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The Absolute Best Sega Genesis Action Games of All Time

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The Absolute Best Sega Genesis Action Games of All Time

The Sega Genesis preceded Game Gear’s release and was the first entry into the fourth generation of video game consoles. Genesis had several different versions, some developed by third parties. Adapted from Sega’s System 16 arcade board, its 16-bit graphics were quite advanced for the era. They even had many arcade ports available for gamers to play. While not performing well commercially in Japan, Genesis saw greater success overseas, primarily due to its huge game library. The Sonic the Hedgehog series, notably, did appeal to younger gamers. The console was marketed aggressively toward a younger audience. The selling point being it’s a ‘cooler’ console than its competitors, the SNES and NEC’s PC Engine.

Genesis was known for its action games, in particular its platformers and fighting games, including popular sports games. The platform had a better collection of sports games than the SNES, while the SNES arguably had superior RPG titles. Even so, the best Genesis action games often find their place among the best Genesis games. Genesis was seen positively for its backward compatibility with the Master System. Moreover, it had classic titles and a package of six launch games included with purchase. IGN also named Genesis the 5th best video game console in 2009. GameTrailers called it the 6th best in 2007. The Genesis was also known, perhaps controversially, for its rather violent games for the era, particularly Mortal Kombat. This led to the creation of the Videogame Rating Council, an early rendition of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

Unlike RPGs, action games rely more on the player’s hand-eye coordination and reaction times. There are many subgenres of action games, such as platformers shooters, involving guns and projectiles. Many excellent action games found their home within the extensive library of Genesis. Let’s look at the best ever released for the console.

Gunstar Heroes

screenshot of gunstar heroes Genesis game
The gameplay centers around mobility and destroying enemies with projectile weapons.

emGunstar Heroes/em for Genesis came out in 1993, but would later find its way to Game Gear in 1995. Focus is on the gameplay than the storyline. The narrative is kept rather simple and follows two characters, the Gunstars, who try to stop an empire from stealing four gems of power.

Players also explore levels that don’t focus on traveling by foot, such as playing a board game, fighting on helicopters and riding mine carts. Weapons include a homing shot, lightning blaster, machine gun and flamethrower. When the game stats, you can pick an initial weapon. Throughout the levels, players can swap weapons by picking them up. To up their strength, they can combine two weapons. This leads to either a boosted version of the existing weapon or alternative firing types. Players can even enjoy the game cooperatively, which was relatively rare for the era.

Gunstar Heroes on the Genesis received critical acclaim, particularly for its graphics, dynamic gameplay and sense of humor. Add to this the fun of multiplayer mode, and you can see why Gunstar Heroes features in this list.

Contra: Hard Corps

screenshot of Contra Hard Corps game

Hard Corps only features 2D stages, unlike other games with overhead segments.

Contra started life as an arcade game in 1987 but did make its way into Genesis in 1994 as Contra: Hard Corps. The game takes place five years after the events of Contra III. It revolves around a task force called the ‘Hard Corps‘. They intend to stop Colonel Bahamut and his terrorist group from producing weapons made from a stolen alien cell.

Hard Corps involves navigating through side-scrolling stages, defeating enemies, and fighting a boss at the final stage. The game only features 2D stages, unlike other games with overhead segments. Hard Corps also introduces the ability to select characters, ride a hoverbike, and a sliding technique. The game’s also notable for featuring a branching story with multiple endings available.

While many publications saw the difficult as challenging, Electronic Gaming Monthly and Next Generation  rated the game as excellent. Character selection, graphics and intense gameplay were praised. Fans of side-scrolling shooting games will find a lot to love with Hard Corps.

Streets of Rage 2

screenshot of Streets of Rage 2 Genesis game

As a sequel to Streets of Rage, Streets of Rage /em2 came out in 1992 for Genesis. Adam, Axel and Blaze from the previous game have initially returned to their normal lives. However, they resume fighting once they realize Mr X and The Syndicate have come back for revenge on the trio and their city, while Skate’s older brother has gone missing.

