The first system I ever owned was the Nintendo Entertainment System. I got it in 1st grade towards the tail end of its lifespan, so my game library was fairly limited. I still adore Super Mario Bros. 3 to this day, but missed a lot of key titles like the original Legend of Zelda. The system I more closely associate with growing up is actually the Sega Genesis! I got one for my birthday in 3rd grade along with the pack-in Sonic the Hedgehog. My parents had no idea how to connect it to the TV so I had to wait until a family friend could help. And when I finally got to experience that sweet, sweet “blast processing”, I was blown away! I was a Sega kid until I got my Nintendo 64 in 7th grade, so I have a lot of childhood Sega Genesis nostalgia.
It’s funny now how much competition there was between Sega and Nintendo during the early 90s. At the time most everyone had a clear favorite console, but in retrospect most of us older games seem to really appreciate both. The ultimate winner of the “Console Wars” was every gamer, because we got some absolutely spectacular hardware and software from it! So why the Sega Genesis nostalgia now?
The “Sega Genaissance”
Our family just made a big move. When big changes happen in life, I’ve always found games to be comforting. Especially older, nostalgic titles! I usually turn to my favorite Nintendo series, but after playing some older Genesis titles with some of my best friends before moving I kept thinking about it. One thing has led to another, and I’m obsessed again. I’m going through a Sega Genesis renaissance (a “Genaissance” if you will-I’ll be here all week folks) and have been collecting quite a bit the past few months. So let’s get into why I love this system so much, and how all of this snowballed recently!
The Amazing Sega Genesis Nomad!
I’ve been intrigued by the Sega Genesis Nomad for quite some time. I spend a ton of time gaming in handheld mode on my Nintendo Switch (and especially adore the indie scene on it). And lo and behold, Sega made a portable Genesis back in 1995! So I got a little crazy, took a leap of faith, and (with permission from my wife) managed to win an eBay auction for a Sega Nomad! It’s a glorious and surprisingly impressive little piece of tech that has been hugely entertaining to play on (check out my full Nomad review!). It came with a copy of Jurassic Park, one of my favorite Genesis games. Since then, I’ve been slowly rebuilding a collection of games that are very nostalgic to me (see above photo!). I sadly traded in my original Genesis console and game library to FuncoLand way back when for about $35, so I’m starting from scratch. (Ah, young Zach).
Now I’ve found a nice minty Model 2 Genesis from my favorite local game store (Bowser’s Basement). I’ve purchased both awesome HD Retrovision component cables and the stellar 8bitdo Genesis wireless controller. In short, I’ve gotten a little out of hand here folks. But sweet mother, it is absolutely glorious to live my Sega Genesis nostalgia in beautiful clarity and modern conveniences! I want to highlight a few of my favorite games and memories from growing up that I’ve been thinking about a lot as I’ve played recently. Enjoy!
Sonic the Hedgehog=90s cool
The original Sonic game is probably more nostalgic than “great” to me viewed through a modern lens! I will never, ever forget the first steps through Green Hill Zone with the beautiful and iconic theme playing. The gorgeous graphics, creative design, speedy main character, and lighthearted theme were a revelation, especially coming from the NES.
I don’t feel like most of the original Sonic zones past Green Hill hold up super well though. (Labyrinth Zone in particular is where I often quit the game). The exception of course is the spectacular Star Light Zone-I’ve been popping in the game and doing the level select code just to run through it! I mean, listen to the music:
In terms of relaxing 90s and Sega Genesis nostalgia, it doesn’t get much better than this folks.
Streets of Rage 2
My close friend who lived next door to me got a Sega Genesis around the time I did, but his pack-in title was Streets of Rage 2! We stayed up almost all night at his birthday party playing co-op to try and beat it. And we would return to it often! This was one of the first beat ’em ups I ever played, and I still think it’s one of the best. The sprites and graphics are stunning, even today, and the mechanics, from a single punch to the specials, all feel right. And let’s not even get started on how amazing the soundtrack is, my friends. I could listen to “Go Straight”, “Dreamer”, and “Wave 131” for literally hours! (and I have, by the way)
Even though it can be experienced on the Sega Genesis Mini and a variety of Sega collections, there’s something about playing on authentic hardware that’s so special. My wife and I have been beating a few stages quite a bit since I got it again! (I’m still trying to convince her to cosplay as Blaze and Axel with me at some point). Kamal recently introduced me to the original Streets of Rage, and I was pleasantly surprised by how amazing it holds up too! “Moon Beach” is one of my all time favorite tracks, and I’ll have to track down a Genesis 6-Pak to play it again soon.
The “real” Mortal Kombat
If you were a Sega kid, you had huge bragging rights for having the “blood” version of Mortal Kombat on your system. I remember renting the original game from Blockbuster when my best friend Daniel was spending the night in 4th grade. We found the “blood code” (A, B, A, C, A, B, B) in a GamePro at the register and committed it to memory as best we could. And we felt like we were part of some elite, mature club playing the game with blood effects! Granted, the original game doesn’t hold up all that well. But the sequel does! I think Mortal Kombat II stands the test of time far better, so I picked up a cheap copy recently. I mean, how could I resist with these character bios and illustrations:
Even if I’m not the biggest Mortal Kombat fan today, the mania it caused in the early 90s is fun to reminisce about. And that badge of honor of being able to play the “blood version” is a big part of my Sega Genesis nostalgia!
