Out of this world
Numerous excellent games were released for the Sega Saturn, which was supported primarily in the mid-to-late 1990s, including a variety of original Sega classics and several stellar third-party releases. Some of these are coming to Sega Forever, which delivers games from all Sega consoles, for free, on mobile. RPG and fighting game fans, in particular, enjoyed a healthy array of options on Saturn, but other worthy picks no doubt remain. We've rounded up our picks for the 50 top titles released on the Saturn, so it's time to dive into that crawl space and/or peruse the online listings, fire up Sega's 32-bit console, and check out some oft-forgotten favorites...
25. Die Hard Arcade
Guy who vaguely resembles Bruce Willis on the cover? Check. Burning skyscraper behind him? Got it. Game that matches that premise? Well, not so much. Die Hard Arcade really doesn't have much of anything to do with the classic '80s action romp; the game was developed independently from the license in Japan, then the film's name was slapped on for added marketability elsewhere in the world.
Luckily, the phony approach doesn't diminish what proved to be a pretty fun beat-'em-up for two players, wherein you'd work your way through a building while smashing baddies in bunches. And you weren't just relegated to fisticuffs--a wide array of firearms and melee weapons helped amp up the arcade-style action.
24. WipEout 2097
Psygnosis neon-lit futuristic racing series took a cue from F-Zero, but pushed the sci-fi trappings into a glowing vision reminiscent of the rave scene at the time. The Saturn version offers the same deep, hyperspeed racing as the better-known PlayStation iteration, albeit without the roster of electronic artists (Prodigy, Chemical Bros., Fluke, etc) that had brought the original such crossover appeal.
Even without those tunes, the futuristic racing action felt next-gen at the time and still feels pretty ahead of its time now. If you're diving into the Saturn scene these days, you should grab this iteration to see for yourself how well it holds up.
23. Virtua Cop
With 3D technology fast evolving in the 1990s and many coin-op shooters such as Midways Terminator 2 still relying on the same old joystick-disguised-as-a-gun shenanigans pioneered by decrepit arcaders like Operation Wolf, it fell to Sega's Virtua series to provide a long-overdue update on the formula with the revolutionary Virtua Cop.
Besides exacting marksmanship challenges and tests of reflexes, the game's deceptively-nuanced play demonstrated the kind of variety available to contemporary first-person shooters - a lesson not lost on the developers of GoldenEye, who cite this title as a primary influence. The Saturn port allows arcade-perfect play via accessories like the Stunner light gun, or equally challenging keyboard/joypad aiming.
The playfully pint-sized bitmap sprites of Game Arts 2.5D role-playing epic may've looked juvenile next to the fully polygonal likes of Cloud Strife and friends, but this influential original wasn't afraid of comparisons to Square's established blockbuster series; in fact, many such comparisons were favorable, even from western critics officially locked out of Grandia's Japan-only release.
Despite a well-attended petition from fans of Game Arts Lunar series, the Saturn version remained Japan-exclusive, leaving western players to discover the game's immersive charms via widespread importation and later conversion to PlayStation.
21. Steep Slope Sliders
DonPachi developer Cave's trick-racing snowboarding title, released during the first flurry of gamer's enthusiasm for the sport in the late 90s, offers a number of innovations over the standards of the day. The free-form control scheme refuses to tie you into a set roster of tricks, offering greater scope for improvisation and creative play.
The games home version, a close port of Sega's Saturn-derived Titan arcade board, offers real-time weather and course conditions based on the systems own internal clock--presumably meaning that if you had this game and a full-time job, you wondered why an entire snowboarding game had been set during evenings and weekends.
Developed in the height of the Mario 64/Banjo-Kazooie/Conker collect-em-up craze, Star Fox designer Argonaut Software intended this thingamajig-grabbing romp as a Nintendo 64 exclusive, Yoshi-centric spin-off; but when the London outfit's Japanese patrons turned down the favor, Mario's mount was quickly swapped out for a new toothy reptile-creature with less established brand loyalties, and the N64 setting was abandoned in favor of friendlier pastures on the Saturn and PlayStation.