The game introduced two new characters, Thunder and Skate, Adam’s younger brother. While Thunder is a slow-paced wrestler, Skate can move quickly due to his rollerblades. The gameplay features a typical side-scrolling beat-em-up style. The player battles enemies while moving through the levels, collecting items and weapons as they go. Streets of Rage 2 gave each character a new Blitz Attack, and a Special Attack which is more powerful at the expense of reducing the player’s health. In Duel mode, two players can battle against each other. You can cooperate in story mode, although players can’t choose the same character.

Streets of Rage 2 was among the top 5 best-selling games for the Genesis in December 1992 in the US, while it was the best-selling game in Japan in January 1993. The game received universal acclaim and excellent scores from many publications, with GamePro giving it a perfect score. GameFan‘s reviewers called it the ‘best fighting game’ they’d ever played, with everything from the gameplay to the graphics and soundtrack seen a very impressive. As one of the best beat-em-ups of its time, Streets of Rage 2 is an easy choice when deciding which of the best Genesis action games to play next.

Castlevania: Bloodlines

screenshot of Castlevania bloodlines screenshot
Players advance through stages with a sub-boss battle in the middle and a boss battle at the end.

Released in 1994, emCastlevania: Bloodlines is technically a spin-off from the main series, centering on the efforts of Elizabeth Bartley, a vampire who has set off the events of World War I to give enough sacrifices to resurrect Dracula, who is her uncle. The player controls both John, the son of Quincey Morris (a character from the Bram Stoker novel) and Eric Lecarde, his friend.

The gameplay is rather traditional. Special weapons reappear, including the classic axe, boomerang and holy water. Collecting gems helps boost your weapon power. Both characters navigate through the levels slightly differently. John can maneuver past gaps using his whip, while Eric can perform high jumps with his spear to reach platforms unavailable to John.

It’s worth mentioning the western version of the game had increased difficulty compared to the Japanese version. GamesRadar considered it the 8th best Genesis game of all time, although GamePro thought the graphics and sound were inferior to Super Castlevania IV. The game also received significant censorship with the PAL version, as blood was removed from the game and the title. Even so, the game has received great reviews and is seen as the best Castlevania title on the Genesis. Fans of the series will want to give this a shot, as it’s among the best Genesis action games.

Please note: As of July 18, 2023, Castlevania Bloodlines is out of stock on Amazon. If you can’t obtain this product elsewhere, check back with Amazon at a later date.

Mortal Kombat II 

screenshot of Mortal Kombat II Genesis game

This game also introduced some of the most iconic characters in the series, such as

Kung Lao

,

Mileena

,

Kitana

and

Noob Saibot

.

emMortal Kombat II is part of an iconic series of fighting games. The second installment for Genesis came out in 1994. The narrative follows on from the first game, with another Mortal Kombat tournament taking place in the Outworld realm. Both representatives of the Earthrealm and Outworld are fighting each other as they intend to challenge the emperor of Outworld, Shao Kahn.

While the gameplay is quite similar to the original, Mortal Kombat II added the ability to crouch punch, improved the strength of round kicks, and reduced attack recovery times. This made it easier to perform combos. Featuring new special moves, the game runs about twice as fast as the original, leading to even more intense fights. The game is notable for introducing the concept of Fatalities to the series. These lethal finishing moves destroy the opponent in various styles once their health points reach zero. Alternate finishing moves known as Babalities and Friendships also made their debuts. They were rather humorous and equally memorable additions to the game.

Mortal Kombat II’s massive success was rather unanticipated. On the day of the game’s release for the Genesis, Game Gear, SNES and Game Boy, the game set a new record for opening week sales in all video game history, reaching $50 million. It was the top-selling Genesis game in the US in September of 1994, and Sega Visions and Nintendo Power called it ‘sheer brilliance’ and ‘the hottest fighter ever’ respectively. The developer replicated flawlessly everything that made the original game a success. Mortal Kombat II is a must-play for those out to play the best Genesis action games and all fans of fighting games.

