The Sega Genesis is home to many amazing games, spanning all genres and with a wide range of styles. It’s hard to pinpoint one genre that the console excelled at, but its real-time strategy game selection is strong, and among some of the best that the 16-bit era offer.
The strategy genre blossomed in the early 80s with the popularization of games like Populous and Herzog Zwei, leading to many other titles in the past two decades. This article will look at seven of the absolute best real-time strategy games released on Sega’s 16-bit console.
#1: Best Overall RTS: Populous
Populous came out in 1989.
Populous is a legendary game for a lot of reasons. Not only was it a beloved strategy game but it basically created the god-game genre. Originally released for the Amiga in 1989, Populous was also the first outing of Peter Molyneux, the mind behind the Fable series.
You become a god with a loyal flock of believers who follow you. Your goal is to lead these followers against the enemy god’s devotees. You do this by manipulating your followers, guiding them as they build up a civilization in your honor, and directly intervening on their behalf.
As a god, you have the power to raise and lower the landscape to help your followers and hinder their enemies. There are tons of different landscapes like deserts, lava, snow, forest, and so on. The type of landscape impacts the growth of both your and your enemies’ civilizations.
Effectively guide your devotees, you’ll need to manage your mana usage. You can increase your mana when your followers create houses, so making sure the land is suitable for creation is key. Increasing your mana also unlocks new divine powers you can use against your enemies.
Populous received nearly unanimous critical acclaim and more than 4 million copies of the game have been sold. It regularly tops lists of the best games of all time. The success of Populous propelled Peter Molyneux to gaming superstardom and paved the way for the entire god game genre.
#2: Best Sega Exclusive: Herzog Zwei
Herzog Zwei was released in 1989 as the follow-up to the popular strategy game Herzog. The game’s developer, Technosoft, was a giant in the ’80s with its smash-hit series Thunder Force. For Herzog, Technosoft maintained the arcady gameplay of Thunder Force mixed with strategy elements.
In the game, you operate a flying mech equipped with tactical and combat abilities. From this mech you purchase, strategize and command combat units. The field has a number of outposts in addition to your home base, the objective is to control the field and take the enemy base.
There are a total of eight combat units you can purchase throughout the game. Which units you use is a major part of the strategy. The outposts are your only means of production (currency) which you can use to purchase more units and strengthen your army.
The game features single-player mode which pits you against the AI. There is also a split-screen multiplayer mode so you can battle your friends locally.
Herzog Zwei had a lukewarm reception from gamers of the time. Critics panned the game and it was a commercial flop. However, over time, critics have retroactively redeemed the game. The game was deemed ahead of its time and this is what contributed to its poor sales and lack of critical praise. Ultimately, this is a classic of the strategy genre and well deserving of its place in this list.
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- Herzog Zwei
#3: Best PC Port: Mega-Lo-Mania
Next up is god sim and strategy classic Mega-Lo-Mania — known as Tyrants: Fight Through Time in North America. The game puts you in charge of a civilization that you need to improve and prepare to take on your enemies. Much like popular god sim Civilization, you progress through the centuries as you develop new technology and methods of warfare.
The objective is to conquer a series of islands for each time period. Gathering resources, using terrain, and developing your civilization are all key to victory.
Mega-Lo-Mania lets you choose from one of four factions that inhabit the island at the start of the game. The field is broken into tiles and managing units and space is critical. You are constantly juggling manpower and minerals to create new technology, build new units, and serve as combat units.
The game features a rich balance of real-time strategy and god sim elements. The systems it utilized were complex for the time period and paved the way for other strategy games like it.
The game received a unanimously positive critical reception at launch. It was praised for its tight gameplay and complex systems. It is also largely agreed that this is one of the first games to feature a tech tree, something that would become a mainstay of the genre to this day.
#4: Best Hidden Gem: King’s Bounty
Next up is the turn-based strategy game King’s Bounty. The game was originally released in 1990 by New World Computing before a Genesis version was ported in 1991. In it, you are tasked with assembling a mighty army to take on the dark forces of Arech Dragonbreath, which is about to become my new Twitter handle.
You must explore the land in search of the 25 pieces of a very important map. This map will lead you to the location of the Scepter of Order, the only thing capable of defeating Dragonbreath.
