The Five Best Reasons to Dig Out Your Genesis
And In the Beginning, There Was Sonic…
As Christmas is virtually upon us, I thought I’d share a memory of mine from years ago: the day I got my Genesis (or Mega Drive to anyone my side of the pond). I’ll also be telling you why you should either dig yours out or hunt one down. Enjoy!
The year was 1998. I had just turned fourteen two days earlier and on Christmas morning I dashed downstairs to unwrap what I knew was waiting for me. You see, I’d already gone with my mum to go and pick it up a few weeks prior; Â£45 second hand, with Asterix and the Great Escape, NBA Live ’95 and World of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. For me, the time in between then and Christmas morning had been spent eagerly anticipating the wonders that awaited me. I’d played a lot of Genesis before – my cousins owned one, as did one of the kids across the street – and had fallen in love with it as soon as I’d played Sonic the Hedgehog; a videogame character I still have a soft spot for even to this day.
Upon unwrapping what would instantly become my most prized possession and connecting it all up, I wasn’t in the least bit disappointed. In fact, I was overjoyed. Yes, it was outdated (the PlayStation and the Nintendo 64 had both launched by that point), the wire on one of the controllers looked like it’d been mauled by a bear and two out of the three games were crap – I’ll leave it to you to guess which ones, although I’ll give you a hint: World of Illusion was boss – but I didn’t care. This was a Genesis. More importantly, it was my Genesis.
And after nearly fifteen years, I still have it. I’ve played so many great games on that black box that proudly displays “16-BIT” below its power button; far more than I could feasibly write about here. In fact, I struggle to think of a console I’ve managed to gleam as much enjoyment from as I have from the Genesis. So, without further ado, here are my top five Genesis games of all time. Read this list, then either venture into your attic to retrieve Sega’s greatest achievement or get your backside on eBay and pay whatever you have to. Then, once that’s done, get your hands on these five games. Â Just don’t forget to blow the dust out from the bottom of the cartridges first.
World of Illusion holds the distinction of being the very first game I ever played on my Genesis. Playing as either Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck (or both if a second player is present), World of Illusion starts with Disney’s two most iconic stars preparing for a magic act. However, a blunder on Donald’s part sees him mistakenly opening up a mysterious magic box, unleashing the evil magician Pete – probably the least terrifyingly named evil wizard ever – who whisks the duo off to the titular world.
What follows is pretty straightforward 2D platforming, but as a cooperative experience on the Genesis, it’s second to none. When embarking on the whimsical journey with a second Â adventurer in tow, the game alters each level to accomodate the extra player, adding in puzzles and obstacles that can’t be tackled solo. When playing on your own, you’ll also be presented with a different set of levels depending on who you’re playing as, giving World of Illusion a fair amount of replay value; you’ll need to play through three times if you plan on seeing everything.
World of Illusion was also pleasant on the eyes. It was by no means the most technically stunning (for the time) game ever; nevertheless each of the five worlds you were required to traverse was distinct in its appearance – drawing inspiration from Aladdin, Pinocchio, The Sword in the Stone, The Little Mermaid and Alice in Wonderland – and conveyed a sense of whimsy and wonder that few games manage even today.
I loved the Earthworm Jim cartoons; the madcap space-faring adventures of an earthworm transformed into a superhero by a plummetting super suit that just happened to fall on him were the highlight of my week for months before I even realised that the show was in fact based on a videogame. Of course, upon this realisation I just had to play the material that my favourite TV show at the time had drawn its inspiration from.
And I wasn’t in the slightest bit disappointed. From the opening of the very first level – in which you use a fridge to launch a cow into the air – right through to the epic showdown againstÂ The Evil Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed Slug-for-a-Butt, Earthworm Jim is hilarious, bonkers and varied. No two levels play exactly the same, utilising the superb cast of characters and an eclectic myriad of gameplay styles and gimmicks to great effect. Its core mechanics centre around 2D platforming and shooting, but you’ll be required to perform such tasks as racing Psycrow through an asteroid field, facing Major Mucus in a bungee cord battle over a pool of snot, or embarking through treacherous terrain while attempting to prevent Peter Puppy from getting hurt, at which point he’ll transform into a gruesome monster and maul your face off.
Earthworm Jim is rivaled in its marvelously random and preposterous subject matter by its sequel, Earthworm Jim 2. You should definitely play that too, but the original game trumps it if only because I’d never played anything like it at the time.
There was a time when EA wasn’t content with annualised sports games, feverishly and futilely attempting to dethrone Call of Duty and generally just being evil incarnate. No, there was a time when they were just as likely to release a gem like Rolo to the Rescue as yet another FIFA title.
Rolo to the Rescue is a 2D platformer – are you noticing a trend? – in which you initially control the titular Rolo, Â an elephant who is attempting to escape the circus and out run the abusive ringmaster who imprisoned him. The maniacal circus owner hasn’t stopped at Rolo however, having locked away a variety of woodland animals and only Rolo can set them free. The marvelous thing about Rolo to the Rescue is that you don’t merely rescue these animals; rather, you’ll also be required to utilise their unique abilities to progress. Along the way, you’ll enlist the aid of squirrels, rabbits, moles and beavers – although why the ringmaster was locking these animals up, I’ve no idea; that sounds like the worst circus lineup ever – whom you’ll use to climb, leap, dig and swim your way to freedom.
