While it didn’t hit North American shores until a year later, Japanese gamers got their taste of 16-bit power at home with the Sega Mega Drive (or Genesis, if you prefer) on this day back in 1988. Once it did arrive in North America, thanks in part to Sega of America’s marketing campaign, and its decision to cater towards a more mature and “cool” audience over Nintendo’s kid friendly approach, the Mega Drive/Genesis for a time had the upper hand in the “console wars” of the 90s. The results of Sega’s efforts? In addition to having superior sports games compared to the SNES, Mega Drive/Genesis fans received their fair share of horror games, which weren’t bound by Nintendo’s often draconian code of censorship.
So, much like with the SNES, here’s a sampling of some of those genre titles that Sega fans can dive into for a trip back to your grade school days as budding horror fans. The list admittedly does cheat a little with games made for the Mega Drive’s add-on peripherals, but it’d be a crime if they were omitted (for various reasons).
Splatterhouse 2/Splatterhouse 3 (Namco, 1992 and 1993)
Debating between Splatterhouse 2 and its sequel is a tough one. One on hand, Splatterhouse 2 gave fans who couldn’t play the original game on NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 the same gory goodness and then some. On the other, Namco tried a different approach with Splatterhouse 3 that revamped the series’ established gameplay, and made it more akin to horror version of Streets of Rage. Both games definitely cater to the horror crowd with the over-the-top violence and tributes to horror staples, and they’re both a blast to play. Picking between the two is a tall task, but either way, you win in the end.
Zombies Ate My Neighbors (Konami, 1993)
A game that recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, LucasArts’ classic overhead Run n’ Gun fits the weekend sleepover solution with its multiplayer. Easy to pick up and play, but gets tougher as you get further along. The strategies you and your friend have to come up with to save your neighbours from classic B-movie monsters is rivalled by you needing to do so while avoiding either of you getting stuck in the corner of the map. Unlike the SNES which got Ghoul Patrol as a sequel, the Genesis only received this one. Though to be fair, the Genesis version didn’t receive the same censorship as its SNES version.
Castlevania: Bloodlines (Konami, 1994)
Sega wanted its own Castlevania, and Konami was happy to oblige. As a result, Bloodlines veers more into the action than its Nintendo outings, with more boss encounters and varied locations. You also now had more mobility options, thanks to Eric Lecarde and the Alucard Spear, which allowed him to essentially pole vault to get to areas that the game’s other protagonist, John Morris, wasn’t able to access. Bloodlines also ramped up the gore factor, with North American players now seeing blood in a Castlevania game for the first time. Popping the heads off of harpies and seeing the arterial spray never got old. And while the Genesis lacked some of the SNES hardware tricks, it still managed to pull off some cool gameplay effects of its own.
Haunting Starring Polterguy ( Electronic Arts, 1993)
Falling into more of the comedy horror vein similar to Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Haunting sees players having to haunt a family out of their home by possessing various household objects. The strategy comes by possessing the object at the right time to ensure that a family member is frightened. Of course, stopping you is the family dog, which can detect you and bark to calm the family members down. You also have to keep in mind your ecto energy, which will constantly deplete, and can be depleted further if you encounter Ecto Beasts. Haunting does tend to wear itself thin after a while, but it’s a unique game with charm that’s worth a playthrough.
DecapAttack (Sega, 1991)
An example of North American developers going nuts with a Japanese title, Decap Attack is a localized version of Magical Hat’s Turbo Flight! Adventure (which is based off of an anime). All of the game’s graphics, story, music, and level designs were reworked into an absurd story involving Chuck D. Head, a headless mummy created by mad scientist Dr Frank N. Stein, having to stop a demon named Max D. Cap from conquering the world. Gameplay involves you throwing your head (or guts?) at foes to defeat them. It’s a fairly standard platformer, but the goofy horror graphics and the absurdity of it all makes it a fun romp.
