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!
Before we crack on with looking at our list of the best Master System games of all time, I’m just going to give a brief intro to any of our readers who haven’t come across one of these epic consoles before. The Master System 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!
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. 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!
Right, now you know a bit about the console and have a few facts to tell your partner or friends over Skype during the Covid19 lockdown, it’s time to kick off with the 10 best Master System games of all time!
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.
10. Vampire: Master Of Darkness
Do you dare to delve into the world of vampires and ghouls? 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!
9. The Lucky Dime Caper Starring Donald Duck
Cartoon and comic characters were what made SEGA so great when I was a kid. Seeing Taz, Mickey, and the duo at Number 7 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!
Get ready for another terrible name guys. 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. 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.
8. Space Harrier 3-D
The Number 8 spot on our list of the best Master System games is also 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 7 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 7 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 (including 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!
6. Land of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
Our second Disney title features the main mouse himself – Mickey. 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. You could either throw 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!)
5. Sonic Chaos
You might be thinking that every Sonic game feels chaotic, 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. 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 can take control of either Sonic or Tails as they blast through colourful and perilous levels collecting coins and avoiding spikes. It’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 can fly over traps, and Sonic can make use of a collectable item called the Hover Shoes, making him fly for a limited amount of time.
4. Alex Kidd in Miracle World
Before Sonic, Mickey, and Donald, there was Alex Kidd. 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
3. Golden axe Warrior
For those of you who were beginning to wonder when you were going to see an 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!
2. Sonic The Hedgehog 2
Sonic 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) 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!
1. Psycho Fox
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). Pyscho 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!