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The 7 Absolute Best Sega Genesis Platformers of All Time

Sega-Genesis

The 7 Absolute Best Sega Genesis Platformers of All Time

Part of the 16-bit era, Sega’s Genesis hit U.S. shelves in August 1989 as the successor to the Master System. Its competition came from NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 and Nintendo’s SNES, with the latter being its main competitor.

With that said, the TurboGrafx-16 had its own unique selection of games that Genesis and SNES owners may have missed. The Genesis had some advantages over the SNES, mostly in its selection of arcade game ports and backward compatibility with the older Master System, but the SNES was still more commercially successful due to Nintendo’s domination of the market and because it was seen as superior to the Genesis in terms of sound and graphics. Even still, the Genesis was regarded as the 5th best video game console by IGN in 2009, an impressive feat considering the plethora of consoles available at the time.

Largely known for its action games, the Genesis saw greater success in North America and Europe than it did in Japan, partly due to the introduction of the popular Sonic the Hedgehog series to a Western audience. Games in the Sonic series would be among the best Genesis platformers, a subgenre of action games that centers around progressing through levels by maneuvering past platforms of various heights and sizes, usually by jumping and running.

The Genesis is notable for its marketing campaign being focused on a younger audience, intending to portray the console as “cooler” than its counterparts. In this vein, the console was rather controversially known for its collection of violent games, such as Mortal Kombat. This led to the development of what would become the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which provides age ratings and content descriptions on video games released in North America.

Although the console is over 3 decades old, many of its titles are still enjoyed and remembered by retro gamers today, and Sega has actually released some portable consoles packed with classic titles in recent years.

Let’s jump in and discover some of the most popular platformer games the Genesis had to offer!

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02/17/2024 09:58 am GMT

Conceptualized by the same designer behind many games in the Contra series, Nobuya Nakazato, emRocket Knight Adventures/em is a 1993 platform game with a rather unique protagonist; the player controls an opossum called Sparkster, one of the Rocket Knights of Zephyrus.

Sparkster has to rescue Princess Sherry after she’s kidnapped by the evil Devotindos empire, who plans to unleash the Pig Star starship and conquer the universe. The story is quite reminiscent of the typical Mario storyline.

Sparkster can attack enemies by swinging his sword or charging up for a “Rocket Attack.” His health can be restored by collecting bananas and apples but loses a life if he falls into a pit or touches spikes. Each of the 7 stages ends with a boss fight, sometimes with alternative gameplay mechanics such as controlling a giant robot or incorporating elements of shooter games. The American version comes with 4 available difficulties, which vary in the strength of the enemies as well as the number of lives the player has.

Highly praised for its musical score and graphics, emRocket Knight Adventures/em was considered one of the best Genesis platformers by Honest Gamers and Sega-16. Fans of traditional platformers looking for something a bit different from Sonic and Mario will find a lot to love with this title.

You can find emRocket Knight Adventures/em for the Genesis on Amazon here!

rocket knight adventures sega genesis
Put your Rocket Attack to the test as Sparkster in Rocket Knight Adventures!
The Revenge of Shinobi
$17.99
  • Second Installment In The Popular Video Game Series.
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02/17/2024 01:52 pm GMT

Serving as a sequel to the original Shinobi game, emThe Revenge of Shinobi/em came out in 1989 for the Genesis and is set 3 years after the first game.

Zeed, the criminal organization from the original, has reformed and killed Joe Musashi’s master along with kidnapping his wife, Naoko. Joe sets out on another adventure, to destroy Zeed once more and rescue his bride.

While some of the Shinobi games feature several other ninjas that can be controlled, each with their own set of abilities, only Joe can be played as in this game. Even so, this title introduced some new moves for Joe, such as the somersault, which allows him to throw 8 shurikens mid-air as well as transition between the layers found in some stages. Joe also has 4 ninjutsu skills available, which can only be used once per life. Each district contains 3 stages, 2 of which are side-scrolling, with a final stage consisting of a boss fight.

The game received a perfect score from Dragon, with its sound, animation and gameplay cited as excellent. Electronic Gaming Monthly praised the level design and the bosses as oddly unique in their being clones of familiar characters like Spider-Man and Batman. Overall, emThe Revenge of Shinobi/em accomplishes a lot, especially considering it was one of the first Genesis titles and is often thought of as one of the best Genesis platformers available. Genesis gamers and retro gamers will be pleased with giving this a play.

Check it out on Amazon right here.

the revenge of shinobi sega genesis
Find out for yourself what all the rave is about!
Royal Retro Quackshot Starring Donald Duck - USA Label Flashkit MD Electroless Gold PCB Card for Sega Genesis Megadrive Video Game Console (Region-Free)
$27.49
  • Use original shell for Sega Genesis Megadrive game card.Use Flashkit MD Electroless Gold PCB Card, top quality, Super stable!
  • Reprogrammable cart. The game can be rewritten via our flashkit programmer device,  Support more than 10000 rewrites. Support max rom size 4Mbyte (32M bit). Don't support to save game file.
  • With independent power supply, more stable, not easy to damage. Each data line is impedance matched.
  • Lead free environmental protection process.
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02/17/2024 09:58 am GMT

emQuackShot/em is a 1991 game that features Donald Duck as the protagonist, rather than the more popular Mickey Mouse.

