Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Top 50 Sega Master System Games of All-Time (Part Three: #030-#021)

Part three of a special five-part series exploring the best Sega's 8-bit home console had to offer!

By: Jimbo X

HEY! Looking for the series in its entirety? You can check out all of the installments in the countdown in the links below:
PART ONE (#010 - #001)
PART TWO (#020 - #011)
PART THREE (#030 - #021)
PART FOUR (#040 - #031)
PART FIVE (#050 - #041)

A lot of people, to this day, tend to overlook the Sega Master System. Considering the NES outsold it like, 250-to-1 in the North American market, though, it’s certainly understandable — however unfortunate.

While Sega’s Genesis forebear didn’t get anywhere close to realizing the lofty heights of its 16-bit older brother, that’s not to say the SMS was devoid of quality 8-bit titles. In fact, the Master System had a ton of solid-to-very-good-to-downright-excellent titles in its library, which is usually lost in the shuffle because a.) relatively few people in the States ever played that many games on the console to begin with and b.) most of the really good, top-tier SMS games never made it to the U.S., and we’re only released in Europe and Japan. Thankfully, the advent of emulation has broken the 30-year-old regional divide, and now all of us can play the breadth of the SMS library anytime we want … if not fit the whole dadgum software pantheon on a single 2GB thumb-drive.

Having spent about a year or two playing every single game released on the SMS, I decided to take it upon myself to drum up a list of the top 50 games to ever make an appearance on the Master System. If this sounds like something we’ve done before, it’s probably because we’ve been doing this shit every year since 2012, covering everything from the Dreamcast, the Sega CD and the Game Gear to the TG-16, the Neo-Geo and the Atari freakin’ Lynx. So yeah, the same old song and dance applies here, I suppose. But before we get to the list itself, a few housekeeping notes:

Rule numero uno: only officially licensed game released in the U.S., Europe and Japan were eligible for consideration. So that means no homebrews or those weird-ass TecToy ports from Brazil were included in the running.

Rule numero dos: when applicable, all of the games included on the countdown are the U.S. versions of the games. And if it’s a game that was only released in Europe or Japan, I vouched for the European iteration of the game over its Nippon counterpart.

Rule numero tres: only games that were completed and went to retail are eligible, so no unreleased games or tech demos were eligible neither.

Rule numero cuatro: and lastly, as a subjective countdown, your list is sure to differ and you’ll probably disagree with the bulk of my selections. So if you’re mad that I didn’t put enough Alex Kidd games on this thing, feel free to create your own top 50 list and make it more entertaining to read than mine. And if that’s something you’re unable to do, well, I reckon I just plain don’t give a shit what you think, homey.

Alright, with all of those pleasantries out of the way, who's ready to get this list rollin'? That’s right … literally everybody on the planet, ever.

The Simpsons: Krusty’s Fun House (1992)
Developer: Audiogenic Software Ltd.
Publisher: Flying Edge

This Simpsonized reskin of the Amiga classic Rat-Trap was a really fun puzzler/platformer hybrid on the Genesis and the Game Gear, and thankfully, the iteration on the Master System is every bit as enjoyable. With huge levels, smooth controls and better-than-average audiovisuals, this is far and away the best Simpsons game on the console … hell, for that matter, it’s the only good Simpsons game on the system. With such fun, intuitive and challenging gameplay, you don’t really have to be a fan of the long-running Fox cartoon to get a kick out of this one — although the sly nods to the TV show are certainly a nice touch for eagle-eyed players.

Sonic Spinball (1995)
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega

A PAL exclusive, this shrunken down port was one of the last major software releases for the Master System — and it’s certainly one of the best to come out so late in the console’s lifespan. It’s not as polished as the Genny version, but I still prefer the SMS iteration over the Game Gear port, primarily because this one seems to maintain a better sense of speed and has slightly better handling. Despite the namesake, this game is ultimately more of a platformer with some pinball elements than a pure video pinball offering, but that’s by no means a bad thing. Factor in some really nice looking sprites and some better-than-average chiptune music and you have yourself a perfectly agreeable little time-waster, pending you’re not some sort of soulless abomination that just can’t stand pinball, for whatever lamentable reason …

Shooting Gallery (1987)
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega

I’ll just come out and say it — the Sega Light Phaser was a MUCH better peripheral than the Nintendo Zapper, and it’s not even debatable. Not only was it, technically, a sturdier and more soundly built add-on (the Phaser’s hit detection, pardon the pun, was light years ahead of what the Zapper was capable of handling) it also had WAY better software to illustrate its utilities. Case in point? Take a gander at Shooting Gallery, a Duck Hunt-killer with better graphics, better music, more challenging gameplay (just try to get past the infamous “drain pipe” level on your first go-at-it) and way more satisfying gameplay than the NES staple. That, and in this one, the ducks do something you’d NEVER see in a NES release … they freakin’ explode on impact!

