega.
Sega began its venture into home consoles and away from the arcade industry in 1985 with SG-1000. It sadly ended with the Dreamcast in 2001, a final hurrah for the 6th generation of consoles. Regardless Sega as a company is still involved in the gaming industry as a publisher and developer.
In hindsight, one could say their downfall can be credited to the lack of will to change. Atari and Sega are relatively unknowns now, with Nintendo making consoles like 3DS and Switch, which are not a competition to the Xbox or the PS.
But more like a different kind of consoles, which are severely underpowered and are supported mainly by Nintendo’s exclusives such as Smash or their Pokemon line-up.
This strategy is not alien to Nintendo. Back in the day, that’s how each console defined themselves by their line-up of exclusives; much like the strategy adopted by Microsoft or Sony, fans of Halo are inadvertently limited to buying the Xbox no matter how good Sony’s counterpart maybe.
Regardless of their rollercoaster of success and sobering demise in the console market, Sega remains strong as a developer and deserves recognition for setting industry standards by developing innovative consoles and games that influence creations to this day.
Here are some of Sega’s best releases over time.
1. Streets Of Rage 2
Perhaps the first title that springs to mind when talking about genre-defining titles, Streets of Rage 2, is a sequel to a game that never fully reached its potential.
However, this time around, the development consisted of several companies, including Sega, that altered and updated the gameplay to set the industry standard for side-scrolling beat ’em ups.
Streets of Rage 2 was released in 1992 for the Sega Genesis.
2. Castlevania: Bloodlines
A platformer with a gothic setting about vampire hunters, what sounds cliche today was innovative back then. Castlevania today has spread to other media, including comic books and a Netflix original anime show.
Castlevania: Bloodlines was released on Sega Genesis in 1994 and featured 2D platformer gameplay like its predecessors. Though it had to undergo some severe censorship edits and cuts for its PAL release, it was still a popular title among fans.
3. Metropolis Street Racer
MSR was released in 2001 and was one of the first 3D open-world racing game. The gameplay loop is pretty straightforward; there is a set of challenges; beating the challenges unlocks cars and tracks for the single-player and multiplayer modes. MSR even featured online multiplayer options, but they were limited to time trials and time attacks.
MSR was released on Sega Dreamcast and later evolved to the well-known Project Gotham Racing series.
4. Virtua Tennis
You might have heard of Virtua Tennis, a series that saw its first instalment on Sega’s arcade machines in 1999 and later ported it to their home console Dreamcast a year later. Today it’s released universally for all consoles and is a pretty smash hit amongst tennis fans.
The game is still mostly playable today if you’re looking to get into the classics. Virtua Tennis was already a pretty polished experience; however, the sequel saw even further upgrades to graphics and more robust controls, new mini-games etc.
5. Crazy Taxi
MSR was not the only innovative racing game that was released on Dreamcast. Similar to Virtua Tennis, Crazy Taxi was a port from an arcade console developed by Hitmaker.
The game was a smash hit and saw subsequent ports for the PS2 and Nintendo GameCube. It was recently ported to Android and iOS as well.
Featuring a 3D open-world like MSR, the gameplay loop is arcady and, as such, doesn’t waste time around any story exposition or menus to browse through selecting cars. Instead, a timer and an arrow are all the player gets and, to be honest, all a player needs.
Another long-standing franchise, Shenmue, was initially a Sega console exclusive but has sprawled out to other consoles over time. RPG lovers might even go far as to regard it as the best RPG ever made. Shenmue was released for Dreamcast but has since been ported to anything that supports a screen.
The gameplay was considered revolutionary, a 3D world with the level of detail no other title could replicate. Shops that open and close according to the time, buses that follow route and schedule, characters have their own daily routines that they go through.
Keep in mind this was released in 1999, Morrowind released four years later, and the characters in that game do not move unless they have to for a quest.
7. Sonic the Hedgehog
To compete with Nintendo and its success with the Mario franchise, Sega developed their 2D platformer, which would become the company’s mascot.
I am speaking, of course, about Sonic the Hedgehog. This 16-bit title was released on Sega Genesis in 1991, with gameplay featuring a heavy emphasis on Sonic’s speed and a geometry that would make it physically impossible for any ordinary hedgehog to traverse on, but not our favorite speedster.
