30. Fatal Labyrinth (Sega, 1991)
29. Ecco: The Tides of Time (Novotrade, 1993)
28. Mega Man: The Wily Wars (Minakuchi Engineering, 1994 in Japan, 1995 in Europe)
Game Gear game simply titled "Mega Man"), Wily Wars features aesthetically-enhanced remakes of the first three Mega Man titles, which are genre-defining classics in their own right. But the real draw is the bonus game - a new feature called "Wily Tower" that unlocks after the other three games are cleared, and features five exclusive stages and three new bosses that have never appeared in another Mega Man title since. You even get to face this challenge with your choice of any of the weapons and items you collected from the first three games. Pretty cool stuff. Unfortunately this is also a very hard game to come by, only seeing a limited release in Europe and Japan and never being put to the cartridge in North America (though it was briefly available as a Sega Channel exclusive).
27. Golden Axe (Sega, 1989)
26. Light Crusader (Treasure, 1995)
25. Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (Sega, 1991)
24. Gauntlet IV (M2, 1993)
23. Strider (Sega/Capcom, 1990)
22. Mega Bomberman (Hudson Soft/Westone, 1994)
21. Starflight (Binary Systems/BlueSky Software, 1991)
20. Dynamite Headdy (Treasure, 1994)
19. Monster World IV (Westone, 1994 in Japan)
18. M.U.S.H.A. (Compile, 1990)
A smash hit top-down shooter on the Genesis that's only gotten more popular over the years, resulting in this game's rapid ascent into rarity and ridiculously high prices on the secondhand market. Fortunately it's also on the Wii Virtual Console, so those without deep pockets can experience it as well. And they should, as it's a fantastic experience. Fluid, fast-paced, colorful and with a huge variety of weapons and strategies to employ as per Compile standards. The setting is also unique, being something of a cyberpunk feudal Japan with pagodas on tank treads and giant robots flying through the skies blowing up everything. Top that off with a delightful soundtrack and you have some weird, wild, fast-paced shoot-em-up fun.
17. Crusader of Centy (Nextech, 1994)
An attempt by Nextech to compete with the Legend of Zelda, and quite a good one at that. A charming adventure seemingly geared toward a younger audience with its cute graphical style, Crusader of Centy also features some inventive gameplay elements. Rather than Zelda's item system, here you have animal companions with varying abilities - a cheetah that increases your running speed, a penguin that coats your sword in ice (giving it the power to freeze enemies and objects) and a raccoon that can draw enemy fire away from your character just to name a few. The only real sin surrounding this one is that so few people got a chance to play it - the game was published by Atlus, you see, and before they achieved mainstream success outside of Japan, they acquired infamy among gamers for publishing their titles in extremely limited quantities (see also - Ogre Battle on the SNES). As a result, this is among the rarest games on the platform...
16. Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega, 1991)
In the early 90s, Nintendo was still ruling the video game market with a legion of strong third party developers and a memorable mascot character in the form of Mario. Sega AM8 (later known as Sonic Team) raced to think of a way to combat the unstoppable plumber, eventually coming up with a winning gimmick in the form of a hedgehog with an irreverent attitude that would roll into a ball and blaze across the landscape at high speeds. Thus Sonic was born, and with him the Sega Genesis had a massive surge in popularity - enough to surpass the NES in sales and lead the Genesis into a rivalry with the SNES that continues to spur fan debate even to this day. While it didn't quite have as much variety as the Mario games, it did sport some creative and surreal stage design, stylish and colorful graphics, smooth animations and impressive music, as well as a more puzzle-based approach to some stages and even multiple routes through each level. There was even a hidden ending in store for those few who managed to collect all six chaos emeralds before the end of the game, which was no small feat considering the difficulty of some of those bonus levels.
15. Herzog Zwei (Technosoft, 1990)
14. Yuu Yuu Hakusho: Makyo Toitsusen (Treasure, 1994 in Japan)
13. Phantasy Star II (Sega, 1990)
The followup to the groundbreaking Sega Master System RPG, and quite an impressive title in its own right. Moving the franchise ahead with more complex enemy encounters and dungeons, it was also a trendsetter in terms of its storytelling, with a grim setting and some surprisingly dark elements (including on-screen murder and the death of a prominent party member - practically cliches now, but pretty shocking in 1990). It's also among the first RPGs I recall that add a slight bit of automation to battles to make them less tedious - you can simply hit "Fight" and your characters will automatically attack until you press a button to pause at the beginning of the next turn and redefine your strategies.
