Discussing the concept of a true sandbox-style video game is one of the most interesting conversations a game enthusiast can have. The best Sega Genesis sandbox games of all time really open up the debate. We have to answer some serious questions before we get to the heart of the matter.
Let’s dive right in!
Definition and Brief History of Sandbox Games
Firstly, what even is a sandbox game? Sandbox games are video games with gameplay that enables the player a good amount of freedom, creatively interacting with their environment to do activities and tasks (at the player’s own will), typically with no set goal by the game itself. For example, having your player spend hours fishing by the water instead of completing any game-related tasks.
Now that we know the definition, let’s take a look at when the term “sandbox game” came in and what its origins are.
In the 20th century, sandbox games were basically split into two categories: space combat and trade, and city and business building. Elite is considered the first sandbox game and led to others like Seven Cities of Gold and Star Control. Sim City also played a role early on and inspired other sandbox games like Railroad Tycoon and Capitalism.
To start the 21st century, two other sandbox games came on the scene to redefine the term. The Sims and Grand Theft Auto III added life simulations and options for the player to choose their own way to interact (and sometimes wreak havoc) in the virtual world.
The Rise of the Sega Genesis
Released in 1988 as the successor of the Sega Master System, the Genesis moved to 16-bit technology allowing for 3D, with smoother gaming, brighter colors, and faster play.
The Sega Genesis was at the heart of the console war in the late eighties and into the nineties. This rivalry between Sega and Nintendo to capture the lion’s share of the American home console market was an intense battle. The designer competition was great for game enthusiasts, as the two fought to create the best consoles and games by continually striving to improve quality and features,
Without further ado, let’s jump into the best sandbox games for Sega Genesis.
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emShadowrun/em for Sega Genesis was one of, if not the only, win for Sega in the war with Nintendo.
The Genesis version of the game is way better in many ways than the SNES version, including in terms of its sandbox aspect.
With cyberpunks, urban fantasy, and crime as the central theme, emShadowrun/em gives the player endless choices to express themselves through the game. Play begins with your first choice of class (archetype) of Samurai, Decker, or Gator Shaman. There are three different plots to choose from in any order and plenty of side-quests you can choose at any time.
The Matrix, another excellent feature, lets the player enter whenever they like to crack the security of cyber companies and steal data to sell for cash. Some of the challenges in the Matrix are extremely tough and add a lot of fun to the play.
Sega Genesis’ version of emShadowrun/em also has the option to hire your own Shadow runners to further increase the free-play aspects of the game. It also beats the SNES version with a top-down view and much better sound that increases the urgency of play.
You can find it on Amazon for Sega Genesis here.
Please Note: As of July 18, 2023, the Spire Shadowrun game is currently unavailable on Amazon. If you are unable to locate this product elsewhere, please check back later.
Coming to Sega Genesis in 1993 and renamed as emPirates! Gold/em, this awesome game gives the player a chance to play as a pirate, capture cities, command a fleet, duel other characters, and seek out buried treasure.
When starting a new campaign, you pick your time period, nationality and difficulty level. But, it should be pointed out that the time period also functions as kind of a makeshift difficulty level itself, because each choice provides a different map configuration. This can potentially add rival pirates looking to hunt you down or even bad weather to contend with.
After all that, you’re totally on your own to do pretty much whatever you want. You start off in an island town where you decide how you want to go about building your character. Most people in their first play through will just go full pirates, and why not?
Board other ships and engage in a duel, but be careful! If you board a bigger ship than you can handle, you’ll get overwhelmed quickly, so pick your spots appropriately. Players can also plunder entire towns, which is pretty awesome. You can either stay in your ship and fire or take on the authorities on land. You have way more to gain by going after towns, but it’s also a lot riskier, so you’ve got to make sure you have a battle-hardened crew before heading in.
We should also mention that there’s a few other game options here as well, like a dual mode where you can practice fighting and command a historic expedition where you’re put into a pre-planned scenario, if you choose.
All-in-all, this is a fantastic game for its time and has an endless supply of choices that can make the spectacular visuals come alive.
Find your copy on Amazon here.
Although not as well-known as a lot of other games, emStarflight/em makes our list for its huge number of diverse options and gameplay.
You control a spaceship with the entire Universe at your disposal, jumping from galaxy to galaxy and investigating solar systems as you wish. The player can choose a planet to orbit and then use an array of tools to analyze the atmosphere and its environmental makeup. This comes in handy when you choose to land and mine.
Once you’ve decided on a landing area, you’re free to explore, mine for resources, interact with alien lifeforms, and barter and trade resources. When you’ve landed your spaceship, your robots dissembark to do the work under your control.
The player also has the choice to upgrade or downgrade their spacecraft and make deals with other aliens to use their databanks.
emStarflight/em was actually ahead of its time, and Star Trek seems to have had a direct effect on the design of this game. The Sega Genesis version does a great job of bringing the tabletop version to your own home console.
Sega Genesis Sandbox Games: Summary
There’s still a lot of debate as to what makes a true sandbox game. If you use the Wikipedia definition above, then there’s no doubt that these three Sega Genesis games fit the bill. They may be hard to find today, but in their time, they were some of the most exciting home titles around.
If you love all things video games, then check out some other articles on the subject here:
- The Top Selling Video Games of All Time: Ranked
- The 7 Absolute Best Wii Real-Time Strategy Games of All Time
- What was the Video Game Crash of 1983 and Why Did It Happen?
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