After Donald finds a treasure map hidden within a book from Scrooge McDuck’s library, he sets out on an adventure through many real-world locations to try and locate the treasure. Along the way, Big Bad Pete tries to foil his plans.

Armed with a gun that shoots strange items such as bubble gum, popcorn, and plungers, Donald makes his way through various levels, which usually consist of an overworld section and a dungeon. Overworld levels can be played in any order, but obstacles prevent entrance to the dungeons, so these must be attempted in a specific order. While Donald has unlimited plungers, other projectiles can be collected while traveling through the stages. Chili peppers can also be obtained which grants Donald invincibility after a certain amount is consumed.

Publications such as GameRankings and MegaTech rated the game highly for its spectacular graphics but criticized it for its somewhat low difficulty. Even still, the game was the top-selling Genesis game in the UK upon release, and while the controls are widely considered difficult to manage, this actually helps to add to the challenge. Fans of the Mickey Mouse franchise and Donald Duck will particularly enjoy this title, but anyone after the best Genesis platformers won’t regret giving this a go. It’s hard to find a cartoon game with better graphics than this one.

Get your hands on your own copy from Amazon here!

quackshot donald duck sega genesis
Quack! Go find that treasure!
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02/17/2024 09:57 am GMT

As a spin-off from the main Castlevania series, emCastlevania: Bloodlines/em doesn’t revolve around members of the famed Belmont clan. Instead, the playable characters include both John, son of Quincey Morris, and his friend, Eric Lecarde. This time, they have to stop Dracula, who is in the process of being resurrected by his niece Elizabeth Bartley.

Players progress through linear stages, with a sub-boss at the halfway point and a stronger boss at the end, much like many games in the series. Weapons such as the boomerang, holy water, and axe make an appearance, which can be upgraded by collecting gems along the way. Differences in play style are present between the characters, as Eric uses a spear rather than a whip, while John can swing past gaps with his whip, and Eric can jump higher by using his spear. This leads to alternative routes depending on who’s being controlled.

Usually, the Japanese versions of games have increased difficulty, but this isn’t the case with this game, as the American version is actually harder to complete. The graphics and sound weren’t really regarded as particularly impressive, but the gameplay received positive mentions from Game Informer, GamePro, and GamesRadar, with the latter naming it the 8th-best Genesis game. emCastlevania: Bloodlines/em is also notable for including a significant level of gore, although this was largely censored for the European PAL version. A strong contender among the best Genesis platformers, Bloodlines will delight Castlevania fans as well as retro game lovers.

Check it out for yourself on Amazon right here.

castlevania bloodlines sega genesis
Think you can stop Dracula?
Lives Are Depending on You!
Ghouls 'N Ghosts
$35.99
  • 16-bit cartridge
  • SEGA Genesis
  • Dangerously travel through the Place of Execution, the Village of Decay, the Town of Fire, and the Crystal Forest with an arsenal of weapons at your side
  • Magic fights
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02/17/2024 05:03 am GMT

Originally an arcade game, emGhouls N' Ghosts/em was ported to the Genesis in 1989. The plot isn’t too detailed, but the setting is 3 years after the previous game, Ghosts N’ Goblins.

The ghosts have returned, along with ghouls this time, and launch an attack on the kingdom of Princess Prin-Prin. Sir Arthur witnesses the Princess‘ soul being taken away, so he decides to fight his way to Lucifer’s castle and restore the Princess‘ soul to her body.

Arthur can utilize various weapons and armor he finds along his way to defeat enemies, which can be obtained from hidden treasure chests. Oddly, each of the first 5 levels must be completed twice, with the second playthrough giving Arthur a special weapon to use. This weapon must be equipped to enter Lucifer’s lair, and the player must also have defeated the boss of level 5 beforehand. Every weapon has its own unique attack, which can be charged up once the gold armor is acquired.

MegaTech called the Genesis version a “truly superb” game, praising it for its challenging gameplay and beautiful graphics. Electronic Gaming Monthly had similar thoughts, naming it Best Game of the Year in the year of its release, as well as awarding it Best Graphics, Coolest Boss, and Best Sequel. ACE Magazine even listed it in the top 4 best games of all time for the Genesis, so it definitely deserves a spot as one of the best Genesis platformers. You can’t really go wrong by picking up a copy if you’re into old-school side-scrollers.

You can find a copy of emGhouls N' Ghosts/em on Amazon here.

ghouls n ghosts sega genesis arcade
Ghouls’N Ghosts was widely praised for its gameplay and cool bosses.
Great for Kids
Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse - Sega Genesis
$43.00
  • Side-scrolling platformer
  • Help Mickey save Minnie from the evil witch, Mizrabel
  • Boss battles at the end of every level
  • Defeat Mizrabel's henchmen and her army of creatures as you battle through the castle
  • Features six different levels
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02/17/2024 01:12 am GMT

The first game in the Illusion series of Mickey Mouse games, emCastle of Illusion/em came to the Genesis in 1990, but would later be released for the Master System and Game Gear also.

