From Sonic to Super Monkey Ball
While Nintendo and other storied publishers have hurried to release their back catalogs of titles on cute micro-consoles, Sega’s library of beloved titles hasn’t enjoyed its moment in the limelight — yet.
We know Sega is working on a Genesis/Mega Drive Classic pre-loaded with games, and that Analogue, the makers of the phenomenal Super NT SNES clone, are working their magic on a Genesis reproduction called the Mega Sg that accepts all the original carts as well. In other words, it’s about to be a really good time to be a Sega fan again.
Rather than just celebrate the company’s 16-bit output, however, we decided to pay tribute to the company’s entire range of diverse releases, from its arcade hits to deep single-player experiences, sports games and, of course, charmingly weird one-offs.
Directed by Devil May Cry mastermind Hideki Kamiya, the original Bayonetta was a breakthrough in the character-action genre that blended stylish, satisfying combat with an unforgettably cool protagonist that killed demons with her literal hair. Bayonetta 2 evolved the formula even further, introducing a two-player co-op mode as well as a special "Umbran Climax" state (this series is not subtle) that took Bayonetta's wicked weave attacks to new heights. The series' unapologetically sexy, over-the-top, and weirdly charming nature makes it one of the pinnacles of its genre — it's no wonder Nintendo secured Bayonetta 2 (and the upcoming Bayonetta 3) as a first-party exclusive. — Mike Andronico
Sonic Mania Plus
It was hard whittling down Sonic’s presence on this list to just one game, but Sonic Mania makes it easier. This is the definitive 2D Sonic experience, recreated by a team of fans-turned-developers who understand precisely what made the original titles amazing. Full of remixes of classic stages as well as new ones, like the mystifying Studiopolis Zone, and controls, power-ups and mechanics that nail the basics, Mania is the one Sonic title we’d tell you to play if you’d never played one before. Additionally, if you spring for the Plus expansion, you get some extra playable characters you’d actually want to play as, which is a very rare thing in the Sonic universe. — Adam Ismail
The Dreamcast is remembered fondly by folks who loved their bizarre games, including the stylistic Jet Set Radio and Phantasy Star Online. Crazy Taxi is not one of those games, but man is it good. Filled with the boundless optimistic energy of the 1990's — and the music of The Offspring and Bad Religion — the game places you in the role of a taxi driver who is somehow lucky enough to find passengers that enjoy it when they perform crazy vehicular jumps and tricks. Also, you don't need a retro console to play Crazy Taxi, as it can probably still be found in your local arcade (or on Xbox One or Steam). — Henry T. Casey
Valkyria Chronicles isn't just one of the best games Sega's produced; it's also one of the best strategy/RPGs ever made, period. While the majority of the series holds up pretty well, the first game is still the strongest of the bunch. Set in a slightly fantastical version of Europe, Valkyria Chronicles follows a small, diverse squadron of soldiers who set out to save their small country of Gallia (basically Poland) from the fascistic forces of the Imperial Alliance. Combat involves a novel real-time/turn-based hybrid, where soldiers duke it out with rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers and even tanks, while the storyline doesn't shy away from tough issues like guerilla warfare and concentration camps. Also: Remember the Germanic occult stuff that Hitler was obsessed with? In this game, it's real. — Marshall Honorof
Yakuza 0 shows us how the Dragon of Dojima and Mad Dog of Shimano came to be in a over-the-top open-world brawler filled with heavy dose of melodramatic crime drama. It’s a great starting point with hands down one of the better playing games in the franchise’s 12 year history. When you’re not being framed for murder, you’ll be busy beating up Yakuza, running a hostess bar, and even taking part in some light urban development. Yakuza veterans will get a kick of seeing the sights and sounds of the fictional japanese city of Kamurocho set in the 1980s. You’ll meet a color eccentric cast of characters from all walks of life and beat them up with traffic cones or your sick breakdancing moves. — Jorge Jimenez
The last real F-Zero games (can you believe it’s been 15 years?), F-Zero GX and its arcade version, F-Zero AX, were the result of a close partnership between Sega, Nintendo and developer Amusement Vision. It showed off how well a third-party could help handle a Nintendo game, and the GameCube was the perfect hardware for it. The game pushed the GCN to its limits with beautiful colors and high speeds, though the difficulty got so intense that the story mode featuring Captain Falcon was almost impossible to complete without memorizing the tracks and some lightning fast reflexes. Beyond that, it was done so well that it’s still fondly remembered as what could be if Nintendo ever wants to go back to the series. — Andrew E. Freedman
Super Monkey Ball 2