Holy cow was this the golden era of Disney and cartoon tie-in games. They weren’t all winners, to be sure, but there were some spectacular entries that really have no equal even today. This was the glory days of Disney animated films and Saturday morning cartoons, and Sega did amazing work partnering to release some excellent tie-ins. Why this didn’t continue into the Saturn era is beyond me! Here’s a few of my favorites:
The Super Nintendo is my favorite system of all time to this day. But its version of Aladdin is simply not as good! The Genesis Aladdin had authentic Disney animators helping to create the sprites and animations of the game. It was faster, more kinetic, and had better minigames. And Aladdin had a cool sword! Despite the terror that is the “Escape from the Cave of Wonders” levels, it still holds up brilliantly today.
I don’t think I’ve met a single person who has played this underrated gem and not been utterly charmed by it. It’s essentially Donald Duck meets Indiana Jones meets early Metroidvania-style gameplay. Trust me, it all works! The animation is absolutely stunning and the soundtrack is lots of fun. The light Metroidvania gameplay elements work well, and each level and boss encounter is very atmospheric and enjoyable! There’s a bit of “unfair enemy placement” and jumping can be a bit tricky, but it’s never a deal breaker. Plus, the world map full of some real world locations was just so very cool. I finished it recently playing with my daughters and they absolutely loved it too!
Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster’s Hidden Treasure
Another you may not have heard of! An excellent Konami platformer (with trademark brutal difficulty as the game goes on) where Buster Bunny ventures through different environments to save his friends from a mad scientist working with Montana Max. Buster runs very fast and the levels are gorgeous to to look at as well as laden with surprise traps, so it feels very similar to Sonic! This one can be a bit frustrating playing today, but infinite continues and a password system help soften the blow. Check it out if you loved Tiny Toons! (you’ll notice much of my Genesis nostalgia is also early 90s cartoon nostalgia)
Jurassic Park remains my favorite book, and one of my favorite movies, to this day. To be sure, I’m obsessed with dinosaurs, and I taught Biology for 13 years, so that’s a big influence! But this game is pretty awesome. Being able to play as either Grant or a freaking velociraptor was so cool and allowed you to choose your own difficulty! The controls and level design are a bit clunky coming back to today, but creativity shines through regardless. Levels are detailed and atmospheric-they really feel like they’re part of Isla Nublar! Beating this game as the raptor was something I did all the time as a kid, and I’ve had a blast doing it again recently.
Sweet mother Sonic 2 is good. It’s a colossal improvement over everything in the first game. There are so many zones, yet they nearly all retain a high quality and are over in just the right amount of time (except for Metropolis Zone, which we all know is terrible!). Each act is drenched in atmosphere from the gorgeous graphics and insanely catchy soundtrack. And this was the debut of Super Sonic! The final levels are epic, tense, and very satisfying. It remains my favorite Genesis Sonic to (2?) this day because it most embodies what Sonic is all about: sweet, sweet speed!
Sonic 3 & Knuckles: lock-ons are the future
I was obsessed with Sonic 3 when I got it for my birthday in August 1994! I loved the bigger focus on exploration, the manageable special stages, the new shield power ups, and the introduction of Knuckles! The graphics pushed the hardware to the max, and the seamless transitions between acts and zones add a lot to the world building. I can almost beat this one in my sleep!
Ironically, I never owned Sonic & Knuckles! I rented it a few times but it didn’t hook me in quite the way Sonic 3 did. I ended up finally beating it in the GameCube Sonic Mega Collection many years ago, but missed the experience of playing with a Genesis controller. So I finally purchased a nice CIB copy recently! (check out the glorious flyers for Sonic & Knuckles merch that came with it). Let me tell you, nothing says Sega Genesis nostalgia like seeing Sonic 3 & Knuckles locked on. It’s simultaneously amazing and hilarious. And it even works in the Nomad!
I’m still partial to the “Sonic 3” half in terms of zones, but the story beats and “completeness” adding Knuckles makes it essential. Check out this awesome mini-doc on the Making of Sonic 3 & Knuckles if you’re a fan!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Hyperstone Heist!
I owned and played the heck out of this game when I was a kid! Hyperstone Heist was the game I’d show off and play two player on when friends came over or we had a slumber party. Sure, it doesn’t quite meet the near perfection of Turtles in Time, but it’s a stellar, fast-paced, gorgeous title that’s a blast. It’s gotten pretty pricey CIB, but between the upcoming Shredder’s Revenge and this poster included with Buster’s Hidden Treasure, I got a bit of Turtle collecting mania:
Hyperstone Heist was calling. So I just bought a copy from Bowser’s Basement that isn’t complete, but has a very minty case and cart. I got a great deal, and was happy to support my local store. And you better believe I’ve already beaten the game! It’s surprisingly challenging and satisfying to play through it again today-I strongly recommend it if you’re a Turtles fan!
What am I missing?
I honestly never had that huge of a game collection for the Genesis. I owned it in the days where I could get one game for my birthday, and one for Christmas. And rent a title every now and then on a weekend! So there’s quite a bit I missed out on. I need to try out several acclaimed titles like Castlevania: Bloodlines, the Shinobi series, and Phantasy Star IV! I’ll probably do most of this on my Sega mini, but having a real Genesis and Nomad really deepens my Sega Genesis nostalgia.
Words can barely express how much I’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane-the Genesis will always be synonymous with growing up in the 90s. I’m excited to keep exploring and collecting!
Do you have a lot of Sega Genesis nostalgia? What specific memories or games stand out to you? And what titles do I still need to experience? Let me know in the comments below!