The Sega Master System means different things to different people. Many Americans overlooked the system as the NES ruled home gaming, while Sega saw huge success in the UK and the rest Europe, as well as very sustained popularity in Brazil. No matter where you experienced it, the Master System's library is worth remembering, not only for its place in Sega history, but for its surprisingly strong selection of games. Thanks to console's extra long lifespan, the Master System saw a number of great originals along with some quality ports of arcade and Genesis hits like Sonic, Shinobi, and Streets of Rage. Some of these games are likely to become available via Sega Forever (opens in new tab), which is bringing Sega games from all eras to mobile, for free. These are the ones we want!
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In arcades, Hang-On would always draw crowds: that's what you get when the joystick of your cabinet is a full-sized motorcycle chassis for players to straddle, leaning into corners in the gravity-shifting manoeuvre that gave the game its name. Obviously most Master System players didn't have a similar setup at home, but plenty did have a home port of Hang-On, thanks to the game's inclusion in many SMS bundle packs.
And as an entree to the system, it's a fine one: fast pseudo-3d gameplay, bright colors, and when you crashed, screen-filling explosions to make you feel good about this only being a simulation.
49. OutRun Europa
Outsourced to future Forsaken developer Probe Software, OutRun Europa packs precious few of the good-time holiday vibes of its namesake. Instead of a straight time-challenge racer, this traffic-combat battler offers thrills closer in tone to EA's Road Rash or Taito's Chase HQ.
Taking control of a variety of vehicles, you're tasked with speeding across the Old World pursuing agents of some hazily defined enemy power, which in practice amounts to punching bikers at high speed and firing haphazardly into traffic. The games tunnels and pseudo-3D cityscapes must have dropped jaws upon release, and still look pretty eye-popping today.
The late '80s saw Western youths descend en masse into ninja fever: video stores were filled with star-throwing assassins, and any black garment on the playground could be turned into a makeshift ninja mask at a moment's notice. Into this maelstrom strode Joe Musashi, hero of what's still one of Sega's most beloved properties.
Shinobi would become one of the company's early AAA franchises, serving up flagship titles on the Genesis and periodic revivals in subsequent generations. But this initial entrant manages to lay solid groundwork even in its SMS guise, and deliver a punishing saga of ninja combat while it does so.
47. Sonic Spinball
One of Sonic's higher-profile ventures out of the left-to-right platform-jumping ghetto came with this 1993 spin-off, ported to 8-bit machines the following year. The story was some hogwash about Dr. Robotnik taking control of a mountain fortress with a pinball defense system, which is an incredibly oddball scheme even by video game villain standards.
It certainly is strange on the Master System, for which this has the honor of being the sole extant example of the pinball-sim genre (unless you count the fairly dire mini-game in fairly dire-minigame collection Casino Games). The pyrotechnics may have been downgraded from the Genesis original, but this is still an admirable Master System showing for an oft-neglected genre.
46. Marble Madness
In later generations, a title as then-unique as Marble Madness would be heralded alongside the likes of Rez or Katamari. Back in the 8-bit era, though, everything was kind of new, so you could base a title on sentient (maybe) glass spheres racing against each other until gravity gave out, and no one would really turn a head.
Offering a chunky, stripped-back take on the sort of rolling-maze challenges that would later fuel the likes of Super Monkey Ball, in two-player Marble Madness was an unforgiving duel, the likes of which were seldom seen on 8-bit machines.
45. James Pond 2: Codename Robocod
Time was when you could release a side-on collect-em-up and it'd do decent bank so long as the title was kind of clever and the main character was some sort of amusing animal. But by 1993, the bar had been raised somewhat - so for U.S. Gold's last release on the Master System, the title had not one but two movie puns in it!
And that's not even considering the main character being a sassy goldfish and also a telescope-torsoed crime-fighting robot, bent on saving Santa's workshop and liberating the penguins imprisoned therein. It's brightly colored fun from a seasoned developer, working the humble SMS as hard as it knew how.
44. Smash TV
Never say the Master System wasn't game for a fight. Adapting one of the most flat-out arcade shooters of its day for the little black beast was challenge enough, but add in that game's signature control system - featuring ambidextrous four-way firing a la spiritual predecessor Robotron - and that scrappy little two-button pad starts to look positively inadequate.
Future N64 standouts Probe Entertainment gave the conversion a damn good try, though: retaining the crucial two-player, shrinking the controls down to dual-fire, and keeping the enemy count as high as could be reasonably expected. Hopefully somewhere out there there was a Master System-owning kid whose dream was to compete in the '80s version of The Hunger Games, because this would've made that kid's day.
43. Ecco the Dolphin
What's a common way of breaking up the left-to-right routine of your typical platformer? Put an underwater level or two in it! So if your entire medium seems bogged down with an overabundance of jumping and item-grabbing, how about a whole game of underwater levels to redress the balance? That logic will lead you to Ecco the Dolphin, Sega's acclaimed 1992 chirp-em-up, which expanded onto 8-bit machines the following year to a similarly positive reception.
The game's gorgeous subaquatic visuals are dimmed but not utterly diminished on the low-color SMS, which works hard recreating the Genesis original's labyrinthine depths and deceptively deep storyline of aliens, Atlantis, and apocalypse.
42. Legend of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
The beloved Disney-starring Illusion series saw its final 8-bit instalment in this fairytale-inspired platformer, which began life on the Game Gear but spread to Brazilian Master Systems in 1998 thanks to persistent SMS stalwarts Tec Toy. What began with Mickey's egress into the Castle of Illusion has by now matured into a full-blown storybook epic.
The villainous King Pete is holding a kingdom in bondage, and the valiant mouse janitor is forced to don Robin Hood garb and take to hurling bars of soap at the enemies of freedom. Bright colors and Disney favorites draw the young players in, but the promise of an alternate ending challenges hardcore Mouse enthusiasts.
41. Ayrton Senna's Super Monaco GP 2
In the days before 3D graphics were commonplace, an oft-asked question was: would pro racers actually be any good at racing games? Seemingly in answer came this sequel to Sega's own in-house F1 series, which opened with the assurance that the proceedings about to commence had been produced under the auspices of Senna himself.
This pedigree earned the game a reputation for realism, helped by the in-game presence of a digital Ayrton offering handy hints on the games 16-course lineup. As with other titles in the series, an impressive range of vehicle customisation options are on offer for players who want to go deep with their racing simulation.