Sega’s lifted the lid on their upcoming Mega Drive Mini and so far are making good on their promise to do it right by bringing M2 on board to develop it. M2 are the team behind the fantastic Nintendo 3DS ports of classic Sega games with added 3D features as well as the recent run of Sega AGES releases on the Nintendo Switch. If you want a team that will ensure the games running on the Mega Drive mini will be at their absolute best, you really couldn’t do any better than M2.
So far 10 games have been confirmed for the system in the US:
- Ecco the Dolphin
- Castlevania: Bloodlines
- Space Harrier II
- Shining Force
- Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
- ToeJam & Earl
- Comix Zone
- Sonic The Hedgehog
- Altered Beast
- Gunstar Heroes
For whatever reason, Japan will be getting Sonic 2 instead of the original Sonic the Hedgehog as the rest of the world will be. Considering Sonic 2 is better in every respect, that’s pretty frustrating. Hopefully the collections won’t be too different otherwise once we see what the remaining 30 games on the system will be. The announced games contain many of the usual suspects, but the inclusion of Castlevania: Bloodlines sets the scene for a wider range of games than the generally Sega-IP-only collections released on other platforms.
With that in mind, here are 10 games I’d consider essential must-haves for any definitive collection of Mega Drive titles. As Sega are enforcing a one game per series rule, I’ll be sticking to that, but otherwise I’m going to operate under the assumption that even the most dastardly licensing tie-ups can be somehow gotten around. This isn’t a top 10 list, so please don’t read anything into the order – or any exclusions – when you head to the comment section to tell me how wrong I am. With any luck, all these titles plus 20 other greats – such as Streets of Rage 2, Golden Axe, etc, will make the cut too.
This game about playing a video game sees the titular ‘kid’ – a distillation of the 90s into one single character called Casey – take on a Virtual Reality game gone wild. Through collecting one of several masks in the game, Casey takes on special powers that allow him to take on enemies in a new way – such as turning into an actual tank and blowing them to pieces – or to be able to traverse different areas within the 103 levels the game is stuffed full of by turning into a Rhinoceros or a Fly – to take just two examples. It’s one of the most inventive platforming titles ever released and well worthy of a bit of love.
The Dizzy series by the now-legendary Oliver Twins is a classic bit of British game industry history. The Mega Drive version of Fantastic Dizzy from 1993 is, in my opinion, the definitive game in the series. Although it presents as a platformer, it’s actually more of a slow-paced puzzle game crossed with a point-and-click adventure. Throughout Dizzy’s world you’ll find objects to collect to complete puzzles with – though crucially, you can only carry 3 at a time, making inventory management essential – and people with tasks for you. There are enemies in the world that will cause Dizzy damage, but Dizzy has no attacks of his own. You simply need to avoid them. It’s a relaxing, but brain-engaging game and would make a solid addition to any classic game collection.
Being originally born from early design ideas for what would eventually become Sonic the Hedgehog, by the time Ristar finally made it into a fully formed game of his own, the Mega Drive was about to be replaced by the Sega Saturn and so Sega kind of treated the game’s release like that of their red headed stepchild. Which is a pity, really, because I feel it’s one of the best platforming games ever made. Replacing Sonic’s speed for Ristar’s stretchy-arms gimmick slows the action down, but makes up for that with some really inventive level design, a gorgeous aesthetic and music so good there’s an entire level dedicated to it.
Road Rash 2
Road Rash might seem like a motorcycle racing game at first glance, but in reality it’s actually a fighting game that simply takes place on motorcycles. The real gameplay comes from kicking your fellow racers off their bikes, whipping them around the head with chains or battering them with truncheons you nicked off of a police man. The two-player splitscreen – made possible by the fact the Mini includes 2 controllers – is a friendship ender, though. So be warned.
Quackshot: Starring Donald Duck
The early 90s was a golden age for Disney games – especially on Sega systems. Quackshot was actually the third Donald Duck game developed and published by Sega, but the first on the Mega Drive. The game sees Donald travelling the world in search of a treasure in order to be richer even than Scrooge McDuck. His upgradable plunger gun eventually gives him the ability to reach and access areas he couldn’t before, making the game a bit of a low-key Metroidvania. Despite being released in 1991 – the same year as the original Sonic – it also still stands up as one of the best looking games ever released on the Mega Drive.
