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Best Saturn games of all time from Die Hard Arcade to Panzer Dragoon Saga

Sega Saturn
(Image credit: Sega)

While Sega’s 32-bit console failed to compete with Sony’s PlayStation, it certainly shouldn’t be written off, and this list of the best Saturn games proves it. In fact, the Sega Saturn is an incredibly odd beast, because its libraries are vastly different depending on which part of the world you live in. The machine struggled in the west due to the dominance of PlayStation and an overall thirst for 3D games, and while there are plenty of notable examples like Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Alien Trilogy, and WipEout XL, they often fared better on Sony’s console. 

Over in Japan however things were very different and numerous arcade conversions of fighting games and shoot-’em-ups – many of which never reached the west - highlighted what a 2D powerhouse Sega’s console actually was, particularly when its 4MB cartridge was introduced. Sega’s console is rife with great RPGs in Japan too, from Grandia and Suikoden to Langrisser and Magic Knight Rayearth, but again, many of them never reached the west. Gamers are slowly waking up to the sheer amount of diversity that was actually found on Sega’s machine and as a result, it has become something of a specialist system with a high cost of entry. If you do have the pockets for it, you’ll find the following great games essential additions to your library.

25. House of The Dead

Best Saturn games

(Image credit: Sega)

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

Best Saturn Games

(Image credit: Sega)

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

Best Saturn games

(Image credit: ASC Games)

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 

Best Saturn games

(Image credit: Sega)

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

Best Saturn games

(Image credit: FormGen)

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

Best Saturn games

(Image credit: 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.

Read more: The 25 best Dreamcast games of all time

19. Shining Force 3

Best Saturn games

(Image credit: Sega)

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)

Best Saturn games

(Image credit: Sega)

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

Best Saturn games

(Image credit: Technosoft)

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

Best Saturn games

(Image credit: Capcom)

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.

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