The game is relentlessly charming and downright adorable. Deceptively so, in fact; it’s not only massive in size but fiendish in its difficulty and the lack of any way in which to save your progress means that I’ve never actually managed to finish it. This is the only blemish in an otherwise superb game. It’ll never happen, but a Rolo to the Rescue remake with a fully realised 3D open world and more animals to rescue and/or exploit remains my all time dream game.
You might think that Nintendo are the masters of local multiplayer. Granted, that’s a perfectly valid argument; Super Smash Bros for Wii U and Mario Kart 8 are two of my most anticipated games due to arrive in 2014. However, for my money, nothing – and I mean absolutely nothing – trumps the Micro Machines games on Genesis for local multiplayer mayhem, with the pinnacle of the series being Micro Machines : Turbo Tournament ’96.
Codemasters is widely recognised as one of the top dogs in the industry today in regards to racing games, it’s only real rivals are arguably Polyphony Digital and Turn 10 Studios, of Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport fame respectively. But while the company today focuses its attention on providing visually stunning and visceral renditions of Formula One and various other real life motorsports, back in the mid Nineties its most imaginative and downright fun output was Micro Machines, a top down racer that saw you tearing around in a bewilderingly vast array of miniature vehicles across everyday environments.
What other racing game lets you careen around seemingly gigantic pool tables, pinball machines, kitchens, bathrooms, Â gardens, Â tree houses, gymnasiums, work benches and countless other locations? The amount of playfulness and imagination evident in this series of madcap and offbeat racers puts most modern games to shame and what accentuates this even further is that you could frequently and accidentally create all manner of hilarious situations and anecdotes when playing with friends and family, such was the competitive and playful nature of the game.
Micro Machines saw four games released on the Genesis: the original, Micro Machines 2: Turbo Tournament, Turbo Tournament ’96 and Military. So why have I singled out Turbo Tournament ‘ 96 as the second best reason to dig out or buy a Genesis? Two words: track editor. Dubbed Construction Kit, this robust (for the time) set of tools allowed you to plot out your own courses, adding obstacles and hazards and altering things such as weather conditions and vehicle attributes. It provides almost unlimited extra possibilities to a game that already offered a ridiculous amount of replay value already and has brought about some of my fondest gaming memories ever.
This is it. The big one. My all time favourite Genesis game and number one reason to own the console.
I love Sonic the Hedgehog; always have done, always will do. Back in the Genesis/SNES era when the gaming world was constantly at each other’s throats over which console and its respective mascot was better – a bit like today only with approximately ninety seven per cent less profanity – for me, it was the Genesis and Sonic all the way. Mario might have sported a more subdued, methodical and cerebral approach to platforming, but the attitude, tenacity and raw speed of the blue blur’s games swung it for me from the moment I first clapped eyes on the now iconic Green Hill Zone.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles is technically two games; it’s well documented that only because of time constraints did Sega split what was envisioned as the largest and most epic Sonic game to date into two separate games; Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. However, due to an ingenious piece of technical wizardry, Sega shipped Sonic & Knuckles with “lock-on technology”, meaning that owners of Sonic 3 could plug the game into the top of the Sonic & Knuckles cartridges and play through the entire adventure in the way it was meant to be experienced.
And what an experience it is. Taking place immediately after Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the game opens with Sonic and Tails stumbling upon Floating Island, a long forgotten island that has recently plummeted from the skies and into the ocean thanks to Doctor Robotnik. The demented scientist is using the Master Emerald, the source of Floating Island’s… floatiness, to rebuild and power the Death Egg satellite. Worse still, he’s duped the island’s guardian, Knuckles the Echidna, into believing that Sonic and Tails are out to steal the island’s set of Chaos Emeralds, resulting in the hot-headed red echidna becoming a constant thorn in the duo’s side.
Sonic 3 & Knuckles ramps up everything that made Sonic 2 a hit. The game is faster, bigger and by the time you reach the finale – a dramatic climactic race against time… in space! – you actually feel that you’ve traversed a vast geographical area, as opposed to merely going through a sequence of singular levels. The main way in which Sonic 3 & Knuckles achieves this feat is by employing cut scenes, something that was almost unheard of back then; the amount of emotion, dread and scale conveyed without any speech whatsoever was truly impressive to my fourteen year old self and remains so today.
Yep, everything about Sonic 3 & Knuckles is amazing. The level design, the music, the imaginatively designed bosses… my god, Â when I first saw the ground shake in Death Egg Zone as Robotnik’s gargantuan robotic monstrosity approached, Â I almost peed my pants! I loved Sonic before, but Sonic 3 & Knuckles cemented the series as something I’ll avidly follow and play for as long as my gaming hands haven’t succumbed to arthritis.
It’s not just my favourite Genesis game of all time, it’s my favourite game of all time, full stop.