Few noises from my childhood bring back as many memories as the word ‘SEEEGAAAAA’ whenever I plugged in one of the best Master System games.
Although I wasn’t actually alive when this thing came out, I used to play on it with my uncle and cousins when I was a kid, getting my first taste of the world-famous speed-freak hedgehog and some of the other incredible characters in this list.
The SEGA Master System is hailed as being the main drive behind the development of the SEGA Genesis/Megadrive (and you can check out our list of the best SEGA Genesis games after you’ve read this article!), and that rectangular controller still makes me excited whenever I see it- that’s a proper bit of retro kit!
At the end of this list of the best Master System games of all time, I’ll give a brief intro (or outro) to any of our readers who haven’t come across one of these epic consoles before.
But for now, lets kick off with the 10 best Master System games of all time and check out which made the cut!
N.B – If you see me referring to SMS, then I’m talking about the SEGA Master System. If at any point you think that I’m referring to a text message, then close the article and go and rethink your life.
Double Dragon kickstarts this list of the best Master System games, transferring all the feels of the arcade hall into the living room.
This game looks and feels amazing. Fans consider it to be the unofficial sequel to Renegade, but don’t worry if that game passed you by too.
All that matters is that this is beat-’em-up action at its very best.
Two player co-op, teaming up to defeat enemies, and stealing weapons when their backs are turned. That’s why we love Double Dragon!
When this game dropped, Streets of Rage was still in the development stages. It’s a safe bet that Double Dragon influenced the developers, a fact that we’re very happy about. I’d go so far as to to say that many of the best beat-’em-ups wouldn’t exist without it!
Gamers choose from one of two fighters while trying to save a girl from a gang. The levels look great for the time, and the gameplay is choc-a-bloc with retro goodness.
Keep out of the way of whips and dodge one-hit-kills from insane guns. This is a game that you won’t have trouble getting to grips with, though you will find it hard to put down!
Marble Madness takes the 24th spot in this list of the best Master System games!
I know; a marble game making this ultimate games compendium? Don’t be fooled though; Marble Madness is a classic title that proved a hit as an Atari arcade game.
Fans of Super Monkey Ball love this game as it’s full of obstacles and problems to overcome. Players move a marble through six isometric tracks while a counter continually ticks away at the top of the screen.
Marble Madness is simple to grasp but tricky to beat. I like the fact that this game proves a challenge, giving the six levels a huge replayability factor.
Courses increase in difficulty as the game goes on; this could be the reason why I don’t have any hair left!
The two-player co-op mode adds a nice touch too, allowing two players to race to the bottom of a track. Simple yet addictive; that’s the best formula for any game.
As side-scrolling games go, Shinobi is one of the greatest titles ever made. Joe Mushashi’s mission to stop terorrists from stealing his students made me want to be a Ninja.
It still does!
After garnering positive reviews in the arcades, Sega ported Shinobi to the Master System. The good news for gamers was that some of the brutal difficulties on the arcade version changed for the home console port, making it less stressful to play.
It was cheaper too; people spent so many quarters on this thing!
I loved the bonus shuriken throwing rounds on Shinobi, changing from a 2D side-scrolling perspective to a first person view. It added a nice element to the game along with all the other bonus rounds.
Oh yes; Shinobi is jam-packed full of surprises. Saving hostages is no longer an integral part of the title, but the more hostages players save, the more features they uncover.
Freeing trapped NPCs brings upgraded weapons and bonus levels to play through. That should provide gamers with a lot of bang for their buck!
A health gauge replaces the one-hit-kill too, providing a much more enjoyable playing experience! Shinobi kickstarted the Shinobi series, for which we thank it every morning religiously!
Chase HQ, or Taito Chase HQ, takes the 22nd position on this list of the best Master System games of all time.
Imagine Chase HQ as an early Need for speed game. It’s fast, it’s action-packed, and it’s full of dangerous chases, though you expected that from the name.
Players control Tony Gibson, a police driver with CSID. That stands for Chase Special Investigation Department for those not in the know.
Tony’s cop partner, Raymond Broady, joins him in his mission to track down fleeing criminals from the passenger seat of their Porsche 928.
The game has five levels that work in a similar way. Players must catch up to and ram a car in the distance, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.