The Ooze (Sega, 1995)
Arriving late in the system’s life, The Ooze is anything but unoriginal. You play as a scientist named Dr. Caine who discovers that his employers are going to release a plague on the population, and reap the rewards from the cure that they also hold. Upon being discovered, Caine is injected with a drug that turns him into a puddle of slime and flushed down the drain. Despite this, Caine aims to stop his employers from seeing their plans through to fruition. Despite the unique concept, The Ooze can be frustratingly difficult, given how easy it is for you to get hit thanks to the numerous environmental hazards that will quickly reduce your size (and health). The level design is also pretty uninspired, and having to collect the 50 DNA pieces scattered throughout the levels in order to get the best ending may leave you looking for another less stressful game.
The Immortal (Electronic Arts, 1991)
More of a dark fantasy game than horror, The Immortal still packs in the gore. Throughout the game’s 8 levels, you’ll not only be faced with certain death (including right from the very first room you start), but also be dishing out punishment against your foes in some pretty visceral ways. Slicing a goblin straight down the middle not good enough for you? How about lopping off the top of his head while he’s still standing? Or just explode his head altogether with your magic staff? The Immortal is also pretty punishing in its difficulty, where one false move will end up with you dead, and you only get three chances to complete the level. For an RPG, it plays more like an arcade game, in that it’s extremely linear, with not much in the way of replay value. Still, the tension and atmosphere of the dungeon crawling makes it a fun experience. As does slicing the face off of a troll.
Ghouls ‘N Ghosts (Capcom, 1989)
Another of Capcom’s classic series, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is a pretty fantastic early arcade conversion for the Genesis, which Sega was touting early on as one of the system’s strong points. Probably only the SuperGrafx version is superior, though most non-Japanese players never got to experience that one. If you’ve never played Ghouls ‘N Ghosts (or any of the Ghosts ‘N Goblins entries), you are Sir Arthur, a knight sent to rescue Princess Prin-Prin from Lucifer himself. As anybody who’s played the series knows, this is one of those tough-but-fair games that requires you to plan your movements accordingly. You’ve also got an array of weapons at your disposal that each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Just remember to pick up the Psycho Cannon on your second playthrough.
Sacred Line: Genesis (WaterMelon, 2013)
A new-ish Genesis game? This one is a text-based “Choose Your Own Adventure” type of game that has you craft your own story, and based on your choices, leads to one of the game’s several endings. Told through 3D rendered stills, the story centres on a private detective in Eastern Europe named Ellen. After inheriting the business from her missing sister Sarah, Ellen aims to close the practice, but receives an anonymous call tasking her to locate a hidden forest outpost. Unfortunately, after a couple of playthroughs, you’ll have seen (or read) everything that it has to offer. Still, the story is the main attraction, not to mention the brutal deaths you’ll experience if you choose the wrong path.
Alien 3 (Acclaim Entertainment, 1993)
Following the storyline of the film, Ripley’s ship crashes on the prison colony planet Fiorina 161. There, she and the unarmed prisoners have to figure out a way to survive the Xenomorphs terrorizing the colony until help arrives. Ripley will have to navigate through the maze-like levels rescuing prisoners while fending off Xenomorphs. Of course, you’re timed while doing so, and you’ll have to rely on computers throughout the levels to figure out where the prisoners are. Not to mention that you’ll need to be quick on the trigger with the aliens, as they’re fast and deadly. It’s unfortunately easy at times to lose direction as to where you’ll need to go in order to exit the level, and the mentioned quickness of the Xenomorphs can make killing them frustrating (not to mention difficult to avoid being hit). Still, Alien 3 is a great side-scrolling platformer once you figure out your strategy.
Chakan: The Forever Man (Sega, 1992)
Inspired by the comic book of the same name by Robert A. Kraus, you take the role of Chakan, a man who after winning a battle with Death, is cursed with immortality and the agony of the pain of his victims until he destroys the evil contained within four realms. This gothic hack-and-slasher is notoriously difficult, with the later levels devolving into trial-and-error. You have unlimited lives, but that won’t matter when you’re resorting to blind jumps in the later levels. If you can get past the difficulty, the game’s dark gothic atmosphere and variety of spells, abilities and weapons make Chakan a worthwhile play.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Sony Imagesoft, 1993)
Oof. This is the Sega CD version we’re talking about here, as the Genesis version is essentially the same as the SNES version. That one is an okay platformer with the only real standout being the music. The Sega CD version, on the other hand, is one of the first examples of why using FMV for a beat ’em up is a bad idea. The game makes use of digitized backgrounds that scroll automatically, with digitized actors/objects in the front (including the player character, Harker). Unfortunately, you are subject to far too many unavoidable hits, with enemies ganging up on you to sap your life, and jumps that require precision timing in order to not fall into pits. The whole thing culminates in a literal 10-second close-up of Gary Oldman’s Dracula before the credits hit. Stick with the okay Genesis version.
