Five years away from retirement
I remember the console wars of the early ’90s quite well. Those commercials and the ads in magazines, all trying to convince the youths of the world that either Sega or Nintendo was better than its competitor. We were a Nintendo household right up until the release of the PlayStation. None of my friends owned a Sega Genesis. In fact, for many years, my only interaction with the brand was through Madden Tournaments at the local Boys & Girls Club and a friend of mine who had the old Sega Master System. We played a lot of Thunder Blade on that thing.
For me, the distant relationship I had with Sega ended when I got a Dreamcast and fell head over heels for it. It was a short-lived romance but it did convince me to go back and see all the Sega games I’d missed over the years. And wouldn’t you know, Sega seemed happy to fulfill that desire by releasing compilations of its Genesis titles on every console released after the Dreamcast died.
Looking back at the history of Sega games is appropriate today as June 3 is the 60th anniversary of the founding of the company. Its first successful game was the arcade hit Periscope. Its first console was the SG-1000, a name you could only get away with in the ’80s. Today, it reigns as one of the most popular game developers out of Japan, and with its acquisition of Atlus in 2013, it owns one of the biggest JRPG franchises in the world.
I love the year or so I spent with my Dreamcast, but honestly, my favorite games Sega put out came long after that console was put out to pasture. So to mark this 60th anniversary for one of gaming’s most prolific publishers, I asked Destructoid contributors to share their favorite Sega games.
CJ Andriessen – The House of the Dead: Overkill
Two-thousand and nine was a great year to be a Wii owner. This is particularly true if you were into Rated-M-for-Mature video games. It was the year that brought us Tenchu: Shadow Assassins, Dead Space Extraction, MadWorld (another Sega-published title), and Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles. All are wonderful titles, but the one I’ll remember long after those others fade from my dwindling memory is the one with a whole bunch of “fucks” in its script.
The House of the Dead: Overkill was the first HotD game I ever played. I wasn’t much of a shooter fan at arcades, but once I saw that trailer above, I knew I had to have it. So I bought a couple gun controller accessories, and when it launched in February of that year, I became addicted. Easily the most over-the-top game I’d played to that point in my life, Overkill established my deep appreciation for on-rails shooters by combining the genre with my then-still-new passion for grindhouse films. It was kismet, this game, and it became the title of choice whenever I had a group of friends over.
It’s a raunchy, incredibly inappropriate game, with one of the most spectacularly sickening final boss battles I’ve ever seen. Honestly, owning the game felt like having a dirty little secret, and there is no other game that’s made me feel that way. And that means something coming from me because I’ve reviewed Gun Gal, Senran Kagura, and Omega Labyrinth.
Jonathan Holmes – Panzer Dragoon Saga
Speaking of secrets, I’ve spent most of my adult life feeling relatively alone with the knowledge that Panzer Dragoon Saga is one of the greatest games of all time, and I’m relieved to have an opportunity to release some of that tension here in this post. One of the last domestic retail releases for the Sega Saturn, this third entry in the Panzer Dragoon series is a landmark achievement in fusing the 3D shmup action with traditional turn-based RPG mechanics. I’ve got a list of Sega games with cult-followings that I love to tears (Rez, Jet Set Radio, Rub Rabbits, Burning Rangers, MadWorld, Shenmue, and Billy Hatcher to name a few) and out of them all, Saga is the only one that’s still poised to find mainstream success.
The only real ding against it is its length — about 20 hours for completionists — which is on the low-side for the genre. Other than that, everything about the game is ready to please the crowds. It’s classy in that Studio Ghibli/Team Ico sort of way, packed with smart, strategic battles to keep you engaged as passively gawk at the enigmatic wonders all around you. I’m absolutely certain that the game would make ten times what it did originally if it were re-released today, with or without a visual touch up. The only reason it hasn’t yet is that porting Saturn games to modern hardware is notoriously difficult. Though, with the runaway success of the Panzer Dragoon Remake, more games built in that engine are all but inevitable. Digging into Sega’s best saga may be something we can all do again soon enough.
Adzuken – Out Run
In all my years of visiting arcades, I have never once encountered an Out Run cabinet. My first introduction to the game was through collecting. I’d picked up a Sega Master System, and while its version of Out Run is inferior to many of the other ports, it was enough to whet my appetite for more. I’m grateful then that it’s now widely available in various formats, from a mini-game in Yakuza 0 to enhanced releases in the Sega Ages collection.
Out Run is unique for its time in that it’s a game about driving. Not necessarily racing, though you’re constantly under pressure from a strict time limit, but rather just the thrill of being behind the wheel of a Ferrari Testarossa Spider and cruising through the European countryside. Its branching courses ensure that each replay is unique and worth seeing. Its soundtrack was a fantastic mix of different styles, and let you pick which of its tunes you wanted to drive to. To this day, Splash Wave has a habit of sneaking back into my ears without warning.
My favorite game that I’m bad at, I’ve only ever seen the ending when the difficulty is tweaked down. Yet, I still play it frequently because, even though it has seen sequels and been imitated many times, it has never been outdone. Hopefully one day I’ll have a chance to sit behind the wheel of an actual cabinet.
Anthony Marzano – Crazy Taxi
Hey hey hey, it’s time to have some cRAYzy nostalgia? Are you ready? Well here…we…gooooooooooooooooooo.
Picture this: it’s a warm summer day in the early ‘00s at the Jersey Shore. To escape the dread of swimming in the same water where sharks live, a young Marzano wanders into an arcade and sees a Crazy Taxi cabinet, the sounds of skate punk permeating through my young wannabe punk ears. I drop the quarters in and strap in for the ride…unlike a single one of my fares.