Super Monkey Ball is the puzzle game for people who like racing games. It’s one of those absurd concepts that is tremendously simple in practice — the kind Sega has always been great at, but especially flourished during the company’s most inventive period, during the rise and fall of the Dreamcast. While the first installment proved the legitimacy of the ridiculous premise, Super Monkey Ball 2 is the pinnacle of the series, owing to its plethora of multiplayer party games that are more fun that they have any right to be. Personally speaking, many a childhood rivalry was forged in the skies of Monkey Target. — Adam Ismail
Virtua Fighter 2
In many ways, Virtua Fighter 2 revolutionized 3D fighting games the same way that Street Fighter II did for 2D fighters before it. Whereas the first Virtua Fighter was fairly janky, VF2 offered detailed, texture-mapped 3D characters that duked it out at a crispy 60 frames per second — something nearly unheard of at the time for 3D brawlers. The game's simple punch-kick-block control scheme masked endless layers of competitive depth, with a varied roster of characters that all used real-world fighting styles. The 90's would eventually see a 3D fighting game boon with the explosion of games like Tekken, Dead or Alive and Soul Calibur, and they all have Virtua Fighter 2 to thank for helping put the genre on the map. — Mike Andronico
It’s widely held that Daytona USA is one of the highest grossing arcade titles of all time, and given that cabinets can still be found a quarter-century later in what few arcades remain all over the world, it’s not hard to believe. With Daytona, Sega’s legendary AM2 division produced arguably the most important 3D racing title ever. Armed with a timeless handling model more satisfying than Namco’s Ridge Racer, gorgeous 60 frames-per-second texture-mapped visuals and a notoriously unforgettable soundtrack, Daytona paved the way for every polygonal driving game that followed in its wake.
Sega released a sequel in 1998 that amped up the driving experience to visceral heights, though that version sadly never arrived on home consoles. However, the first iteration was given an HD-remastered, arcade-perfect port in 2011 to Xbox 360 and PS3, and that release can still be played on Xbox One through backwards compatibility. — Adam Ismail
Jet Set Radio
Absolutely nothing looked, sounded or played like Jet Set Radio when it launched 18 years ago, and even today it’s still a truly one-of-a-kind experience. Yet, it’s hard to pin down exactly what Jet Set Radio is. There’s an extreme sports aspect to it, a dash of gang warfare and certainly an aesthetic steeped in hip culture, pulling influences from the punk scene and the height of indie music expression in the late ‘90s.
Jet Set Radio’s soundtrack is often championed as one of the greatest the medium’s ever seen, and for good reason — it’s the musical embodiment of the visuals, blending original and licensed tracks that offer context and truly immerse you in the game’s neo-futuristic world. And thankfully, it’s relatively easy to revisit; Jet Set Radio was re-released on practically every platform known to man not long ago, including iOS, Android, Steam and even the PS Vita. That said, we’re still waiting for a port of its Xbox-exclusive sequel. — Adam Ismail
ESPN NFL 2K5
Desperate to compete with EA Sports in 2004, Sega made a bold move by deciding to sell all of its 2K5 sports titles at just $20 a pop. The thing is, though, ESPN NFL 2K5 wasn't just a cheap alternative to Madden 2005 — it was better than it. Making full use of its ESPN license, NFL 2K5 offered a then-unparalleled level of presentation complete with lifelike SportsCenter segments and real-world ESPN personalities like Chris Berman and Trey Wingo. The game brimmed with great content, including the ability to customize your own "crib" and a detailed online season mode. It's a shame Sega later lost the NFL license, because 2K5 was wildly ahead of its time — and is still regarded by many fans as the best pigskin game ever made. — Mike Andronico
Sure, this flying-around-NYC version of Time Crisis was later made available for the Wii, but I'd never touch it. Why? The pair of giant machine gun peripherals attached to the arcade rig provided a force-feedback to each shot, adding a degree of difficulty that made the game worth every quarter I fed it. Also, the sheer enormity of Gunblade NY's accessory mixed with the rattling movement made the somewhat rudimentary game (you shoot at blocky, pixely, hard-to-hit terrorists taking over the parks, bridges and streets of New York City) feel novel. — Henry T. Casey
Sega Rally Championship
After the release of Daytona USA in late 1993, Sega would go on to further revolutionize the racing genre with another landmark title one year later: Sega Rally Championship. While still beholden to the arcades, Sega rally was a more realistic take on a completely different discipline of racing. At a time when licensed cars were a rarity in gaming, director Tetsuya Mizuguchi — now famous for Rez, Lumines and, most recently, Tetris Effect — inked deals with manufacturers Toyota and Lancia, popularizing the Celica and Delta all around the world and inspiring a new legion of rally fans.
