Those of us in North America who survived the great 16-bit video game console war remember the mighty schism that divided fans of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis, but across the sea in that strange land they call Europe, the war had its own regional spin. There the Genesis went by the name Mega Drive, but no matter what one calls it, Sega's mighty expandable console still conjures up images of sunny days spent indoors with a speedy hedgehog, rapmaster aliens from outer space, or blue and pink cartoon bunnies (no relation). Allow me to point you to Robin Clarke's detailed tribute to and recap of the Sega Mega Drive in belated celebration of the console's twentieth anniversary.
Before Sonic, I guess a typical reference for speed in platform games was thinking that sprinting in Prince of Persia was jolly exciting, and Super Mario Bros 3 or perhaps Shadow of the Beast would be the benchmark for environmental detail, not that anyone would be using the term “environmental detail” for a good few years. I can remember seeing the first (black and white) screenshots of Sonic in Sega Power, and imagining perhaps a moderately slicker version of Rainbow Islands or Flicky. Seeing the game running for the first time was a revelation. Sonic (the game) wasn’t just a vehicle for an iconic mascot, it was a motivational force, a hypnotic form of sensory overload that shifted countless units and inspired a million playground oaths of allegiance.
Sonic had the effect of raising the bar for the technical quality of Mega Drive games, and the newly expanded userbase that the machine netted over Christmas in 1991 justified publishers making the investment to try to match that level of quality. As a result, 1992 saw a new wave of more ambitious and polished titles with the massively enhanced Streets of Rage 2 and Sonic 2 (at the time, probably the most hyped gaming ‘event’ yet seen) showing that Sega weren’t content to rest on their laurels. Sega also continued to try to offer games outside of their traditional arcade/action specialisation, bolstering their slightly anemic lineup of RPG titles with Climax’s isometric adventure Landstalker, which garnered a brief but fervent pre-release buzz heralding it as the Mega Drive’s answer to Zelda, as well as being the first game to ship on a 16 megabit cartridge.
As I've said before, in my youth I was the Super NES booster while one of my friends was the Sega Genesis promoter, so between the two of us we had access to the greatest hits of the 16-bit generation. We missed a lot of ground though, so I've made it a point in recent years to explore some of what I missed the first time around. Yes, we all know about Sonic the Hedgheog and Vectorman, but there are plenty of other Genesis games that have yet to make a reappearance in a modern retro compilation or digital re-release and deserve an hour or two of your time. Add these to your shortlist the next time you go retro game shopping: Castlevania Bloodlines, Aero the Acrobat and its sequel, B.O.B., Ghostbusters, Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster's Hidden Treasure, and - for the international Mega Drive folks out there - Mega Man: The Wily Wars.
Original photo by Bill Bertram