The car is continually moving away from Tony and Raymond, so catching up to it means taking the right roads, not crashing, and putting the pedal to the metal. If the crook escapes, it’s game over!
Speaking of fast-paced racing games, Out Run is another arcade port that went on to get positive reviews from everyone who crossed its path.
Road racing games are always great as they incorporate the need to dodge traffic as well as trying to beat opponents. Out Run influenced so many different games and is considered by many as one of the greatest racing games of all time.
Not bad to say it was made by one dude in 10 months!
The Master System port came closest to recreating the original buzz of the arcade title. It’s vibrant and, although visually less impressive, still packs a serious punch.
And what’s the car? A Ferrari Testarossa! Oh yeahhhh; now we’re talking!
The camera angle mimics a Ferrari driver’s view, hiding sneaky bumps and dips in the road along the way. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to driving a Ferrari, that’s for sure!
Get to the checkpoint without the time running out. Job done!
California Games follows the popular Summer Games and Winter Games titles ported to multiple consoles. It revolves around sports that are popular in Sunny California, the type of things that people who look better than me do down in L.A.
Any Master System owners out there looking for a Mario and Sonic sports-style compendium need this in their lives!
So, what sports are we talking about? What do the people of California do for fun in the Summer?
Well, six sports are available to try out in California Games. Have a go on the Half Pipe, or show off your skills while Roller Skating. Surfing, and BMX also replicate that cool-Cali vibe anywhere in the world from the comfort of your sofa.
Footbag and Flying Disc finish off the set. No, I didn’t spell football wrong; a footbag is a soft football filled with sand, apparently what the cool kids use. And a flying disc is a frisbee, another sport which Americans take very seriously.
The game is the best selling in the ‘Games’ sport series and needs to be in your collection. What are you waiting for?
Remember Ghosts ‘n Goblins? Well, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is the sequel! The gameplay is very similar to the first title in the series with some cool new features for fans to enjoy.
King Arthur is back, and gamers must take him through a series of levels crawling with undead baddies and demonic ghouls. He’s trying to bring all the people that Loki has killed back to life, including the terribly named Princes Prin-Prin.
Arthur now has the ability to fire up and down while moving through the air, adding to his list of existing kick ass skills. Uncover weapons from chests and golden armour to release immense attacks.
Some chests hold an evil wizard that turns Arthur into a duck, but we’ll let you figure out what that’s all about for yourselves!
This game feels a little like another attempt to take a slice of the Castlevania pie, though it has a certain comedic charm about it that can’t quite compete with the Belmont’s gothic outings.
The first five levels must be completed twice, so the game technically has eleven levels. Loki waits on level 11; do you and Arthur have what it takes to defeat him?
Fantasy Zone takes the 18th spot in this list of the best Master System games ever made!
This game was a huge arcade hit despite not gaining the attention of the media. The home console port also had a pretty uninspiring cover, but don’t let that fool you. This Master System game is one of the weirdest and most colourful titles ever made.
Fantasy Zone is the first game in the series and sees players controlling Opa-Opa in a scrolling-shooter-spectacular.
This game might look like a cute child’s drawing turned into a computer game, but it’s one of the most addictive arcade ports on the console. Opa-Opa is sometimes considered Sega’s first ever mascot too, even before Sonic!
Opa-Opa uses bullets and bombs to take down enemies that look too nice and fluffy to prove a danger to humanity. Upgrade weapons and engines in the flying shop, and prepare for that all important boss battle at the end of each level.
Honestly, it’s a very impressive game, and the sequel is even better!
From cutesy shooter to all-out warfare, Operation Wolf takes the 17th spot in our list.
Operation Wolf comes from the minds of the Bubble Bobble creators, but it’s so different to the dragon-controlled blob-matching game that it’s kind of hard to believe!
Some readers may remember this title from our list of the best Commodore 64 games. Players control Roy Adams, a Special Forces Operative charged with saving prisoners and gunning down bad dudes
This is one of the first and best shooting titles to feature an immersive storyline and encapsulates all the thrills and button-mashing excitement from the days of arcades.
Operation Wolf comprises of six stages, each one boasting various challenges and obstacles that players must overcome. Defeat a specified number of enemies, meet the criteria for the level, and proceed to the next stage.