Super Street Fighter II

screenshot of Super Street Fighter II
Super Street Fighter II had better graphics than other Street Fighter II entries, as it was the first game to incorporate Capcom’s CP System II hardware.

Another mainstay in the fighting game genre, emSuper Street Fighter II is the 4th game in the subseries of Street Fighter II, which is part of the world-famous Street Fighter series. All of the 12 warriors from previous games make a reappearance, as well as the addition of four new characters: T. Hawk, Cammy, Fei Long and Dee Jay. Some characters got new abilities, such as Ryu’s Fire Hadoken.

Like many Street Fighter games, you play with a random character. The objective is to reduce the opponent’s health to zero. After defeating eight opponents, you encounter four bosses. These are Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison, who would appear in many games. As well as new and improved graphics, the game features an updated scoring system based on first attacks, recoveries, reversals and combos. The speed level has also been reduced since the Hyper Fighting game. Gamers can now choose from eight different color palettes for each character.

Although some feel the Genesis version is inferior to the SNES version in audio and graphics, GamePro thought it was a solid conversion of the arcade classic. By the end of the year of its release, the Genesis version would outsell the SNES version, and Mega magazine would even call it the second-best video game of all time in 1994. Whether new to the series or a faithful fanatic, there’s a lot to enjoy in Super Street Fighter II, and is a no-brainer when considering the best Genesis action games.

Alien Soldier

Screenshot of Alien Soldier Genesis game

emAlien Soldier/emcame out in 1995, although only available through the Sega Channel cable service. The storyline involves a powerful entity called Epsilon-Eagle, who vows to save his planet. He’s part of a genetically engineered race of A-Humans, with a parasitic existence with both humans and machinery. After escaping an assassination attempt by Scarlet, a terrorist organization, Epsilon sets out to defeat Xi-Tiger, the new leader of Scarlet who wants to destroy Epsilon once and for all.

As a run-and-gun game, Alien Soldier features 25 stages and 26 bosses, focusing more on boss battles than on lesser enemies found throughout the stages. You can choose from two difficulty levels, namely ‘super easy’ and ‘super hard’. The ‘super hard’ mode only allows for finite continues and no password saving, as well as the improved difficulty of enemies. The player can hover in the air, double jump and run through stages, and equip 4 of 6 weapons at the beginning of a stage. Weapons have limited ammunition, you have to use them sparingly and strategically. Dashing can help with maneuvers and damage enemies when at full health. Properly timing your counter moves can turn enemy projectiles into health points.

Famitsu initially scored the game rather averagely, giving it 24 out of a possible 40 points, but Mean Machine considered it a real challenge, citing the relentless enemies and unwavering difficulty. GameSpot reviewed the game highly for its graphics, sound and intensity, while IGN favorably compared it to Gunstar Heroes and recommended it to fans of this game. Nintendo Life considered the animation and graphics as some of the best in Genesis. As part of Treasure’s legacy of action games, Alien Soldier offers ridiculously fast-paced action and elaborate boss battles that are hard to find in other titles for the Genesis. Alien Soldier is not a title you can skip, especially if you love heatedly intense and almost manic gameplay. As far as the best Genesis action games go, the hot-blooded experience of Alien Soldier is one you won’t forget quickly.

Please note: As of July 14, 2023, this product is out of stock on Amazon. If you can’t find it elsewhere, please check back for availability.

Frequently Asked Questions

When did the Genesis come out?

The Genesis was released in the US in August 1989.

What was the first action game for the Genesis?

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

What was the last action game for the Genesis?

The last action game for the Genesis was Frogger, ported to the system in 1998. This release had the same graphics as the original Arcade game.

Which Genesis action game was the best?

Although die-hard fans of the Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Castlevania series will no doubt be pleased with the Genesis’ offerings, there are many other great titles to be played. Alien Soldier is a rare gem, along with Gunstar Heroes, Ristar, Pulseman and Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse.

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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