Kevin’s Favorite Games: Sega Genesis

Welcome back to Kevin’s Favorite Games! In this series, I will list my favorite games for every console I have ever owned (or at least played enough to have a reasonable opinion on the games). Clearly, this will not be a “best games of every console” list. The rankings will be based on my opinions and my experience, considering the time in my life in which I played these games. These games are not all going to be console exclusives, as I have played many exclusives and non-exclusives, and each console tends to have its own positives and negatives for each title.

Obviously, my opinions are 100% correct. You’ll likely disagree, and that’s ok. You have a right to be wrong. With that said, assuming you disagree with me, let me know what your favorites are.

Let’s look at my five favorite Sega Genesis games.

5. Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure (1994)

Synopsis: Set after the events of Pitfall II: Lost Caverns, Pitfall Harry and his son (Pitfall Harry Jr.) travel together to the Mayan Jungle in search of a lost treasure. Upon uncovering a special relic, evil Mayan spirit warrior Zakelua captures Pitfall Harry. The player takes control of Junior as he fights his way through various side-scrolling Mayan jungle stages to find and rescue his father. Armed with a whip and a slingshot (other weapons are available to unlock as you progress), Pitfall Harry Jr. faces large stages packed with enemies, but the game is ultimately a straightforward game with little in the way of story other than “find a way through this jungle and don’t die”. Exploration in each level is encouraged, however. Certain collectible thresholds must be met to receive more “continues” to be used if your character runs out of lives.

Analysis: Action-platformers are typically difficult, and this game is no exception. Wave after wave of enemies block your progression path, rarely giving you time to take a breath and get ahold of your surroundings. Controls are slippery and difficult to master, but that’s not necessarily uncommon for this type of game. The game rarely feels unfair, but the learning curve is steep. You’re under constant assault from all manner of creatures like snakes, boars, monkeys, jaguars, rats, and bats. Eventually, you start to face more sinister spirit and Mayan guardian enemies. All enemies you face are powerful, but they are balanced in that their movement and attacks are predictable and avoidable.

Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure is full of awesome throwbacks to the original Pitfall game. Levels have secret areas that allow you to play the original game in all its pixelated glory. Certain levels have the enemies from that game, including those awkward white scorpions. Hell, even the lives indicator is a throwback, with Pitfall Harry Jr. being chased by a hungry croc, like an updated graphical version of the original crocs. The best throwback, however, is the reveal of Pitfall Harry. Upon defeating the final boss, you rescue dear old dad – and he looks exactly the same as he did in his original outing.

Pitfall is another game in a long line of platformers whose difficulty artificially extends its playtime. If you’re not constantly dying, you can beat the game and get almost every collectible in just a couple hours. In fact, I’ve seen a video of it being completed in just over one hour. Despite the length and difficulty, Pitfall is an awesome game. The game was hand drawn, so it has a timeless visual style that still holds up today. The sound is also particularly good. Each enemy and attack have crisp and unmistakable sounds – like the jaguar snarling, or the monkey screaming, or the snake hissing. You also know what enemy is lurking around the corner with clear audio clues – exactly what I’d expect if I were racing through a jungle. I logged many hours with both the Genesis and PC versions of the game, but playing with the Genesis controller was my favorite. Not a bad way to start this list.  

4. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992)

Synopsis: The Blue Blur returns to fight Dr. Robotnik, joined by a new character in sidekick Miles “Tails” Prower (GET IT? Miles Prower? Miles per hour? OH SEGA!). Robotnik is looking to take over the world with the Chaos Emeralds and his own Robotnik version of the Death Star, called the Death Egg. Players can play as Sonic or Tails, though there is no difference in abilities. That change comes in Sonic 3. A two-player mode allows one person to be Sonic and the other to be Tails.

Side note: this talk brings back memories of one of my favorite songs by A Day to Remember, called You Be Tails, I’ll Be Sonic. It has nothing to do with the game in any way, but it’s a good song you should look up.

Analysis: Added to the gameplay is the “spin dash” in which players can “rev up” Sonic or Tails to gain a speed boost. This feature helps increase the pace of play and rectifies the original game’s issue with lost momentum. You are at times encouraged to go fast, and losing momentum used to mean you’d have to backtrack to get it back. But now, you can spin dash to instantly get moving quickly again.

