The best Sega Saturn games show that there's more to this system than meets the eye. While it's certainly true that Sega's fifth-generation console struggled against the might of the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, there is a fantastic collection of games to be played if you knew where to find them. To be more specific, many of the best Sega Saturn games weren't available outside of Japan.
Saturn owners in the region (or with the resources required to import titles at the time) would have found countless fantastic RPGs that never officially made it to the US, and numerous arcade conversions of some truly excellent fighting games and shoot-'em-ups. Whether you're looking for a little dose of nostalgia or want an idea of where to start with building a collection, below you'll find our pick of the 25 best Sega Saturn games of all-time.
For more definitive rankings of SEGA games throughout the years:
Best Sega Saturn games, ranked
25. House of The Dead
While Sega’s Saturn conversion is as ugly as the zombies that feature in it, there’s no denying how much of an entertaining blaster the game still is. Many zombies need multiple hits to drop them and there’s a franticness to the game that helps it stand apart from similar on-rail Saturn shooters. While the Saturn conversion is certainly rough around the edges it does has some great extras, including a Boss Rush option and an exclusive Saturn mode that lets you choose from a variety of characters with varying amounts of health and bullets. Add in the many routes you can take through each stage and Sega’s shooter will keep you busy for ages.
24. Die Hard Arcade
Despite featuring a skyscraper crawling with terrorists and a guy that kind of looks like Bruce Willis on its cover, Die Hard Arcade isn’t actually a Die Hard game at all. Released in Japanese arcades as Dynamite Deka (Dynamite Detective) it was cleverly rebranded for a western market. Regardless of what you do know it as, Sega’s brawler remains a rousingly enjoyable blast thanks to its solid fighting mechanics, large range of weapons, and fast-paced action, which makes perfect sense once you realize its creator was also behind the likes of Golden Axe and Alien Storm.
23. Mass Destruction
Developer: NMS Software
This slick action game lives up to its name by allowing you to destroy most of the buildings and environmental hazards you encounter with a heavily armed tank. Structurally it feels similar to earlier games like Desert Strike, with missions that typically revolve around destroying strategic enemy strongholds, rescuing prisoners of war, and reaching your extraction site, but it’s elevated by the sheer amount of wanton carnage you can participate in. Virtually everything in the game can fall victim to your three available tanks, while cleverly hidden power-ups persuade you to explore the large maps as much as possible. Our only real criticism is its complete lack of multiplayer support.
22. Burning Rangers
Developer: Sonic Team
Sonic Team was fairly prolific on Saturn, delivering five games across a three-year period. Burning Rangers would be its swan song on the console and its most ambitious title to boot. The rangers in question are a group of futuristic firefighters and the game requires you to extinguish fires while rescuing civilians and retrieving crystals that are used to get the trapped civilians to safety. With no in-game map, you’ll need to rely on voice instructions to fulfill your goals and it enhances the atmosphere no end. While not the prettiest looking of games – Sonic Team pushed the Saturn to near breaking point – its inventive level design and late release have now made it incredibly desirable, and expensive.
21. Duke Nukem 3D
Developer: 3D Realms
Despite disappointing Saturn conversions like Doom, Lobotomy Software had no problem making first-person shooters sing on Sega's 32-bit hardware thanks to its excellent SlaveDriver engine. While modern sensibilities have greatly aged the game’s crassness and depiction of women, its core shooting mechanics remain as polished as the engine they were built upon. We’d argue that the Saturn version is the best of the console offerings of the time thanks to numerous extras including an exclusive secret level called Urea 51 as well as the excellent mini-game Death Tank Zwei, which offers some of the best Saturn multiplayer shenanigans since Saturn Bomberman.
20. Tomb Raider
Developer: Core design
While she had far greater success on Sony’s PlayStation, Lara Croft actually made her console debut on Sega’s Saturn. Although it feels a little clunky today, there’s no denying the sheer scope and vision of Core Design’s game. The tombs you get to explore are cavernous in size and can be almost puzzle-like in their execution as you work out the best way to bypass their hazards or secure seemingly out-of-reach items. Having a strong female character was another feather in the game’s overloaded cap and Lara has become every bit as iconic a gaming character as Mario or Sonic.