The game centers on Mickey’s mission to rescue Minnie Mouse from Mizrabel the witch from the Castle of Illusion. To do this, he must journey through 5 worlds, defeat Mizrabel’s henchmen and recover the Seven Gems of the Rainbow.

Similar to Mario, Mickey mostly attacks enemies by bouncing on them. He can also bounce to reach higher areas, as well as collect items like marbles to throw at enemies. Some items increase the score awarded to the player, or even increase maximum health and give extra lives. Like a typical platformer, each stage ends in a boss battle, with the final stage ending in a tense fight with a huge version of Mizrabel herself.

Mean Machines and Console XS both gave emCastle of Illusion/em stellar scores, 95% and 96% respectively. The dynamic gameplay, visuals, and soundtrack were considered highlights, being suitable for younger players but also enjoyably challenging for an older audience as well. MegaTech considered it one of the Genesis’ best titles, a sentiment echoed by Entertainment Weekly. There’s a lot to shout about when it comes to this game, and even though it might be seen as childish by some, the beautiful animations and addictive gameplay are what make this one of the best Genesis platformers there is.

emCastle of Illusion/em is available on Amazon here.

castle of illusion mickey mouse sega genesis
It’s your turn to save Minnie!
Sonic the Hedgehog 3
$33.00
  • Swing from vines, launch new attacks, survive deadly traps and summon Tails to airlift Sonic out of danger. Discover hidden rooms and passageways in the mega-sized Zones. Transform into Super Sonic...
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02/17/2024 11:18 am GMT
Sonic & Knuckles Game Cartridge
Sonic and Knuckles Game Cartridge 16 bit MD Game Card With Retail Box For Sega Mega Drive For Genesis-US BOX 2
$59.99
  • Ready to use for Sega Genesis
  • Built-in memory card
  • High-quality graphics
  • Comes with retail box
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02/16/2024 03:57 am GMT

Technically 2 separate games, emSonic the Hedgehog 3/em and emSonic & Knuckles/em were intended to be 1 game, but costs and time constraints made the developers decide to split the games.

Both games were released in 1994, and the emSonic & Knuckles/em cartridge came with an adapter that allowed players to connect the cartridges for a combined and complete game. Even Sonic the Hedgehog 2 could be connected, opening up access to additional stages. 

The story begins after the events of the second game, where Dr. Robotnik’s Death Egg space station has crashed into Angel Island, where Knuckles lives. Both games take place on Angel Island, and center around Dr. Robotnik’s attempts to steal the powerful Master Emerald, which keeps the island afloat. 

The gameplay is largely similar to previous Sonic games, with Tails being a playable character in emSonic the Hedgehog 3/em, who can swim underwater and fly for a limited time, unlike Sonic. In emSonic & Knuckles/em, Knuckles is a playable character, who can climb walls and glide.

Both games contain secret levels unlocked by obtaining a certain number of rings or entering a hidden giant ring, which gives the chance to acquire extra lives and power-ups. emSonic & Knuckles/em contains a new feature, the ability to collect Super Emeralds which unlock more powerful forms for Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. The game lacks the two-player mode that emSonic the Hedgehog 3/em had, however.

Both titles received critical acclaim, and many critics considered emSonic the Hedgehog 3/em to be the best in the series at the time. While emSonic & Knuckles/em was seen as very similar to Sonic 3, the ability to lock on to enemies was seen as a great innovation, and Electronic Gaming Monthly named it “Game of the Month.” They felt the same about emSonic 3/em, finding it the most playable game in the series, receiving the highest average score of any game that year.

Most publications gave the games near-perfect scores, so Sonic fans in particular should check out this classic. In terms of overall gameplay, playability, and detailed level design, Sonic 3 and Knuckles are a no-brainer when considering the best Genesis platformers.

Check out emSonic the Hedgehog 3/em and emSonic & Knuckles/em here and here, respectively.

sonic the hedgehog 3 sega genesis
sonic & knuckles sega genesis

Frequently Asked Questions

When did the Genesis come out?

The Genesis was released in the U.S. in August 1989.

What was the first Genesis platformer?

The first Genesis action game was Altered Beast, which came out in August 1989.

What was the last Genesis platformer?

The last action game for the Genesis was Frogger, ported to the system in 1998.

Which Genesis platformer was the best?

So many great platformers came out for the Genesis, but its Sonic titles are often rated among the best. Castlevania fans will want to check out Bloodlines, and Castle of Illusion is a good family-friendly title. Ristar offers a different experience to Sonic and Mario, while fans of the Contra and Shinobi series should give Rocket Knight Adventures and The Revenge of Shinobi a go.

Which Genesis action game sold the most units?

The best-selling Genesis action game was Sonic the Hedgehog, selling 15 million units.

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