Imagine a very, very, VERY early form of Call of Duty, and you’re half way there to figuring out Operation Wolf. Avoid knife attacks, grenades, bazooka blasts, helicopter gunships, and much more.
Roy Adams is certainly the coolest Roy I know… the only Roy I know, in fact.
RPG lovers of the world unite; Phantasy Star takes the 16th spot in this list of the best Master System games of all time!
We all know Phantasy Star Online, right? One of the best Dreamcast games? Well, the series started here with Phantasy Star, providing simple top-down RPG goodness to the masses via the iconic Master System.
Created to compete with Final Fantasy on the Famicom, another popular series you may or may not have heard of, Phantasy Star champions all the best RPG features. We’re talking random encounters, pre-determined characters, and a fantasy storyline that Tolkien would have lapped up.
Phantasy Star doesn’t just take place on one planet; it take place on several throughout the galaxy. Players follow Alis as she battles to topple the terrible King Lassic from his throne. She travels across the universe, garnering help from fighters and collecting weapons and items in order to avenge her brother.
Many elements first championed in Phantasy Star such as experience points and customisation settings went on to become staples in other RPG series. It’s a classic title and one you need in your Master System collection!
Golvellius: Valley of Doom takes the 15th spot on this list of the best Master System games of all time!
This is very much Sega’s answer to The Legend of Zelda, and they did a pretty good job at harnessing the feel of a Zelda game in my opinion.
And you know it’s old school as it has ‘with password save’ as a selling point!
Players control Kelesis, a brave fighter tasked with rescuing Princess Rena from Golvellius. Evil demons try to thwart Kelesis at every turn, and it’s his job to defeat them along with wild beasts that roam the lands.
Sounds pretty Zelda-ish to me!
Fairies, wise women, and magical witches aid Kelesis by upgrading his energy and health, Gold comes from fallen enemies, and demons live in caves.
Ok… it’s practically Link’s Awakening, but I still love it!
This aerial fighter arcade title sees players controlling an F-14 fighter jet through eighteen levels. Using powerful weaponry, the aim of the game is to take out enemies with heat-seeker missiles and guns while staying alive!
I’m a huge fan of the third-person perspective used in this game. It has a similar feel to Number 9 in the list below, though players fight with a plane here and not a super-human.
After Burner remains one of the great Sega games of our time. It’s referenced in many other titles and is one of those arcade ports that instantly takes you back to the revolving cockpit, sticky floors, and the sound of change machines.
It’s Top Gun through and through and an important title in the history of forward scrolling shooters. With vibrant and crisp-looking graphics as well as a thrilling slice of arcade action, After Burner quickly caught the attention of the critics. Ports went to multiple consoles, and the rest is history.
If you like Star Fox but wish it felt a little more realistic, then give After Burner a try!
Do you dare to delve into the world of Vampire: Master of Darkness? Of course you do; retro gamers are made of hard stuff!
With Nintendo securing the Castlevania series and not letting anyone else have a slice of the pie, SEGA had to get creative to fill the ‘bone-chilling’ horror gap in the Master System’s repertoire.
It was always going to be difficult to make characters more exciting and memorable than those of the Belmont clan, but this game does well to carry on that same level of ‘minor fear’ that seems so disappointingly tame in today’s age of pant-wettingly terrifying horror films.
Vampire: Master Of Darkness is a fun title to play through with some notable elements that make it a great game (and some that are super annoying).
You play as Dr Ferdinand Social (SEGA, why do so many of your characters have rubbish names!), and you’re on a mission to kill Dracula. Weapons can be upgraded as you pick up new items through the game, but one wrong move can see you going all the way back to a dagger that’s about as much use as a chocolate teapot (do vampires like tea?).
The weapons in the game are all common of the era – the 19th Century, and the Doctor looks as though he could well be a Victorian country practitioner.
I’m not sure why one of the first bosses is Jack the Ripper, but I guess he was on a par with a fictional blood-sucking tyrant in evening wear. Vampire: Master of Darkness is a top game to kickstart our list of the best Master System games, and it’s only going to get better from here on out!
The Lucky Dime Caper starring Donald Duck takes the 12th spot in this list of the best Master System games of all time!
