The first time I saw a Sega Genesis, I was working for a computer magazine company in England.
Someone, on a way higher wage than me, purchased a Mega Drive from a Japanese importer. It looked like the future, in which arcade-style graphics might be available in the home, had finally arrived. Mega Drive was built on Sega's own 16-bit arcade board, and a 68000 Motorola processor. This was heady stuff.
Renamed Genesis for North America, the machine launched in the United States 25 years ago, today. It arrived in Europe in late 1990. It was a sensation. I bought one immediately.
Everyone has their own tastes in games and, looking back at the titles I bought and played the most, it's clear that mine were conservative and mainstream. This has the one advantage of being able to look back and recall games that other people have likely played, or at least heard about. With hundreds of titles released on Sega's machine during the early and mid-'90s, you will likely have your own favorites.
Sonic the Hedgehog defined Genesis, setting up a bitter console war with Nintendo, with his cheeky demeanor and ability to rapidly motor through loops and above lava fields. The jump this game represented, just in terms of on-screen speed, is often referenced, but ought not be discounted.
Sonic, the character actually helped define that era, both in and out of games. Sega's aggressive, smart marketing, directly referencing Nintendo as a 1980s has-been and harping on about "blast processing," latched onto the Sonic character which, in turn, had been made possible by the technology.
Desert Strike was a fruit of Electronic Arts finally having enough of restrictive licensing terms from Japanese console manufacturers. Having reverse-engineered the machine, EA and other third parties were free to invest more in innovation and design. This thrilling air-combat mission game, back when wars in deserts seemed like something worth celebrating, was one of my favorite games of the era.
Sports and racing games also seemed to make an enormous leap during this period, with EA a major reason. I learned how American football works by playing John Madden Football (below), which was designed sparingly, for such a complex sport. I know that NHL Hockey was a huge hit in the United States, but I spent my time challenging mates to late-night sessions of PGA Tour Golf.
Few sports were as faithfully rendered as Virtua Racing, which gave us a peek into the possibilities of a 3D future, albeit at a price, due to the nifty in-cartridge work Sega undertook, in order to get the arcade hit into homes.
This was a new era for platform games, in which the design choices pioneered by Nintendo were reshaped into marketing-friendly vehicles for a new generation of stars like Earthworm Jim, while also giving new outlets to favored franchises like Mickey Mouse (Castle of Illusion), Aladdin and The Lion King.
Fighting games were, alas, not my personal cup of tea, but this was the golden age of arcade arena fighting conversions like Mortal Kombat and Super Street Fighter 2 as well as scrollers like Streets of Rage and Golden Axe.
One game that captured my imagination was the beautiful Ecco the Dolphin (above), an undersea adventure in which the bottlenosed protagonist solved puzzles before running out of breath. At a time when games were competing to be noisier and brasher than one another, this was a standout gem.
Talking of noise and effects, Gunstar Heroes was a weapons-heavy sideways-scrolling shooter with that era-defining look of massive bodies crumpling beneath the weight of multiple explosions.
Sega had a fierce and able rival in Nintendo, and was severely outclassed in the role-playing game genre. But there were Genesis games for the RPG-fan, such as Phantasy Star IV, which many Genesis fans today recall with much fondness, and which held its own against the great Nintendo games of the era.
As the 1990s progressed, Sega's cool cachet was almost entirely co-opted by Sony's new PlayStation. Whatever technical advantage, and marketing prowess, the company had shown in the late 1980s, was long spent, or wasted on dead-ends like the 32X add-on. Within a few years, Sega would be an afterthought in the console business.
But Genesis was a high-point for the company and, in an era when games consoles were seen as toys, played host to a multitude of great games. Whatever fond memories you have of the Genesis, feel free to share in comments as we wish a happy 25th birthday to the Sega Genesis.