19. Shining Force 3
Developer: Camelot Software Planning
Camelot had grand plans for its popular tactical RPG series on Saturn and released three standalone scenarios with overlapping storylines. Frustratingly, only the original scenario made it to the west (fortunately fan translations exist for the Japanese-only scenarios). It looks rather dated nowadays due to its 3D visuals, but the core combat mechanics that have shaped the series since the Mega Drive remain perfectly defined allowing you to manage a large number of classes, from agile centaurs to offensive magic users. While the story is enjoyable and features a genuinely likable cast, it’s the exceptionally balanced combat scenarios (some of which take over an hour to complete) that will hold your attention.
18. DecAthlete (Athlete Kings)
Playing like a steroid-injected version of Konami’s Track & Field, DecAthlete (Athlete Kings in Europe) is easily the best sports game on Sega’s console. It works so well thanks to its attractive high-resolution visuals, a charming international cast of characters, and a great selection of balanced events that range from the High Jump and Pole Vault to Javelin Throw and the finger-sapping 1500 meters. While its mechanics are about as deep as a puddle, its lively characters, fast-paced action, and wonderful presentation surpass its overall lack of complexity. If you fancy taking the action to chillier climes, many of the cast return in the equally enjoyable Winter Heat.
17. Hyper Duel
This Japanese exclusive commands a high price nowadays but remains one of the best blasters on Sega’s console. With its distinctive-looking visuals, boisterously energetic soundtrack, and tight shooting mechanics, it’s easy to mistake it for part of Technosoft’s Thunder Force series, but those comparisons soon melt away once you realize your fighter can also transform into a giant robot and can pick up smaller spacecraft and mechs that act as remote satellites. Like many Saturn shooters, Hyper Duel offers a unique Saturn version as well as the original arcade game, Hyper Duel’s is a particularly sound offering enhanced visuals and a new control setup, which greatly improves an already accomplished game.
16. X-Men Vs Street Fighter
Ironically, many Saturn owners never got to experience this astonishing crossover because it never got an official release in the west. It’s a shame because it’s a tremendous port of the arcade game and is near flawless thanks to using the Saturn’s 4MB RAM cartridge. Notable for its gigantic sprites, flashy special moves, and fun tag-team system, X-Men Vs Street Fighter lets you create dream teams you never knew you needed in your life, like Chun-Li and Storm ripping through Juggernaut and Dhalsim, or Ken Masters and Ryu besting Wolverine and Sabretooth. Shockingly it’s never had a re-release, with Capcom choosing to focus on the more popular Marvel Vs Capcom series instead.
15. Saturn Bomberman
Developer: Hudson Soft
The Bomberman series has always been a chaotic test of friendships, so imagine the carnage when 10 friends are thrown into a closed-off arena and given an unlimited supply of bombs. While we never got to experience its ten-player delights on release, visits to numerous retro events over the years have scratched that itch and it’s every bit as frantic as you can imagine. Customizable to high heaven, with cameos from other Hudson characters and a solid single-player mode, Saturn Bomberman remains the best party experience you can have on Sega’s console. And hopefully, you’ll all remain friends afterward.
14. Daytona USA
There was a lot resting on Daytona when it launched with Sega’s console, and sadly it couldn’t quite live up to the high expectations. A rushed release meant that Sega’s port suffered from a severely reduced framerate and choppy animation, meaning it didn’t look great next to Namco’s sensational PlayStation port of Ridge Racer. However, the all-important gameplay and driving mechanics of the arcade original did make it over intact, making it easy to ignore its aesthetic faults. Interestingly, an updated version called Championship Circuit Edition was released in 1996, but while it fixes graphical issues and adds more cars to drive, its handling is notably different from the arcade game.
13. Baku Baku Animal
Baku Baku roughly translates to "Chomp Chomp" and it’s an apt name for Sega’s colorful puzzle game. It’s a nigh-on perfect translation of Sega’s 1995 competitive arcade puzzler and it offers some of the best puzzling action you’ll find on Sega’s machine. While it features falling blocks like many similar games, the aim here is to link different foodstuffs together and then match the correct animal to eat them. The bigger the chain of food, the bigger the number of points you’ll score. Scoffed blocks get sent to your opponent's bin and it becomes a frantic race to ensure you’re not overcome with blocks before your competitor is.
