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Top 20 Sega Saturn Games

The Sega Saturn was of course Sega's first attempt at a proper CD-based console after attempting it as an addon with the Sega CD, but it was plagued with problems from the start.  The system was quite technically capable, but several last-minute changes were implemented to make it more competitive with Sony's newly-announced Playstation, resulting in a convoluted hardware setup that was exceptionally difficult to develop games for and alienated many third party developers.  It also used quad polygons instead of triangles (which were rapidly being phased out as a standard), had a high price point and, owing to being unexpectedly launched four months ahead of its announced date in North America (with only six underwhelming games available until the originally announced one), it never got much of a foothold outside of Japan.  Ultimately the platform only sold about 9 million units worldwide (compared to ~33 million Nintendo 64's and 102 million Playstations) and was even disparaged by Sega of America staff at the time, who all but forgot about it in favor of promoting their Sega PC gaming line and the up-and-coming Dreamcast.  Those who gave the system a chance (and went through the 75% of its library that never got released overseas) found quite a few high quality arcade ports and some surprisingly solid and creative original titles, many of which remain cult classics today.  So, let's count down twenty I've played and found to be quite worthwhile.

HM. Valora Valley Golf (T&E Soft, 1995)

"Wait, we're starting off this list with a GOLF game?!" you say.  Well, yes.  But mostly because as golf games go this one is absolutely mental.  A remake of the SNES game "True Golf Classics: Wicked 18", this one puts you in all sorts of strange and surreal courses, from a very steep green leading up a mountain to having to knock the ball around towering stone pillars to golfing over plateaus in a live volcano.  To help you out you get a fully controllable camera and several types of "Hyper Shots" if you stop the power meter at an exact point.  From cyclone shots that travel along the ground blasting right over trees, bunkers and ponds to a shot that teleports the ball straight to the green to one you can control with the D-pad while in flight.  The caddies in the game are also hilarious and definitely add to the game's bizarre charm.

20. Bubble Symphony (Taito, 1997 in Japan)

One of four "Bubble Bobble II's" out there (alongside Rainbow Islands, Bubble Bobble Part 2 and the Game Boy version of Bubble Bobble Part 2, which was a different game entirely), Bubble Symphony was an arcade followup to the original game's format, just with tuned up graphics and music, four playable characters (with slightly differing abilities), more straightforward action-oriented design and multiple paths to take through the game.  The Saturn was the only system that got a home port for a good while, but it was a high quality one, looking, sounding and playing just like its counterpart.  Strangely all of the text is in English, which suggests this was planned to be localized at some point but ultimately it never happened for whatever reason.

19. Pocket Fighter (Capcom, 1998 in Japan)

Pocket Fighter (also known as Super Gem Fighter Mini-Mix) is to fighters what Parodius is to shmups - an affection parody of numerous Capcom fighters that also ends up being a surprisingly fun game in its own right.  Case in point, it has chibified character designs with silly animations and special moves that reference numerous other games (pictured: Felica turning into Mega Man) and relatively simple controls, but is quite fun to pick up and play.  Every hit you land on your opponent shakes gems loose, which power up your special moves.  It was also one of many games that Tessa/Tabitha of Red Earth fame cameoed in, her native game never getting a home port until 2021 (!).

18. Resident Evil (Capcom, 1996)

Resident Evil was a pretty big hit on the Playstation, coining the term "Survival Horror" and impressing gamers with its puzzle oriented gameplay, creepy atmosphere and B-movie like presentation (complete with legendarily cheesy voiceover).  It got ported to several platforms, got a highly acclaimed remake in 2002 for the Gamecube, and a long string of sequels and spinoffs that continue to this day.  The Sega Saturn port is the first one it had, and it actually has some content that no other version does - notably the Battle Game (similar to the Mercenaries mode in later games), a couple new enemy types, some alternate costumes and, most famously, Chris having to fight TWO Tyrants in his boss battle at the end of the game.