The combination of music and level design is arguably at its best in Sonic 2. Some prefer Sonic & Knuckles while others prefer the classic original Sonic, but I’d argue neither game is as consistently awesome as Sonic 2 in both departments. There’s not a single bad music track in Sonic 2 and each song is perfectly crafted for its specific stage. As awesome as Green Hill Zone’s song was for setting up the Sonic franchise, the opening Zone in Sonic 2 (Emerald Hill Zone) was perhaps the absolute best of the series. I could talk for days about how seamlessly and fluidly each song transitions into the next, with the tempo and tone of each song perfectly matching the types of obstacles you must face.

Sonic 2 is an absolute master class in gameplay expectation vs reality. While your expectations are certainly met when expecting the levels to be large and sprawling, the way you play is entirely different that what you assume it should be. Going into the game, you expect to have to constantly move at super speeds. That’s probably the worst way to play. Taking your time and exploring different paths is something the original Sonic encouraged, but Sonic 2 took it to a whole new level. Exploring and finding more rings (thus triggering the bonus stages) allows you to collect Chaos Emeralds, which slightly alters the ending of the game. Not in content, mind you, but the fact that Sonic will fly out of the Death Egg instead of falling and being caught. It’s a small bonus, but it’s worth the time spent finding all the Chaos Emeralds.

Admittedly, I hopped on the Sonic bandwagon later than I should have. I had only ever played Sonic 1 before the OG Xbox came out, and I did not go back to the Genesis to catch up on Sonic until my Xbox 360 years. Safe to say that I recognize everything I missed out on.

3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist (1992)

Synopsis: The only proper TMNT game released for the Genesis starts with Manhattan Island being shrunk, and Shredder announcing to the world that he now has the power to take over the world. Enter everyone’s favorite talking turtles. Hyperstone Heist is a side-scrolling beat-em-up in the same style as TMNT: Turtles in Time, going so far as to use the same soundtrack (with faster music) and sound effects. The art and animation style stayed consistent with the previous two arcade titles, TMNT the Arcade Game and Turtles in Time.

Analysis: Growing up, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was one of my favorite multimedia properties, along with Power Rangers and Earthworm Jim (don’t worry, you’ll read about him soon). I devoured everything TMNT had to offer – comics, cartoons, live-action movies, action figures, videogames, Hell, I even went with my parents to Universal Studios in Orlando, FL to “meet” the Turtles in real life.

Many consider the 80s cartoon to be the “definitive” version of the Turtles, probably because that’s what spawned the explosion of Turtle-fever. The arcade games used a similar art and sound style, as well as a videogame recreation of the classic opening credits of the cartoon. I can still watch it and get chills. It really felt like playing an episode of the show.

Critics claimed that Hyperstone Heist was a clone of Turtles in Time, and in many ways they were right. Many of the levels are versions of the Arcade Game and Turtles in Time, but critics did miss a few key details that differentiated the games – namely, that each level is longer in HH and the enemy AI is significantly more aggressive, making the gameplay faster. The sped-up soundtrack coupled with the faster, more aggressive enemies made the game slightly more pulse-pounding than its more deliberately paced siblings. Turtles in Time was absolutely the superior game, due to the larger number of levels and greater variety in locations. However, if you owned a Genesis and not a SNES, Hyperstone Heist was more than good enough to bring a TMNT game into your home.

Side note: I can’t wait for Shredder’s Revenge. Look for me to stream that game as soon as it comes out!

2. Mortal Kombat II (1994)

Synopsis: TEST. YOUR MIGHT. At home! The klassic hyper-violent arcade game is back again with new kharacters, more gore, and new fatalities! In addition to fatalities, round winners have access to new finishers called Friendship (not killing your opponent, instead giving them a gift or some show of friendship) and Babality (turning your opponent into a krying baby).

As for the plot of the game, Shao Khan moves the Mortal Kombat tournament to Outworld, a much more deadly locale than Earthrealm’s stages. In series kanon, Liu Kang wins this tournament, like the first, though the story can be kompleted by any character with non-kanonical endings for each.