12. Virtua Cop 2
Both Virtua Cop games on Saturn offer thrilling sharpshooting and on-rails action, but if we had to choose one we’d opt for Sega AM2’s 1996 sequel. It takes everything brilliant about the original game and subtly tweaks it to deliver even more satisfying gunplay, as well as enhanced longevity thanks to the introduction of multiple routes through certain stages, which encourages additional play-throughs. Mechanically there’s very little that’s different, but the core concept of Virtua Cop was so good it doesn’t need it. Instead, the game simply focuses on offering waves and waves of relentless enemies and memorable boss battles that will have you blasting at the screen until your trigger finger hurts.
11. Galactic Attack
While the Saturn was drowning in great shooters in Japan, very few of them made it to the west. Taito’s Galactic Attack did make the transition however and it’s one of the purest shooters you can play on the console. Known by a variety of names, from Layer Storm to Gunlock depending on where you live, Galactic Attack works so well because of its excellent shooting mechanics, beautiful pixel art, and a lively soundtrack by Taito’s in-house band, Zuntata. Like the equally amazing Soukyugurentai which arrived two years later, a powerful lock-on laser is at the core of Galactic Attack’s success and you’ll need to master it in order to down the game’s many imposing bosses.
10. PowerSlave (Exhumed)
Developer: Lobotomy Software
While the Saturn was host to a large number of first-person shooters, none of them match the sheer brilliance of Lobotomy’s Exhumed. Known as Power Slave in the States, Exhumed features the exhilarating gunplay you’ll find in similar FPS titles of the time, but marries it to a unique setting (Egypt in the late 20th century) and a surprisingly in-depth story. With a focus on gaining unique abilities that grant you a range of skills from walking on lava to being able to breathe underwater, Exhumed is as much a Metroidvania as it is an FPS, with your newly acquired skills opening up otherwise inaccessible areas that you previously couldn’t explore.
9. Street Fighter Alpha 3 (Street Fighter Zero 3)
We nearly put Street Fighter Alpha 2 here, it’s a more accessible game and far cheaper. But this is a list for the greatest Saturn games of all time and no 2D fighter on the system matches Capcom’s sensational brawler. Amazingly, Capcom’s port arrived a year after the PlayStation release and even trailed the Dreamcast version. Like other Capcom fighters, Street Fighter Alpha 3 (Street Fighter Zero 3 in the UK) leans heavily on the 4MB cart in order to pack in additional frames of animation and sprites and it’s near arcade-perfect as a result. It also boasts six more fighters than the arcade original, an enhanced Dramatic Battle mode, and a Reverse Dramatic Battle mode, making it the definitive home version of Capcom’s game.
8. Panzer Dragoon 2 Zwei
Developer: Team Andromeda
Sega’s spectacular sequel is a case of bigger, better, faster, more. Arriving a year after the 1995 original, Team Andromeda’s sequel doesn’t reinvent the series, but instead evolves it, much like the dragon at the heart of the game. Initially, your fledgling dragon is confined to the ground, but it eventually takes to the skies in later stages and continues to evolve as your grading improves. Other new additions to the series include an immensely powerful Berserk Attack, which will decimate everything on-screen for a limited time, as well as branching routes and even more spectacular boss fights. A remake is currently being planned by Forever Entertainment.
7. Virtua Fighter 2
Yu Suzuki’s hit arcade sequel had an equally astonishing Saturn port which remains highly impressive today. While it only introduces two new fighters: Shun Di and Lion Rafale, they’re each incredibly complex characters to master thanks to their unique playing styles. The returning nine fighters are equally unique and it’s a testament to Yu Suzuki’s team that they could create such complex fighting mechanics using a simple 3-button configuration. Like its predecessor, Virtua Fighter 2 is as much a combat simulator as it is an arcade fighting game, with everything from the position of player stances to using momentum to hit foes harder having a stark impact on every battle. Unlike its predecessor, its high-resolution visuals and framerate mean it’s aged far more gracefully.