That gave players on Sega and Sonys machines a chance to explore 42 brightly colored levels worth of Argonauts take on the Mushroom Kingdom, earning the company a bestseller of its own in the process.
Read more: The 25 best Dreamcast games of all time
19. Street Fighter Alpha 2
The Sega Saturn built a small legacy off of its ability to serve up smoother-running versions of top 2D fighters, and Street Fighter Alpha 2 is just one of many examples. Alpha 2 built upon the solid foundation of the original 32-bit entry, and the Saturn version of the fighting sequel was easily the best, offering the smoothest visuals, a few bonus characters from the American arcade release (including Evil Ryu), and extra survival and art gallery features.
But regardless of platform, Street Fighter Alpha 2 is a great fighter from the era, serving up technical showdowns with a memorable mix of characters.
18. Shining Force 3
Camelot Software Planning's series of beloved Sega mainstays saw what should have been its finest hour curtailed by overreach, as this three-part mega-sequel came too late in the Saturn's lifespan and never got a complete release outside of Japan. Western players were stuck with the bravura first instalment, God Warrior of the Kingdom, released simply as Shining Force III; the game's scope and invention is both satisfying in itself and a tantalizing glimpse at the massive slice of Shining goodness enjoyed by Japanese players.
Regardless, this is the rich, tactical play you know and love from Genesis-era Shining titles, bumped up with ever-more epic hour-plus battles and enhancements such as the ability to pair two characters stats for a greater XP bonus.
Lobotomy Software's brief run at FPS dominance saw a high point in this internally-developed shooter, running on the SlaveDriver Engine developed to power the company's Saturn ports of Quake and Duke Nukem 3D. The game pits crack Special Forces operatives against ancient Egyptian creatures and deities in an adventure whose development could quite feasibly have preceded Stargate's release in theaters, so give Lobotomy a break on that front.
Exhumed's solid 3D play and inventive nonlinear design saw it converted to other formats such as the PC and PlayStation; but it's the Saturn original which featured the greatest breadth of powers, effects, and cool gameplay innovations.
16. Duke Nukem 3D
The Saturn version of Duke's signature adventure was released as a swansong for Sega's abandoned Deep Water imprint, established in the 90s as the company's Vertigo Comics-style mature content sub-label. That should come as little surprise to scholars of Mr. Nukem's gleefully profane legacy, who can rest assured that this game features all the ass-kicking, gum-lacking, pig-exploding, movie-quote-appropriating fun we've come to demand from 3D Realms irrepressible meathead.
Dig deep enough into this SlaveDriver Engine-powered port and you'll be rewarded with an exclusive bonus level and the second instalment of developer Lobotomy Softwares cult Death Tank series of minigames.
15. Galactic Attack/Layer Section
Played RayForce? How about Galactic Attack or Layer Section? Okay then, have you ever wandered into an arcade and plunked a few quarters into a shooter coin-op named Gunlock? If any of the above elicited a positive response then congratulations, you've sampled Taito's influential, title-troubled shoot-em-up, known in its US home iteration as Galactic Attack.
Offering fast gameplay built around a split-level lock-on system, the game saw conversions and sequels in Japan, but the Saturn version of the original also made it to the US, unhindered by the graphical compromises that would mark later versions of this shooter, in which every pixel's worth of bullet-free screen-space counts.
14. Tomb Raider
It's easy to forgive Saturn owners for feeling a little slighted by Tomb Raider, which was originally developed with the Saturn in mind, but whose later instalments on PlayStation saw generation-defining heroine Lara Croft become something of a de facto mascot for Sony's gaming brand. Some hardcore Sega fans might still argue that the Saturn did it better.