Cartoon and comic characters were what made SEGA so great when I was a kid. Seeing Taz, Mickey, and the roman-smashing duo at Number 9 on our list of the best Master System games up on the big screen while being able to control them was just incredible.
My favourite character of all was the angry, hot-headed Donald Duck, whose voice I still try to create today with little to no success, and this Master System adventure is one of the best out there.
Just take a look at those colourful graphics and the spots of honey dropping off the bear – this game looked more like a 16-bit title than a platformer for an 8-bit console!
Donald has to head out and save his three nephews and his Uncle Scrooge’s lucky dime. I’m not quite sure which mission is considered most important, but knowing Donald, I’m gonna go with finding the dime.
Get ready for another terrible name guys.
The evil witch (get ready) Magica De Spell (*slaps head with laptop*) is the games main antagonist and must be defeated if our feathered friend is to succeed. Donald can use weapons and collect stars to become invincible for a short period of time; just try not to make him angry along the way.
Space Harrier 3-D takes the Number 11 spot on our list of the best Master System games and is the first and only 3D title we’re going to cover!
(That SEGA Scope really kicked off then, eh).
Taking inspiration from ‘The NeverEnding Story’ and ‘Gundam’, Space Harrier is a third-person rail-shooter game with a flying human instead of a plane. It’s set in a fantasy sci-fi world and uses a homing system where the player cannot miss so long as they are in range of the target (I could do with that when I’m playing Call Of Duty).
The series went on to be a huge success for both the Master System and arcades around the world, and you can even play it on the Nintendo 3DS today!
Playing using the 3D glasses is great, with the chequerboard floor helping to create the feel of an extra dimension as you power through the different levels.
Fifteen levels have a gnarly boss that you have to defeat to progress to the next area, and two levels see the title character (simply named Harrier) riding on the back of a dragon while you mow down everything in sight.
The premise is simple – destroy everything and be victorious. Why can’t all games be like that!
If you made a game that looked as good as Asterix, then you’d want to stick screengrabs of the action on the front cover too!
Our french-created Gallic heroes take the Number 10 spot on our list of the best Master System games for this Super Mario-esque side-scrolling platformer.
Converting a comic book character into a game isn’t that hard to do because they’re already essentially a cartoon. Still, SEGA excelled themselves with this title; the rich colours, character expressions, and storyline are superb.
I think I might take a break from this article and have a play on it now!
I love Asterix and Obelix, and the fact that I’ve put it at Number 10 on the list shows more that I couldn’t wait to write about it rather than it not being as good as the following titles.
The duo (as well as the lovable Dogmatix) must travel all over the world to save the druid Getafix from a terrible fate in Rome (it’s a comic, so I don’t imagine it would be that terrible).
Players can use either Asterix or Obelix in this adventure, making use of their special abilities to solve problems and kick some serious ass along the way. I love this game, and hopefully you will too!
Our second Disney title features the main mouse himself – Land of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse!
Mickey is the unsung hero of the SEGA console collection, providing an enthralling action-adventure title with lots of item-collecting action and bad-guy-beatdowns (mouse style).
It sits in-between Castle of Illusion and World of Illusion in the series though has no link to the prequel or sequel in any way. In this game, Mickey has to save a crystal from an evil phantom and bring happiness back to a village – there’s no end to his talents!
I liked Land of Illusion (you have no idea how many times I’ve almost referenced Land of Confusion by Genesis/Disturbed by accident already) because you didn’t carry tonnes of weapons around with you or have to worry about multiple moves.
Mickey either throws a rock or stomp on a bad-guys head; simple.
14 levels, 14 power stars, 1 mouse – that could be the title of the film remake! All of your favourite characters return including Goofy, who never fails to make me smile.
Give this game a try; you won’t be disappointed (and if you are, just keep it to yourself, ok!)
You might be thinking that ‘Sonic Chaos‘ sums up every Sonic title, but the next title in our best Master System games is chaos by name and chaos by nature.
That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, so just keep reading and pretend you didn’t notice the chaotic mess my brain just made…
Sonic is back, and this time he’s trying to retrieve stolen Chaos Emeralds from Dr Robotnik, who plans to harness their power to create some nasty nuclear weapons. Players take control of either Sonic or Tails as they blast through colourful and perilous levels collecting coins and avoiding spikes. I
t’s a Sonic the Hedgehog game – you know the score.