It helped too that Sega Rally was as close to perfect as racing games get, with an expertly tuned physics model that still feels rich, rewarding and enjoyable so many years later, ingeniously designed courses and, in true Sega fashion, an iconic soundtrack. This is the title that inspired Codemasters’ Colin McRae and Dirt franchises, and, as far as I know, the only arcade cabinet that Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson owns. — Adam Ismail
A stellar hybrid of shooter and racing game, Vanquish only put off users with its corny alien invasion storyline. But once you get used to the thin plot, there's so much fun to be mined from the Augmented Reaction Suit that protagonist Sam Gideon (who seems to be the product of a generic action hero generator) wears. This game allows you to move faster than the world around you, creating a wildly satisfying bullet-time experience in which you're constantly chaining together gunshots with fluid acrobatic moves . A must-play if you can find it, pre-owned copies of the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game are floating around retailers (you can also snag it digitally on Xbox One or Steam).— Henry T. Casey
Virtua Tennis 3
There have been more realistic tennis games, but arguably none as fun as Sega’s Virtua Tennis series. Like all of Sega’s best arcade titles, it’s a profoundly simple affair (even more so than Mario Tennis Aces), as you only have three different types of shots at your disposal. That’s it — you won’t find any special moves or elaborate meters to fill in Virtua Tennis. But the gameplay moves with a fluidity and pace that makes it addicting, not to mention surprisingly exciting once the volleys roll on and the series’ signature rocking soundtrack kicks in. Every installment is fantastic, but given one choice, I’d go for the third entry for its addictive minigames and perfect mid-2000s roster of stars like Roger Federer and Serena Williams, back when they were at their prime. — Adam Ismail
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Sega’s had so many fantastic racing games, it’s easy to forget that up until recently, it lacked a formidable kart racer to rival Mario Kart. That changed with 2012’s All-Stars Racing Transformed, which brought together all of the company’s past — from After Burner to Burning Rangers — in a title that was as much a delight to die hard Sega fans as it was an excellently crafted kart racer. It was also much bigger than Mario Kart has ever been, with a massive selection of dynamic tracks that shift from lap to lap, forcing players to transform into different vehicles. While we’re a bit disappointed that the upcoming Team Sonic Racing has shed the non-Sonic content, we’re still pumped for Sega’s unique brand of kart racing to arrive on the Switch, right where it belongs. — Adam Ismail
Virtua Fighter 5
Virtua Fighter 2 may have put 3D fighters on the map, but it was Virtua Fighter 5 that polished the series to near-perfection. Originally launched in 2006, Virtua Fighter 5 still looks stunning by today's standards, and offers a tight, technically rich battle system that favors true skill over flashy gimmicks. The fact that VF5 still has an active competitive scene is a testament to its timelessness, and you can easily play it today on Xbox One via backwards compatibility (or within the in-game arcade of Yakuza 6. Seriously). — Mike Andronico
One of the older racers, Out Run hit arcades in 1986, offering gamers an incredibly difficult 3D take on the racer, similar to 1985's biking classic Hang-On. Yes, 3D gaming was a thing before half of you were even born, thanks to Sega's innovative 'Super-Scaler' technology. Out Run was a big success, winning the 1987 Golden Joystick awards for Arcade Game of the Year and Game of the Year, and went out to spawn the beloved 2003 sequel Out Run 2. — Henry T. Casey
A long-forgotten puzzle-meets-party game that exemplifies Sega’s Dreamcast-era output, ChuChu Rocket! is the kind of madcap, sensory-overload gaming experience that would probably inspire a huge following today. ChuChu Rocket! wasn’t an independent production — it was developed by Sonic Team — but it has all the trappings of twee darlings like Overcooked. Here, players are required to route droves of adorable mice to their rocket ships, while laying down arrows to steal mice from their opponents and avoid hungry cats. That probably won’t make sense without actually seeing the game in action; then again, ChuChu Rocket! moves so quickly, not knowing what you’re doing is part of its charm. — Adam Ismail
By modern standards, Phantasy Star is a clunky, low-res, unbalanced game with unusual pacing and underdeveloped characters. But back in 1987, gamers had never seen anything quite like it before. Phantasy Star was one of the forerunners of the JRPG genre, along with Final Fantasy, which predated Phantasy Star by only two days. But Phantasy Star had a lot that Final Fantasy didn't, including an ambitious sci-fi storyline, multiple planets to explore, a cast of characters with personalities and motivations, quasi-3D dungeons and intricately animated enemies. You take control of Alis, a spacefaring freedom fighter, who loses her brother to the evil King Lassic. Her quest of revenge takes her across three planets and ends with a shocking twist. The strategic turn-based battles and open-ended exploration still hold up today. — Marshall Honorof