The Master System isn’t the most remembered video game console, but it was one of the few that could rival the NES and its library of games. The Master System isn’t home to as many iconic franchises as the best NES games, or even the best sega genesis gamesbut it has its stone-cold firecrackers and its own forgotten gems.
In this list, we break down the ten best Sega Master System games of all time, with only one game per series and as few “ports” as possible – although a port to the Master System usually requires an entirely original game based on another one. If you want to play Master System games, be sure to read our list below.
If you want more Sega games, take a look at our best dreamcast games list, and for Nintendo instead, take a look at our lists of best snes games and best N64 games.
phantom star has long been Sega’s flagship RPG series, continuing today with Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis. This paired the classic Final Fantasy Formula RPG with sci-fi aesthetics and setting that completely changed the feel of the game. phantom star has incredibly humble but ambitious beginnings and is worth playing even now.
sonic the hedgehog had to be included somewhere. It wasn’t the start of the blue blur, but the Master System port of the original game was damn good. Yes, it’s a bit slower and more pixelated than Sega Genesis’ big brother version, but Sonic was so innovative and iconic at the time that even a version designed for older hardware was destined to be one of the biggest and best games of the day.
You can consider The madness of marble to be the ancestor of Super monkey ball. You simply guide a marble through a variety of courses, balancing precariously along narrow paths and down dodgy ramps. The gameplay is simple, but as in Super monkey ballyou’ll be playing for hours trying to get the best possible speeds and scores.
The first and last Master System game developed by Vic Tokai, psycho fox was one of the console’s finest platformers. It crosses no borders, relying essentially on the Super Mario platform formula, but the game arguably influenced later platforms like Sonic itself with multiple up/down routes available at each stage. The visuals are very good for the console and the era, and multiple playable characters help keep the game interesting.
Fantasy Zone II is a unique type of side-scrolling (shoot ’em up) SHMUP. Instead of guiding you down a set path with scripted enemy spawns and a definite end to each level as long as you keep advancing, Fantasy area instead, you’re basically exploring stages. You’ll move left and right, shoot down enemy spawns, and even switch between Dark Side and Bright Side versions of each stage to figure out the right path to find bosses and fight more enemies. Things start out simple but will remind you that this is actually one hell of a game by the end. Oh, and that ending is really surreal.
Nowadays we have seen many Zelda clones and quality is a mixed bag, but surprisingly one of the very first games inspired by the first The Legend of Zelda the game is really good. Yes, Golden axeknown for being a fantastic beat-’em-up in the same vein as streets of angerhad a spin-off that mimicked the original Zelda game in a number of ways, but arguably looked much better. This is a fascinating piece of gaming history today, and just how worth playing Zelda game could have been like on the Master System.
Before Sonic powered Sega in the 90s, Alex Kidd was to be Sega’s big new mascot. Weird, we know, but that was how it was back then. Alex Kidd had side-scrolling platforming segments, dungeons to explore in the same vein as metroidand even several vehicles to drive for the special stages. Alex Kidd combined a variety of playstyles with a weird and unforgettable world, and if you’ve never played it, you need to rectify that.
3-D Space Harrier is actually a “sequel” to the original space harrier – not that you can tell just by playing that it’s not a simpler port. The coolest part of the package is that this game is actually stereoscopic 3D with a little help from the SegaScope 3D Glasses. If your glasses broke, the game is playable in 2D, thankfully, but only with a cheat code you get by getting a high score. Fortunately, we have the Internet for these problems today.
Ghosts and Goblins, Ghouls and ghosts – you know the series we’re talking about, featuring little knight Arthur as he does his best to keep his armor on while hurling spears at enemies. Ghouls and ghosts received a Master System port and is a surprisingly good version of the game. It is more detailed than most Master System games in terms of visuals and emulates the look of a mainline. Ghosts and Goblins incredibly good game.
If you’ve played any Sega console, you’ve probably played out run, and for good reason. At the start of the game, out run was the definitive driving experience, with great music, beautiful visuals, and gameplay that had you drifting and burning rubber around every corner. Well, the Master System version of the game isn’t quite that, but still manages to do a surprisingly good job of replicating the depth and mechanics of the out run series. The music isn’t bad either, for a Master System game.
Written by Dave Aubrey on behalf of GLHF.