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3/13/2016

Top Ten Sega Master System Games

The Sega Master System, while not Sega's first home console (that being the unpopular SG-1000), was the one that introduced many to Sega.  While it never amassed a huge following in Japan or North America, it proved to be a huge success in Europe and especially Brazil, where it became far more popular than the NES and continued to be supported as late as 1997.  Despite that, its appeal was hampered by a general lack of third party support, as Nintendo had bound most of the bigger names to its console with restrictive (and illegal) exclusivity contracts.  Nevertheless, the Master System had a handful of quality titles, and retains a bit of a cult following to this day as  most games for it are relatively inexpensive and easy to import thanks to a lack of region locking on the console.  So let's take a look at a few of the system's top games.

10. R-Type (Irem, 1988)


R-Type was one of many side-scrolling shooters that made a splash in the 80s, and it wasn't hard to see why - it had some enormous, freaky boss monsters and detailed backgrounds, clever mechanics in the form of a detachable "Force" that could serve as both a shield to block enemy bullets and attack enemies, and an extremely high level of challenge that required the player to precisely position their ship and react to changing enemy patterns on the fly to fully complete the game.  The Master System port is no different, though it loses a bit of punch in the music and visuals department due to the limitations of the system.  Still, a solid port overall.

9. Fantasy Zone: The Maze (Sega, 1989)

Pac-Man was a popular game in the 80s and Fantasy Zone was Sega's hottest property in their early days, so hey, why not combine the two together?  That seems to have been the idea for The Maze, where one wanders around a board, collects coins and buys power-ups to blast away any enemies in their path.  One must also frequently pass through a red dot in the center of the maze, which will spawn more enemies if left alone too long, and complete the occasional bonus stage.  It's a bit weird, but it captures the frantic action of both franchises surprisingly well and is quite a fun game to rack up a high score on.





8. Ninja Gaiden (SIMS, 1992)

Ninja Gaiden was a minor arcade hit that became an institution on the NES, spawning a trilogy of sidescrolling action platformers with a surprisingly strong narrative in addition to their intense gameplay.  Sega also took a couple of attempts at the franchise with a Game Gear game (of rather low quality), an unreleased Sega Genesis title, and this, the seldom-spoken-of Master System version.  It shouldn't be, though, as it's definitely one of the best platformers the system has to offer.  Combining the same fast run-and-slash gameplay of the NES games with an original set of levels and some tweaked mechanics that allow for Batman-styled wall jumping and a clever new set of special weapons, Ninja Gaiden is a worthy successor to the name.

7. Fantasy Zone II: The Tears of Opa-Opa (Sega, 1987)


Before Sonic the Hedgehog put Sega on the map with his irreverent attitude and blazing fast gameplay, there was Alex Kidd on the Master System.  But before Alex Kidd's debut, Sega's first big hit was Fantasy Zone, a colorful and off-kilter shooter with somewhat nonlinear stage designs and bizarre enemies and bosses throughout.  Fantasy Zone 2 is more of that, but even better, with absolutely gorgeous visuals for an 8-bit system and even more strange and surreal environments to blast through.  It's not a huge leap over its predecessor, but when the original game was so good, does it really need to be?



6. Gangster Town (Sega, 1987)


Everybody remembers the NES Zapper and the handful of quality games available for it, but not as many remember Sega's Light Phaser, which was more impressive in some ways.  Chief among them being much less screen flash while playing and supporting two players simultaneously.  Gangster Town is definitely the best game available for it as well, having the player blast waves of gangsters in a variety of settings - cities, car chases, bar shootouts, and so on.  One could even get bonus points by shooting down their souls before they floated off-screen to heaven.  Fun stuff, especially since it also supports two-player co-op!


5. Alex Kidd in Miracle World (Sega, 1987)

To Master System fans, Alex Kidd was the must-own platforming franchise and basically served as Sega's answer to Super Mario Brothers.  Most Nintendo fans, on the other hand, had never even heard of Alex Kidd.  Kind of a shame, as his first video game outing brought quite a bit of variety to the formula.  Not only was there platforming, underwater segments and the occasional boss battle (which could be bypassed by winning a game of rock-paper-scissors), but the game also had some clever powerups (like launching fireballs from Alex's fists) and even vehicles like a motorcycle, helicopter and speedboat to utilize.  Pretty fun stuff.  The only downside was that it was a very difficult game thanks to its one-hit kills and expensive extra lives...

4. Sonic Chaos (Aspect, 1993 in Europe)


There's no question that Sonic's 16-bit outings are regarded as classics, but his 8-bit games... not so much.  They lacked much of the speed, fluid controls and solid stage design of their counterparts and as a result felt like very watered-down imitations.  Sonic Chaos, however, is an exception, grasping what made Sonic the Hedgehog a hit and doing a very respectable job of converting it to a less-powerful console.  It retains much of the speed, open-ended level design and physics of its counterparts while also introducing some clever bonus stages and mechanics of its own - particularly the ability to pass the stage-ending sign with enough speed to gain an extra life or continue.  One can even play as Tails and take different routes through many of the stages.  Good stuff all around.

3. Bubble Bobble (Taito, 1988 in Japan, 1991 in Europe)


A port of a classic arcade game, Bubble Bobble is a very worthy conversion, retaining the colorful visuals and fluid gameplay while also toning down the rather harsh audio most versions of the game had.  Regardless of what version you play, though the game is a lot of fun - bouncing on bubbles, capturing enemies in them and then popping them for items and points.  Even better if you can get several of them together in one place and pop them all at once.  Just keep in mind that you need two players to fully complete the game, and they must both survive all the way to the end!


2. Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (Origin Systems/Sega, 1990 in Europe)


Ultima IV is widely regarded as a classic CRPG, not only for its innovative dialog-driven gameplay and clever puzzles, but for its unique premise - rather than simply fighting against some big bad guy, you're actually on a quest of self-improvement, becoming the avatar of the eight Virtues in order to give the people of Britannia direction in their lives.  Pretty cool stuff.  The NES version of the game was reworked to more closely resemble games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, but the Master System port is a very faithful port of the computer versions, retaining the complex dialog system and variety of player commands to utilize.  The interface is a bit clumsy owing to the Master System's more limited controls, but nevertheless, this is a fantastic port of one of the greatest RPGs of all time.

1. Phantasy Star (Sega, 1988)


Yeah, you guessed what would go at the #1 spot just from the fact that I'm a big fan of the franchise.  But even without that, there's no denying that Phantasy Star was an excellent game for its time.  The game featured detailed and colorful visuals with surprisingly good animation - the first-person dungeons were smoothly animated and enemies would actually be shown moving around and attacking during combat, unlike a great many JRPGs of the time. But then you add a clever setting on top that combines elements of science fiction and fantasy, some well-realized characters and three whole planets to explore, and you have the quintessential 8-bit JRPG experience.  It even got a pretty stellar remake on the Playstation 2, though sadly it was never released outside of Japan (but has since been fan-translated).