Altered Beast (Sega – 1988*)
One of the reasons the Mega Drive is so beloved is because it came out at a time when Sega was also pumping out classic after classic in the arcades, almost all of which were later turned into home games. Altered Beast was always shallow, even by scrolling beat em-up standards, but that it looked so similar to the arcade version made it an early killer app.
Space Harrier II (Sega – 1988)
Another benefit of Segas arcade division was that they could make console-only sequels to famous arcade games without needing to license the name from anyone else. Like Altered Beast this was a launch title and, like Altered Beat, its incredibly shallow, but the on-rails shooting and impressively large 2D sprites were still a selling point.
Alex Kidd In The Enchanted Castle (Sega – 1989)
Its largely forgotten nowadays but Alex Kidd was Segas original pre-Sonic mascot. But despite some much-loved games on the Master System the one and only Mega Drive game was a great disappointment. Slippery controls, uninspired level design, and an irritating rock, paper, scissors mini-game makes it one of the weakest games on the Mini.
Golden Axe (Sega – 1989)
Another iconic Sega scrolling beat em-up, but there was always a little more meat on Golden Axes bones compared to other similar games and its still a surprise theyve never managed to figure out a way to update it for the modern era. The Mega Drive version struggles to recapture the full scope of the arcade visuals but its still good dumb fun with a friend.
Ghouls N Ghosts (Capcom – 1989)
SNES game Super Ghouls N Ghosts is usually the best remembered of the various variants, but the Mega Drive version is much closer to the arcade original and essentially a different game. It illustrates the differences in technical capabilities between the two consoles, with a vastly inferior soundtrack on Segas console, but its still a fun, if extremely difficult, action platformer.
Thunder Force III (Sega – 1990)
Although it was rare, Sega sometimes even turned its console games into arcade machines, as was the fate of this much-loved entry in the 2D shooter series. Apart from Sonic, most of Segas franchises only get one rep on the Mega Drive Mini but theyre usually well chosen and Thunder Force III is still a lot of fun today.
Columns (Sega – 1990)
With Tetris mania in full force during the late 80s Sega was able to come up with a viable puzzle alternative in Columns, a game that has been copied far more times than Tetris itself – largely because the rules are more malleable and the presentation is bland enough that others have been able to change the visuals and actually improve the experience.
Castle Of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (Sega – 1990)
If you were arguing about SNES vs. Mega Drive graphics back in the day this was often exhibit A, with visuals and art design that many considered superior to Super Mario World. It was hard to argue the gameplay was as good, but it was certainly no slouch and remained one of the Mega Drives best platformers for its entire lifetime.
Strider (Capcom – 1990)
It wasnt just Sega arcade conversions that were the lifeblood of the Mega Drive, many of its best games were also originally coin-ops from other hardware manufacturers. Strider was seldom seen in UK arcades but the home version was everywhere, with its wonderfully imaginative mix of Soviet-influenced sci-fi and ninja style action.
Sonic The Hedgehog (Sega – 1991)
The most important video game Sega has ever made and the one without which the Mega Drive would never have succeeded. Like all truly classic games its just as playable now as it ever was, with its crisp art design remaining just as appealing. What also impresses is that while Sega were clearly trying to create their own Mario the two franchises play nothing alike and Sonic remains as uniquely imaginative now as it ever did.
ToeJam & Earl (Sega – 1991)
Although its usually thought of as a Sega classic, ToeJam & Earl is usually missing from retro compilations because Sega only acted as publisher and dont own the rights to the characters. Thankfully a deal was struck for the Mega Drive Mini and now you can experience the weird, almost roguelike, action once again, in what is one of the most 90s video games ever made – from the soundtrack to the artwork to the hip hop aliens.
Wonder Boy In Monster World (Sega – 1991)
Although most of these franchises havent been touched in years Wonder Boy has recently had both a remake and an official sequel. This isnt the best entry in the series but its more than just a straight action game, but while you do keep wanting for it to veer more into the Metroidvania style territory it keeps skating so close to it never fully commits.
Alisia Dragoon (Sega/Game Arts – 1992)
One of the most obscure inclusions on the Mega Drive Mini, the only obvious reason for its presence is that its actually a greatly underrated action platformer, as you make use of lightning powers and various pet dragons. Its also a rare early example of a female video protagonist, although its interesting to note the differences in the Japanese and Western box artwork…
Kid Chameleon (Sega – 1992)
Another game thats so 90s it almost feels like a time capsule, but the problem with Kid Chameleon is that it had a great premise that it never really delivers on. By using a variety of magical masks you can transform into different characters with different abilities, hence the name, but none of them seem to make as much difference as youd hope and you quickly lose interest.
Super Fantasy Zone (Sega – 1992)
The Opa-Opa spaceship was also an occasional Sega mascot in the early days, although this was the last entry in the Fantasy Zone series and for some reason was never released in America. Its a 2D shooter more similar to Defender than traditional Japanese shooters, in that youre flying around a wrapround area rather than a linear level. But despite that novelty its a rather dry and unexciting shooter.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (Sega – 1992)
Another milestone release for Sega and Sonic, marking what is arguably the peak of the Mega Drives fame and influence. It also happens to be a really good sequel that expands upon the original in terms of scope, characters, and features. The more streamlined original still stands up the best but they didnt rename a day of the week after the sequel for nothing.
