Sega Mega Drive: Hidden Gems
Updated: Mar 27, 2020
Reception to the Sega Mega Drive Mini games list has been almost universally glowing. From solid classics such as Streets Of Rage 2, Sonic The Hedgehog and Strider, to lesser-known, yet still excellent games, such as Vectorman, Light Crusader and Comix Zone, the line-up offers a superb variety of genres and gameplay. So for this week’s hidden gems, Antstream Arcade takes a look back at eight Mega Drive games that didn’t make the cut and, while not exactly unknown, slipped under the radar both in the Nineties and today.
Buck Rogers: Countdown To Doomsday
Developer: Strategic Simulations
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Despite the Mega Drive not being particularly flush with sci-fi RPGs, this is an oft-overlooked port of a PC and Amiga game from 1990. Scaled down from its computer-based origins (the viewpoint is third person instead of first, and there are less character classes and races to choose from), Buck Rogers is nonetheless an atmospheric and addictive role-playing game set within the 25th Century universe of its eponymous star. Battling against the Russian-American Mercantile (RAM), the player represents the New Earth Organisation (NEO) and must first create a party of up to six characters. Once assembled, these recruits are plunged into a solar system-wide battle for Earth, combating pirates and aliens as well as the nefarious RAM. While not complex by RPG standards, Countdown To Doomsday is engaging enough thanks to its oddly retro sci-fi aesthetic and smooth, approachable gameplay.
Developer: Binary Systems
Publisher: Electronic Arts
As with Buck Rogers, Starflight began as a PC game, originally released by Electronic Arts in the mid-Eighties. As an in-depth space exploration game, the genre was relatively common on that format; not so the Sega Mega Drive, where the game has few peers. Taking control of a mining space ship, it’s the player’s task to explore new planets with the aim of discovering habitable worlds for your threatened planet. Think Star Trek mixed in with the classic space trading game Elite, plus a dab of Mass Effect, and you’re about there. Fascinating, deep and involving, Starflight may not look like much, but has gameplay oozing out of its dilithium crystals thanks to its open-world structure, variety and atmosphere.
Developer: Teeny Weeny Games
Videogame movie adaptations haven’t always had the best of reputations over the years, and even the fabulous Sega Mega Drive was home to a few duff ones. Released two years after the film flop sequel, in Predator 2 the player takes on the role of maverick cop Harrigan (played by Danny Glover in the movie) as he traverses various isometric scenes from the pulpy sci-fi flick. While there’s a distinct absence of the actual main bad guy, this follows the plot of the movie as Harrigan initially encounters hordes of gang members, before discovering there’s actually someone – or something – else behind all the violence. Fast-paced, incessant and huge fun, Predator 2 is a treat for anyone prepared to look past the poor standing of movie-based videogames.
Rings Of Power
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Electronic Arts
When it comes to Mega Drive role-playing games, most fans immediately cite Phantasy Star or Landstalker. Yet the fantasy genre was popular on the Sega console, meaning many efforts such as this slipped out unnoticed. You play Buc, a sorcerer in charge of a small party of adventurers, travelling the land to recover the titular rings that will help the world escape the interminable yoke of a cruel god. Presented in an isometric style reminiscent of Populous, Rings Of Power was poorly received back in the early Nineties, perhaps because of the homely display and initial difficulty. Persevere, however, and there’s an RPG of considerable depth with a neat range of tactical combat options.
This Mega Drive exclusive brawler is the game that Rise Of The Robots could, and perhaps should, have been. Exploring the customisation options that playing a robot permits, Cyborg Justice lets the player swap out body parts from the bodies of vanquished foes, a mechanical treat that will remind gaming veterans of the classic Commodore game, Paradroid. While the range of moves is not vast, you can dismember your metallic foes with specific attacks, something rarely seen at the time outside of Mortal Kombat. With its agreeable two-player co-operative mode adding a Golden Axe vibe to proceedings, it’s that core mechanic of tailoring your robot to your own style that marks Cyborg Justice out as another Mega Drive hidden gem.
While Sub-Terrania may not appear totally original to those of you able to recall the 8-bit classic Thrust (to which it clearly owes a debt), there’s no doubt it’s a little gem among the litany of shoot-‘em-ups on the Sega Mega Drive. In this 1994 game, the player must not only battle enemy forces, but also gravity itself, constantly dragging the fragile fighter craft downwards. The rescue of captured and trapped miners is your prime objective, and each mission must be carefully approached thanks to the craft’s limited fuel supply. Novel, tough, yet rewarding, Sub-Terrania is well recommended for shooter fans keen to try something different on the Sega 16-bit console.
Developer: Beam Software
The Mega Drive was swamped with cute platform games back in the day, but there were none quite like Radical Rex. Just get a load of this for a protagonist: a flame-breathing, skateboard-riding baby T-Rex! In contrast, the rest of the game is routine, plot-wise, as Rex speeds from left to right in a quest to rescue his girlfriend (called Rexanne, oh my aching sides) from the evil wizard Sethron. With its gameplay obviously inspired by Sonic The Hedgehog, Radical Rex’s graphics are big and colourful, and it’s one of the easier platformers on the Mega Drive. Plus, it has a loveable baby dinosaur. On a skateboard.
Developer: Sega Technical Institute
When the scientist Dr. Daniel Crane sneaks back into his laboratory, he discovers a horrific secret. His colleagues, under direction from the nefarious Corporation, are planning to release a deadly virus on the population in order to profit from its cure. As a good sort of chap, Crane is understandably miffed, but before he can escape and tell the world, he’s captured and disposed of in the chemical waste chute. Only, this gruesome experience doesn’t kill Crane, but turns him into a vengeful puddle of slime, intent on reforming his body and getting back at those who have turned him into…The Ooze. One of the most original games on the Mega Drive, The Ooze was released near the end of the console’s life, partly explaining why it wasn’t the success it deserved. Controlling the green puddle is eccentric at first, and with each salvo of offensive glob its size is reduced, giving the game a neat balance in attack and defence. But for those willing to persist with its oddities, it is a highly innovative and worthwhile experience.