A Mega Drive top five.

Games in the 1990s were way cooler than they are today, right? No, obviously not. But memory plays many a trick upon the individual, leading to a session on Stimpy’s Invention because the cartoon was thoroughly decent. Turns out, even nearly 20 years on, the game was a pile of the brown stuff (albeit with a few instances of rib-tickling funnies). Well, it was compared to these beauts which, today, I can still return to and smile my way through however long it takes to beat ’em. Or, in some cases, pull my hair out in the company of ’til my scalp’s exposed for Google Earth to spy.

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Streets of Rage II

Streets of Rage II (1993)

The best scrolling beat ’em up on any platform in the 1990s – and far superior to the threequel of the series – SoRII is a high water mark of the 16-bit era, and plays wonderfully two decades on from its release. Immediate to pick up, its controls feel natural and the special moves, while a lot more simple than those found in Street Fighter II, give the player that little bit extra oomph when needed, again the hordes of look-alike thugs, boxers, girls-with-whips, Blanka-styled monsters, leap-frogging robots and evil machine gun-toting bosses. This is on the Mega Drive Ultimate Collection disc, available for Xbox 360 and the PS3, and is worth the asking price (of about a tenner) alone. It doesn’t take long to finish – but such is its brilliance that replay value is very high indeed. And the music’s amazing throughout. Check out the final stage below – contains spoilers!

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Flashback

Flashback (1992)

The best-selling French-developed game of all time, this, apparently. The unofficial sequel to the rather fantastic Another World of 1991 in terms of look and play, it’s a complex platformer full of fiendish puzzles and against-the-clock dashes, with settings that are (literally) out of this world. It all starts in the forests of Titan, heads to Earth via a Running Man-style game show, and ends with its protagonist foiling an evil alien plot to overthrown the human race by… erm… becoming us. Well, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em I suppose. Come the rather bleak, Alien-referencing closing credits, the morphing baddies have seen their own home world turned into a load of pixels rapidly flying away from each other, and Conrad – CONRAD, WHAT KIND OF A NAME IS THAT FOR A HERO? – goes to sleep for a bit. An indefinite bit. With a little luck, the network will pick him up…

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Sensible Soccer

Sensible Soccer (1992)

I’m allowing myself one kicking simulation. Sensi is brilliant. I’d still rather play this today than most current-generation titles (the brilliance of the Fifa series aside). So what if it was on the Amiga first – it’s a classic on any machine. (I refused to play the Mega Drive version with the awful music on, though.)

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Earthworm Jim

Earthworm Jim (1994)

Platformers for the Mega Drive didn’t get more weird than this – and despite a raft of infinitely cooler (on paper) characters given their own video games, Earthworm Jim’s playability and sheer out-of-leftfield wackiness ensured it was a cartoon-spawning success. It was essentially a mash-up of the Mega Drive version of Alien 3 (which paled, I will confess, beside the superior SNES release) and excellent Disney flick tie-in Aladdin – but the similarities simply made it that much more instant of appeal. Any game with a final stage villain by the name of Queen Slug-for-a-Butt gets my vote.

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Comix Zone

Comix Zone (1995)

Appearing towards the end of the Mega Drive’s lifetime, perhaps this didn’t get the respect it deserved at the time: for being unique of premise (artist gets sucked into his own comic – it’s hardly shoot-a-load-of-aliens, is it?), visually superb and rock hard. Seriously, I finished this game back around the time of its release, but despite my best attempts today (it, like Streets of Rage II, appears on the Ultimate Collection compilation of games), I just can’t make any headway. But I’m gonna keep trying, so do excuse me…

(Yes, I know, no RPGs. Shining Force 2 and Story of Thor, had ’em both and enjoyed muchly. But I’ve never gone back to them. And the Phantasy Star series is one I’m only just getting into.)

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