I was still a young kid in the mid ’80s and have to admit that I wasn’t really aware of the Sega’s home consoles until marketing for the Sega Genesis began. Eventually, I was able to play some of the best Sega Master System games. But my experience with a few of them actually began in the arcade at the local mall.
This 8-bit home video game console was first released by Sega in Japan in 1985. It was a remodeled version of the Sega Mark III, the third iteration of the SG-1000 series of consoles. The SMS launched in North America in 1986.
There’s no doubt that the SMS faced stiff competition from Nintendo. “Nintendo” had quickly become the de facto name that all parents used for every video game console. Despite Nintendo’s domination in the western home console market, the SMS’s arcade legacy made their first home console a solid heavy hitter with some absolutely classic (and exclusive) games.
In this article, we delve into the best Sega Master System games. These games defined the Master System era, but they certainly weren’t the only games worth playing.
10. Out Run
If we were ranking arcade games from this era, this one would be much higher on the list! Out Run was a smashing success in the arcade, so porting it to the home console was a no-brainer. The game puts players in the driver’s seat of a sports car, racing through various scenic routes and attempting to reach each checkpoint within the time limit.
With its impressive graphics, multiple branching paths, and a memorable soundtrack, Out Run became THE must-play racing game on the Master System.
9. Alex Kidd in Shinobi World
Alex Kidd in Shinobi World is a playful crossover that combines the worlds of Alex Kidd and Shinobi. Players control Alex Kidd as he battles his way through enemies and bosses using ninja skills and unique power-ups.
With its charming visuals, humorous nods to the Shinobi series, and enjoyable gameplay, Alex Kidd in Shinobi World provided a lighthearted adventure for Master System owners.
8. Fantasy Zone
Fantasy Zone is a vibrant and colorful shoot ’em up game that takes players on a whimsical journey as they pilot a spaceship named Opa-Opa. The objective is to defeat a series of enemy bases and bosses while collecting coins to purchase weapon upgrades.
With its colorful visuals, catchy music, and addictive gameplay, Fantasy Zone offered a unique and enjoyable experience on the Master System.
R-Type is a side-scrolling shooter that challenges players to navigate through treacherous levels and defeat a variety of alien enemies. Equipped with the powerful R-9 spaceship, players utilize strategic power-ups and precise shooting to overcome obstacles.
The game’s challenging difficulty, intense action, and memorable boss encounters made it a standout title in the Master System’s library.
6. Golden Axe
Golden Axe is a fantasy beat ’em up that allows players to choose one of three heroes and embark on a increasingly difficult quest. Defeat the evil Death Adder and rescue the king and princess! Players battle hordes of enemies using swords, magic, and powerful special attacks in their quest for justice.
Personally, I was most excited to play this game without having to dump endless quarters into the arcade version. It was hard! With its cooperative multiplayer, satisfying combat, and immersive fantasy world, Golden Axe became a staple for Master System gamers.
What kid in the ’80s didn’t want to be a badass ninja?
Shinobi puts players in the role of Joe Musashi, a ninja on a mission to rescue kidnapped children from the evil Zeed organization. This side-scrolling action game offers intense platforming, precise combat, and epic boss battles.
With its challenging gameplay, stylish ninja action, and atmospheric music, Shinobi became a fan favorite and showcased the Master System’s ability to deliver thrilling experiences.
4. Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap
Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap combines action, exploration, and transformation in an unforgettable adventure. Players control a hero cursed with the form of various creatures, each granting unique abilities, as they seek to break the curse and defeat the dragons.
The game’s vibrant visuals, non-linear gameplay, and the joy of discovering new transformations made it a standout title on the Master System.
3. Phantasy Star
Phantasy Star brought the epic role-playing experience to the Master System, immersing players in a vast sci-fi world as they embarked on a quest to defeat the tyrannical ruler Lassic. Players created their own party of adventurers, battled enemies in turn-based combat, and explored dungeons and towns.
The game featured an immersive story, rich gameplay mechanics, and impressive graphics. Phantasy Star set a new standard for RPGs on the Master System. It went on to become a legendary RPG franchise and even took player’s adventures online in later iterations.
2. Sonic the Hedgehog
Mario, meet Sonic. Your real competition.
Sonic the Hedgehog needs no introduction. This iconic platformer introduced players to the lightning-fast blue hedgehog on a mission to stop the evil Dr. Robotnik from capturing animals and stealing Chaos Emeralds.
With its blistering speed, inventive level design, and memorable soundtrack, Sonic the Hedgehog became the Sega Master System’s answer to Nintendo’s Mario, starting a rivalry that lasted for many years.
1. Alex Kidd in Miracle World
Alex Kidd in Miracle World is a platforming adventure that follows the journey of Alex Kidd, a young martial artist, as he sets out to rescue his kidnapped brother and defeat the evil Janken the Great.
Players navigate through colorful levels, collecting power-ups, and engaging in rock-paper-scissors battles against bosses. The game’s tight controls, charming visuals, and catchy music made it an instant hit and a flagship title. It wasn’t an easy decision, but one we felt deserved the top position in our best Sega Master System games ranking.