17. Virtua Fighter 2 (Sega AM2, 1995)

One of the earliest 3D fighting games was Virtua Fighter, and it definitely made a splash in the arcades with its impressive visuals and its more realistic style of fighting action.  Virtua Fighter 2 was probably the first big killer app for the Saturn, though the fact that it came out several months after the system's launch and followed a lackluster port of the first game* seriously harmed its overall sales.  Still, the game definitely upped the ante over the original, with much improved character models and graphics, two new playable characters, faster gameplay and smooth controls that let you pull off some wicked juggle combos.  The home port even let you tweak a bunch of settings like ring size and play as the super-tough boss character Dural, who can chain together some absolutely ludicrous combos.

*So much so that Sega developed a tweaked version called "Virtua Fighter Remix" and gave it free to everyone who registered their Sega Saturn with them as an apology!

16. Last Bronx (Sega AM3, 1997)

A less well-known Sega fighter from this period, but it's quite a fun one in its own right.  The game has a more gritty, brutal style to it than Virtua Fighter, with street fighting teens in (generally) walled-in environments and a dystopian alternate history as its backdrop.  They all wield weapons too - from Kali sticks to tonfas to nunchucks, so in a way this was the Saturn's answer to Soul Blade/Soul Edge on the Playstation.  The Saturn version adds in some extra content from its arcade counterpart, including a new story mode, survival mode and time attack mode, and of course the final boss (Red Eye) is made into a playable character with a unique ending.

15. Dungeons & Dragons Collection (Capcom, 1999 in Japan)

The D&D-licensed Capcom beat-em-ups (Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara) are fairly obscure even in the arcades, but those who know them swear by them.  The beat-em-up action is on point, with each character having unique abilities for their class (the Thief can unlock chests without keys, the Cleric can turn undead to instantly destroy them, the Magic-user casts spells and can get a major powerup with a magical item as the story progresses, et cetera), and it even works in a lot of clever D&D elements - Trolls can only be killed by fire or acid, and you get a variety of usable items like potions, throwing knives and spell scrolls.  The Saturn version has quite a bit of loading even with the 4MB RAM cart (which is required for the sequel) and only supports two players, but it's nevertheless a blast to play.

14. Vampire Savior: the Lord of Vampire (Capcom, 1998 in Japan)

Created by Capcom as a test for their new CPS2 engine, Vampire (aka Darkstalkers) proved to be pretty popular for a brief time in the '90s.  Its cool character designs, smooth action and colorful, expressive animation made it pretty awesome, as did its comedic horror bent, taking a lot of classic movie and folklore monsters and putting a new spin on all of them.  Vampire Savior is the third game in the series, removing a few characters and adding in four new ones in Q-Bee, Lilith, Jedah and B.B. Hood, who all became pretty big fan favorites for the series.

13. Fighting Vipers (Sega AM2, 1996)

Another less well-known Sega fighter, but that doesn't mean it's not a blast.  Fighting Vipers can be considered a faster-paced, harder-hitting version of Virtua Fighter, with heavy blows that literally send your opponent flying into the air or careening into the arena wall, where you can juggle them for hefty damage.  Each character is afforded some protection from this with armor that protects their upper body and legs, but it will degrade and eventually break with repeated hits.  The Japanese version also has an extra bonus in Pepsiman, the Japanese mascot for Pepsi at the time, though sadly he was removed from all the later ports owing to licensing issues.  Oddly the PS2 port still features many Pepsi ads, but not the character.

12. Guardian Heroes (Treasure, 1996)

A pretty awesome RPG/beat-em-up hybrid from a company known for making some pretty intense, crazy and awesome games. Treasure's Guardian Heroes features simultaneous co-op for up to six players, each with differing playstyles and supportive abilities, and there are over 50 stages in the game and branching paths that ensure you need to play through the game multiple times to see them all.  Arguably even sillier is the game's versus mode, in which every single character in the game (from lowly peasants to even the final bosses) are selectable, making for some ridiculously unbalanced but fun battles.

