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Best Sega Master System games of all time

30. Golden Axe Warrior

The populist Master System never had the bandwagon-driving clout of the NES, but Sega was hurting for neither big-name IPs nor ideas about what 8-bit players might enjoy - even if the company had sometimes to cast a cheeky gaze over the pages of Nintendo Power for research. That's how SMS players got their own RPG-flavored spin on arcade hit Golden Axe, with a top-down viewpoint and item-collecting structure curiously reminiscent of a certain Hylian legend.

It may not have spawned the same legion of really rad memes, but if you were a Master System player or an action RPG completist, this was how you spent a weekend or two.

29. Cool Spot

Hey, are you feeling mysteriously thirsty all of a sudden? 7 Up's '90s mascot not only got his own high-jumping Genesis title, but somehow the game turned out well enough to be widely converted. Spot, like all of us if we're really honest with ourselves, wants nothing so much as to be thought of as cool and surrounded by adoring friends; and conveniently enough, he happens to live in a world where cool points litter the landscape and would-be besties are locked up just waiting for his rescue.

Featuring speed sections to make Sonic jealous and expansive beachside environments, this just might be the most fun you ever have spending several hours in front of a lemonade commercial.

28. Special Criminal Investigation

Taito's sequel to its crime-fighting vehicular combat title Chase HQ tweaks the format of the original in several ways, all of them welcome. Take control of a high-powered sports car and chase down a succession of neer-do-wells in the search for the mayors kidnapped daughter, a plot detail that will concern you for less time than it takes to finish reading this sentence.

The race-n-crash gameplay of the original has been upgraded with the addition of gunfire, weapon upgrades, and multi-directional traffic, facilitating the thrill of racing headlong into oncoming cars, guns blazing and friendly-fire demerits nowhere to be seen.

17. Dynamite Headdy

Superstar Japanese developer Treasure worked hard to give players something new in Dynamite Headdy - though one gets the idea that half the struggle was keeping the game's barely comprehensible comic style in check. Tec Toys' Master System conversion was confined on release to the SMS-obsessed gamers of Brazil, though international players got a look at Headdy's 8-bit escapades via the Game Gear version.

Featuring enormously varied, often wilfully chaotic play, the title throws one wacked-out platforming twist after another your way, so that as soon as you've got your head around Headdy's latest trick, here he is with something else altogether. This is one to show just how much the little SMS could do when given the chance.

26. The Lion King

Lush animation and exuberant tunes bring big-budget Disney production values to this Master System adaptation of the Mouse's leonine take on Hamlet. Battletoads convertor Syrex Developments managed to breathe a lot of life into the 8-bit Lion King, whose young target audience were no doubt challenged by the title's adult-style difficulty curve.

Players who stuck with it - or roped in an older sibling for the tougher stages - were rewarded with a varied, fast-moving take on the platform genre, whose four-legged protagonists worked every bit as hard for your attention as any animated king of the savanna could reasonably be expected to do.

25. Sensible Soccer

Back before you had tens of thousands of polygons to play with, sports like soccer were a notoriously tough nut to crack on lower-powered machines. Sensible Software got around the problem of representing a fixed number of AI-controlled human agents on a set (and rather large) pitch size in a manner in keeping with the company's name: by squishing everything right the hell down to a birds-eye view for maximum clarity.

It may have been so sensible-looking as to appear somewhat outclassed alongside the likes of FIFA, but the lo-fi, option-rich approach of Sensible's offering seemed tailor-made for football fans playing on Sega's underpowered little workhorse.

24. Fantasy Zone

Don't be fooled by the bright colors and chirpy score of this pioneering cute-em-up, which spawned a genre that would come to include similarly challenging fare like Konami's Parodius. Not only is the game's meandering scroll-rate a perfect way of stranding you amid hordes of hostiles, but you'll need to kill and kill again in order to earn enough in-game currency for decent firepower.

Back in the day, a pad with turbo-fire capability was essential for pumping out enough glowing pixels to mow down all the floral-colored aliens in your path - let alone the game's eight still-challenging boss levels.

23. Desert Strike

Never one to shy from a controversy if it'd sell a cartridge or two, the future industry behemoths at Electronic Arts figured this Gulf War that was just getting started would probably be good for some headlines in a manner that would put some black ink on the quarterly balance sheet.

Instead of spending time worrying about the ethics of such an approach, the company poured its resources into creating a lean, action-packed combat sim with a mission-based level structure that was years ahead of its time. This initial Strike includes all the elements that would propel the series to AAA status, with none of the bloat that contributed to its eventual demise.

22. OutRun

Sega's brightly-colored travelogue-slash-racer is unapologetic in emphasizing arcade-style fun over simulation-caliber realism, which with benefit of hindsight just means its playing to the host console's strengths. The arcade OutRun dazzled with lush visuals and catchy tunes, and the Master System version isn't afraid to put some gleaming pixelated vistas in front of you. But what counts is the gameplay, and OutRun doesn't disappoint there either.

Responsive steering and forgiving acceleration mask a tightly calibrated racer whose time limits brook little error, and the game's free-flow stage progression gives plenty of reason to bang the cart back in even after you've seen the end credits.

21. Columns

While NES and Game Boy owners fretted over the confusing lineage of Alexey Pajitnov's legendary Tetris, Master System owners were quietly having a fine old time with one of the game's first and best imitators. Jay Geertsen's jewel-encrusted take on the falling-block genre swaps line-building for color-matching puzzles, allowing for the sort of strategic play that would later shine in Sega titles like Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine and Baku Baku Animal.

With a design that had no hardware-taxing ambitions, the game was free to ramp up the speed and challenge just as high as you could take it, and the well-equipped two-player mode gave that second controller an always-welcome workout.

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