Regardless, the game's origins serve as a reminder that this is as solid and groundbreaking an iteration as you'll find on any machines of the time, and served for many as proof of just how exciting this 32-bit generation could be.
13. Dark Savior
Climax Entertainments Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole had served as that rarest of treats for Genesis owners: a deep, unique action RPG exclusive to induce envy even in SNES owners used to getting the genre's standouts on their platform. Having redressed the balance somewhat with the Japan-exclusive SNES semi-sequel Lady Stalker: Challenge from the Past, Climax returned to the fold with this standout Saturn quest.
The game mixes role-playing, isometric 3D platforming, and an all-action combat mode in the mold of side-on brawlers such as Tekken. Missions change depending on how quickly and well certain objectives are completed, lending considerable replay value.
12. Resident Evil
The original zombie-filled survival horror that sold so many PlayStations with its cinematic take on tank-controlled ammo-hunting saw conversion to Saturn in a slightly upgraded form. The Sega port showed that the Saturn could keep up with Sony's machine with many improved graphical effects and a few extra bosses added in.
Most significantly, the Saturn release included a more distilled survivalist take on survival horror, battle mode, which prefigured such scene-stealing minigames as Resident Evil: The Mercenaries. And it had a zombie version of Wesker if you shot enough zombies, which was worth the price of admission.
11. Saturn Bomberman
Bomberman existed well before the Saturn, and has spawned several iterations since, so why does Saturn Bomberman continue to glow in the memories of fans? It has a little something to do with multiplayer. Thanks to the glorious power of multitaps (remember those?) it was possible to play a local match with up to 10 players, which created a level of same-screen mayhem like little else we've seen.
And thanks to the Net Link function, it was possible to play online over a dial-up modem, a feature that reportedly still functions today, assuming you have dial-up service and a friend to play with. Bomberman is amazing, and this may still be the best version out there.
10. Virtua Cop II
Sega's "Virtua" prowess extended to more than just beating up blocky fighters on the Saturn; it also produced a pair of highly entertaining arcade shooters, with sequel Virtua Cop 2 standing out with enhanced visuals and a bit more variety. Even so, this arcade port defines "dumb fun," as you'll suspend disbelief to a huge extent to play an officer tasked with shooting the hell out of hundreds of near-identical enemies on land, boat, and rail.
It's hokey and simplistic, but paired with a pal, Virtua Cop 2 is just another example of how Sega's arcade dominance let the Saturn maintain a small edge on quick-hit experiences for some time.
Read more: 20 classic games we need now on Sega Forever
9. Sega Ages Vol. 1
In Japan, the Saturn was host to a series of upgraded remakes of arcade classics such as After Burner, Space Harrier, and OutRun; but rather than offering these three rejigged arcaders to western players piece-by-piece, Working Designs elected to bundle them together and package them under the title of Sega Ages.
Of particular note is the compilations version of OutRun, which features a secret code that lets the game run at a super-smooth 60 frames per second, twice as high as the arcade original.
8. Street Fighter Alpha 3
At the height of the Street Fighter series popularity, you got not only the core series but also the rapidly-evolving subseries that was Street Fighter Alpha (or Zero if you were in Japan). The fast-paced brawler reached a high point in this third instalment, for which the Saturn used Capcom's added-on RAM cart to push the action almost as close to the arcade original as the similarly timed Dreamcast version.
In the realm of 32-bit gaming, SFA3 remains at the front of the pack. The game's dramatic battle mode got upgraded over the PlayStation version, while the addictive survival mode remained as insurmountable as ever.
7. Radiant Silvergun
Here's another import-only release that never made the rounds outside of Japan during the 32-bit generation, but Radiant Silvergun is considered one of the best shoot-'em-ups on any platform. On top of that, the original import Saturn release routinely sells for a pretty penny to this day, though the recent Xbox Live Arcade revival has made it much easier to experience this classic.