6. Guardian Heroes
In a time when 2D sprite-based games and scrolling fighters were falling out of fashion, Treasure stuck two fingers up at convention and delivered one of the finest examples of the genre. Guardian Heroes is as much an RPG as it is a boisterous brawler, offering a rich story, plenty of likable characters, insidious villains, and multiple paths that inevitably lead to a number of different endings. It’s all tied together by an incredibly robust combat engine and five unique characters that all play differently from each other. While the Saturn original is now crushingly expensive in some regions, like Radiant Silvergun, an enhanced Xbox 360 version exists.
5. Radiant Silvergun
Treasure’s adaption of its acclaimed arcade game (which is also included) features numerous Saturn tweaks, including a fleshed-out story, brand-new bosses, and a less convoluted weapon system (the arcade’s are confined to three buttons that must be pressed in numerous configurations). What makes Radiant Silvergun so unique is that all your power-ups are actually available right from the off, meaning it becomes a puzzle to work out when to best use them for maximum effect. Radiant Silvergun is also famed for its spectacular boss encounters (many of which can be routinely dismantled for maximum points) a triumphant score and high price tag. It’s easily the best shooter on a console that’s brimming with sensational shoot-’em-ups.
4. Fighters Megamix
Sega developed a number of excellent 3D fighters for its 32-bit console, but only Fighters Megamix lets you pit Dayton’s Hornet against Janet from Virtua Cop 2. Sega’s ambitious brawler has a combat system that’s as diverse as its character roster leaning on both the nuanced mechanics of the Virtua Fighter series as well as the caged arenas and armor smashing from Fighting Vipers. 11 characters from each series are represented giving you a large number of fighting styles and techniques to master. 12 unlockable fighters are available too, representing Sega franchises as broad as Sonic, Dynamite Dux, and Rent-A-Hero. In short, it’s the fighter that just keeps giving.
3. NiGHTS Into Dreams
Developer: Sonic Team
While Sonic Team's Sonic output was lackluster on Saturn, it did find time to create this wonderfully sublime score attack game. Although you can enjoy NiGHTS just fine with a standard Saturn pad, you won’t really unlock its potential until you control its titular character with Sega’s analog-based 3D Controller. It allows you to pull off sensational acrobatic feats that really accentuate NiGHTS’ distinctive approach to movement and ensures you have the best possible chance to create score-boosting combos or “links” and battle the game’s many exotic looking bosses. It’s a truly mesmerizing game that’s enhanced by its joyous soundtrack and fantastic visuals. The holiday-themed Christmas NiGHTS demo is also worth seeking out.
2. Panzer Dragoon Saga
Developer: Team Andromeda
The final game in Team Andromeda’s Saturn trilogy went through a transformation that’s every bit as breathtaking as the high prices it now commands. Rather than simply sticking with the on-rails blasting format of the earlier two games, Team Andromeda unclipped its dragon’s wings and lets the player not only explore gigantic open maps, but also visit several villages and ground locations as new hero Edge. Combat has also been dramatically overhauled and mixes turn-base and real-time action to tremendous effect. Huge in scope – it spans an impressive 4 CDs – it’s become one of the Saturn’s benchmark games and deserves to be experienced by everyone. Here’s hoping that rumors of missing source code aren’t actually true, as we’d love to see Forever Entertainment take a stab at it.
1. Sega Rally Championship
Developer: Sega AM3
Astonishing is perhaps the best way to sum up Sega’s conversion of its hit arcade game. While it’s certainly not arcade perfect – it lacks the force feedback, the rearview mirror, and is visually downgraded in certain areas – it remains a stunningly accurate replication and nails every important aspect of the acclaimed game, from its excellent physics to its realistic handling. Yes, it’s short on tracks (like many arcade racers of the time) but each and every one of them is so well designed that you’ll spend forever examining every last inch of mud and asphalt in order to create the best possible lap times. Each available car feels significantly different too, further enhancing Sega Rally’s longevity, and it’s even possible to tweak the Toyota Celica and Lancia Delta, which wasn’t an option in the arcade original. While many other racers threatened to dethrone Sega Rally, none of them succeeded. It’s not only the best racing game on Sega’s console, but easily the best in its library. A true triumph.