James Pond 3: Operation Starfish
The James Pond series, much like the Dizzy series, is representative of a golden age of the British gaming industry. As such, any readers from outside of the UK could be forgiven for not being familiar with the games. But that’s only even more reason to ensure this, the best of the three main games, makes the cut for the Mega Drive Mini. The game sees James Pond chasing his nemesis, Dr. Maybe, to the moon after the villain’s defeat in the previous game, Robocod. This non-linear platformer is absolutely stuffed full of content and gameplay that easily puts it at the top table of the genre.
World of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck
Yes, it’s another Disney game (but, as it’s a different series, I’m allowing it). It’s also yet another game developed and published by Sega themselves, adding it to a series of Sega exclusives that never really gets as much attention as it deserves on collections like these because of the licensing. The game sees Mickey and Donald working together to escape a magical world they’ve been trapped in by Pete – the least intimidatingly named villain in entertainment history. Although its predecessor, Castle of Illusion, is generally seen by many to be an overall better game, World of Illusion’s two-player co-op makes it a perfect addition to make full use of those two included controllers. There isn’t really any other experience like it on the Mega Drive.
Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
A game well ahead of its time, Desert Strike places you in control of an AH-64 Apache helicopter in a fictional interpretation of the first Gulf War. Playing in an isometric perspective to give the game a 3D effect, each non-linear level sees you piloting your chopper to attack enemy units and bases, rescuing your own units or making vital air drops of supplies. Despite the grim subject matter, the game stands out for its fluid control and demands for a strategic approach to each mission rather than being a bullet-hell kind of shmup and is well worth revisiting.
Flashback: The Quest For Identity
Playing similarly to the original Prince of Persia on a basic level, Flashback is a sci-fi puzzle-platformer classic. To describe it too much would be to rob it of its story – which, for the time, is pretty special and told in an impressively cinematic style – but the game sees you playing an amnesiac waking up with only a holographic message from himself as a clue about who he is or what he must do. While uncovering the game’s central conspiracy driving the story along, you must navigate a futuristic city to fund – both through money and through favours – the opportunity to regain your lost memories. All the basic notes of the game would happily fuel the core of a 40-hour AAA action-adventure console game today. While the technology of the time could only do so much, it’s still an essential – if relatively short by today’s standards – experience.
Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat might be the definitive 2D fighting games of the 90s, but back in the day, Sega had their own combatant in the ring: Eternal Champions. Considering the success of NetherRealm’s recent Mortal Kombat and Injustice games, Sega were actually ahead of the curve here by putting a specific focus on the story in-game. There’s no cinematic story mode, obviously, but a significant amount of effort was put into both the core plot and the characters themselves. Comics and books were spun out of the game pretty quickly to take advantage of that – but the game does a pretty good job of getting it across too, for the time. The fighting gameplay is solid and there’s a surprisingly in-depth training mode too. It’s a perfect game to make use of the 2 controllers and hopefully it could even spark a bit more life and interest in the franchise too. Perhaps then, Sega will be able to eventually rescue the series from its own unjust and untimely death.
While writing this article, Sega Europe officially announced the system and included Earthworm Jim in place of ToeJam & Earl. While that’s good news, it does also rule out my own personal pick. Instead, here’s an argument for why Earthworm Jim belongs in the first place and why Sega have made a (small) mistake by not including its superior sequel instead. Hopefully both Toejam & Earl and Earthworm Jim will end up being in both the Genesis and Mega Drive mini once the final lineup is revealed.
Earthworm Jim 2
Truly, a hero for our time. Or, I guess, to be more exact, the early 90s. If you’re of a certain vintage you’ll surely be aware of Earthworm Jim from – at the very least – his hit cartoon starring Dan, Homer Simpson, Castellaneta. This series of classic platforming games actually came first, though. Setting the tone for the show with their absurdist humour and surreal stylings. The first game is good, but the second game takes the solid action platforming of the original and cranks everything up a gear. There’s a huge variety in the gameplay thanks to some truly bizarre twists and turns. Both this and the original deserve a new collection all of their own, but as a limited choice of just one game from the series, it has to be the sequel.