Ghostbusters (Sega, 1990)
We’ve mentioned this one a few times, notably with BillyTime!Games creating a hack that adds Winston Zeddemore into the game. Set after the events of the first movie, Ghostbusters follows Peter, Ray and Egon as the make their way through six cases in an attempt to piece together a mysterious stone tablet. Vastly different from the version the NES got (which is definitely a good thing), the Genesis version features superior gameplay as a platformer and shoot ’em up, with better sound and graphics. Each Ghostbuster has their own attributes, and in between levels, you can upgrade your proton pack, health and damage resistance. It’s not quite as tight as later games of its type on the system, but definitely still a fun time.
Jurassic Park (Sega, 1993)
Different from the overhead shooters that were on Nintendo consoles, this one has you platforming as Dr. Grant as you try to escape Isla Nublar. The unique one about this one was that you could play as either Dr. Grant or a Velociraptor, with both having their own unique story and levels. The animation on the characters (particularly the raptor) are awesome, but the backgrounds didn’t receive as much attention. The worst part of the game is its floaty controls, coupled with the several blind jumps you’ll have to make to progress in the levels. This is made all the more frustrating, given Grant’s durability isn’t as great as the raptor’s.
Mortal Kombat (Acclaim, 1993)
Here we go. The reason to own a Genesis over the Super Nintendo. Keeping with the idea of Sega of America’s aim at a more mature demographic, Mortal Kombat on the Genesis outsold the Super Nintendo version, despite it being graphically inferior. The reason? Acclaim had hidden a code that allowed players to unlock the blood from the arcade version. Plus, all of the fatalities were intact. The other difference was the soundtrack, which was excellent, despite not using Dan Forden‘s original arcade score. You’d need to snag a six-button controller in order to take advantage of the full range of moves, but still, having that pixelated blood made all the difference in the world.
The Addams Family (Ocean Software, 1993)
Once again, this is practically the same as the SNES version. You play as Gomez Addams as he attempts to save members of the family who have been kidnapped by the family attorney, Tully Alford. The game is just another example of a video game tie-in that was made solely as a blatant cash grab. In spite of this, the game is playable, but a pretty average platformer. Gomez’s hit detection is spotty at times, meaning you’ll sometimes take damage from enemies when you jump on them to kill them. Controlling Gomez is a slippery affair, which can lead to needless hits and unwanted deaths. Probably the best thing is the open-ended gameplay, where you can visit different areas of the mansion in any order.
Night Trap (Sega, 1992)
As we’ve mentioned before, Night Trap is one of those “obligatory” games you have to mention if you have a Sega CD. We all know about the controversy this one spawned, and how along with Mortal Kombat, led to the creation of the ESRB. As for the game itself? It’s your typical FMV fare. Cheesy acting, lame special effects and a goofy story about Dana Plato as a secret agent trying to investigate a family of vampires reeks of a bad B-movie. Which it is, with some game mechanics tacked on top of it. Still, that theme song never gets old. The plain Sega CD version’s video is pretty bad, so go with the upgraded Sega CD 32X version.
Doom (Sega, 1994)
Despite the increased power of the 32X, Doom on the Genesis fares worse than the SNES version. It’s missing one of the levels from the first two episodes, and the third episode is completely absent. Like the SNES version, it doesn’t play at full screen, lacks multiplayer, and thanks to the monsters always facing the player, infighting between demons is impossible. Making matters worse is that the Genesis sound chip, the Yamaha YM2612, produces a terrible rendition of the iconic Doom soundtrack, and many of the sound effects are missing. So to answer the often-asked question: Yes, the Genesis runs Doom. But not very well.