Ys: The Vanished Omens (1989)
Developer: Sega R&D2
Publisher: Sega

The SMS riposte to Zelda is a solid action-RPG hybrid and one of the longer titles to be found on the system; indeed, depending on your penchant for leveling up, this thing could take you a good ten hours to complete! Part dungeon crawler, part Dragon Warrior and part Hydlide, Ys is a deep, entertaining genre offering with a ton of stuff to explore and a unique combat system (basically, you just run into enemies to poke them) that, while clunky at first, quickly becomes rather enjoyable. Considering this is a game that came out before the Berlin Wall went down, the audiovisuals do leave a lot to be desired; still, the core gameplay is so fun that you can almost overlook the game’s sometimes eye-straining graphics and headache-inducing music.

Wonderboy in Monster Land (1988)
Developer: Sega R&D2
Publisher: Sega

Wonderboy in Monster World (1993)
Developer: Westone
Publisher: Sega

I’ve long had a hard time deciding which one of the games I liked better, so being the natural peace-maker I am, I just decided to call it a tie and lump ‘em both in together as one entry. The earlier release, Monster Land, has downright incredible graphics for a game that came from 1988, and it’s core gameplay — it’s literally a 50/50 fusion of Mario and Zelda — is instantly appealing and engaging to anyone even remotely familiar with the fundamentals of old school gaming. Naturally, Monster World is a technologically upgraded re-do of the same formula, and while it certainly looks and sounds better than its inspiration, its gameplay is just a little bit easier than its forerunner — which, I suppose, is a criticism that could be shaken off because it’s also a significantly longer game than Monster Land, too. Really, you’re own personal preferences will determine which game you think is superior; although from my vantage point, both of these action-platformer hybrids are well worth going out out of your way to play through at least once in your retro-gaming sojourns.

Deep Duck Trouble Starring Donald Duck (1993)
Developer: Sega CS
Publisher: Sega

This is easily one of the best looking and best sounding games on the SMS, regardless of genre. Indeed, a noticeable input lag is the only thing stopping this from being rightly heralded as an 8-bit classic, and if you’re a hardcore (or even softcore) 2D platforming fan, this is probably a game you need to take a gander at. With smooth controls, beautiful sprites, plenty of wide open spaces to explore and some very well-designed stages, this is a worthy spiritual successor to Capcom’s DuckTales games on the NES; even if you can beat the whole thing in less than 40 minutes, it’s still a fun and enchanting  genre offering — and I’ll be damned if that one shark stage isn’t one of the most unexpectedly intense levels I’ve ever experience in an eight-bit kids game.

Super Monaco GP (1990)
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega

Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP 2 (1992)
Developer: Sega CS
Publisher: Sega

I couldn’t really make up my mind on which one of these two games was better, either, so I took the coward’s way out and decided to give them the sister-kissin’ treatment at the same slot. The original Super Monaco GP game from 1990 certainly deserves some props, considering it does a surprisingly faithful job of translating the stellar Sega Genesis game to its inner 8-bit essence. Naturally, the follow-up from 1992 has improved graphics and sound (and far more game options and modes), but in terms of sheer arcade racing action, I think I’d have to give the narrow edge to the ‘90 port. Both games, though, are damned fine “downgraded” ports of two of the best 16-bit racers ever; genre enthusiasts would be wise not to pass up either of these two-button rubber-burners right here.

Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine (1994)
Developer: Compile
Publisher: Sega

Yes, it’s “just” Puyo Puyo and it’s not like we don’t have the opportunity to play one of those games on just about every console known to man. That said, this addictive little puzzler from the House of M.U.S.H.A. is nonetheless one of the most enjoyable “gem droppers” on the console, even if the “gems,” in this case, are actually sentient snot rockets. By now you should know how the core gameplay works — it’s basically the Columns set-up, albeit with a little more leniency — and you should also know how hard it is to put the controller down for this ‘un. And although we’ve already touched upon this in our Game Gear countdown from a few years back, it bears repeating: holy hell, is the music in this game amazing.

Kudos my hero, leaving all the best ...


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