11. Street Fighter Alpha III (Capcom, 1999 in Japan)

Street Fighter Alpha (aka Street Fighter Zero) served as a prequel taking place between Street Fighter 1 and 2, and it brought a lot of new layers to the gameplay, including a block gauge (which results in a stun if it breaks, discouraging turtling) and Alpha Counters - blocking an opponent's attack and immediately countering with a special.  Alpha III not only had the biggest roster in the entire series to that point, but further upped the variety with three different "Isms" to choose from - X-ism deals more damage overall but has no air block, Alpha counters and only one super bar, V-Ism foregoes super moves in favor of "custom combos" (making the character move and attack faster for a short period, allowing for long chains), and A-Ism allows for up to three super bars to be stored.  Numerous versions of Alpha 3 would be released on home consoles, each with slightly different characters and game modes present, but no matter which you choose, they're all a really good time.

10. Mega Man 8 (Capcom, 1997)

Mega Man 8 was the first Mega Man title to be developed and released for fifth generation consoles, and it's definitely an odd bird, with a strange exaggerated art style and some significantly reworked gameplay.  Everyone makes fun of the atrocious voice acting (and to be fair, it is really funny) but if you look beyond that you have a solid platformer with smooth animation, good music and some clever design elements.  The Sega Saturn version has some exclusive bonus content, with a sound and music test, a gallery of robot master and fan art, some slightly different music tracks and two additional bosses in Cut Man and Wood Man.  Curiously, none of these extras have been included in later Mega Man compilations, all of which instead just emulate the Playstation version.

9. Parodius Da! Shinwa kara Owarai e (Konami, 1995 in Japan, 1996 in Europe)

Parodius, as its name implies, is a self-aware parody of Konami's own Gradius series, taking the basic gameplay and adding layers of colorful, nosensical silliness to everything.  With playable characters ranging from Dracula-Kun to a stick figure riding a paper airplane to a flying pig and enemies that range from a cat-headed pirate ship to a dancing panda in a ballerina costume.  It's had a number of updates, remakes and sequels over the years (the Saturn even got a couple more of its own),but this one remains my favorite for its sheer weirdness.

8. Cyberbots: Full Metal Madness (Capcom, 1997)

Capcom really was on a roll with fighting games in the '90s, and Cyberbots is one that never really got a lot of attention; probably because it never got a home port outside of Japan until very recently.  A shame as it's a pretty cool title - pick your pilot, pick your robot, customize your parts and duke it out with some smoothly animated, surprisingly fast-paced action.  The home ports featured a few new playable characters; the previously-unplayable sub-bosses Devilot and Warlock, and, per another Capcom tradition of the time, a hidden version of Akuma as a giant robot called "Mech-Gouki".  That's hilarious.  And hilariously awesome.

7. Marvel Super Heroes (Capcom, 1997)

Capcom had a ton of fighting games to their name in the '90s riding off the massive success of Street Fighter, and Marvel Super Heroes took all that and added in a touch of comic book flair.  Loosely based on the "Infinity War" storyline from the comics, you take your pick of ten heroes and villains from across the Marvel universe, collect all the infinity stones and eventually face off with Thanos at the end.  Said stones can also be used mid-battle to give yourself an edge - boosting your attack power, giving you gradual health regeneration, having you generate projectiles with each attack, and so forth.  Later Capcom/Marvel games would become more and more over-the-top, with team based action and progressively more absurd combos and super moves, but Marvel Super Heroes is just a good, solid one-on-one fighter with a lot of charm. 