Ecco The Dolphin (Sega – 1992)
Probably the one game that benefits the most from all the save slots, as despite having a non-violent premise, and appealing to more than just the usual teenage boy audience, for some reason Hungarian developer Novotrade decided to make it even harder than was normal at the time. Its a shame because its a fun premise and an interesting game.
Road Rash II (EA – 1992)
EA dont involve usually themselves with mini consoles, so this is quite the get for the Mega Drive Mini, even if the old motorbike combat feels even more shallow and clunky now than it did at the time. Its a pity EA couldnt provide any sports games, like the first ever FIFA, but thats probably due to licensing issues. Youd think they couldve managed Desert Strike though.
World Of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse And Donald Duck (Sega – 1992)
Sega probably got this as a job lot with Castle Of Illusion and while it is an even better looking game, with some of the finest animation on the Mega Drive, its a considerably less interesting platformer and easy to the point of being boring. Although things do perk up if youre playing in co-op.
Streets Of Rage II (Sega – 1992)
Like Wonder Boy, Streets Of Rage is actually getting an official sequel, with an amazing-sounding soundtrack by several of the best musicians of the time. For now though this is the pinnacle of the series and arguably the best scrolling beat em-up ever made. It certainly has the best music of any Mega Drive game and is one of the main reasons to make use of the second controller.
Shining Force (Sega – 1992)
Although extremely popular in the West the Mega Drives real problem was that it never caught on as a much in Japan and that was primarily due to the lack of role-playing games. You certainly wont find many here and while Shinning Force is a genuine classic its more of a strategy role-player akin to Fire Emblem, so doesnt quite scratch the same itch as Final Fantasy et al.
Gunstar Heroes (Sega – 1993)
Although largely ignored at the time, Treasures superb 2D shooter is now regarded as a cast iron classic and one of the best 2D games of all time. It pushes the Mega Drive to its technical limits, with constantly changing level designs and several of the best boss encounters gaming has ever seen. Its just a shame Treasure were never able to capitalise on it with any of the attempts at a follow-up.
Shinobi III (Sega – 1993)
We wouldve said predecessor The Revenge of Shinobi was the more iconic entry in the series, but this is another core Sega franchise that has been all but forgotten in the modern era. Each new Shinobi game built on the simple action platformer gameplay of the arcade original, adding more magic, moves, and over-the-top enemies; although none of them featured any real stealth.
Landstalker (Sega – 1993)
The Mega Drive played host to several attempts at a Zelda clone but while this is often described as such that does it a disservice. Its also not really a role-playing game though, but a fairly unique action adventure whose isometric visuals and mix of platforming and simple combat suggests a more action-orientated take on older 8-bit titles like Knight Lore.
Street Fighter II Special Champion Edition (Capcom – 1993)
Although the SNES is always thought of as the home of Street Fighter II the Mega Drive had a perfectly good version of the game itself, although it was delayed to include content from Street Fighter II Turbo and new Hyper mode speed settings. Its the main reason the six-button controller was created back in the day, and the main reason youd want one now.
Sonic Spinball (Sega – 1993)
Unlike today, a lot of the initial wave of Sonic The Hedgehog spin-offs were actually pretty interesting, with this pinball game being an obvious idea for expanding the franchise. The flaws are easier to see with hindsight though, with too few levels, awkward controls, sub-par graphics, and very unconvincing pinball physics.
Dr. Robotniks Mean Bean Machine (Sega – 1993)
For some the mere fact that this refers to Sonics nemesis as Dr. Robotnik, rather than the modern insistence on Eggman, will be the most nostalgic thing on the console. Its essentially a rebranded Puyo Puyo, a puzzle game similar to Columns but with a more appealing Sonic The Hedgehog sheen.
Eternal Champions (Sega – 1993)
In the 90s every publisher wanted their own beat em-up series to rival Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, with the latter becoming a particularly popular title as many assumed they could just copy the gore and hide the fact that the combat wasnt up to par. Eternal Champions was always one of the better copies but it has little to offer today.
Phantasy Star IV (Sega – 1993)
Although its known nowadays only for Phantasy Star Online, the franchise actually began as a more traditional Japanese role-playing game, albeit with an unusual sci-fi setting. It was Segas big attempt to create its own major role-playing franchise and deserved to be more successful than it was, especially given how good this final numbered entry is.
Castlevania: The New Generation (Konami – 1994)
Known as Castlevania: Bloodlines elsewhere in the world this was the only entry released on the Mega Drive and is not a Metroidvania. Instead its a straight action platformer like Super Castlevania IV, but with a unique story and some very impressive graphical effects for the Mega Drive – as well as an equally good soundtrack.
Dynamite Headdy (Sega – 1994)
One of three Treasure games on the Mega DRead More – Source