You play as one of four characters, the knight, paladin, barbarian, or sorceress. Once you have chosen you can embark on your journey to defeat evil. The NPCs you pick up along the way become combat units that support you in battle. Battles are turn-based but they are still quick and exciting due to the battle clock. Encounters are timed so you have to be on your toes for each battle. The clock is based on the player’s level and is one of the key components of the game.
Critics were mixed on the game when it first came out. The fast-paced battles and satisfying progression system made a decent impression. But most reviewers of the time weren’t that impressed by the game.
The games that succeeded it, however, are a different story. King’s Bounty is considered the precursor to Heroes of Might and Magic, the highly successful RTS series from the same developer. Due to this lineage, King’s Bounty has become something of a cult classic among RTS die-hards.
#5: Best Movie Tie in RTS: Dune II
Who knew that the groundbreaking Sci-fi classic would be adapted into a groundbreaking RTS classic? That’s exactly what happened with Dune II which is widely considered one of the most important RTS games of all time.
The game is set in the Dune Universe and takes place on none other than the planet of Arrakis. For those unfamiliar, Arrakis, also called Dune, is the only planet where the mineral called “Spice” exists. This spice is used for everything from space travel to coffee, making it the most valuable substance in the universe.
The game deviates heavily from the story. In it, you take charge of one of three noble houses as you vie for control of Arrakis. Whoever can destroy their enemies and deliver enough spice to the emperor will rule Arrakis.
The game had several campaigns to conquer sections of the desert world. At the start of a section, the player chooses which part of the map they would like will try to conquer. The game systems are complex but easy to learn and satisfying.
There is an in-game economy fueled by, what else, Spice. Players can commission units called Harvesters to draw up spice from the desert. This is a finite resource however and must be used sparingly. The game is also a balance between base building and combat. An area isn’t conquered until all opponents are destroyed.
The reviews for the game were overwhelmingly positive and many of the features it pioneered are still seen in the genre today. It is truly a classic and one of the best RTS games in history.
- Dune 2
- 16 Bit
- Sega Mega Drive For Sega Genesis
- Black Cartridge
#6: Best Satire RTS: General Chaos
For this next one, we trade the bitter, serious world of Dune for the chaotic zaniness of General Chaos. General Chaos is a satirical RTS game that pokes fun at military media in general. Despite the satirical tone, this is one hell of a good RTS.
The game centers around two Generals, Chaos and Havoc. The Generals are brothers and rivals hellbent on the other’s destruction. Other than the brothers’ names and team colors the factions are completely generic and there is no indication that they represent any certain countries.
The game puts you in control of the entire field in fast-paced battles that require good timing and strategy to emerge victorious. The game features a swapping ability that lets you switch control between units to give commands. Outsmarting the enemy is just as important as brute force.
The reviews for the game were generally positive and the humor was especially praised. You may not hear much about the game nowadays but have no doubt it is a classic just like every other on this list.
- General Chaos
#7: Best Historical RTS: Romance of Three Kingdoms II
Finally, we have Romance of Three Kingdoms II, the follow-up to the first game of the same title. This game was originally released to PC in 1989 but received a well-regarded Genesis port in 1991. The game is set just after the fall of the Han Dynasty in China. It follows the key players in the struggle for power based on a book of the same name.
You can play as one of the warlords from the book or create your own character. As a Warlord, you must expand your control over the nation and fend off enemy claimants to the throne. In addition, you must govern your territory and engage in international diplomacy. Each turn the player may take an action following one of these needs.
Your starting position affects the game’s difficulty as you are placed in the circumstances of real historical figures during this time in the conflict.
The game was generally well-received and was considered an upgrade on the original in many ways. One of the new additions to the series was the reputation system. This added another dimension to the game as your reputation could lower to the point your advisors might defect.
These are some of the best RTS games released on the Sega Genesis console. You might not think of the Genesis for its strong lineup of RTS games but hopefully, this list will change your mind.
Ultimately, the genre wouldn’t be what it is today without many of the titles on this list. And while all didn’t debut as Genesis games, their inclusion in the console library opened the genre up to a new generation of fans.
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