6. Silhouette Mirage (Treasure, 1997 in Japan)

Another unique and uniquely strange game by Treasure, Silhouette Mirage is sidescrolling action title set in a bizarre technological future embroiled in an endless war between two factions - the Silhouettes and the Mirages.  Each has their own attribute and your playable character (Sinna) has both, shifting depending on which side is facing toward the screen; the same attribute drains enemies' energy while the opposite will damage and even destroy them. A small handful of enemies are also "Normal" attribute, and can only be damaged by deflecting their attacks back at them.  You have seven different weapons to utilize (themed after the seven deadly sins) and special moves including a dash and a reflective shield to bounce back same-attribute attacks.

5. Metal Slug (Nazca Corporation, 1997 in Japan)

Metal Slug was a pretty big hit on the Neo-Geo arcade units - it looked amazing with its popping colors, smooth animation, prevalent sense of humor and gigantic bosses, and its gameplay was downright addictive sidescrolling run and gun action.  The titular Metal Slug was quite a fun addition too - a tank with relatively slow mobility compared to fighting on foot, but heavy firepower to make up for it.  It's gone on to become one of SNK's best known franchises, with seven numbered entries and numerous spinoff games as of this writing, and its characters even cameoing in games like SVC Chaos and NeoGeo Fighting Coliseum (and two King of Fighters characters making appearances in later entries as well).

4. Radiant Silvergun (Treasure, 1998 in Japan)

A pretty legendary and highly-demanded Saturn game for many years, and it isn't hard to see why once you play it.  With Radiant Silvergun Treasure crafted an amazing blend of shoot-em-up action and puzzle elements that is among the most technically complex and rewarding of its entire genre.  You have seven weapons to utilize at any given time and must power them up by destroying enemies in particular patterns (either sticking to the same color throughout a stage or going red->blue->yellow and then sticking with yellow), lest the later stages become nearly impossible to finish.  The Saturn version also adds a story mode, complete with voice acting and an incredibly grim atmosphere that I kinda have no choice but to love.

3. Panzer Dragoon Saga (Team Andromeda, 1998)

An epic and amazingly well produced RPG that could have easily been the Saturn's answer to Final Fantasy VII; sadly it got almost completely ignored outside of Japan, being printed only in extremely limited quantities despite considerable fan demand, and it continues to fetch insanely high prices today as the source code has since been lost (making porting it to modern platforms extremely difficult).  Still, it took the rail shooter format of the earlier Panzer Dragoon games and adapted it quite well to a turn-based RPG, adding in a continuous (and fully voice acted) narrative, the ability to transform your dragon to adapt to challenges, some downright incredible graphics for the hardware and an unforgettable, amazing soundtrack.

2. Fighters Megamix (Sega AM2, 1997)

Sega AM2's final effort on the Saturn, and they sure went out on a high note.  Fighters Megamix is a crossover game that combines the gameplay styles and all the characters from Virtua Fighter 2 and Fighting Vipers, and then goes further into absurdity by adding in all sorts of silly hidden characters as well.  From Bark and Bean of Sonic the Fighters fame to Janet from Virtua Cop to Hornet from Daytona USA; yes, you fight a car.  They also included Rentahero from his eponymous game and even a scrapped character from the original Virtua Fighter named Siba; a middle eastern fighter who wields a scimitar.  Hell if you were crazy enough you could also unlock a chunk of meat and even the AM2 logo palm tree as hidden characters.  Silly, over the top fun that I played a ton of.

1. Saturn Bomberman (Hudson Soft/Eleven, 1997)

The best Bomberman game of all time.  Yes, really.  Building on the foundations set up by Mega Bomberman and the Super Bomberman games on 16-bit platforms, they had all the same powerups and gameplay innovations from those and took advantage of the high res, gorgeous 2D graphics that the Saturn could deliver.  But what really sold it was the ten-player simultaneous mode, which is just a hilarious melee of sheer chaos.  Yes, it's expensive to set up - you need a copy of the game, two multitaps, ten controllers and a relatively large TV to see the action with any degree of clarity, but man is it a rush.