Of course, because it was an arcade game, I was destined to lose and then spend all of the money I had saved up from working trying to beat my previous best score. I dropped a good 30 bucks into the machine over the course of the next two days, all the while slowly getting better at it. Despite being just a tad too young for the arcade explosion, I still managed to eke out one happy memory of spending more money than I should have on an arcade game.
It’s an oddly simple taxi game, but similar to how Hotline Miami is such a basic concept but executed with flawless style, the overall package was superb. I really couldn’t explain it even back then, but I was enthralled. I still can’t explain my love of it. It just clicked in my brain and I loved it. Maybe it’s because when you grow up in a sheltered home as I did, you need to find small, acceptable ways to rebel. I would never be allowed to listen to Bad Religion openly, but since it was in a video game soundtrack it was acceptable.
Years later I am still trying to chase that dragon of my original arcade experience. My GTA V custom soundtrack is filled with almost all of the songs from the original arcade release. The Offspring’s Ixnay on the Hombre remains one of my all-time favorite albums. Hell, I even got The Simpsons rip-off (which apparently got sued for similarities), but nothing has ever come close to scratching the itch that I’ve had ever since my summer vacation.
[Image credit: Boss Fight Database]
Jordan Devore – Yakuza 0
For years, anything and everything to do with the Yakuza series went in one ear and out the other. I couldn’t get a good read on it – what these games were really like to play from top to bottom, why fans raved, and how to break in as a newcomer – so I ended up staying out. You know those games/movies/shows you just haven’t got to yet (and never will)? At a certain point, you shut your brain off. You gloss over them anytime they’re brought up. It’s easier. Simpler! Besides, you have other stuff to check out.
That pattern went on for way too long, but things changed with Yakuza 0.
Fans said the prequel was an easy in, and they were right. Everything clicked for me. I’ve never ignored a game series for so long only to become utterly entranced when I finally took a chance on it.
The dangerous but cozy streets of Kamurocho. The “just one more chapter”-inducing twists. The balance between over-the-top video game cheese and somber, emotionally resonant moments. The wild mini-games, activities, and side stories. The surprising payoffs. The arcade brawler spirit. The larger-than-life personalities. The passion. Majima’s unforgettable intro. There’s so much to latch onto.
I adore Yakuza 0 and the decade-long journey it’ll take me to finish the entire current series. Sega has no shortage of all-time greats to pluck from and praise, and Yakuza is up there with the best of ’em.
Josh Tolentino – Sakura Wars
Growing up in the SNES era, I was the resident “Nintendo Kid,” and it wouldn’t be until long past the Saturn and even the Dreamcast that I latched onto Sega as a maker of “things I like.” That said, I probably wouldn’t be the same person I am today without Sakura Wars. The desire to play Sega’s 1995 hybrid of anime-girl adventure and steampunk turn-based tactical play inspired me to take up learning Japanese as a hobby, a skill that continues to help me today both in and out of gaming.
That’s why it’s gratifying to see it return in good form as, uh…Sakura Wars, though in an era long past the time when Sega was known for hardware.
Patrick Hancock – Jet Set Radio
Not many people know this, but before I wrote for Destructoid proper, I wrote a community blog about why Jet Grind (Set) Radio was the best game of all time. It’s still here, but it looks like it got chopped in half by time because I definitely wrote more than that and made more custom Destructoid sprays. Anyway, I love this game.
The thing I love most about the rollerblading, spray painting, anti-establishment Dreamcast title is its attitude. It’s as if someone combined the two beloved N.W.A. songs, Express Yourself and F*ck Tha Police into one video game. And I’ll be honest — it hasn’t aged super well. Playing it now, even the remake, is an exercise in frustration as the controls seem to fight you at every turn. But damn, no other game makes me feel so cool.
The music is what really sends everything home. Just boot up the official soundtrack one day and feel the attitude pumping through your speakers. Hideki Naganuma, who is a delight to follow on Twitter by the way, absolutely crushed it. The combination of hip hop and funk is pure delight. No game has ever come close to mimicking what Jet Set Radio and its sequel have obtained, though many have tried. I urge everyone to give it a go someday if you haven’t because it’s truly a unique experience.
Chris Moyse – Virtua Fighter
Sega are an embedded part of my childhood, responsible for hours upon hours of entertainment both in the arcades and on home consoles. As such, it’s difficult to pick a single title or franchise from its enormous catalogue of classics. But when push comes to shove – or perhaps Giant Swing – I gotta go with the awesome Virtua Fighter.
Over the course of two decades and five mainline releases, Sega AM2 constructed a masterful, pure hand-to-hand experience with Virtua Fighter. While not quite as lore-filled, stylish, or even as flashy as its closest rival, Tekken, Virtua Fighter delivers tough, hard-hitting, and supremely satisfying fighting action, while truly embracing its mixed-martial-arts ethos of “What discipline do you bring to the ring?”
With simple stages and just three buttons, Virtua Fighter delivers a complex and deep but extremely accessible combat experience, easy to learn, hard to master. Each sequel sees the franchise fine-tune its sublime gameplay while filling out the roster with vibrant personalities and bone-busting techniques. This culminated with the 2006 release of Virtua Fighter 5, one of the best pure fighting games ever made.
Today, the fanbase constantly clamour for a new Virtua Fighter sequel, meeting each and every Sega announcement with bated breath. As the years roll by and the developer continues with its tired “We haven’t forgotten about VF” shtick, you can’t help but lose hope. But you have to keep those fires burning. It’s simply too good a franchise to stay down for the count.
Those are our favorites. Now it’s your turn. Let us know your top Sega titles in the comments below.