Sonic Chaos is widely recognised as a sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and at the time was one of the fastest games going.
Now, it gets a bit of a bad rap, but I still think that it’s a great game and one that deserves to be both in our list and your Master System collection.
Chaos brings new moves to the Sonic world such as the ‘Super Peel Out’ first used in Sonic CD (one of the best SEGA CD games) that makes Sonic move even faster, something that we thought wasn’t even possible!
Tails flys over traps, and Sonic makes use of a collectable item called the Hover Shoes, making him fly for a limited amount of time.
Road Rash is one of my favourite racing games of all time. Who knew vehicular combat could be so addictive!
These illegal street races might look like they happen in some nice places, but don’t be fooled. This game is brutal! Wield chains, knock racers off, and do anything possible to win races.
Road rash is something that bikers get when they come off their motorcycles, so that kind of sets a precedent for how this game works.
Two players can play at once, making for a perfect match to settle old rivalries and find out who is the gnarliest racer.
Fifteen racers in total, two lanes, and a whole host of ways to destroy each other. What could possibly go wrong?
Before Sonic, Mickey, and Donald, there was Alex Kidd in Miracle World.
I know that he sounds a little like a TV presenter on MTV, but this less-famous hero was one of SEGA’s first-ever characters. This game was originally supposed to be a tie-in with the Dragonball series but had to be reworked at the last minute.
If you’ve never played it before, then it’s best described as a more vibrant Mario title crossed with Flappy Bird, that annoying iPhone game that came out a while back. You can’t save your progress in Alex Kidd, so all of the seventeen levels feel as though you’re sitting on the edge of a roller coaster that’s about to go into freefall.
There was a sneaky cheat to replay your last level when you died, however, but trying to get from start to end in one go without seeing a ‘Game Over’ screen was how the real pros rolled.
Alex is basically a martial-arts legend. He’s the long lost son of a dude named King Thunder, and he must help to save the King’s other son and his fiancee from a shady-looking fiend called Janken the Great (though I don’t think he’s that great or special really).
Alex can use his all-powerful karate punch to break through rocks and destroy enemies, collecting money that can be spent on items and vehicles to get through the levels quicker and easier.
Janken’s henchmen can kill him in one hit, and he can also die by losing at ‘rock, paper, scissors’. Remind me never to challenge a karate master at a game of chance – that would be such a boring way to go
Kenseiden is another game that left me dreaming of becoming a samurai warrior. The game follows a samurai named Hayato who has to rid ancient Japan of mighty warlocks and evil ghouls.
Hayato has dragon blood running through his veins (no idea how that’s possible without… you know… anyway). He must retrieve five scrolls and a sword belonging to the Dragon Lord.
Pretty mystical, right?
One of the things that separates Kenseiden from other ‘hack-‘n-slay’ titles is the puzzles Hayato must complete. The backgrounds look amazing and the enemies are incredibly memorable,
The levels represent ancient Japanese provinces, a cool feature for history and geography buffs! I put a lot of hours into this game, mainly because of the puzzles. It’s great to play again and again and never gets boring.
For once, the cover art actually looks cool as well. Fantasy Zone should take a leaf out of Kenseiden’s book!
For those of you who were beginning to wonder when you were going to see another RPG title in our list of the best Master System games, you need wonder no further. Golden Axe Warrior is a spin-off of the ever-popular Golden Axe series and was a huge success for the SMS.
You play as a Spartan-inspired warrior who is out to avenge the death of his parents. He plans to go about this by exploring a set of labyrinths, collecting some crystals, and battling a wicked villain called Death Adder (now we’re talking. That’s a name I can get behind!).
The best Master System games should be memorable and fun to play, and in this case, they should also look 100% like a Zelda game.
This could easily be a screengrab from Links Awakening, which is probably why I love this game so much. Players must visit multiple villages on their quest to kill Death Adder, picking up information from villagers in hiding and learning elemental magic along the way.
There’s the usual recipe of princesses, long lost sons of kings, and skeletal warriors. Basically, it’s got a bit of everything and is a cracking good title!