The franchise’s popularity is unquestionable, and Sega managed to do what they set out to do, making a character as memorable as Mario. At least Sonic has a better movie.
The sequel to the hit Soul Edge was released on arcade and later ported to Sega Dreamcast in 1999. The title was developed by Namco’s Tekken team and saw subsequent titles released on the Xbox and the PS.
The game was praised for its graphics and its at the time unique eight-way movement system. As a result, Soulcalibur is regarded as one of the best titles to ever release on the Dreamcast.
9. Phantasy Star IV
An Anime inspired RPG is a saturated genre now, but in the ’90s, it was scarcity. Phantasy Star was a series developed by Sega for their consoles and saw its final mainline title released on the Genesis in 1993. The game featured all the mechanics that we now consider traditional for the genre.
Phantasy Star IV was praised for its innovative gameplay and mechanics but panned for its story and visuals. Even in the gameplay department, it had many issues with something as trivial as being unable to purchase multiple items, which hindered the game’s enjoyment.
It even had another instalment seven years down the line in the form of an MMORPG for the Dreamcast, talk about being ahead of one’s time.
10. Zombies Ate My Neighbors
Before Resident Evil blew up, the zombie genre was relatively unexplored in video games. Zombies Ate My Neighbours was a single-player/couch co-op game released in 1993 for Super NES and Sega Genesis.
The game featured a tongue-in-cheek like humorous atmosphere with players taking control of Zeke and Julie, two teenagers who have to deal with Dr Tongue and his latest creations (Zombies, no doubt).
The game was not a commercial success by any means but is still a great and fun title. It was recently ported to PS4 and Xbox as part of Lucasfilm’s Classic Games.
11. Resident Evil Code: Veronica
Speaking of zombies, Resident Evil Code: Veronica was released for Dreamcast in 2000. I remember looking at this game back in the day and thinking graphics couldn’t get better than this.
CV retained all the basic gameplay mechanics from the previous titles but ditched the pre-rendered backgrounds for real-time rendered 3D backgrounds and lighting. Code Veronica managed to push the hardware of Dreamcast and also proved the jump in technology from the PS1 era to Dreamcast.
It was supposed to be a mainline entry to the main Resident Evil series, but due to some contractual obligations, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was released on PS1, and Code Veronica became a spinoff. In hindsight, it’s pretty apparent how Code Veronica was the one Capcom put more time into.
Code Veronica was later ported to PS2, Nintendo Gamecube and further down the line to PS3 and Xbox 360.
12. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is a westernized version of Puyo Puyo; a successful franchise limited to Japan.
The gameplay is similar to Tetris’s; however, the game is more about connecting than making a horizontal line. Compile, the developer of Puyo Puyo and all its instalments were also responsible for this title and released it in 1993 on Sega Genesis, Game Gear and Master System.
The game was pretty popular and became the household name for Puyo Puyo-esque games in America and Europe.
13. Earthworm Jim
A 2D sidescroller released in 1994 on Sega Genesis, among other consoles; Earthworm Jim was an instant classic.
It featured cartoonishly charming graphics with an earthworm for a protagonist that could use a tail on his head for whipping enemies and grappling from hooks.
In addition, Jim carries a futuristic-looking pistol. The gameplay was your standard 2D sidescroller affair. Each level would usually end with a boss battle, or sometimes the stage had additional objectives that had to be fulfilled to complete the level.
14. Road Rash II
Part of many childhoods, Road Rash II is the definitive illegal street racing experience. There are no rules, so why not break out a crowbar and hit your opponent on the head with it.
Why stop there? His bike is clearly superior to yours, so let’s take that while we’re at it. Oh, a cop is after you? Well, snatch his baton and beat him with it. Added to all that, the game featured split-screen multiplayer functionality, so of course, every kid loved it.
Yeah, that’s the kind of game Road Rash II was. Developed by EA and released in 1992 on Sega Genesis.
Although Sega no longer makes any consoles, with Dreamcast being their last attempt, they are still a household name for video games. Still, they do not subscribe to the typical AAA video game developer cliches of annual titles crunch working.
For example, they do not release a yearly instalment of Sonic; instead, they innovate and try to do something unique. In recent years they published Alien: Isolation, a game I consider to be the defining example of survival horror and horror in general in video games.
Sega may be a dinosaur, but that statement only resounds with their resolve and creations and not weakness coming with age.