The Sega Genesis is a tad underappreciated. I’ve already written at length about how this console was great for the RPG genre despite the SNES getting more glory. However, that was not the only genre that flourished on the console.
In fact, many games were great at the time they were released and have continued to age well. I have come up with a list of 15 Sega Genesis games that hold up today, and I genuinely believe that you could play these games today and enjoy them just as we did in the past.
These games tend to have some combination of the following that allowed them to age very well:
- Responsive controls
- Reasonable difficulty
- Solid graphics
- Good overall artistic style (music, atmosphere)
All the games on this list exemplify several of these elements if not all of them. As always, I’m not ranking these games in any particular order. Let’s get to it.
1. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was a very popular game on the Sega Genesis and for good reason. You got to zoom around as a blue hedgehog, destroying enemies, foiling the plans of Dr. Robotnik, and saving the cute animals trapped in the robots.
The graphics were a little sharper than the first entry, the level design was simply amazing, and you can’t beat the gameplay. The controls certainly hold up; they take about five seconds to learn and rarely fail.
Sure, some levels are more challenging than others, like the underwater portions of the game, but this entry is just as enjoyable now as it was then. Especially if you get the lock-on pack to add Knuckles into the mix or get Super Sonic.
2. Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium
The final main story entry picked up where the second game left off in the Algo (Algol) System, and things aren’t going too well. Monsters are spreading out and taking over towns, leading a duo of hunters to get swept up in the adventure of a lifetime.
Oh, that whole “End of the Millennium” thing signals that things are about to get really dicey. And they do.
The gameplay definitely holds up with the reasonably long story, amazing combat, and the fact that it doesn’t hold your hand. You will get stomped on if you move too quickly.
The graphics are good for the time and the mob details are about one hundred times better than Phantasy Star III. If you are a fan of the RPG genre, then there is probably no better game on the Sega Genesis than PS4.
3. Shining Force II
RPGs tend to age well in general, and I could have filled this entire list with the Shining series. I think Shining Force II probably has the best balance even though I am partial to the first one.
Basically, someone unseals a great evil and it is up to you to fix all the ensuing chaos. It’s a lot of fun and the story is pretty good. The combat is where the game truly shines, and that’s why this game made the list.
You have to maneuver your way around the battleground map like any other tactical RPG and use the units you’ve recruited to defeat the enemy. You have to carefully deploy and utilize your party members so they can be effective casters, healers, or front-line fighters.
The game’s graphics are nice for the type of game and the music is sublime. Controls don’t matter so much in an RPG, but the UI was solid.
4. Beyond Oasis
Beyond Oasis is a fantastic action-RPG (more action than RPG) that puts you in the shoes of Prince Ali, a guy who finds a gold armlet and learns to summon spirits to help him fight against the guy who found the silver armlet.
Alright, so the story could be better, but that’s not where this game shines. The art and graphics look wonderful, the controls are easy to learn but also require some mastery to land your attacks.
The summoning aspect of the game is fun and makes the player rely on their wits for certain fights and to solve puzzles.
The combat is a lot of fun but it’s not great. Nevertheless, the game holds up and I think any fan of the genre would agree that this game is worth playing.
5. Streets of Rage 2
This rip-roaring beat ’em up continues the story from the first game. This time, Adam is kidnapped and it’s up to Axel, Blaze, Skate, and Max to take back the streets and free Adam from the clutches of the resurgent Mr. X.
The fighting is incredible just like the first game, but you get a different set of weapons and special moves while you’re wreaking havoc on the gangsters.
The graphics look basically the same, but they’re still solid and give you a real sensation that you are in gritty city settings and hideouts. The games’ sounds also stand out for all the wonderful fight noises and the good music.
All in all, this is a great example of a game that was an amazing sequel.
6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist
If you sucked at the NES classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, then you will find this game to be much easier and even more fun. The multiplayer element to this game made it a ton of fun to play at home, allowing you to bring home the thrill of an arcade game.
Sure, the game was a tad shorter than Turtles in Time, but the graphics and fun gameplay more than made up for the relatively short play time. The game did have a lot of replay value, so you could wring out plenty of enjoyment from this title.
Going back and playing the game now, you might find that it’s a little too easy for some of the beat ‘em up fans out there. Still, you’ll love the graphics, attacks, and familiar faces of the minibosses throughout.
Donatello was OP as all get out.
7. Earthworm Jim
I have no idea where the developers came up with Earthworm Jim, but it worked. Somehow an earthworm gets a power suit and has to then evade those who want the suit back.
What ensues is a hilarious and surprisingly fun platformer/run-and-shoot game that sees the player making use of Jim’s head to navigate the world and gun down a variety of enemies.
The graphics and art are downright gorgeous and anyone who doesn’t love the gameplay is a liar in my book. Okay, that might be going too far, but the game is very fun and the controls are simple to learn.
Even if you have to play it on an emulator, this one is worth checking out today.
8. Castlevania: Bloodlines
I’ve written before about how this entry into the series was not as popular as the ones released on SNES, but that doesn’t mean Castlevania: Bloodlines isn’t a solid game in its own right.
You take on the roles of John Morris and Eric Lecarde as you fight back against a vampire named Elizabeth who is using World War I as a sacrifice to bring back Dracula.