Breaking from genre traditions, the game skips power-ups and instead challenges you to utilize the best weapons in certain conflicts, making for an arguably more strategic affair, and one loaded with diverse imagery and unique attack options.
6. Panzer Dragoon II Zwei
The Panzer Dragoon franchise lived out most of its lifespan on the Saturn, and between the two on-rails shooters in the set, Panzer Dragoon II Zwei is the definite standout. Despite the Saturn's noted struggles with 3D graphics, Zwei served up a beautiful, cinematic shooter experience on the back of a dragon, with both in-flight and ground-based missions against common enemies and massive bosses alike.
It even wove in a pretty interesting tale, along with another sharp soundtrack. The original Panzer Dragoon was a good start, but Zwei one-upped it in every way and proved a gorgeous and entertaining Saturn-exclusive shooter.
5. Guardian Heroes
Guardian Heroes is another initially Saturn-exclusive game that thankfully wasn't forever condemned to an underperforming console (an upgraded Xbox Live Arcade version just surfaced last year). But Treasure's original 1996 release remains a wonderful co-op beat-'em-up experience with impressive presentation and exciting combat, plus the ability to directly affect the storyline via your actions, with multiple endings available as a result.
Despite the terrible U.S. cover art (a common theme for many Saturn games) the essence of this much-praised brawler hooked enough players to make it a cult classic, and ensure its place in gaming history.
4. Panzer Dragoon Saga
Released at the tail end of the console's lifespan in 1998, Panzer Dragoon Saga transformed the earlier on-rails shooters into an epic four-disc role-playing quest, but Sega underestimated demand, releasing extremely limited quantities in North America.
Sadly, it's never been rereleased, and copies still sell for huge sums online. It's a shame: The Saturn's magnum opus deserves to be played by a much wider audience, as the combination of the series' beautiful aesthetics and flight mechanics with new RPG elements makes for a genre entry really unlike anything else we've seen.
3. Virtua Fighter 2
With Sonic sitting much of this generation out, is there a franchise more synonymous with the Saturn than Virtua Fighter? The system launched with the original, got a slightly improved Remix version, and then celebrated the triumphant release of the surprisingly faithful arcade port of Virtua Fighter 2.
Between the notable visual upgrade and the addition of two new combatants, Virtua Fighter 2 pushed forward the 3D fighting genre on the Saturn, opening the floodgates for a handful of other Sega fighters - some of which we may or may not have ranked higher on this list! OK, we did. But Virtua Fighter 2 remains a classic on the platform.
2. Sega Rally Championship
We're noted fans of the original Sega Rally Championship here at GamesRadar, and while the myriad follow-ups have hit with varying degrees of success, the arcade and Saturn originals still comfort and entertain. Sega Rally Championship brought off-road racing to life in a way that past attempts hadn't, and did so with fantastic physics and controls; even with just three distinct tracks and a like number of vehicles, it was possible to spend hours learning the routes to try and knock seconds off of your top time.
It's a formative racer, sure, and primitive compared to later genre entries but it remains great after all this time and deserves its lasting legacy.
1. NiGHTS into Dreams/Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams
Owning both discs of The Saturn's number-one title marks the collection of a true Saturn OG. The flight-centric 3D platformer lets you explore vibrant dreams as one of two kids helped by Nights, the titular jester. With a mix of walking and flying segments, NiGHTS into Dreams tapped into a new kind of platform gameplay for its era, and despite linear flight paths, the game delivered a surprisingly unrestrained sensation of movement.
To experience all the beauty of Sega's unique somnambulism-sim, you had to negotiate the Christmas edition as well; but rather than sold at retail, the game was given away with other titles and selected magazines over Christmas of 1996. This small yet perfectly formed charm complements the unique original smartly, and can healthily be brought out each holiday season to revisit alongside classics like A Christmas Story or Home Alone. For the rest of the year (or if you adjust your Saturn's clock), it reverts to a bog-standard demo.