Gargoyles (Buena Vista Interactive, 1995)
Disney and Sega collaborated on some amazing games during the Genesis’ lifespan, and Gargoyles is one of them. Much like other Disney titles on the platform such as Aladdin or Pocahontas, Gargoyles boasts some excellent animation, though not quite to the same smoothness as the former two games. In spite of this, the graphics are appropriately moody, and replicate the look of the cartoon quite nicely. The platforming is also quite good, making good use of Goliath’s abilities. The only real drawback is the combat, which will often have you taking as much damage as you dish out, thanks to your short slashing range and your throws. Still, Gargoyles is a fun playthrough that fans will enjoy.
Time Killers (Black Pearl, 1996)
Doom wasn’t the only one with clone problems. Mortal Kombat had its fair share, with Strata’s 1992 game Time Killers being one of the notable ones. The story saw warriors from various time periods facing off against each other in bloody combat. The obvious focus was on blood and gore, but at the cost of gameplay. Sure, you could lop off limbs during the fight and still keep going, but the clunky controls and limited animation made it a chore. The Genesis port, which was originally cancelled before eventually being released four years later, made things even worse. With awful graphics, worse sound and control, it missed the boat and then some. At least the “death moves” were fun to see, but that’s why there’s YouTube.
Contra: Hard Corps (Konami, 1994)
Just like with Castlevania, Konami switched things up with their Genesis entry for Contra. Featuring branching paths and multiple characters that feature their own unique weapons, Hard Corps also pulls off a few neat tricks in the graphics department to keep up with Contra III on the SNES. The soundtrack by Hiroshi Kobayashi is amazing, though its techno-tinged renditions might not be for everyone. About the only drawback is Hard Corps‘ difficulty. Yes, Contra is hard, but the North American version of Hard Corps had its difficulty is scaled up, thanks to the one-hit deaths and limited continues. The Japanese version features a three-hit life gauge and unlimited continues. Regardless, this was another great Run n’ Gun to bear the Contra name.
Altered Beast (Sega, 1988)
Another of Sega’s arcade conversions, Altered Beast was a pack-in title for the Genesis before Sonic The Hedgehog moved in. According to Retro Gamer Magazine, developer Makoto Uchida took inspiration for the game from Joe Dante‘s The Howling and the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (directed by John Landis). While not a perfect port visually (body parts from the zombies flying towards the screen after you hit them were notably missing), Altered Beast on the Genesis still kept everything fans loved about the game in the arcade hit. Admittedly, the game hasn’t aged the best, but how can you knock a game where the first boss is made up of corpses, and throws regenerating heads at you?
Eternal Champions: Challenge From The Dark Side (Sega, 1995)
All that talk of Mortal Kombat and its clones, and Eternal Champions gets lost in the shuffle. The Sega CD sequel, Challenge From The Dark Side, cranked up the gore with its finishing moves. New to the game is the Cinekill, where the Dark Champion would kill the victim in an FMV cutscene that mimics the victim’s greatest fear. While the Cinekills look rather dated, the new Sudden Death and Vendetta finishers show plenty of plasma, and for the most part are animated in disturbing detail. You’ll have to work for these finishers, however, as the combinations to pull these moves off can be difficult. Not as difficult as the CPU, which can be downright brutal in its difficulty. It’s certainly not an easy game, but it’s worth the effort in the end.
Mutant League Hockey/Mutant League Football (Electronic Arts, 1993 and 1994)
Along with its aim at a more mature demographic and quality arcade ports, the Genesis also beat out the SNES in the sports category. Electronic Arts took its Madden and NHL titles, and cranked out two horror-themed sports games that were almost just as fun than their regular counterparts. Despite being lighter than their inspirations in terms of game modes, MLH and MLF do add in things like hazards on the playing field (or ice), exploding footballs and other weapons to decimate opposing players. The games do have a few common flaws. Apart from the previously-mentioned lack of game modes, and the AI doesn’t present much of a challenge, making the longterm appeal fade pretty quick. But this is all made up for when you face off against a buddy, as the frenetic and unpredictable nature of both games make them a blast for couch play.