The gameplay holds up well, with John and Eric using different weapons and powers to overcome the levels that see you inside of dank castles and across locations in Europe. The artwork is very nice and supported by great music.
You’ll love the combat, but you will probably develop a preference for one character over the other (Eric ftw). All in all, this is a great Sega Genesis game that holds up today and it has the benefit of being highly replayable.
9. Rocket Knight Adventures
Growing up, I never ran into another person that had played this game, but it was always one of my favorites. Rocket Knight Adventures sees you take on the role of a rocket knight named Sparkster, a possum knight.
Rumor has it that the game developers chose possums because all the good rodents were already taken. After all, a possum knight would have been dumb on its own, but give him a rocket pack and everything changes.
The highest point in the game is certainly the combat and controls. You can blast off in any direction with your rocket pack, attack directly with your sword, or use your sword as a projectile à la Link’s Master Sword.
Some levels even put you in different scenarios, giving you control of machinery that helps you fight your enemies. Other great elements of the game include the music and art. Rocket Knight Adventures even has an easy mode for people that want a simple and fun introduction to 2D platformers.
10. Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition
Timeless is the only word that I can use to describe Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition. Not only did this game bring back all the familiar faces from the original Street Fighter II, but it also included Balrog, M. Bison, Vega, and Sagat. Including these characters was a game-changer and the cause of many fights outside of the game.
The fighting controls were very good even though it could take some time to master them. Some critics noted that the game was missing some of the animations from the original game. Nevertheless, Street Fighter II was still easy on the eyes.
The sounds and music in this game were iconic, and one significant improvement was made to this game: the inclusion of mirror matches.
11. NBA Jam
Few sports games stand the test of time but NBA Jam does. Unlike other NBA games on the Sega Genesis, NBA Jam made the games 2-on-2 matches instead of realistic team games.
The game wildly departed from reality, allowing players to do absolutely crazy, rim-rattling specials that saw you shooting a ball of fire from the 3-point line while you’re on a hot streak or doing multiple flips before blowing out the backboard.
The game lets you play from contemporary duos like Karl Malone and John Stockton or Charles Barkley and Dan Majerle. The game had no sign of MJ, but you could play as special characters like Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
The game was loads of fun, highly replayable, and downright beautiful for the time. The focus on two-player action made NBA Jam one of the finest sports games on the Sega Genesis, and it continues to hold up.
Shadowrun was a game far ahead of its time. Directly inspired by a cyberpunk tabletop role-playing game, Shadowrun gives the player a lot of options in terms of where to go, who to talk with, and how to pursue your goals.
You can build your character, Joshua, along many different routes, focusing on firearms proficiency, electronics, or sorcery. It’s like many other RPGs in that respect, except it’s set in the future.
The game has so much to do that you won’t believe that it all fits on a Sega Genesis cartridge. To top off all the role-playing elements, Shadowrun features a great cast of characters, an incredible atmosphere, and unforgettable music.
Although it is dated in terms of graphics, Shadowrun holds up in so many other respects that even modern players could enjoy this game. The success of this game led to Deus Ex and other games like Cyberpunk 2077 (It’s actually pretty good as of November 2021).
13. Mortal Kombat II
Back and bloodier than ever, Mortal Kombat II flew off the shelves and into Sega Genesis consoles as friends and families ripped apart each other like Thanksgiving leftovers.
MKII upped the ante in just about every way possible. The cast of characters was larger, more secrets were waiting to be uncovered, and the fighting was more vicious than before.
This game came with all sorts of replay value as you tried to find the character that you played best while also attempting different combinations to unleash the best fatality.
The music was downright sinister, the level design was incredible (especially the acid pit), and the graphics were very good for the Sega Genesis. The game was met with some controversy, but it survived.
Another side-scrolling platform game with an anthropomorphic character made the list? You shouldn’t be surprised. Ristar is (you guessed it) a star that has to stop the evil Kaiser Greedy.
Ignoring the wacky story, Ristar was a platform game that offered a ton of fun. You controlled the titular character to defeat enemies and navigate the levels using his stretchable arms.
Okay, I’m starting to realize this game might be one you need to play to enjoy, but you should give it a shot. The graphics were nice and the music is bound to get stuck in your head.
A lot of people rightfully consider this game a hidden gem because it was outshone by Sonic and other platform games, but that doesn’t diminish this one at all.
15. Disney’s Aladdin
Unlike the Lion King game that had impossible levels, Aladdin was actually good. You played the game as Aladdin, but you were much more of a fighter than the character from the movie, using a sword and other items as weapons.
The game generally followed the movie formula (at least for the first half), so it was perfect for people that liked the film and wanted to become Prince Ali and save the day.
The game took you to familiar places like the Cave of Wonders and the Sultan’s Palace and had you jump, climb, and slash your way through the levels.
Along the way, you’ll see great artwork that ranges from menacing to hilarious (Genie’s face turns up a lot), hear familiar music, and live the story you love. The game wasn’t long, but it was a lot of fun, and it’s something you could easily play today.
Many Sega Genesis Games Are Still Worth Playing
The Sega Genesis is the Rodney Dangerfield of video game consoles. It gets no respect. Well, not enough respect for my liking.
I can wholeheartedly endorse many games on this system, especially the amazing set of RPGs that emerged and on the system’s run.
Although I only added 15 Sega Genesis games that hold up today on this list, I know that many others exist, and I might even add them to this one someday!