12. ToeJam and Earl (Johnson Voorsanger Productions, 1991)
Perhaps the most unique roguelike ever produced, ToeJam and Earl isn't about trying to escape some medieval dungeon or tower or something in an attempt to secure your freedom. No sir. Instead, we have two aliens crash-landed on Earth (the titular ToeJam and Earl) trying to collect the scattered pieces of their ship, avoid hostile earthlings and return home to Planet Funkotron. As you'd expect of the genre, the game features randomly generated levels, a slew of enemies to encounter (this time in the form of things like killer ice cream trucks, mad scientists and chickens with mortars), and randomly generated items in the form of gift boxes. These can be good things, ranging from items that help you get around quicker and avoid enemies (spring shoes, rocket shoes, inflatable decoys), weapons (tomatoes, boom boxes that stun enemies). Or they can be bad things, like the "Total Bummer" (instantly lose a life), Rain cloud (depletes your health) or the Randomizer (which scrambles the effects of all gift boxes, forcing you to start from scratch on figuring out what all of them are).
Also of note is that the game features a two player mode with a split-screen view when both players are in different areas, which wasn't thought to be possible given the hardware limitations of the Sega Genesis...
11. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Sonic Team/Sega Technical Institute, 1992)
10. Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master (Sega, 1993)
Shinobi was one of Sega's most popular early franchises - after all, who doesn't want to play as a badass superninja and mow down evil hordes with kunais, sword and ninja magic? After a line of games across the arcades, Master System and even two prior entries on the Genesis, Shinobi III was released, and what a game it was. Graphics, animations and controls were all spot-on, resulting in a game that looked as amazing as it played, with some excellent setpieces like battling ninjas on horseback or even on a mini-surfboard (more than a bit reminiscent of the TMNT games on NES). The difficulty was also still tough, but fair - unlike the earlier games, you almost never felt like things were just overly cheap or irritating for the sake of it. The only real downside was that they couldn't get Yuzo Koshiro to do the soundtrack again!
9. Master of Monsters (SystemSoft, 1991)
8. Shining Force II (Sonic! Software Planning, 1994)
7. Castlevania: Bloodlines (Konami, 1993)
6. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 / Sonic and Knuckles (Sonic Team/Sega Technical Institute, 1994)
5. Gunstar Heroes (Treasure, 1994)
4. Streets of Rage 2 (Sega/Ancient/HIC/Shout! Designworks, 1992)
With that many companies working on the game, it has to be good right? Well yes, it is. In fact, Streets of Rage 2 is considered to be one of the best beat-em-ups of all time, featuring not only some heavily detailed graphics and inventive music for the era, but a massive variety of foes to fight (even including robots, bikers and guys with jetpacks) and four playable characters, each with their own distinct special moves and abilities. Not to mention yet another dynamite soundtrack by the great Yuzo Koshiro. Weird, wacky fun that makes for some great two player co-op. Just a shame they couldn't keep that flow going with Streets of Rage 3, which inexplicably features downgraded graphics, gameplay drawn out to the point of inanity and a droning soundtrack that could aptly be described as "Yuzo Koshiro at his worst"....
3. Rocket Knight Adventures (Konami, 1993)
2. Alien Soldier (Treasure, 1995 in Japan and Europe)
Another Treasure game makes the list, and honestly it's among the best games on the Sega Genesis and one of the best games they ever created, period. Taking the same wild action of Gunstar Heroes and adding several new mechanics on top, this is a boss rush game with an incredible amount of depth and strategy. Not only do you have six selectable weapons to choose from, you also have the ability to swap between stationary and moving firing modes on the fly, block enemy bullets to receive health powerups, evade enemy attacks by jetting across the screen with an invincible dash, and even utilize a super move at full health that allows you to dash through an enemy, inflicting heavy damage and possibly even a one hit kill if timed well. You'll need to master these mechanics too, as you're usually on a strict time limit for each boss fight. Equal parts strategy, twitch reflexes and timing, this game is an absolute gem, and an inspiration to later top-notch action games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. Sadly it never got a cartridge release in North America, but it has since shown up there in several different formats including Steam and the Wii Virtual Console.
1. Phantasy Star IV: End of the Millennium (Sega, 1995)