In reviewing the Top 40-31 of the Retro Sanctuary list, I began by reviewing the first three games in the list, but the rest were either genres out of my review list or Japan only games. Many of these are Shumps, which the Saturn is known for, and there are two famous fighting games as well. However, most of these games were released in Japan only. The fact that so many good games were never released West has probably contributed to the released draught in the US and the consequent bad reputation of the console at a time that it was well-liked in Japan.
Of the games that I reviewed, I really liked Dark Savior and The Legend of Oasis.
Originally planned as a sequel for the well-regarded Landstalker Genesis game, Dark Savior became something that is much different. More an Isometric Platformer than an Action Adventure game, this is a truly unique experience.
Boiling down this game to a few elements wouldn't do it justice. The platforming is clunky, and even after getting used to it, it is not very enjoyable. The combat is rough around the edges, and there isn't a lot of variety. Also, the game's plot, while fun, is not very unique. However, the sum of its parts is actually an addictive game where the different stories are all worth playing.
Also, it has some good graphics and music that did not suffer the effects of time. Honestly, this is one game that I enjoyed but could not properly explain exactly why.
It is obvious that Deep Fear was inspired by the success of the famous Survival Horror game, Resident Evil. Yet, outside of the tank animations and the general horror aesthetic, it really doesn't have anything similar to that game. With an abundance of ammo, the game is more of an Action Adventure title, and it lacks any of the puzzles or atmosphere of its famous counterpart.
This exposes Deep Fear as a game with little depth, terrible story, poor gameplay, and an overall lack of good ideas.
Other than the unique underwater setting, which is undermined by boring level design and samey environmental graphics, and the excellent soundtrack by Kenji Kawai, there is nothing that justifies playing this game.
Just like Dark Savior this game is another sequel to a well-regarded but little-known Genesis game. In fact, this is actually a prequel to the very good Beyond Oasis that explains some of the lore of that game. Not that the game contains much narrative or world-building depth.
A top-down Action Adventure game, there are some minor similarities to the adventure game of another blond hero. However, a key difference is the game is faster and more action-oriented. One unique element that supports both combat and puzzle solving is the ability to conjure spirits from the elements in the environment.
Also, it doesn't hurt that the game's graphics are really great examples of 32bit 2D sprites. This is a case where the game's decision not to follow trends made sure that it aged very well.
37- Thunder Force V (1997): Japan Only
In contrast to The Legend of Oasis, Thunder Force V actually caved into the design trends of the time and changed its style from crisp and detailed 2D sprites to blocky polygonal models in a 2D plane. This is probably one of the reasons this game is considered one of the weakest entries in the famed Shmup series.
This is not because the polygonal graphics are ugly. In fact, while there are some resolution issues and even downright ugly models, the main issue is that the rendering time for the polygons can cause some frame drop issues in a genre that needs to be frame-perfect.
Otherwise, the game makes some forward steps while retaining the hectic gameplay and excellent soundtracks of the past.
36- Twinkle Star Sprites (1997): Japan Only
As you can guess fro the genre, Twinkle Star Sprites is a weird game. Originally released in Arcades but then ported to everything starting with the Neo Geo up to the Play Station 2, the game was never released west in consoles until it was surprisingly released last year on the Nintendo Switch. I am not sure if the crazy humor and style of the game was actually localized though.
The main gist of the game is that it is vertical Shmup, as the stage scrolls down and enemies progress towards your craft you start shooting them down. Except, you don't actually shoot them down at all. The twist in this game and the point of commonality between it and other Multiplayer Puzzlers is that the enemies you destroy show up on the other player's screen (even sending out the occasional boss).
You can imagine how hectic that can be. As you play better, the opponent has much more difficulty. With two good players, things can get even more hectic than any normal vertical Shmup. While this idea surely has merit, the aesthetics of the game may turn-off some otherwise fans of the genre.
35- Dead or Alive (1997): Japan Only
Here is a game that requires no introduction. Developed with a lot of influence from Sega's own Virtua Fighter series, the first Dead or Alive was a faster paced 3D arena fighting game that was widely praised for both its fighting and its, err, plot. Actually, on that latter note, the graphics of the time could not serve Tomonobu Itagaki's (the director of the game) belief that true entertainment needed both sex and violence. So, he put in a very aggressive jiggle mechanic for the girls that are more distracting than titillating.
Unfortunately, despite is very good reception in Japan, the game was not ported West on the Saturn, and instead was a PlayStation Western exclusive. This continued a trend of great games released on the Saturn that never see a Western release. Which is a shame, considering that the performance between the two versions is not very different, with a slight edge for the PlayStation version.
34- Battle Garegga (1998): Japan Only
Another excellent Shmup that never left Japan, Battle Garegga is popular among fans of the genre, especially those who enjoy Bullet Hells. It has gorgeous 2D sprites with the ability to cover the entire screen with bullets without any technical hiccups. Not being an expert on the genre, I cannot comment much on what differentiates this game from its peers.
However, I am entranced with long play videos of experts playing it, using some processing mind power that I cannot comprehend having at all. Doing this list, I played some vertical Shmups, but nothing approaching the intensity of a Bullet Hell shooter.
33- Daytona USA or Daytona USA CCE (1995 or 1996):
This a unique situation where Sega released the same game twice. First, with a very faithful Arcade adaption that suffered graphically and had fewer tracks. Then, with lessons learned, they released the same game with better graphics, 2 more tracks, and some extra features. So, why is this even a debate between the two?
That's because the first Arcade port had better driving mechanics, which in my opinion makes it the better of the two games, but people will keep debating this point even now.
Still, regardless of the choice, I don't understand how much this game is regarded when it has such little contend (both versions). I think that outside of the Arcade scene, the game loses much of its magic.
32- King of Fighters '97 (1998): Japan Only
Just like with Dead or Alive, this fighting game was not ported West for the Saturn audience. In fact, King of Fighters '97 was only released West on SNK's own Neo Geo console. This reduced the Western exposure to one of the best 2D fighting games around, as KoF '97 still maintains a strong fan base.
With excellent graphics, a cool soundtrack, and really great gameplay, this was another winner in SNKs huge library of fighting games.
At this point, there is little to say about all of these excellent games that never left Japan, except to point out that this is surely one of the major reasons the Saturn suffered some long game droughts in the Western market while it continued being popular in Japan.
31- Metal Slug (1997): Japan Only
Actually, it looks like we need to talk about yet another game that was not ported West for the Saturn. Metal Slug is the best Run & Gun series, with its blend of excellent graphics, hectic and skill-based gameplay, and really funny humor all contributing to that moniker. Except, console fans in the West didn't get the chance to play the first game without burning quarters.
This report is a consolidated review of the top 100 list by Retro Sanctuary. It features the reviews I made for the list but also has a brief paragraph about each game in the list that I didn't review. For games without an official review, the opinions I express are purely based on some little playing time and general research about the game and its reception at the time.