Returning from the original game are Johnny Cage, Liu Kang, Raiden (annoyingly spelled Rayden in the console version), Reptile (formerly a secret boss in MK, now here as a playable kharacter), Scorpion, Shang Tsung, and Sub-Zero. New playable kharacters include Baraka, Jax, Kitana, Kung Lao, and Mileena.  Sonya Blade and Kano from the original are shown chained up in the background of Shao Khan’s Arena stage and are not playable. Three hidden opponents are available to fight: Jade, Noob Saibot, and Smoke.

Analysis: Sega Genesis was the konsole to own this game on if you wanted the blood and gore from the arcade version without having to be unlocked via cheat kodes. It was, however, missing a significant number of voiceovers – it’s jarring to not hear a disembodied voice say “Reptile WINS” or “fatality”.

With a larger, more diverse roster than the original and more epic violence to delight in, MKII was a joy to play. Not having to go to an arcade and spend tons of money was an added bonus. MKII introduced some of the most popular kharacters in Mortal Kombat history, in Kitana, Kung Lao and Mileena. Noob Saibot has also become a fan-favorite over the years as well, though not playable in this game. Many a late Friday or Saturday night was spent with friends trying to beat the game on the hardest difficulties and trying to memorize each kharacter’s fatalities. There was no better feeling than beating your friend and unleashing a finishing move they had no idea was possible. While overall presentation might have been better in other versions of the game, MKII on Genesis was still an absolute klassic.

1. Earthworm Jim (1994)

Synopsis: Earthworm Jim is just a normal earthworm (or as the cartoon’s theme song says, “he was just a dirt-eating little piece of worm flesh”) until a super-suit falls out of the sky, transforming him into a superhero. He’s got super strength, agility, and intelligence, and he must evade the enemies who want to take the suit for themselves while rescuing Princess What’s-Her-Name (you read that right). Bosses include the wonderfully named Psy-Crow, Evil the Cat, Bob the Killer Goldfish, and Queen Slug-for-a-Butt, among others. In a twist on the “hero gets the girl” formula, Princess What’s-Her-Name is crushed by a cow instead of kissing Jim, and he walks off defeated.

Analysis: Taking a cue from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, developers Shiny Entertainment decided they wanted their own successful franchise. However, instead of starting with a show and building out, they went the Sonic route – start with a videogame. Creating a game that was a parody of platformer games was a genius tactic. It allowed the developers to really flex their creative muscles and create a wacky, zany, and irreverent game. None of the game was meant to be taken seriously, which in turn made the game seriously fun. The success of the game led to a popular cartoon (one of my favorites) and a highly successful line of toys. A sequel game, Earthworm Jim 2, was very well received, though his move to 3D in the form of Earthworm Jim 3D was not received quite as warmly as Mario or Zelda were. Jim is also found in Clayfighter 63 1/3 as a playable character.

Earthworm Jim’s first outing was fun, fast, and felt unique. He controlled well, had interesting attacks, and visited great locations. Particularly fun were the levels in Heck, ruled by Evil the Cat. Most enemies in Heck were lawyers, which still gets a chuckle out of me to this day. Graphics were beautiful and the sound was crisp and clean. Enemies screaming when you hit them was funny, but the yelping could get a little old for enemies you had to hit multiple times (shoutout to the horrible noises the crows made). Level design was nice and varied too, including standard platformer levels, races against the clock, bungee jumping with snot, and even an “escort mission” that didn’t make me want to break my controller.

Thanks to this game, Earthworm Jim’s star burned bright, though not for long. Jim didn’t show much staying power, which was disappointing. EWJ 1&2 were two of my favorite action platformers and his cartoon was among my most-watched. My toy closet was full of Earthworm Jim toys, too! I can only hope that Earthworm Jim finds his way back into the mainstream – I will be first in line to check out whatever game/show/movie comes our way.

And that’s the list. Let me know your favorites. Did I forget a classic? Did I choose the wrong Sonic? Do you hate me for swapping out all the hard Cs for Ks in the Mortal Kombat entry? Follow me on Twitter and Twitch and check out some of our other articles.

One thought on “Kevin’s Favorite Games: Sega Genesis

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  1. Good list. Mortal Kombat 2 was my life for so long from the arcade to the SNES. I used to run around with plastic ice skate guards, pretending I was Baraka. Used to…

    Liked by 1 person

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