Fantasy Zone 2: The Tears Of Opa-Opa is the sequel to Fantasy Zone, though I’m betting you already guessed that. It sees the return Opa-Opa, the sentient craft designed to take down bizarre and wonderful enemies.
After Burner and Fantasy Zone 2 couldn’t be further apart from one another (in style as well as in this list!). This game is like the WarioWare Smooth Moves of the shoot-’em-up world, bringing enemies more suited to the Mushroom Kingdom into an impressive side-scrolling space game.
And you know what? It works!
With deep connotations of confronting the darkness within and battling family members in intergalactic wars, Fantasy Zone 2 is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride.
The eight scrolling levels have some pretty intense boss battles in them, and the weird and wonderful characters will leave gamers with huge smiles on their faces.
All the same features from the previous game return alongside brand new wacky levels and a whole host of new enemies to battle against. Opa-Opa 2 is a joy to play and critics went mad for it.
With vibrant graphics like that and an epic array of tunes behind each level, it’s not hard to see why!
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was undoubtedly my favourite Sonic title of the series, and I don’t think that it ever received a review under 90%. It’s still a firm favourite of gaming fans all over the globe.
It’s probably still the best selling game of all time over in Brazil (keep reading to find out why) and helped to cement SEGA’s success in the gaming world.
This game marked the debut of Tails as a character and sees Sonic trying to rescue him from the evil Dr Robotniks clutches.
Sonic must defeat badniks along the away, collect rings, save imprisoned animals, and teach that moustachioed-menace a lesson by knocking back his mechanical minions at the end of each stage.
Most people we speak to have had a dabble with Sonic 2 at some stage in their lives. The gameplay was TOUGH, so much so that I used to leave my SEGA on overnight while I slept so that I could recharge and carry on with the level in the morning.
I lost it all during a bad power cut; I don’t think that I’ve ever got over it!
Sonic can also make his way through certain parts of levels by riding in mine carts (Donkey Kong style), floating in bubbles, skimming across water, or gliding on a…well…a glider. Collect emeralds, defeat bosses, save the day – what more do you need to know!
Hedgehogs are all well and good, but everyone knows that foxes are the coolest cats in town (well…foxes in town…you know what I mean). Psycho Fox might sound like it’s based on a rabid animal, but the protagonist of this adventure is a brave little dude that Tails probably has on speed dial.
It’s been hailed as one of the best Master System games of all time by lots of critics (myself included) for its addictive gameplay, colourful worlds, and easy-to-follow plotline.
It’s basically an amalgamation of Mario, Sonic, and Yoshi’s Island combined, and I thoroughly enjoyed this title when I eventually got my hands on it.
The game revolves around an evil fox named ‘Madfox Daimyojin’ (another cool villain name) who has sneaked his way to the head of an order of fox priests and corrupted the land, spreading evil creatures throughout a peaceful world.
Our hardy, pink-short-wearing warrior has been called upon to sort things out, and he’s pretty good at kicking butt too. Psycho Fox can use a magical stick to transform himself into different animals with special abilities to help him on his quest; a hippo, a monkey, and a tiger.
It’s one of those ‘fun for all the family’ games that is just as exciting to watch as it is to play, and I think it’s fully deserving of the top spot in our ultimate games compendium!
What Is The Master System?
The Master System is a Sega games console that came out in N. America in 1986, and saw a European release in 1987.
My favourite fact about this console is that it’s the longest-running console of all time – it was released in Brazil in 1989 and is still in production today, along with the Mega Drive! That’s like some sort of Man In The High Castle alternative reality, a world where SEGA beat Nintendo and took the gaming crown!
A company called TecToy still produce and make the consoles, so if you’re a SEGA fan, then perhaps you should consider relocating!
What Are The Best Master System Games Like?
The best Master System games come in two forms – cartridges and SEGA cards.
The cards could be used with 3D glasses for an in-depth gaming experience, and the console also boasted a light plastic gun that could be used with certain titles and for bopping your mates on the head when they proved to be better than you.
How Many Master System Consoles Sold?
It sold around 13-million units, but once again fell behind Nintendo and couldn’t keep up with the mighty NES. You gotta be one step ahead to beat Mario and the gang, and that shouldn’t have been a tall order with Sonic at the helm…
He’s always a thousand steps away from everyone!